It’s not very often you get to see the machines that physically create the parts we use on our trucks and cars. We’re usually more focused on the end product and we don’t think about how it was created. Just before the 2019 KOH Pre-Show, Amada America opened its doors and let us do a guided tour of their Los Angeles Technical Center in Buena Park, CA.
Amada itself has a very long and interesting history from its start on March 5th, 1937, using a metal lathe that survived the end of World War II, in Toshima, Tokyo, Japan. By September of 1946, Amada was turned into an enterprise and became a limited partnership on June of 1948 as Amada Manufacturers.
Amada’s First Major Product
On September of 1953, Amada was finally recognized as a stock company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and relocated to Nakano, Tokyo. It was here that Amada made their first major success: the universal sheet metal band saw. This would be their focus and continues – in a way – to this day with their metal cutting products we see now, but it all started with their first vertical band saw.
The company continued to grow in both the Tokyo Stock Exchange and in their world reach. In 1965, Amada entered into technical assistance agreements with Promecam International in France for press brakes and shearing machines and USI-Clearing Industrial, Inc. to create the mechanical press. The latter would go on to help push to establish Amada here in the US with US Amada LTD in 1971. It’s now known as Amada America, Inc. Today, Amada has facilities across the globe including China, Korea, Japan, Australia, Germany, and other key areas of manufacturing as Amada Machine Tools Co., Ltd. and have their stocks listed on the Tokyo and Osaka Stock Exchanges in their home country
The Los Angeles Technical Center (LATC)
When it first opened in 1982, the Amada Show Plaza was the headquarters of Amada America as well as where machines were demonstrated, verified, and where purchasers can get training on the latest equipment. However, it needed a major renovation back in 2011 to make it the 103,500-square-feet facility I photographed for this article. This was completed on June 6th, 2012 and renamed the Los Angeles Technical Center. I was quite impressed with the look and architecture outside of the facility.
However, it was inside that blew me away. I can’t recall coming to a facility quite like this one in my life. The closest I can think of would probably be the Corvette plant and museum, but I don’t think that’s a fair comparison for either of them.
Stepping inside and you’re greeted by modern design. Step through the next set of doors and you get something you’ve probably only seen in a movie set. The Atrium tranquil scene of flowing water surrounded by granite in various shapes and Japanese cultural designs. I felt like I was walking into something out of a museum more than a place that’s about to show me manufacturing equipment.
Little did I know that I was about to witness some of the most impressive displays of metal bending and cutting technology and we would be led by Joseph Greeninger, the General Manager of the LATC. These are the three I found the most interesting.
The Verification Floor
This area is known as the Verification Floor, where customers and visitors are shown some of the latest equipment from Amada as well as having them demonstrated to them. This area is 56,500-square-feet by itself and needs to be due to the sizes of the machines they offer, but there are classrooms and engineering rooms that their staff work at for new ideas and improvements. So, when customers call Amada with needs or improvements, this is where those are explored and researched before implementing them on their machines.
LCG 3015 AJ 9-kW
Our tour began with a demonstration of the LCG 3015 AJ, a fiber-LASER cutter. So, instead of having LASER modules with mirrors and CO2 gas, this utilizes multiple LASER diodes and sends those beams of photons through fiber-optic cables.
Those cables join to a single point at the cutting head and allows it to cut multiple material types, thicknesses (up to 1.25-inches by this machine), and speeds at the same power output of a CO2 laser with lower power consumption. It doesn’t eliminate the need for gasses, though, but does allow the user to work with less expensive gasses like oxygen, nitrogen, and simple compressed air either automatically or by user input.
Some of the parts they showed us I thought could only be achieved by electrical discharge machining (EDM, but also known as spark machining, spark eroding, or wire erosion machining). Take this piece of steel with its holes. It’s very difficult to get holes this clean and precise in material this thick without something like EDM, which consumes electrodes and uses even more power.
This was done by the fiber-LASER of the LCG 3015 AJ 9-kW with its three 3-kW fiber-LASER modules. Those LASER diode fibers are ytterbium (Yb)-doped, too. Those modules combined with the single fiber optic leading to the lens creates a beam that’s only 1.08-micrometers (0.000042-inch) in wavelength. In comparison, a CO2 gas laser is around 9.4- to 10.6-micrometers (0.00037 to 0.000396-inch).
It also gives the LCG 3015 AJ a repeatability of cuts at ±0.0002-inch (two tenths, for you machine shop types or just over 5-micrometers). To give you an idea of the sizes we’re talking about here, the age-old comparison that is the human hair comes to mind. It’s about 17- to 181-micrometers (0.000669- to 0.00712-inch) in diameter and your red blood cells are about five-micrometers across (or 0.000197-inch)
EG 6013 AR
Next was their EG 6013 AR, a fully automated press brake machine. When I say, “fully automated,” I mean it does everything from changing the tools to handling the material. It does this with a single robotic arm and it determines the tooling it needs by the programming done by the engineer. Ryan, our guide at this station, explained how it worked. When it changed from the taco holder program to the spatula one, the machine would quickly change the upper and lower tooling to match the bends it needed. All with the same grip, too, in this occasion.
The robotic hand was also used to help with the bending, so the square ends of the spatula, where you grab it, where all bent by this machine in just a few passes. Automated benders exist but this one was fun to watch as it switched between each program quickly.
HG 1003 ATC
This was an interesting demonstration. The HG 1003 ATC is normally human operated, but when a rush job comes up it’s automated to allow it to be done as quickly as the machine can. The green lights shining on the tooling are making sure the tech’s hands are out of the way before it goes into its fully automated mode. It moves over to its own enclosure, performs the tooling changes, and grabs material to achieve the job.
Once it’s done, the technician can go back to where they left off as the display shows which step they were at before the rush order was started. Both the rush order countdown timer and bending operations are displayed on the AMNC 3i screen. It’s fixed to an arm that can be positioned to the technician’s liking. It’s also where the HG 1003 ATC is controlled as far as the starting and stopping of each operation is concerned.
When the human is in control, each bend is carried out by pressing down on the foot control just like a normal press brake. However, each bend is mapped out and displayed on the tablet like interface. All the tech must do is just move to each tooling fixture the bends require. The tooling is set up by the machine before the tech works with it, too.
It’s an interesting mix of automation and human interaction that allows for lower skill requirements from the operator as it’s simplified to grabbing the material, follow the steps on screen, and press the foot brake. The machine does everything else. As Joseph explained, “if you can operate a smart phone, you should be able to operate this machine.”
The final part I found interesting was still being setup, but the examples of finished parts was impressive. This is the FLW ENSIS, a fiber-LASER welder based on the same technology as the fiber-LASER cutter found in the LCG 3015 AJ. However, instead of cutting it’s, as the name implies, welding with its 3-kW fiber-LASER module. It’s also fully automated and will focus its beam based on welding conditions and the materials you’re working with.
What it creates are the cleanest, most precise, and smallest welds I have ever seen. If it wasn’t for the welding trace, you’d probably assume this was a part made in a casting. In most of the parts, once that trace was cleaned off, you can only see that it’s welded if you look very closely. The fiber-LASER module’s lens doesn’t move in a straight path, either, as the lens circles around the weld path to create even welds in materials with uneven gaps. It also learns as it works using CCD cameras to adjust for any deviations in the weld path and the 3D data programmed for the job allows it to simulate movements before welding.
Using LASER also means it can have specific heat controlling, too. You end up with a weld that has no slag or deposits and create clean weld beads. It also means that it can weld more than just steel and aluminum with brass and copper being two materials that are typically difficult to weld. The FLW ENSIS also uses less energy to produce the same job as a traditional gas LASER welder.
Who’s Using Amada?
Since the group was there for the Ultra4 King of the Hammers Pre-Show, Amada showed us just some of the companies in this side of the industry who’s using their products. Rusty’s Off-Road and Rock-Slide Engineering allowed them to display their fully formed, unpainted products and there was also a very interesting looking Dana 60 rear differential cover. It didn’t have a brand name on it, so I couldn’t tell whose it was and there weren’t many clues. However, it did show just how clean the cuts are from the fiber-LASER cutters they offer.
A question Eric “Camo” Linker asked during the end of the tour is one you guys probably have, too. “What about the hobby machinist? What’s Amada got for them?” The answer is, well, they don’t. These guys sell to large production, high-volume customers where automation and/or 24/7 production schedules are normal. Amada America’s automation offerings are the answer to bring less expensive but major manufacturing to the United States-based customers. This is done because you need less skilled workers at the machines, and you’ll have them working with the CAD/CAM programs instead. At least that’s the theory.
That’s not to say a hobbyist couldn’t buy an Amada product. Joseph himself is a hobbyist and explained it via an example with woodworking. “A hobbyist can buy a Festool saw and build cabinets or anything a professional woodworker can make with their tools. However, financially, it may not be feasible because you won’t see the same return.” Products like Festool and Amada are designed to be used for longer and faster so professionals can build and sell their products in the quickest amount of time with the least amount of downtime. They are willing to spend that extra $1,000 a tool may cost simply because they produce enough product to offset that cost at the end of the day. On top of that, Amada is mostly centralized around automation, something the hobbyist just doesn’t require.
However, once your hobby of making bumpers for your friends becomes a business, then you’ll start looking at Amada America.
King of the Hammers
Amada has been involved with Ultra4 and the King of the Hammers since 2018 and just like last year, they will have a demonstration of their products right in Hammertown. It’s a while process to watch and even more amazing when you consider they are doing this out in the middle of the desert, too. If you’re heading out this year for the race, you need to stop buy and see them in action just for the simple idea of watching these machines do their work.
Carbage at KOH
Carbage will be at the 2019 King of the Hammers and this year I’m covering it all. From the UTVs on Sunday to the big one on Friday and doing everything in between. If you happen to see me out there (can’t miss the only guy with a Volk Racing or Project Mu hoodie in that desert), give me a wave or a holler!
Meanwhile, be sure to keep your browser here on CarbageOnline.com for everything related to the King of the Hammers, Mint 400, and more events coming your way in 2019! Share this, other articles, and the site with your friends as we continue to bring you the best coverage in the automotive industry.