Siemens USA
Washington, DC

The advantages promised by Industry 4.0 are being realized at Ingersoll Machine Tools in Rockford, IL. “Digital twin” machine design simulation, higher robotic intelligence, and complex motion are the essential tools there. Those tools are making large scale mold production, part machining, and process automation accessible to the broader aerospace, marine, and other industry sectors.

“The disruption promised by Industry 4.0 has already begun,” said Jason Melcher, vice president of sales at Ingersoll. “What’s all the more remarkable is that it’s happening in aerospace, where machine design for improved mold and part production is about the largest of the large, the most difficult of the difficult.

“Here, process impedance is evaluated not just hour-to-hour, but minute-to-minute and pounds-per-hour,” Melcher explained. “We are seeing greater makeability, supported into the future by the aerospace industry’s top CNC and motion technology platform.”

For many years, Ingersoll’s mechanical, software, and process engineers have teamed with Siemens engineers to develop next-generation, large-format machine designs. Now, these two technology companies are teaming up with customer engineering teams to invent, validate, and mitigate risk. They are collaborating on a larger scale, where intelligent robotic fiber placement and massive print/mill part production are no longer a vision but a reality.

Robotic Fiber Placement

A longtime player in automated fiber placement (AFP) for aerospace, the Ingersoll venture into high-end robotics seems a natural progression. The company’s ambition has been to make robotic fiber placement affordable to second- and third-tier aerospace part producers. But that ascent into the aerospace market had been held back by several earthbound realities including the historic inaccuracy of large-scale robotic positioning, the lack of robotic control at the machine operator level, and the high cost of designing and building larger-scale, customized AFP systems.

Even in recent years, the positioning accuracy of larger-scale robotics has been no better than roughly 5 mm and with poor repeatability. To address this limitation, Siemens evolved its Sinumerik 840D sl CNC to include Run MyRobot™ robotic compensation software. This has enabled Ingersoll to integrate robotics into its new Robotic FP™ fiber placement machine designs, achieving repeatable robotic positioning accuracies to less than 1 mm. Accuracy is maintained for both standard and inverse robotic motion.

MasterPrint™ 3D printing machine in the Development Center at Ingersoll Machine Tools.

The robotic motion of a Robotic FP machine is easily controlled at the machine using the Siemens Sinumerik CNC Operate interface. The control’s intuitive graphical interface is universal across the Sinumerik CNC platform of controls. Aerospace customers can achieve higher process efficiencies plantwide as operators quickly become familiar and efficient using an interface that stays the same from machine to machine, even when moving from 3-axis to 5-axis or 6-axis robot with numerous more axes (turntable, mandrill, linear rail, etc.). The operator’s experience is the same, whether controlling traditional fiber placement, robotic fiber placement, 3D printing, robotic 3D printing, or any CNC machining process.

The Ingersoll MasterPrint™ can 3D-print molds and parts as large as 100 feet long, 22 feet wide, and 10 feet high at print rates up to 500 pounds per hour.

The machine tool industry has long anticipated the ability to virtually design, test, and redesign the digital twin of a machine, mold, or part before moving into actual production. In aerospace, the sheer size of a machine or a part has made physical prototyping especially costly. Traditional trial-and-error prototyping would produce massive losses in time and material. To escape these constraints, software engineers at Ingersoll developed simulation software that enables process engineers to virtually design and develop a machine, a mold, or a part. The software wraps around the Siemens Virtual NC Controller Kernel (VNCK) simulation software. The controller processes and simulates virtually all machining cycle data and tool paths exactly as they would be performed on the actual machine, and the Sinumerik Operate interface graphically displays this exact digital twin simulation.

Large-Scale 3D Printing and Milling Platform

The world’s largest thermoplastic 3D printers at Ingersoll Machine Tools provide the prospect of faster prototyping, shorter lead times, and 90 percent reductions in manufacturing costs. Ingersoll innovation continues with the development of the MasterPrint 5X™ — a turnkey print-and-mill machine with even greater productivity breakthroughs that is again enabled by the Siemens Sinumerik 840D sl CNC platform.

Michael Falk is a mechatronics engineer and the leader of the Siemens sales team that has supported Ingersoll in its rollout of the MasterPrint series. “Ninety percent of the time, anything that is 3D-printed will need to be finish-milled,” Falk said. “The new MasterPrint does exactly that as a turnkey operation to produce the world’s largest parts incorporating automated change-head technology developed by Ingersoll and supported by Siemens.”

The MasterPrint approach to large-format 3D printing combines the amplified speed, dexterity, and accuracy of 5-axis motion. The same gantry can now interplay the functions of printing, milling, fiber placement, tape laying, inspection, trimming, and more. The MasterPrint 5X can print from any angle to its full advantage, rapidly making a massive mold or part using the most efficient sequencing. The 5-axis printing nozzle changes orientation accordingly to print much more complicated parts.

Milling head on the MasterPrint™ machine removing 3D-printed thermoplastic material, finishing the contours of this scale-model cargo ship.

“The sync actions during the 3D printing is where a lot of the magic happens,” Falk said. ’You get great-looking parts with consistent bead geometry. The printing slows only as needed around corners, then resumes optimal speed. Corners are not overfilled. There are no infill issues, no necking down of the bead, no voids in the tooling, and no material build on the inside of the part.”

Ingersoll has taken full advantage of Sinumerik Run MyRobot/Direct Control, the robotic compensation software that is now a key feature of the Siemens Sinumerik 840D sl CNC. Ingersoll offers a wide range of robotic systems where the CNC on the machine can control multiple modules operated by the same robot.

In addition to making improvements among the existing machines at Ingersoll, engineers are using the Siemens Sinumerik CNC toolsets to investigate pathways to new machine development. One of those pathways is in materials research. Material property questions explore variables such as strength, shrinkage, warpage, and the use of isotropic versus anisotropic materials. Material solutions emerge in the realms of rapid prototyping for civilian, defense, and infrastructure applications. The concept of a one-of-a-kind printer also emerges — one that can support ambitious initiatives such as bio-based feedstocks using cellulose derived from wood resources.

While manually conducted visual inspections are still common today, they are becoming analog answers to an increasingly digitally automated production challenge. Ingersoll sees the day coming soon when inspections are routinely a function of the machine as a secondary process. A fiber placement machining process will monitor layup, check for any defects, and assure the part’s accuracy and reliability. Similarly, a hybrid 3D-printing process will one day print and machine back-to-back with seamlessly integrated process self-monitoring.

As Ingersoll and Siemens have demonstrated, the promised advantages of Industry 4.0 are being implemented today. Having removed the boundaries to large-format robotic fiber placement and 3D printing, expectations now rise toward making breakthrough improvements across the entire part production process.

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Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the February, 2021 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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