Business boost for NASA Spinoff

Amorphology executives came across the Starrag booth by chance during the EMO Hannover 2019 show while seeking a CNC machine that could produce micro gears using novel metal alloys, such as bulk metallic glasses (BMGs).

Amorphology, a NASA spinoff company founded from technology developed at JPL and Caltech, is a leader in applying advanced materials and manufacturing technologies toward improving non-lubricated gears for robotics and other industrial applications using amorphous metals.

“We met with numerous companies, including machine tool builders from Japan, Germany, Switzerland and other countries,” said Stephen Ceplenski, Amorphology’s Chief Growth Officer. “As we were new to the machining industry, we actually had not heard about Starrag’s Bumotec product range prior to the show, however, when we walked by their booth, we were immediately impressed with some of the micro-gears they had on display.”

Following the EMO show, Amorphology conducted machining tests with several companies, including Starrag, to assess the precision, cycle time and overall capabilities of the machines as they cut a relatively unknown BMG alloy.

“We are targeting high-precision parts with tolerances often < 5μm on certain dimensions” Jason Riley, Chief Operating Officer

In order to cut the part, Starrag had a special cutting tool made and delivered to Amorphology’s Pasadena, California, laboratory along with several sample parts showing the capabilities of machining BMG to high precision.

“We were focused on finding the top high-precision, small / micro-part, machine tool builders so that we could assess which machine we would purchase to meet our rapid prototyping, mold insert cutting and post-processing needs,” said Amorphology’s Chief Operating Officer Jason Riley. The Bumotec s191H outperformed all the other machining manufacturers.

Relationship geared to grow business

Starrag asked, and received, material with CAD files of Amorphology’s micro-gear prototypes. Test cuts were performed at Starrag labs in Switzerland and Kentucky. “We produced several batches of sample gears for Amorphology to evaluate. They were impressed with the micro-precision results produced by the Bumotec s191H” said Greg Dunkley, Starrag Vice President Sales Precision Engineering North America. “From there, we entered into discussions about how we could work together to grow our respective businesses. It was agreed that Amorphology will showcase the Bumotec s191H in its Pasadena lab for their customers and our customers to view.” Amorphology will be making a wide variety of parts using the Bumotec s191H, from mold inserts to rapid prototype gears, as well as other production BMGs and traditional metal parts. “We are targeting high-precision parts with tolerances often < 5μm on certain dimensions,” said Riley. “The majority of our work is focused on rapid prototyping and production quantities in the 100’s of parts per month.”

BMGs and other amorphous metals have advanced features over steel, titanium and aluminum. Amorphology’s patents with several metal alloys are based on developing gears for space and other extreme cold temperature applications. Amorphous metals are a non-crystalline class of alloys that cut and chip differently than other materials.

“The Bumotec provides the mill-turn capabilities that we currently don't have, as well as a higher production capacity,” said Riley. “The Bumotec supplements our current capabilities and provides us with capabilities that we don't have.”

Cobots, robots and medical devices

The Bumotec s191H has the capability “of offering us a unique value proposition,” said Ceplenski. “Bumotec can take our alloys and machine single pieces. Or instead of machining one part at a time, it can produce 100’s of pieces lights out.”

Besides making gears for aerospace, Amorphology’s gears are made for use in cobots, robots and medical devices. For example, most cobots use strain-wave gears – the main component being a flexspline. It is complex, thin-walled, and fulfills an important role – to precisely move the arm of the robot.

Many of the cobot, robot and medical device parts can be cast or injected molded, but at times the micro-parts need to be post-processed to extremely high tolerances. Starrag “cut its teeth” in designing Bumotec machines for the Swiss watch industry, said Dunkley. “Bumotec machining centers have a talent for machining micro-size high value gears.”

The Bumotec s191H is the result of blending Swiss mechanics and state-of-the-art axis drive technologies. The cast iron three-point machine base and linear drives eliminate vibration which yields superior surface finishes. Advanced kinematics and thermal management allow the implementation of numerous high speed machining operations in a small footprint.

“We project that the Bumotec s191H will make our own micro gearboxes without lubrication in robots and medical devices,” said Ceplenski. “We will be machining our patented alloys to very small sizes where production quantities don’t require our injection molding process.”

The value proposition for Starrag is that the parameters developed with these amorphous metals will be developed on the Bumotec. “Everyone has preloaded parameters for common alloys, such as aluminum,” said Ceplenski. “What about amorphous metals? We will be developing those parameters on Bumotec, and as we scale, we will be the only location capable of using those parameters on earth.”

A chance meeting in a distant land results in a business relationship that will be out of this world and a future-changing step forward in CNC machining of amorphous metals. 

Precision part machining in one single shot