Mitsui Seiki is a machine tool builder that aims to excel in the area of precision. It provides machines, often custom-engineered, to meet machining challenges related to high-value parts with particularly demanding tolerances. Therefore, the company’s introduction of additive manufacturing as a capability it can now deliver might seem like an odd fit. Additive manufacturing—building up parts or features through a controlled process of adding material in layers—cannot by itself achieve anything like the fine tolerances that machining can.
But Robb Hudson, technology and business development manager for the company, says additive manufacturing is an addition to machining that brings both design freedom and process efficiency to complement machining’s precision. And by consolidating more of a part’s processing into a single machine, it potentially reduces part handling, which facilitates precision as well. During the past year or more that the company has been preparing to come to market with additive capability, he says, it has been experimenting with how to use metal cutting and metal deposition effectively within the same machine tool, without having to compromise the effectiveness or promise of either capability.
Mr. Hudson says essentially any of the company’s machines can now be made available as a hybrid system, capable of both additive and subtractive operations. A hybrid model of the company’s Vertex five-axis machining center will now be a standard product. The additive capability comes from the company’s partnership with Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies, a firm jointly based in Texas and the UK that offers a system for integrating additive manufacturing capability into an existing machine tool. The Hybrid head performs metal additive manufacturing through laser cladding, feeding metal powder into a pool that is melted by a laser. The head mounts in the machine’s spindle using a toolholder, and when it is not in use, it waits in the machine’s carousel alongside other tools.