Intelligent machine tool plots best path to finished part

An intelligent machine tool that can decide for itself how best to manufacture a component could speed up the production of custom-built objects such as dental implants and artificial bones.

The prototype machine tool, developed by Prof Keiichi Shirase at Kobe University in Japan, can develop its own manufacturing strategy based on information from a three-dimensional model of the part and a model of the material to be used.

Intelligent machine tool prototype operates like a 3D printer
Intelligent machine tool prototype operates like a 3D printer

The machine tool could shorten the production time and reduce the cost of manufacturing customised components, said Shirase.

Most machine tools used in manufacturing follow instructions from a pre-prepared program. However, these programs are very labour-intensive to prepare, while the machines are unable to make adjustments to the process or respond to any problems during manufacturing.

In contrast, the prototype machine tool uses a database of machining information and cutting conditions to plan and control the manufacturing process in real-time.

“(Existing machines) have no strategy to generate tool paths,” said Shirase. “In order (for the prototype) to select the best strategy, we have been developing a Computer Aided Process Planning (CAPP) system.”

When the machine tool is supplied with a CAD model of the component to be built, and a software model of the material to be used, the CAPP system plans the path of the tools and the cutting force to be used.

“Our final goal is the achievement of cutting process control and finished quality control, because current NC machine tools can only achieve tool motion control,” said Shirase.

The machine tool should also be cheaper to use than a 3D printer, thanks to the high cost of powders used in additive manufacturing. What’s more, the technique can be used with any manufacturing materials, and produces components with a homogenous structure.

Unlike some 3D printing techniques, which can result in a poor quality surface, the prototype produces parts with a good finish, said Shirase.