I didn’t think, on Monday, that I’d be visiting the UK this week. So it came as a surprise that on Tuesday I ended up buying a flight to head across to Birmingham on Wednesday, coming back Friday. You’re probably thinking, “ouch, that must have been expensive!” – which was exactly my expectation, looking into flights – but it turns out that at this time of year (probably due to the demand from skiers) EasyJet runs daily flights between Geneva and Birmingham. And – this week, at least – the flights were nearly empty: I managed to get a return leaving the next day for less than $150. Score!
The purpose of my trip was two-fold: it was a great opportunity to catch up with Jeff Kowalski, Autodesk’s CTO, who was in town to visit the newly inaugurated Advanced Manufacturing Facility (AMF), and the week after the launch seemed an ideal time to hold a debrief to understand what the AMF wants from Dasher 360, moving forward. A bonus was that I’d get to meet people I’ll no doubt be working closely with as we flesh out how Dasher 360 can be used in a factory environment. All in all plenty of justification for making the trip across.
Autodesk’s office in Birmingham – which came as part of the Delcam acquisition – is in Small Heath. Which, for those of you who’ve watched it, is home to the Shelby family in Peaky Blinders. In hindsight I wish I’d invested in a flat cap: with my haircut (or lack, thereof) I might even have carried off the Peaky Blinders look. (Thanks for the suggestion, Phil Gill. ;-)
Another nice point about visiting the AMF is that Birmingham airport is a breeze to fly into: there’s very little time spent taxiing or disembarking, and the office is a relatively short taxi ride away.
The AMF is really an impressive facility. There’s so much cool stuff going on… most of which I don’t understand – I’m more into bits than atoms – but hopefully the below photos will be meaningful to many of you.
The first exhibit you see as you enter the reception is the awesome BAC Mono. Here’s a quick shot of Jeff exercising his inner child behind the wheel.
(I have to say it’s a wonderful thing working for an exec with a sense of humour. As we were walking through the office to the Advanced Consulting team’s area, I asked where it was… Jeff replied “just a bit past Basic Consulting”. ;-)
On the other side of the reception you can see a couple of industrial robots doing some large-scale milling.
The first demo we saw was a small-scale robot engraving chocolate. Scott Reese used an internal web-service driven by PowerMill code to generate the toolpath for his chosen text to be engraved into some fine Belgian chocolate.
The project is in conjunction with Candy Mechanics, who are doing some fun things with custom engraving and milling of sweet stuff.
In the main workshop area we saw a larger-scale (but still chocolatey-looking) clay model being milled:
One of my favourite demos was of robots being used for additive manufacturing: in this case welding a propeller. Here’s the display as the part was being welded.
Once the welding was paused the cell could be opened, allowing us to see the cooling part.
Here’s a shot of a more complete propeller that had been made earlier:
There were lots of other processes on display. Tom Gale’s HoloLens app to inspect the analysis result of a polishing operation was very neat:
There were generatively-designed engine parts that had been milled using CNC to result in a 20% weight reduction:
It was also really nice to see the interest people had in using Dasher 360 to help operate a space such as the AMF.
All in all it was a very interesting tour. So far it’s been well worth making the trip across to the AMF… I’m looking forward to coming here more regularly in the future.