Industrial robots are getting precise enough that they’re less like dumb machines and more like automated sculptors producing artwork. Case in point: Daishin’s Seki 5-axis mill. The Japanese company celebrated its 50th anniversary last year by using this machine to carve out a full scale motorcycle helmet out of one piece of aluminum. No breaks, no joints, the 5-Axis mill simply pivots and rotates to carve metal at some absurd angles. Every cut is guided by sophisticated 3D design software (Openmind’s HyperMill). While the Daishin helmet made a nice showpiece for a biannual meeting of machining companies (EMO), this level of production is becoming the new standard. Your average industrial company got hi-tech in a hurry and now we have machines that can transform computer designs into the highest quality professional metal objects, seemingly at a push of a button. Human machinists are left in the dust. Watch the helmet being built in the video below.
Automated production has really progressed to a point where humans can’t keep up. The real challenge is between two different styles of robotic production: printing and machining. In a world with 3D printers that can work in metal, taking a huge block of aluminum and cutting it down may seem practically medieval. Milling, however, is still the best way to produce high-grade metal objects suitable for use in other machines. You can’t build a working diesel engine out of a 3D printer…yet. While we’re waiting for that technology to mature, the machining sector is developing new capabilities that keep it competitive. Information technology has crept into everything, and where it goes, innovation follows. So it is with the Daishin Seki machine’s 5 axes which are guided by the Hypermill software. These industrial robots can carve exquisite pieces out of materials 3D printers can’t touch. Eventually production may belong to 3D printers, but for now the industrial robots sculptors are showing us that they’ve still got years of unparalleled work ahead of them. As for humans…well, we’ve moved from the machine room floor to the designer’s chair. That’s okay; the coffee’s better in the chair, anyway.