IMTS Manufacturing Show Has Big Impact on Process Industries


Metalcutting machinery from EMAG has specialized in manufacturing coupling sleeves and other critical parts used in oil and gas operations.

The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), a biennial event in Chicago that has filled McCormick Place for years with examples of innovative production equipment and technologies for metal parts and other types of fabrications, has always had important ramifications for the process industries.

While IMTS does not promote specifically valves, pumps, and other fluid and gas flow hardware, there are many exhibitors whose manufacturing machinery is vital to the performance and cost-efficiency of the components employed in process flow.

There are, as well, a number of technologies on display that have the potential to simplify and speed up component design, production, and replacement.

One such is additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, which has made significant market gains since the last IMTS in 2012. Additive manufacturing (AM) uses various materials -- mostly metal composites and ceramics but also structural plastics -- to build parts layer by layer.

The technology has limitations - it is slow compared to conventional production techniques, materials can be costly, and some parts require finishing. But it can accelerate the part prototyping and validation process as well as give designers and engineers the freedom to create parts with unprecedented complexity. A handful of IMTS exhibitors are also addressing AM's net-shape limitations via hybrid manufacturing machines that comprise AM and conventional milling capabilities in a single unit.

Nevertheless, a key benefit is the ability of AM to produce complex parts at relatively low cost that cannot easily be made - or made at all - with conventional fabrication techniques. This is an advantage for prototyping and for parts replacement, especially in the field.

One AM pioneer, ExOne, of North Huntington, Pa., sells machines to powder metallurgy shops, toolmakers, machining companies and OEMs. In an interview with ThomasNet News at IMTS, Jared Helfrich, global director of direct printing, says the process is being used to produce impellers for the oil and gas market, components for mud motor pumps, and spare parts for heavy equipment, among other areas.

Recent developments from ExOne include its first full-density alloy, IN 625, a nickel-based Inconel grade. Full density (in this case more than 99 percent) means it is a single-metal alloy and not a composite that includes a binder.

"Market opportunities are growing for single metals," Helfrich said, in explaining why ExOne added the material.

The volumetric output of IN 625 is 30 to 60 sec/layer - the same as for other materials ExOne supplies. Among target applications are filtration and separation media and heat-exchanger components for chemical and energy markets. Benefits include oxidation and corrosion-resistant properties.

ExOne's M-Flex additive manufacturing machines hold dimensional tolerances of +/-0.5 percent. "We are a near-net-shape company," Helfrich declared.

In addition to the new alloy, the company's line of AM materials includes 420 and 316 stainless steel grades as well as iron, each infused with a bronze binder at a 60:40 metal-to-binder loading.

One exhibitor displaying a machine that can be used in the manufacture of fluid and gas flow components is Sunnen Products Co., of St. Louis. A recent addition to its line of honing machines is the SH-4000. Features include touchscreen control; a 25-mm servo-driven ball screw stroker for precise, repeatable positioning and consistent cutting pressure; and dimensional tolerance of less than 1 micron.

EMAG, of Farmington Hills, Mich., is also targeting the oil and gas market with some of its machining systems. The VLC and VSC Series models and VL 5i lathe are optimized for rapid production of various oil and gas components. While most of these are drilling and extraction parts such as coupling sleeves, the machining technologies they represent can be applied to heavy-duty pump and valve components, as well.

The company's involvement as a supplier to the oil and gas industry goes back a decade. President and CEO Peter Loetzner said during an IMTS presentation that sales have risen from $700,000 in the first year EMAG began supplying machinery to oil and gas part producers in the U.S. to $20 million last year. The company's capabilities include conventional and laser-welded thread-making techniques that yield durable connection resistance to extreme operating pressures.

There are many exhibitors with machining systems, lathes, additive manufacturing machines, and other equipment and technologies that are of benefit to fluid and gas flow applications. IMTS is a big show - more than 2,000 exhibitors showing in 1.2 million net square feet of space. It runs through Saturday, Sept. 13. If you are within a few hours drive of Chicago, attending the show for even one day could yield a valuable return in knowledge and contacts that could impact your plant or oil and gas field operations.

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