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Robotics Hardware

5-Axis Robot Carves Metal Like Butter 277

Posted by kdawson
from the measure-your-head-very-carefully dept.
kkleiner sends along an amazing video of what robot-controlled machining is coming to. "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 ... 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 3-D design software (Openmind’s HyperMill)."
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5-Axis Robot Carves Metal Like Butter

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  • by Pennidren (1211474) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:16PM (#31791580)
    I read that as "Craves Metal" and was scared as hell.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jayme0227 (1558821)

      I, for one, welcome our new metal sculpting overlords?

      Seriously though, the video was kind of mesmerizing. And now I want a new aluminum motorcycle helmet.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The robot was extremely impressive.

        The idea of wearing a helmet made of a material hard enough to efficiently transmit blows directly to your skull, soft enough to deform under impact, ductile enough to stay deformed, and a sufficiently good conductor of heat to making cutting its deformed remains off of your head without burning you; but before you bleed out, a specialized operation makes me very nervous.
    • by Svartalf (2997)

      As niftily as it was carving it up, it almost seems to crave it... That trophy was damned cool watching the video
      doing it up like that.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:23PM (#31791676)

    I don't mean to take anything away from the Japanese who are clearly leading in the robotics industry. Especially with technologies like this, humanoid robots like Asimo, and even those creepy robots that have the bad latex skin, these are all really impressive displays of Japan's prowess in this field. More importantly, the control mechanisms are being refined at both the software and hardware interconnects, so this isn't just "robotics", but rather the whole field covers a much broader scope than merely software or just hardware.

    Why isn't the U.S. leading in this area? Why have we decided that we're happy enough building Facebook applications? It's sad to see that we aren't as focused on building real systems that will have an actual physical impact on our surroundings. We took Laertes' ridiculous admonition "to thine own self be true" and turned ourselves and our energies into the very worst of what we are as a nation. We have become exactly what the Japanese saw 20 years ago: a nation of lazy, overpaid workers. And, I hate to say it, we are paying the price for that with our jobs.

    • by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:25PM (#31791696) Homepage

      By what set of criteria do you judge software to be less valuable than hardware?

      • by swanzilla (1458281) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:32PM (#31791820) Homepage

        By what set of criteria do you judge software to be less valuable than hardware?

        BitTorrent.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Svartalf (2997)

        I think it's not that the software's less valuable, per se- it's that we're worrying about things like Facebook, MySpace, etc. which aren't
        really in the same category of software. The software to make the CNC multi-axis machines go is rather valuable- without the machine
        it's useless, but without the software, the machine's equally worthless. I just wouldn't be putting investment effort into things like
        Facebook. In fact, if Facebook went bye-bye, little of value would actually be lost. Seriously.

        And, I t

    • by TheKidWho (705796) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:29PM (#31791776)

      It's the Germans and the Japanese that are currently at the top of the heap when it comes to CNC Machinery... However there are a lot of good American companies up there too, one of the most popular brands in the USA is HAAS, although their 5/4 Axis machines aren't very special.

      It's mostly because they focused on that market and become very good at what they did. You'll see in about 20-30 years China leading that area of industry since they have such a huge focus on manufacturing.

      Anyways, it's the people ultimately programming the machines and the software used to program the machines that are the real driving force behind this industry, without the software these machines would just be dumb lumps of metal.

      • by Svartalf (2997)

        Indeed. However, without the hardware, the software's not much use either.

        I think the point the GP poster's trying to get at is that there's much less of this stuff being showed, funded, etc. by US business and more things like Facebook which provides NOTHING of any real tangible value and has loads of money to do that nothing with.

        To be sure, there's some innovation, building, etc. going on in the US- there's a renaissance about to hopefully start here (the beginnings are showing- whether it takes off, on

        • by shiftless (410350)

          I guarantee you that Haas and Bridgeport are not showing off Facebook. They do show off their machines to people who actually have the money to buy them, they dont give a shit about the Youtube crowd. But most of them don't have to show off a damn thing, because anyone who is thinking of starting a machine shop in the U.S. is already familiar with most of the options out there.

    • by CRCulver (715279)
      I've often seen the development of advanced robotics technology in Japan attributed to the desire of the Japanese to overcome their falling birthrates without allowing massive immigration. (The current demographics of Japan are wacky beyond anything in the US or the EU, see for example Coulmas' Population Decline and Ageing in Japan [amazon.com] ). If there aren't enough Japanese entering the workforce to sweep floors, assemble parts and care for the elderly, then they feel the need to develop machines that can do it i
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dunx (23729)

      It's the startup cost.

      Software product companies are expensive to start, but they're nothing to companies making innovative physical objects. I used to work for a silicon startup - it was a cheap start for silicon company and it still burned through a phenomenal amount of money before it had a product. Software is just cheaper (and often quicker) to get to market.

      So really blame the VCs and the addiction to short term returns in the US stock market.

    • Why isn't the U.S. leading in this area?

      The problem of an aging population (increasing ratio of retirees to working-age people) as been a more urgent problem for the Japanese than for the US. Robotics are of a higher interest there because they free up workers from "mundane" jobs to work in other fields. Also, many of these robots were developed to directly assist in elder care.

      We have become exactly what the Japanese saw 20 years ago: a nation of lazy, overpaid workers.

      That's also another piece of the puzzle. It's hard to stay competitive internationally, when [your employees demand higher/their employees are okay with lower] wages. This

    • "Leadership" might not translate fast enough to cash in the US to look as though it's worth having. The US metric up to the last year or so, which I hope is beginning to fade, is "can we make our money back on this in a short time?" and the closure of labs like Bell and Xerox PARC reflect this bottom-line thinking. Germans and Japanese alike see nothing "better" in the challenges of design than in those of manufacturing so they have good engineers doing both, and they think longer-term. It's less difficu

    • by rsborg (111459)

      US: leading in "Andriod", a mobile OS.
      Japan: leading in actual android robotic research.

    • by Capt James McCarthy (860294) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:50PM (#31792146) Journal

      I don't mean to take anything away from the Japanese who are clearly leading in the robotics industry. Especially with technologies like this, humanoid robots like Asimo, and even those creepy robots that have the bad latex skin, these are all really impressive displays of Japan's prowess in this field. More importantly, the control mechanisms are being refined at both the software and hardware interconnects, so this isn't just "robotics", but rather the whole field covers a much broader scope than merely software or just hardware.

      Why isn't the U.S. leading in this area? Why have we decided that we're happy enough building Facebook applications? It's sad to see that we aren't as focused on building real systems that will have an actual physical impact on our surroundings. We took Laertes' ridiculous admonition "to thine own self be true" and turned ourselves and our energies into the very worst of what we are as a nation. We have become exactly what the Japanese saw 20 years ago: a nation of lazy, overpaid workers. And, I hate to say it, we are paying the price for that with our jobs.

      I always thought that one of the goals of innovation and technology is to make life easier (physically). Just because fewer folks in the US have their own gardens for food, or chop their own wood for heat in the winter, doesn't make us more or less lazy then those in the past. Some would see it as better time management. Assuming that the person utilizing these technologies is working towards something other then gaining 1000 friends on facebook. Regardless of where it originates.

      However, as tech grows, and you logically look to the future of mankind, robots and software will be able to accomplish all that mankind "works" at. Manual labor will be a thing of the past at some point. Albeit long into the future. As soon as it is cheaper to pay for a robot to do manual labor, human manual labor (brick laying, welding, construction, farming, etc..) will no longer be required. So does that mean mankind will be judged in society for only their creativity at that point or leisure skills? I don't know. But I will probably be long gone by the time that happens.

    • by shiftless (410350) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:02PM (#31792354) Homepage

      The U.S. *IS* leading in this area. Japan is not the only country that manufacturers CNC machines. Bridgeport has been *THE* name in milling machines for decades. Haas is another big name based out of California.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Culture.

      A) Japan is looking for a way to fill there declining work force.
      B) Initially fiction robots are helpful and nice in Japan. In the US they where always evil.

    • The USA had these sophisticated machines for a long time (decades) though probably without the current level of software.

      They were considered critical national security technology because their primary use was milling components for advanced nuclear weaponry. The specific shapes and ability to form these unusual shapes required for the physics unhindered by manufacturing constraints was considered an essential capability.

      No doubt these machines illegal to export and probably restricted from commercial use.

  • Nice enough demo (Score:4, Informative)

    by HEbGb (6544) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:28PM (#31791752)

    It's a nice enough demo for a five-axis mill, but these are hardly new nor revolutionary in any way. These have been around for at least a decade, probably much longer.

    • Down the block from my apartment their is a machine shop with about three of them. It's a prototyping shop that also makes parts for other manufactures. Watching the lathes go can be an amazing thing.
    • by FauxReal (653820)
      Yeah, robots need to get to Bicentennial Man [wikipedia.org] skill levels.
    • by Svartalf (2997)

      Indeed- but it's a very nice one, from the looks of it. I wouldn't mind having access to one of them.

    • Re:Nice enough demo (Score:4, Informative)

      by rubycodez (864176) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:13PM (#31792520)

      6 axis, yep count 'em six, CNC mills have been around for over 25 years, my father's company sold one with over 10 meter table that was used to cut out propellers for submarines. they had another multi-axis one (don't remember how many) that had 40 meter long bed.

    • by Shagg (99693)

      Exactly. Making fairly intricate stuff out of billet aluminum for the automotive industry has been going on for a long time.

      Most of this stuff is made the same way as this demo. http://www.billetspecialties.com/subcategory.asp?cid=16 [billetspecialties.com]

    • My dentist has one for carving dental crowns. He feeds it a few photos of the tooth that's being crowned, and selects the type of crown (molar, pre-molar, etc). He loads a cube of ceramic into the machine, starts it up, and 15-20 minutes later he's installing the crown.
  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:29PM (#31791762) Homepage

    You could create one awesome looking suit of armor with that.

    • by jandrese (485)
      Aluminum makes for crappy armor. Just ask the people inside of a Bradley AFV. Presumably you could retool this for working with harder metals, but armor tends to have very specific requirements that would likely make it impossible to machine like this. Unless you just want some replica medieval style armor for SCA events or something.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        I think he means for costume, and he is correct.

        Clearly he wants to make a suit of metal armor for walking into a modern battle~

    • by jgreco (1542031)

      If you aspire to be Tony Stark, yes... but AluminumMan kind of lacks that spark...

  • by sjbe (173966)

    The Japanese company celebrated its 50th anniversary last year by using this machine to carve ... 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.

    This has been possible for a very long time. I've seen 5, 6 and even virtual axis mills decades ago that could do this. The software is easier now and the machines have improved tolerances and speeds but the basic technology has been widely used for ages. Multi-axis CNC mills are absurdly useful but not even remotely new.

    In other words, nothing to see here. Moving on...

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Nothing to see here is you are familiar with the CNC world. Otherwise it's pretty bitchen'

  • I would be more impressed if it couls take a chunk of Aluminium and carve out a tinfoil hat with the same thickness as one made out of Reynoulds Aluminium foil. Then I would be impressed.

    • by Anpheus (908711)

      Did you see how it carved a logo into it that had a different appearance but looked flush?

      That's it carving only a tiny, tiny bit in, probably in some crosshatch pattern to get the logo to stand out.

    • by EdZ (755139)
      Entirely possible for most milling machines. The problem would stem from supporting the foil whilst milling. If you milled out the hollow centre, filled the cavity with resin, then milled away the rest, you could probably do it just fine, as long as the resin bonded the the remaining material well enough.
  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:36PM (#31791900) Homepage Journal

    Industrial robots are getting precise enough that they're less like dumb machines and more like automated sculptors producing artwork

    No, the engineers who built them and the programmers who programmed them are the sculptors, the robots are simply sophisticated knives. They're tools that humans use to create the sculpture.

    It isn't artificial intelligence, it's real. It's the programmer's intelligence.

    • by EdZ (755139)
      It depends. If you're hacking out G-code by hand, then yes, every tool path is controlled by the sculptor. If you create a 3d model, then hand over all tooling control to a bit of software, you're a designer. The robot is essentially a sculptor then, deciding how to use the tool it's given to achieve a certain shape. You could argue that the machine isn't imagining the original design, but sculptors replicate existing designs all the time.
      • Who coded the robot to determine how to machine the piece?

        Sculptors used to imagine shapes and then carve that out of stone. These programmers are taking that a step further - by programming the computer to do that.

  • by dbc (135354) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:40PM (#31791974)

    I'm starting to get involved in CNC machining (hobbyist level). One of the things that is quite clear is that there are really no good open source CAM packages. For that matter, open source 3D CAD has a long way to go, although I have great hopes for FreeCAD (not ready yet, but huge progress in the past year). If someone out there is looking for a challenge, take a look at 3D CAM, starting with 3-axis milling. Toolpath planning is *hard*. Your problem: Here is an arbitrary chunk of arbitrary metal. Here is a list of arbitrarily shaped tools. Here is the work envelop of your machine. Here is a table of chiploads that won't break the tools. Here is a 3D CAD file. Produce gcode. gcode that will not break the tools, not crash into fixtures, not crash the machine, and can start with roughing cuts to carve the initial block to something close, and plan finishing cuts that give you the desired surface finish at the end. A do your debugging where a "crash" can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars in broken tools and machinery.

    • by kidgenius (704962)
      I've used a little bit of CAM software, and it was never *that* automated. You told it what tooling you wanted to use to create which features and it would calculate the path. So you gave the computer insight into the feeds/speed, cutter dimension, length, etc. And, the software didn't know about fixtures. That was up to the job of the machinist to make sure the fixtures weren't in the way (though, that wouldn't be *that* hard to tell a computer where the fixturing will be)
    • by langelgjm (860756)

      As you're well aware, even with good software, nothing can replace an experienced operator. I used to work in manufacturing with a CNC machine, and there were lots of idiosyncracies of the machine and shop practices that I had to account for.

      This particular machine used a vacuum pump to hold the material down for cutting, which was usually fine, but the suction would be weaker around the edges and strongest in the center. The practical result was that I very quickly learned never to place small parts near t

    • by EdZ (755139)
      How about EMC2 [linuxcnc.org]?
    • by GuyFawkes (729054) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:42PM (#31792968) Homepage Journal

      You're right, I splashed the cash and bought.

      Mach3 CNC controller
      MeshCAM
      Rhino

      Let's say you have a small machine that has an XYZ envelope of 300mm a side, that's 27,000,000 millimetre cubes, or unique XYZ positions the tool and toolpath can follow.

      1mm precison is worthless, at 0.1 mm precision you just went up to 27,000,000,000 unique positions, at 0.01 mm precision you just went up to 27,000,000,000,000.

      You're probably not going to get a linear speed in excess of 1 metre second on anything even remotely hobby, 250 mm min is more like it...

      at 0.01 mm resolution that's 25,000 positions in 60 seconds, that's approx 417 a second

      we've got 27,000,000,000,000, so / 417 = 18 million hours to traverse all 27 x 10^12 points.

      even assuming you had that kind of time, your machine is burning electricity at several cents a kWh... do the math.

      So you can see how optimised tool paths, and so on are literally god when it comes to CNC.

      Sure, there are free OS alternatives to the stuff I paid for, but I don't have the time left to live, nor the inclination to pay the electric bill, that using the free OS alternatives requires.

      HTH etc

      • by SWPadnos (191329) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:27PM (#31793526)

        You're right, I splashed the cash and bought.

        Mach3 CNC controller
        MeshCAM
        Rhino

        [snip the math and analysis]

        The resolution of the machine is irrelevant, it's the tool size that matters. If you have a 1/2" diameter end mill, you cut a 1/2" swath through the material. It makes no difference if you have 0.01 inch resolution or 0.00001 inch resolution, you'll still step over by about 1/2 inch when using that tool.

        So you can see how optimised tool paths, and so on are literally god when it comes to CNC.

        Yep, for production machining, optimized toolpaths are a very good thing. The common limiting factor for small machines though is spindle horsepower. The machine can only remove so much metal per hour, and that's directly proportional to the spindle horsepower. It varies with many factors (cutter material, cutter coating, cutter speed, coolant/lubricant, etc), but it's the thing that limits the depth of cut you can use for a given end mill. There's also no such thing as an "optimal path". There are many factors that determine what may be optimal in a given situation - surface finish (the look of it), surface roughness, tool life, machine rigidity, and more.

        Sure, there are free OS alternatives to the stuff I paid for, but I don't have the time left to live, nor the inclination to pay the electric bill, that using the free OS alternatives requires.

        I sure hope you're talking about non-optimal free CAM, because as it happens, the most capable machine controller available (for less than $5000) happens to be the open source one. I only put in the price limit because I hope that the vendors selling the more expensive controllers actually have some better features than EMC2 - I know what you have doesn't.

  • Well I, for one, welcome our robot metal-sculpting overlords.

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:49PM (#31792136) Journal
    There are scads of youtube videos of multi-axis machining, from impellers [youtube.com] to V8 engine blocks [youtube.com], that are several years old. But, way before youtube, in the 1970's, Japanese nine-axis milling machines helped Soviet designers make submarine propellers vastly quieter, meaning subs like the Soviet Typhoon-class were roughly as quiet as American subs had been for a while. The military and export implications of multi-axis milling machine technology was mentioned in US Congress debates at the time: In 1983-1984 the Japanese firm Toshiba sold sophisticated, nine axis milling equipment to the Soviets along with the computer control systems, which were developed by Norwegian firm Kongsberg Vaapenfabrik. U.S Navy officials and Congressmen announced that this technology enabled the Soviet submarine builders to produce more accurate and quieter propellers. [wikipedia.org] So this is by no means new, but it sure is pretty.
  • Did they glue the transparent aluminum to the regular stuff before carving, or can they treat it to make it transparent later?
  • by nadamucho (1063238) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:52PM (#31792188)
    but will it blend?
  • by Animats (122034) on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:52PM (#31792194) Homepage

    Very nice. But not that unusual for a modern machine tool. Here's a Matsura mill doing much the same thing. [youtube.com] It's the software that's interesting.

    The current generation of machining software finally has constructive solid geometry that really works. The software can predict where the surface of the work is, as material is removed from it, and can reliably calculate clearances to the tools. I'm very impressed. This really works for arbitrary convex objects now. I've worked on collision detection enough to understand how hard that is.

    Coordinating the multiple axes isn't the hard part. That's just relative transformation matrices, which has been done in computer graphics for many years. (Although the newer robot and machining systems understand some of the machine dynamics, and consider inertia. That's new.) It's the modeling of the surface as it changes that's hard.

    This is very expensive software, but it's worth it. You need both HyperMill and either SolidWorks or Inventor. You design the part in SolidWorks or Inventor, then use HyperMill to generate the commands for the CNC machine. Total cost is upwards of $10,000. The CNC machine tool itself is relatively dumb; it's just running previously computed moves. The newer machine tools have software to display the 3D model and the tool, so you can check the planned moves against the actual ones when setting up.

    Nobody machines consumer products out of solid blocks of metal except as a demo, of course. It takes hours to machine something that can be made in seconds by stamping or molding. Machine tools are used mostly to make stamping and molding dies, and one-off parts. Also, even in modest volumes, you don't start with plain blocks of metal. You cast or forge a blank and machine off the excess.

    • by BitHive (578094)

      Nobody machines consumer products out of solid blocks of metal

      I'm pretty sure my unibody macbook pro is a consumer product.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I thought it was making a T-800 skull.

    And I almost bought a one-way ticket to Japan to save man kind.

  • Its would've been a much cooler (and scarier) demo if they'd carved out a Cylon head instead of a motorcycle helmet.

  • This has never happened to me before (for a machine ore piece of hardware).
    That helmet is beautiful, but the machine that made it is sexy. I want two. NOW! one on each side of me.

  • ..., how accurate is it? I've got a project on my 'to do' list which involves cutting a worm and hobbing its mating gear so that it will have an error of better than 5 arc seconds.
  • Aerospace (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SCHecklerX (229973) <thecaptain@captaincodo.net> on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:30PM (#31792784) Homepage

    Ever see gas turbines machined? Goes for cars too. A lot of very cool and useful things wouldn't be possible without awesome machine tools. The physics and math behind these things is pretty amazing too.

  • If you want to start a revolution, get one of these to sew a shirt.
  • by Hasai (131313) on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:08PM (#31795044)

    A helmet?

    About five years ago at Oshkosh, Williams International was showing-off a compressor turbine hub assembly for their EJ-2 engine. It was milled from a single piece of metal; hub, compressor blades, everything. One piece.

    A 'helmet.' Pbbbbbttttt. . . .

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