Virtual training makes for real-world machinists

Sept. 1, 2003
A NEW, PC-BASED SOFTWARE tool could soon help shops train machinists and NC programmers more efficiently and cost-effectively. Applied Instructional System for Machinists (AISM) simulates the CNC machine tool environment and teaches a variety of processes

The training CNC pendant emulates actual controller functions and all modes of operation such as writing, loading, editing, and running programs. Simulated industrial machine tools execute the NC program in real time.

DARPA's Grand Challenge, which pits autonomous robotic ground vehicles against each other, awards the winner $1 million.

Naval ships such as the DD(X) Destroyer could soon benefit from performance-enhancing materials that are lighter and more cost-effective than what's currently certified.

An industrial motor powered the Prairie Fire GT solar car to a first-place win in the American Solar Challenge.

The QASS CiS.01 crack-detection system checks for cracks and breaks in operations and workpieces under mechanical loads.

The Spring Loaded Engraving Tool from 2L inc. features a special floating design that lets it clearly mark flat, curved, or uneven surfaces.

A NEW, PC-BASED SOFTWARE tool could soon help shops train machinists and NC programmers more efficiently and cost-effectively. Applied Instructional System for Machinists (AISM) simulates the CNC machine tool environment and teaches a variety of processes, procedures, and critical skills. It integrates with specific machine tools and controller types and provides documentation for training future generations.

AISM is the result of a joint effort involving BWXT Y-12, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Immersive Engineering Co., Bloomfield, Mich. The former, a limited-liability enterprise of BWX Technologies Inc. and Bechtel National Inc., operates the Y-12 National Security Complex for the National Nuclear Security Administration. Y-12 is nationally recognized for its precision-machining expertise and has extensive experience in machinist training, trainingcurriculum development, and applied machine tool simulation. Immersive's specialty is simulationbased e-learning.

The partners expect the prototype training system will be a valuable tool in plant modernization. "With AISM, machinists can quickly adapt to new machine and controller technologies, better evaluate problems with existing machines and controllers, and provide for a more flexible workforce," says Dennis Miller of the Oak Ridge Center for Manufacturing and Materials Science.

Y-12 uses special machine tool controllers in its facility and has plans to upgrade equipment through the Stockpile Readiness Campaign. "This complicates both training and learning, making AISM a valuable tool in modernization," reports Miller. He expects that AISM will help Y-12 modernize its manufacturing methods through knowledge preservation, simulated training, skills-enhancement training, and design testing.

Chris Bien, president of Immersive, describes the powerful training tool: "AISM is tremendously flexible. It provides a learn-on-demand capability for the next generation of machinists, while preserving the knowledge and experience gained from six decades of successful precision machining, no matter what their skill level or where they are located."

The Department of Energy's Pantex Plant, near Amarillo, Tex., is working with Y-12 to evaluate AISM's use in Pantex's E-fabrication visioning for modernization, according to Steve Hallett, program manager at Pantex. Hallett says AISM will help his organization evaluate the skills of its machinists, train them, and, ultimately, qualify them in a virtual environment. "This approach will dramatically reduce time and expense, and, more importantly, improve safety," he comments.

According to Miller, "The next step for AISM is to conduct a pilot test on a specific machine tool or in a specific machine shop, so that we can evaluate the effectiveness of AISM in preparing Y-12 machinists to do specific jobs."

Mechanical challenge will net winner $1 million
THE DEFENSE ADVANCED RESEARCH Projects Agency (DARPA), under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), is conducting a Grand Challenge for autonomous ground vehicles. Basically, the driver-free car — no remote control allowed — that most quickly completes a 250-mile route between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in less than the prescribed time will take home a $1 million prize.

Unmanned air vehicles such as the Predator and the Global Hawk have carried out reconnaissance and surveillance missions in Iraq. With this competition, the DoD is stepping up efforts to develop autonomous robotic ground vehicles. The goal is not to replace people with machines, but to team people with robots for a more agile, costeffective force that lowers the risk of U.S. casualties, reports the DoD.

"The intent of the DARPA Grand Challenge is to bring together innovative thinkers from a variety of fields who can help us make major strides in the deployment of autonomous robotic ground vehicles," says Col. Jose Negron, USAF, who is leading the program. "We are reaching out to a variety of fields for ideas and resources, ranging from the technology, defense, and academic communities to more nontraditional sectors such as amateur robotics enthusiasts, offroad racers, and the entertainment industry." In fact, DARPA is calling for those in a range of fields to become part of Grand Challenge teams, including advertisers and corporate sponsors, artificialintelligence developers, auto manufacturers and suppliers, computer programmers, and others.

The Grand Challenge course will cover a range of on and off-road terrain that will be cleared of pedestrians and noncompeting vehicles. It will include paved and unpaved roads, hard-packed and rocky trails, off-road brush and washes, dry lakebeds, water crossings, underpasses, and overpasses. The exact route will not be announced until two hours prior to the start of the race, which is scheduled for Saturday, March 13, 2004.

All vehicles are required to have emergency-stop capability, and the day before the event, they must undergo a safety inspection. Control vehicles also will be present along the entire route to ensure maximum safety and minimal environmental impact.

U.S. citizens interested in entering the DARPA Grand Challenge must submit a technical paper by October 13, 2003. The website,, will serve as the gateway for event updates and as a discussion forum for participants and observers.

Building ships efficiently and cost-effectively
ALTHOUGH RECENT MATERIAL advances could improve performance and affordability of naval ship structures and machinery components, it isn't always easy to find what materials are pre-certified for use. However, a marine material-property database aims to change this.

The goal of the metallic materials Advanced Development Certification Project is to establish and maintain a Navy Material Property Database for structural and machinery applications. The database will let shipbuilders search for special material-property qualities — critical for a specific design — and obtain a material recommendation that meets design requirements. Builders will also have complete access to supporting material-property test data for a certified material.

Database and data requirements will be established by a working group that includes the National Center for Excellence in Metalworking; the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division; the Naval Sea Systems Command; and representatives from the shipbuilding industry.

Solar car wins with industrial-motor power
A SOLAR RACE TEAM FROM NORTH Dakota State University took first place in the Stock Class of the American Solar Challenge. The Fargo-based Sunsetters team beat out schools such as the University of California at Berkeley and California Polytechnic State University with the help of an industrial motor from Bodine Electric Co., Chicago.

During the 10-day race, cars traveled a 2,300-mile course between Chicago and Los Angeles along historic Route 66. From an original starting field of 30 teams, five failed to pass the technical and safety inspection, and five failed to qualify by not reaching minimum performance levels, leaving a field of 20 teams. Teams participated in either the Open or Stock class of the race, which are roughly comparable to professional and amateur, respectively. Stock-class vehicles are limited to conventional lead-acid batteries, which are about onefourth the cost of lithium-ion batteries and conventional solar cells that may cost as little as $4,000 per vehicle compared to over $125,000 for Open-class solar cells.

The winning North Dakota State vehicle, named Prairie Fire GT, was the only solar racer powered by an electric motor built by a conventional-electric-motor manufacturer. All the other teams used electric motors specially built for solar racing, which cost as much as $17,000 each. The Bodine Electric e-Torq motor is a hightorque industrial servomotor, typically used in packaging machinery and medical equipment. The 14-in.-diameter motor that the Sunsetters used produces about 10 hp with greater than 90% energy efficiency at a fraction of the cost of specially built solar-vehicle motors.

Check for cracks without halting production
SHOPS CAN CHECK FOR CRACKS AND breaks in components during bending and straightening operations thanks to a new crackdetection system. According to its developer, QASS Net Inc., Arlington Heights, Ill., the Model CiS.01 was originally designed to monitor shaft-straightening processes, but it also adapts to a variety of metalforming operations.

Using a series of transducers and software, the device emits sound waves during the straightening-press phase of production so that users can identify and eliminate cracked items that might otherwise go undetected. The system features electronic-analog evaluation, suppression of product-related noise, and selective-frequency analysis. Its serial and ethernet capabilities are TC/IP ready, and software is available to provide indepth data analysis.

A rugged, easily mounted sensor conducts self-tests of itself, its couplings, cables, and circuits after each cycle. An external-mount, compactly designed preamplifier handles up to eight independent sensors. And the 400-Hz, NEMArated, 100-V main controller with a transformer rated at 90 to 260 V (47 to 400 Hz) provides complete statistical functions for process and quality management.

Engrave on a CNC mill
A SIMPLE KIT LETS SHOPS inexpensively add engraving capabilities to a CNC mill, reports its manufacturer, 2L inc. of Hudson, Mass. The company has packaged its Spring Loaded Engraving Tool, which fits into a standard 3/4-in. collet or end-mill holder along with a solid-carbide engraving toolbit, collet nut wrench, and engraving software.

According to the company, the engraving tool clearly marks tough jobs, such as parts that vary slightly in size from piece to piece or serial numbers on round pipe. It does this by providing constant pressure to the engraving toolbit as it moves over the surface being engraved. The toolbit floats back and forth within the toolholder to compensate for uneven surfaces. The result is a tool that engraves on flat, curved, and uneven surfaces without the need for time-consuming setups.

The tool uses standard engraving toolbits with diameters from 1/8 to 1/4 in. Nonrotating diamond-tip engraving tools can also be used for drag or scratch engraving. An integrated collet holder permits quick changes of the engraving toolbits without having to remove the toolholder.

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