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A new hybrid machine with novel 3D printing technology for cutting tools

ANCA Integrated Manufacturing System

The global cutting tool industry will soon have access to an innovative cutting tool manufacturing platform, thanks to a research collaboration between leading CNC grinding machine manufacturer ANCA and Australia’s national science agency CSIRO. Billy Friend finds out what’s behind the project.

Always an essential part of a manufacturers’ toolbox, high-quality cutting tools are needed more than ever for sectors looking to expand product ranges and complexity. A recent project by ANCA and the CSIRO highlights the advantages of investing in a technologically advanced future, with the development of a new additive manufacturing process for tungsten-carbide tools.

The nine-month, $928,000 initiative supported by the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC) is set to bring affordable, high-performance tools to
be manufactured using one platform, replacing the current production process of mould pressing, sintering, brazing and grinding.

Now in the advanced phase, the research is focused on refining the additive manufacturing technology ahead of ANCA taking the hybrid manufacturing platform that contains the innovation to market. Dr Dayalan Gunasegaram from CSIRO played a critical role in leading the project after spending a six month secondment at ANCA – immersing himself into the company’s research and development process.

Gunasegaram is a mechanical engineer with a depth of knowledge as a computational modelling specialist who uses software tools to investigate and optimise manufacturing processes. In his nearly two decades at CSIRO, he has consulted for several industrial clients and co-authored patents for new technologies. Consistent through his career is the desire to improve manufacturing processes through modelling and simulation. At the start of this particular project, getting to know ANCA’s strengths was key.

“ANCA provided me with the opportunity to understand what they do really well,” he said. “I knew CSIRO’s capabilities, but I had to spend time at the company to match our strengths together – they are world leaders in subtractive manufacturing, so we looked to combine that with our expertise in additive manufacturing to develop a hybrid platform.”

The path to innovation

In 1974, ANCA co-founders Pat Boland and Pat McCluskey bought a mini- computer to take their passion into a business venture. Considered mini or small for the time, it was in fact as tall as them at a cost of $4,000 – which in ‘74 could buy an inner-city apartment. The creative thinkers began with the basic idea to replace the hardwired controls of the time with a standard computer. The business is now a world leading manufacturer of computer numerical control (CNC) grinding machines, motion controls and sheet metal solutions, with customers in over 45 countries.

With nearly five decades of innovation, ANCA continues to push the envelope. Dean McBain, Research & Technology Manager at ANCA, said this project with CSIRO had the potential to transform the way tungsten-carbide brazed insert tools were made in Australia and around the world.

ANCA headquarters in Melbourne

“ANCA’s collaboration with IMCRC and CSIRO has accelerated the development of an innovative additive manufacturing technology which we believe has the potential to disrupt the $2.2B global cutting tool market,” he said. “Successful completion of this project will allow ANCA to commercialise the new hybrid additive manufacturing machine platform, grow our workforce and revenue and fill a significant gap in the global tooling market.”

To explain the advantages of this new technology, Dr Dayalan Gunasegaram began at the fundamentals of the tool. The process of mould pressing, sintering, brazing and grinding is labour intensive which adds to business expenses. Automating the process not only reduces labour, but crucially lessens the amount of material required.

“The first key is it will provide the tools at a much lower price point,” he noted. “Another major advantage is this platform can be used in any remote location.

For example, work on offshore drilling platforms or defence contracts with deployment in remote locations, or on a frigate in the sea – all of these kinds of activities will be helped because you don’t have to carry a large stock of tools.”

Australia’s national science agency provides high-end research and development support to Australian industry, bringing state-of-the-art equipment and years of expertise to further develop unique technologies.

“On top of high-end equipment such as lasers for additive manufacturing, for this project our metallurgists used a scanning electron microscope (SEM) and a transmission electron microscope (TEM), and we have brilliant resident programmers who did the toolpath programming.”

Expensive, high-tech equipment and resources are not very easy to obtain for SMEs, so connecting with research hubs like CSIRO is crucial for more commercialisation of Australian technologies. Dr Kathie McGregor, Research Director for Advanced Materials and Processing at CSIRO, said the project shows how metallic additive manufacturing technologies are now more accessible to Australian industry. She explained, throughout her years of experience, what common denominators she has observed in turning new technology into commercial success.

“At the demonstration point you have to understand your market and what customers want, but also be able to communicate what the improvements are and why the technology is so much better than what already exists,” she said. “It has to be economically viable to adopt the technology – when you’re trying to change something there’s always some initial resistance. But there’s always the early adopters as a segment of the market who are willing to come on the journey and overcome the valley of death.”

Many boxes need to be ticked off to achieve commercialisation, but if the technology is solving a problem which can’t be achieved with existing processes, customers are more likely to take a chance on something new.

ANCA’s advanced grinding machines for cutting tool manufacture

“The success of this program is built on an extended partnership, where Dr Gunasegaram embedded himself into the company. ANCA continues to innovate and, crucially, was prepared to collaborate with a partner like CSIRO to expand their R&D capacity.”

Dr Matthew Young, IMCRC’s Manufacturing Innovation Manager, said IMCRC was pleased to be supporting ANCA’s innovation, and in turn, contributing to the growth of Australia’s advanced manufacturing ecosystem.

“As ANCA and CSIRO’s R&D partnership demonstrates, additive manufacturing can generate significant benefits for Australian manufacturers, reducing costs and improving speed to market,” he said. “Once developed, this revolutionary technology can be applied to a range of cutting applications, creating significant global export opportunities and furthering ANCA’s position as a market-leading manufacturer of cutting tools and equipment.”

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