The dream of machines that build the machines are ultimately more important than whatever, it is you’re manufacturing. In his own work with Tesla and SpaceX, it’s clear why Musk says this. He uses less expensive and more scalable processes, to build the parts for spacecrafts and cars. That weird Cybertruck we love to hate or hate to love? It looks like that because it would break the machines that make it, otherwise. Because it uses 30X cold-rolled steel, rather than stamped aluminum or steel, it’s not possible to stamp this kind of material.
So instead, it looks all boxy instead of curvy. But in the near future, a new type of manufacturing could theoretically produce a Cybertruck of pretty much any shape. This new process, as outlined in a report from earlier this year by the Minerals Metals and Materials Society is called metamorphic manufacturing, or robotic blacksmithing, Right after World War II, computers were used to control manufacturing processes for the first time. While these old-school computers had way less computing power than even an iPad or a Raspberry Pi according to Glenn Daehn, who a professor at Ohio State University it is more efficient to control industrial machines. This became known as computer numerical controlled manufacturing, or CNC for short. Daehn, a team lead for the new study on robotic blacksmithing, said in a video that CNC machining was the first type of digital manufacturing and rapid prototyping, and 3D printing was the second wave.
The third wave is what he calls “metamorphic manufacturing,”
a process that borrows from both the world of blacksmiths and robotics, which can use sensors to evaluate the shape and all the micro-structure of each part, while adding heat through lasers or shaping pieces with force from its own arms. The above process will likely supersede current technologies, including additive manufacturing and CNC machining, Daehn said. That’s partly because the process is sustainable, using standard metals with nothing cut away because it can create goods with higher properties, and partly because machines can work 24/7. The process will use plasticine, basically children\’s modeling clay, as a hot metal surrogate. Daehn says its key to use open-die forging, which basically means you can create a new object through incremental changes—that is, rotate, shape, repeat. Imagine you have some material that looks like a spherical ball, but you want it to be a square.
A robot with two plates attached to an arm—one at the bottom, one at the top—can squeeze the sphere into an object that protrudes at the sides and is flat at the top and bottom. If it\’s rotated and then squeezed again, you’ll eventually end up with a cube-shaped piece. According to the new study on metamorphic manufacturing, this creates an unparallelled ability to control both the geometry and local properties of a part. Similar to additive manufacturing, metamorphic manufacturing can produce highly complex shapes which are difficult or expensive to CNC machine or die-form, the authors wrote.
However, unlike additive manufacturing, can be utilized to fabricate these complex, shapes out of a single piece of material by incrementally deforming, as opposed to building, layers upon one another.
In turn huge monolithic structures could be produced at once, rather than through joining multiple pieces as in welding or brazing. That’s a pretty big deal, because joints are inherently weak spots. Still, this is all a theoretical framework, and the study is mostly meant to urge scientists and engineers to move forward in creating processes, that will eventually enable this new type of manufacturing. There’s no timeline yet on when the infant manufacturing process will hit our warehouses, in real life but the researchers behind the report are working to build more awareness.