Intelligent machine tool prototype operates like a 3D printer

A research group led by Professor Shirase Keiichi of the Kobe University Graduate School of Engineering has developed a prototype machine tool that manufactures metal components and operates like a 3D printer. The group showcased the prototype at the international machine tool tradeshow Emo Milano 2015 (October 5-10, 2015; Milan, Italy). Their development could speed manufacturing of custom-made products such as dental implants and artificial bones, potentially shortening production times and reducing costs.

The prototype is a product of the university's ongoing research into intelligent machine tools, and is one of three  projects in the "Innovative design and manufacturing technologies" category selected for the Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP), a project headed by the Japanese Cabinet Office’s Council for Science, Technology and Innovation. In June 2015, the university used funding from this program to establish the 3D Smart Manufacturing Center, which will be used to pursue interdisciplinary research and business-academia collaborations.

Intelligent machine tool prototype.

Currently, most machine tools for metal cutting follow instructions from a program that is manually prepared in advance. However, in addition to the huge amount of labor required to create each program, the method has potential issues, as the machines cannot make adjustments to the machining process or respond to unforeseen problems. Metal components can also be shaped using metal 3D printers, but this too has disadvantages—the metal powder used as a raw material is extremely expensive, and the surface of the finished component is poor quality.

The prototype created by Shirase's research team marks a shift from providing machine tools with instructions to entrusting machine tools with the machining operation. When preparing a 3D model and a material model of the component, the machine tool itself will determine the optimum machining process using a database of machining information and cutting conditions. This development could potentially pave the way for intelligent manufacturing systems, reduced costs, and faster production times.

For more information, please visit www.research.kobe-u.ac.jp.



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