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Welcome to the Era of 'Robotic Blacksmithing'

Glenn S. Daehn

Although it may not be obvious, there’s a close link between manufacturing technology and innovation. Elon Musk often talks of the “machines that build the machines” as being the real enabler in both his space and automotive businesses.

Using less-expensive, more scalable processes allows Space X to launch missions on budgets and with speed that would be unthinkable using NASA’s old-school manufacturing methods. And the new Tesla Cybertruck’s unorthodox design appears to take advantage of a simplified manufacturing process that does away with “die stamping” metal in favor of bending and folding metal sheets.

Now a new manufacturing method dubbed “robotic blacksmithing” has the potential to revolutionize the way high-quality structural parts are made, resulting in a new class of customized and optimized products. I am part of a loose coalition of engineers developing this process, a technique I believe can help revive U.S. manufacturing.

Today’s technologies

Metal parts are used in all kinds of high-performance and safety-critical applications in transportation, mining, construction and power-generation equipment such as turbine engines. Most are made using one of a small number of classical manufacturing processes that haven’t changed much in decades.

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