How to Extend the Life of Your End Mill

Breaking and damaging an end mill is oftentimes an avoidable mistake that can be extremely costly for a machine shop. To save time, money, and your end mill it is important to learn some simple tips and tricks to extend your tool’s life.

Properly Prepare Before the Tool Selection Process

The first step of any machining job is selecting the correct end mill for your material and application. However, this doesn’t mean that there should not be an adequate amount of legwork done beforehand to ensure the right decision on a tool is being made. Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions have thousands of different tools for different operations – a vast selection which, if unprepared – can easily result in selecting a tool that’s not the best for your job. To start your preparation, answer the 5 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an End Mill to help you quickly narrow down your selection and better understand the perfect tool you require.

Understand Your Tooling Requirements

It’s important to understand not only what your tool needs, but also general best practices to avoid common machining mishaps. For instance, it is important to use a tool with a length of cut only as long as needed, as the longer a tools length of cut is, the greater the chance of deflection or tool bending, which can decrease its effective life.

tool life

Another factor to consider is the coating composition on a tool. Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions offer many varieties of coatings for different materials. Some coatings increase lubricity, slowing tool wear, while others increase the hardness and abrasion resistance of the tool. Not all coatings increase your tool’s life in every material, however. Be wary of coatings that don’t perform well in your part’s material – such as the use of AlTiN coating in Aluminum (Both coating and material are aluminum-based and have a high affinity for each other, which can cause built-up edge and result in chip evacuation problems).

Consider Variable Helix & Pitch Geometry

A feature on many of our high performance end mills is variable helix or variable pitch geometry, which have differently-spaced flutes. As the tool cuts, there are different time intervals between the cutting edges contacting the workpiece, rather than simultaneously on each rotation. The varying time intervals minimizes chatter by reducing harmonics, increasing tool life and producing better results.

Ensure an Effective Tool Holding Strategy

Another factor in prolonging tool life is proper tool holding. A poor tool holding strategy can cause runout, pullout, and scrapped parts. Generally, the most secure connection has more points of contact between the tool holder and tool shank. Hydraulic and Shrink Fit Tool Holders provide increased performance over other tightening methods.

tool life

Helical also offers shank modifications to all stocked standards and special quotes, such as the ToughGRIP Shank, which provides added friction between the holder and the shank of the tool for a more secure grip; and the Haimer Safe-Lock™, which has grooves on the shank of the tool to help lock it into place in a tool holder.

tool life

Trust Your Running Parameters, and their Source

After selecting the correct end mill for your job, the next step is to run the tool at the proper speeds and feeds.

Run at the Correct Speed

Understanding the ideal speed to run your machine is key to prolonging tool life. If you run your tool too fast, it can cause suboptimal chip size, ineffective chip evacuation, or even total tool failure. Adversely, running your tool too slowly can result in deflection, bad finish, or decreased metal removal rates.

Push at the Best Feed Rate

Another critical parameter of speeds and feeds is finding the best possible feed rate for your job, for sake of both tool life and achieving maximum shop efficiency. Pushing your tool too aggressively can result in breakage, but being too conservative can lead to recutting chips and excess heat generation, accelerating tool wear.

Use Parameters from Your Tooling Manufacturer

A manufacturer’s speeds and feeds calculations take into account every tool dimension, even those not called out in a catalog and readily available to machinists. Because of this, it’s best to rely on running parameters from tooling manufacturers. Harvey Tool offers speeds and feeds charts for every one of its more than 21,000 tools featured in its catalog, helping machinists to confidently run their tool the first time.

Harvey Performance Company offers the Machining Advisor Pro application, a free, cutting-edge resource that generates custom running parameters for optimized machining with all of Helical’s products.

tool life

Opt for the Right Milling Strategy: Climb vs Conventional

There are two ways to cut material when milling: Climb Milling and Conventional Milling. In conventional milling, the cutter rotates against the feed. In this method, chips will start at theoretical zero and increase in size. Conventional milling is usually recommended for tools with higher toughness, or for breaking through case hardened materials.

In Climb Milling, the cutter rotates with the feed. Here, the chips start at maximum width and decrease, causing the heat generated to transfer into the chip instead of being left in the tool or work piece. Climb milling also produces a cleaner shear plane, causing less rubbing, decreasing heat, and improving tool life. When climb milling, chips will be removed behind the cutter, reducing your chances of recutting.

Utilize High Efficiency Milling

High Efficiency Milling (HEM), is a roughing technique that uses the theory of chip thinning by applying a smaller radial depth of cut (RDOC) and a larger axial depth of cut (ADOC). The parameters for HEM are similar to that of finishing, but with increased speeds and feeds, allowing for higher material removal rates (MRR). HEM utilizes the full length of cut instead of just a portion of the cutter, allowing heat to be distributed across the cutting edge, maximizing tool life and productivity. This reduces the possibility of accelerated tool wear and breakage.

Decide On Coolant Usage & Delivery

Coolant can be an extremely effective way to protect your tool from premature wear and possible tool breakage. There are many different types of coolant and methods of delivery to your tool. Coolant can come in the form of compressed air, water-based, straight oil-based, soluble oil-based, synthetic or semi-synthetic. It can be delivered as mist, flood, high pressure or minimum quantity lubricant.

Appropriate coolant type and delivery vary depending on your application and tool. For example, using a high pressure coolant with miniature tooling can lead to tool breakage due to the fragile nature of extremely small tools. In applications of materials that are soft and gummy, flood coolant washes away the long stringy chips to help avoid recutting and built-up edge, preventing extra tool wear.

Extend Your Tool’s Life

The ability to maximize tool life saves you time, money and headaches. To get the best possible outcome from your tool, you first need to be sure you’re using the best tool for your job. Once you find your tool, ensure that your speeds and feeds are accurate and are from your tooling manufacturer. Nobody knows the tools better than they do. Finally, think about how to run your tool: the rotation of your cutter, whether utilizing an HEM approach is best, and how to introduce coolant to your job.

 

Workholding Styles & Considerations

Machinists have a number of variables to consider when setting up workholding devices for a machining operation. When it comes to workholding, there are some major differences between holding a loosely toleranced duplicate part with a 10-minute cycle time and holding a tightly toleranced specialized part with a 10-hour cycle time. Determining which method works best for your machining job is essential to maintaining an efficient operation.

Workholding Devices

Ideal workholding devices have easily repeatable setups. For this reason, some machines have standard workholding devices. Vises are generally used with milling machines while chucks or collets are used when running a lathe machine. Sometimes, a part may need a customized workholding setup in order to secure the piece properly during machining. Fixtures and jigs are examples of customized workholding devices.

Fixtures and Jigs

A jig is a work holding device that holds, supports and locates a workpiece and guides the cutting tool into a specific operation (usually through the use of one or more bushings). A fixture is essentially the same type of device, but the main difference is that it does not guide the cutting tool into a specified operation. Fixtures are typically used in milling operations while jigs are generally used in drilling, reaming, tapping and boring. Jigs and fixtures are more precise relative to standard workholding devices, which leads to tighter tolerances. They can also be indexable, allowing them to control the cutting tool movement as well as workpiece movement. Both jigs and fixtures are made up of the same basic components: fixture bodies, locators, supports, and clamps.

The 4 Fixture Bodies

There are 4 basic types of fixture bodies: faceplates, baseplates, angle plates, and tombstones.

Faceplates: Typically used in lathe operations, where components are secured to the faceplate and then mounted onto the spindle.

Baseplates: Common in milling and drilling operations and are mounted to the worktable.

Angle plates: Two plates perpendicular to each other but some are adjustable or customized to change the angle of the workpiece.

Tombstones: Large vertically oriented rectangular fixtures that orients a workpiece perpendicular to the worktable. Tombstones also have two sides to accommodate multiple parts.

workholding

Locators

Locators are characterized by four criteria: assembled, integral, fixed, and adjustable. Assembled locators, can be attached and removed from the fixture, which is contrary to integral locators that are built into the fixture. Fixed locators allow for no moving components, while adjustable locators permit movement through the use of threads and/or springs, and can adjust to a workpiece’s size. These can be combined to provide the appropriate rigidity-assembly convenience ratio. For example, a V-locator fixture is the combination of assembled and fixed locators. It can be secured to a fixture but has no moving components.

workholding

Supports

Supports do exactly what their name suggests, they support the workpiece during the machining process to avoid workpiece deformation. These components can double as locators and also come fixed, adjustable and integral, or assembled. Generally, supports are placed under the workpiece during manufacturing but this also depends on the geometry of the workpiece, the machine being operated and where the cutting tool will make contact. Supports can come in different shapes and sizes. For example, rest buttons are smaller support components used in series either from underneath the workpiece or from the sides. Concurrently, parallel supports are placed on either side of the part to provide general support.

workholding

Clamps

Clamps are devices used for strengthening or holding things together, and come in different shapes, sizes and strengths. Vises and chucks have movable jaws and are considered standard clamps. One atypical example is the toggle clamp, which has a pivot pin that acts as a fulcrum for a lever system. One of the more convenient types is a power clamping system. There are two type of power clamping methods: hydraulic and pneumatic.

workholding

Example of a standard fixture setup.

Hydraulic Systems

Hydraulic Systems create a gripping force by attaining power from compressing a liquid. This type of power clamp is generally used with larger workpieces as it usually takes up less space relative to pneumatic clamps.

Pneumatic clamps

Pneumatic clamps attain their gripping force from the power created by a compressed gas (usually air). These systems are generally bulkier and are used for smaller workpieces that require less room on the worktable. Power clamping offers a few advantages over conventional clamping. First, these systems can be activated and deactivated quickly to save on changeover time. Second, they place uniform pressure on the part, which help prevent errors and deformation. A significant disadvantage they pose is the cost of a system but this can be quickly offset by production time saved.

Key Guidelines to Follow

Lastly, there are a few guidelines to follow when choosing the appropriate fixture or jig setup.

Ensure Proper Tolerancing

The tolerances of the workholding device being used should be 20%-50% tighter than those of the workpiece.

Utilize Acceptable Locating & Supporting Pieces

Locating and supporting pieces should be made of a hardened material to prevent wear and allow for several uses without the workpieces they support falling out of tolerance. Supports and locators should also be standardized so that they can be easily replaced.

Place Clamps in Correct Locations

Clamps should be placed above the locations of supports to allow the force of the clamp to pass into the support without deforming the workpiece. Clamps, locators and supports should also be placed to distribute cutting forces as evenly as possible throughout the part. The setup should allow for easy clamping and not require much change over time

Maximize Machining Flexibility

The design of the fixture or jigs should maximize the amount of operations that can be performed in one orientation. During the machining operation, the setup should be rigid and stable.

Bottom Line

Workholding can be accomplished in a number of different ways and accomplish the same task of successfully gripping a part during a machining operation with the end result being in tolerance. The quality of this workholding may differ greatly as some setups will be more efficient than others. For example, there is no reason to create an elaborate jig for creating a small slot down the center of a rectangular brick of aluminum; a vise grip would work just fine. Maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of an operators’ workholding setup will boost productivity by saving on changeover, time as well as cost of scrapped, out of tolerance parts.

How To Maximize High Balance End Mills

High speed machining is becoming increasingly widespread in machine shops all over the world due to the proven benefits of greater efficiency and productivity through increased spindle speeds and metal removal rates.  However, at such high spindle speeds, otherwise negligible errors and imperfections can cause negative effects such as reduced tool life, poor surface finish, and wear on the machine itself. Many of these negative effects stem from an increase in total centrifugal forces leading to vibration, commonly referred to in the industry as chatter. A key contributor to vibrations and one of the more controllable factors, is tool unbalance.

Why Balance is Critical to Machining

Unbalance is the extent to which the tool’s center of mass diverges from its axis of rotation.  Small levels of unbalance may be indistinguishable at lower RPMs, but as centrifugal force increases, small variations in the tool’s center of mass can cause substantial detrimental effects on its performance. High Balance End Mills are often used to help solve the problem of vibrations at the increased spindle speeds. Balancing is used to make compensation for the intrinsic unsymmetrical distribution of mass, which is typically completed by removing mass of a calculated amount and orientation.

Image Source: Haimer; Fundamentals of Balancing

Helical Solutions offers High Balance End Mills in both 2 and 3 flute options (see Figure 2), square and corner radius, along with coolant-through on the 3 fluted tools. These end mills are balanced at the industry standard of G2.5 at 33,000 RPM: G stands for the potential damage due to unbalance, which can be expressed as “Balancing Quality Grade” or G and 2.5 is the vibration velocity in MM per second. These tools are designed specifically to increase performance in highly balanced machining centers that are capable of elevated RPMs and feed rates. With high balance tooling, improved surface finishes are also achieved due to reduced vibrations during the machining process. Additionally, these end mills have been designed around current high-end tool holding, and come in a variety of neck lengths at specific overall lengths. These dimensional combinations result in maximum rigidity and reduced excess stick out, allowing for optimal performance and the ability to push the tools to the limit.

High Balanced Tooling Cost Benefits

Machinists who choose to use High Balance End Mills will see certain benefits at the spindle, but also in their wallets. Cost benefits of opting to run this type of tool include:

Utilizing Tap Testers

What Tap Testers Do

Vibrations are your applications worst enemy, especially at elevated RPMs and feed rates. Using resources such as a Tap Tester can help decrease vibrations and allow you to get the most out of your High Balance End Mills by generating cutting performance predictions and chatter limits.

How Tap Testing Works

High balance

Image Source: Manufacturing Automation Laboratories Inc.

Tap Testing generates cutting performance predictions and chatter limits. In a tap test, the machine-tool structure is “excited,” or tested, by being hit with an impulse hammer. In milling, the machine-tool structure is usually flexible in all three directions: X, Y, and Z, but in milling applications where High Balance Tooling is used, the flexibility is commonly only considered in two planes – the X and Y directions. By hitting the X and Y directions with the impulse hammer, the impact will excite the structure over a certain frequency range that is dependent on the hammer’s size, the type of tool being used, and the structure itself. The frequencies generated from the initial hit will produce enough information that both the impact force measurement and the displacement/accelerometer measurement are available. Combining these two measurements will result in the Frequency Response Function, which is a plot of the dynamic stiffness of the structure in frequencies.

After the information from the Tap Test is gathered, it will then process the information into useful cutting parameters for all spindles speeds such as cut depths, speed rates, and feed rates. In knowing the optimum running parameters, vibrations can be minimized and the tool can be utilized to its full potential.

High Balanced Tooling Summarized

Keeping vibrations at bay during the machining process is extremely important to machining success. Because one cause of vibration is tool unbalance, utilizing a balanced tool will result in a smoother job, a cleaner final product, and a longer life of both the tool and spindle. Machinists who choose to use High Balance Tooling can utilize a Tap Tester, or a method for generating the perfect running parameters for your tool and machine setup to ensure that machining vibration is as minimal as possible.

Drill / End Mills: Drill Style vs. Mill Style

Drill / End Mills are one of the most versatile tools in a machinist’s arsenal. These tools can perform a number of different operations, freeing space on your carousel and improving cycle times by limiting the need for tool changes. These operations include:

  1. Drilling
  2. V-Grooving
  3. Milling
  4. Spot Drilling
  5. Chamfering

The ability of the Drill / End Mill to cut along the angled tip as well as the outer diameter gives it the range of operations seen above and makes it an excellent multi-functional tool.

drill mill operations

Drill Style vs. Mill Style

The main difference between Drill / End Mill styles is the point geometry.  They are defined by how the flutes are designed on the end of the tool, using geometry typically seen on either an end mill or a drill.  While mill style tools follow the features of an end mill or chamfer mill, the drill style geometry uses an S-gash at the tip.  This lends strength to the tip of the tool, while giving it the ability to efficiently and accurately penetrate material axially.  While both styles are capable of OD milling, mill style tools will be better for chamfering operations, while drill style will excel in drilling.  The additional option of the Harvey Tool spiral tipped Drill / End Mill is an unprecedented design in the industry.  This tool combines end geometry taken from our helical flute chamfer cutters with a variable helix on the OD for enhanced performance. Versatility without sacrificing finish and optimal performance is the result.

drill mills

Left to Right: 2 Flute Drill Style End, 2 Flute Mill Style End, 4 Flute Mill Style End

Drill Mills: Tool Offering

Harvey Tool currently offers Drill / End Mills in a variety of styles that can perform in different combinations of machining applications:

Mill Style – 2 Flute

This tool is designed for chamfering, milling, drilling non-ferrous materials, and light duty spotting. Drilling and spotting operations are recommended only for tools with an included angle greater than 60°. This is a general rule for all drill mills with a 60° point. Harvey Tool stocks five different angles of 2 flute mill-style Drill / End Mills, which include 60°, 82°, 90°, 100° and 120°. They are offered with an AlTiN coating on all sizes as well as a TiB2 coating for cutting aluminum with a 60° and 90° angle.

drill mill

Mill Style – 4 Flute

4 flute mill-style Drill / End Mills have two flutes that come to center and two flutes that are cut back. This Drill / End Mill is designed for the same operations as the 2 flute style, but has a larger core in addition the higher flute count. The larger core gives the tool more strength and allows it to machine a harder range of materials. The additional flutes create more points of contact when machining, leading to better surface finish. AlTiN coating is offered on all 5 available angles (60°, 82°, 90°, 100°, and 120°) of this tool for great performance in a wide array of ferrous materials.

drill mill

Drill Style – 2 Flute

This tool is specifically designed for the combination of milling, drilling, spotting and light duty chamfering applications in ferrous and non-ferrous materials. This line is offered with a 90°, 120°, and 140° included angle as well as AlTiN coating.

drill mills drill style

Helical Tip – 4 Flute

The Helically Tipped Drill / End Mill offers superior performance in chamfering, milling and light duty spotting operations. The spiral tip design allows for exceptional chip evacuation and surface finish. This combined with an OD variable helix design to reduce chatter and harmonics makes this a valuable tool in any machine shop. It is offered in 60°, 90°, and 120° included angles and comes standard with the latest generation AlTiN Nano coating that offers superior hardness and heat resistance.

 

4 Essential Corner Rounding End Mill Decisions

A Corner Rounding End Mill is typically used to add a specific radius to a workpiece, or in a finishing operation to remove a sharp edge or burr. Prior to selecting your Corner Rounding End Mill, mull the following considerations over. Choosing the right tool will result in a strong tool with a long usable life, and the desired dimensional qualities on your part. Choosing wrong could result in part inaccuracies and a subpar experience.

Selecting the Right Pilot Diameter

The pilot diameter (D1 in the image above) determines the tool’s limitations. When pilot diameters are larger, the tool is able to be run at lower speeds. But with smaller pilot diameters, the tool can be run faster because of its larger effective cutter radius. The effective cutter diameter is determined by the following equations depending on the radius to pilot ratio:

For a Radius/Pilot Ratio < 2.5, Effective Cutter Diameter = Pilot Diameter + Radius
For a Radius/Pilot Ratio ≥ 2.5, Effective Cutter Diameter = Pilot Diameter + .7x Radius

Larger pilot diameters also have more strength than smaller pilot diameters due to the added material behind the radius. A smaller pilot may be necessary for clearance when working in narrow slots or holes. Smaller pilots also allow for tighter turns when machining an inside corner.

Flared or Unflared

Putting a full radius on a part has the potential to leave a step or an over-cut on a workpiece. This can happen if the tool isn’t completely dialed in or if there is minor runout or vibration. A slight 5° flare on the pilot and shoulder blends the radius smoothly on the workpiece and avoids leaving an over-cut.

A flared Corner Rounding End Mill leaves an incomplete radius but allows for more forgiveness. Additionally, this tool leaves a clean surface finish and does not require a second finishing operation to clean leftover marks. An unflared corner radius leaves a complete radius on the workpiece, but requires more set-up time to make sure there is no step.

Front or Back

Choosing between a Corner Rounding End Mill and a Back Corner Rounding End Mill boils down to the location on the part you’re machining. A Back Corner Rounding End Mill should be utilized to put a radius on an area of the part facing the opposite direction as the spindle. While the material could be rotated, and a front Corner Rounding End Mill used, this adds to unnecessary time spent and increased cycle times. When using a Back Corner Rounding End Mill, ensure that you have proper clearance for the head diameter, and that the right reach length is used. If there is not enough clearance, the workpiece will need to be adjusted.

Flute Count

Corner Rounding End Mills are often offered in 2, 3, and 4 flute styles.  2 flute Corner Rounding End Mills are normally used for aluminum and non-ferrous materials, although 3 flutes is quickly becoming a more popular choice for these materials, as they are softer than steels so a larger chip can be taken without an impact on tool life. 4 flutes should be chosen when machining steels to extend tool life by spreading out the wear over multiple teeth. 4 flute Corner Rounding End Mills can also be run at higher feeds compared to 2 or 3 flute tools.

Corner Rounding End Mill Selection Summarized

The best corner rounding end mill varies from job-to-job. Generally speaking, opting for a tool with the largest pilot diameter possible is your best bet, as it has the most strength and requires less power due to its larger effective cutter diameter. A flared Corner Rounding End Mill is preferred for blending purposes if the workpiece is allowed to have an incomplete radius as this allows more forgiveness and can save on set up time. If not, however, an unflared Corner Rounding End Mill should be utilized. As is often the case, choosing between number of flutes boils down to user preference, largely. Softer materials usually require fewer flutes. As material gets harder, the number of flutes on your tool should increase.

Attacking Aluminum: A Machining Guide

Aluminum is one of the most commonly machined materials, as most forms of the material feature excellent machinability, and is thus a commonly used material in manufacturing. Because of this, the competition for aluminum machining can be intense. Understanding the basics behind tool selection, running parameters, and advanced milling techniques for aluminum can help machinists earn a competitive advantage.

Material Properties

Aluminum is a highly formable, workable, lightweight material. Parts made from this material can be found in nearly every industry. Additionally, Aluminum has become a popular choice for prototypes due to its low-cost and flexibility.

Aluminum is available in two basic forms: Cast and Wrought. Wrought Aluminum is typically stronger, more expensive, and contains a lower percentage of outside elements in its alloys. Wrought Aluminum is also more heat-resistant than Cast and has a higher level of machinability.

Cast Aluminum has less tensile strength but with a higher flexibility. It costs less, and has higher percentages of outside elements (silicon, magnesium, etc.) in its alloys, making it more abrasive than Wrought.

Tool Geometry

There are a few coating options available for Aluminum tooling, including the popular gold-colored ZrN (Zirconium Nitride) and the lesser known but highly effective TiB2 (Titanium Diboride). Uncoated tooling can also provide solid machining performance. However, the real key to high performance machining in Aluminum is knowing the proper flute count and helix angle required for your operation.

Flute Count

End mills for aluminum are often available in either 2 flute or 3 flute styles. With higher flute counts, it would become difficult to evacuate chips effectively at the high speeds at which you can run in aluminum. This is because aluminum alloys leave a large chip, and chip valleys become smaller with each additional flute on an end mill.

flute count for aluminum

Traditionally, 2 flute end mills have been the preferred choice for Aluminum. However, 3 flute end mills have proven to be more successful in many finishing operations, and with the right parameters they can also work successfully as roughers. While much of the debate between 2 and 3 flute end mills for Aluminum boils down to personal preference, the operation, rigidity, and desired material removal rates can also have an effect on tool selection.

Helix Angles

The helix angle of a tool is measured by the angle formed between the centerline of the tool and a straight line tangent along the cutting edge. Cutting tools for aluminum typically feature higher helix angles than standard end mills. Specialized helix angles for Aluminum are typically either 35°, 40°, or 45°. Variable helix tools are also available and make a great choice for reducing chatter and harmonics while also increasing material removal rates.

Aluminum Machining

A helix angle of 35° or 40° is a good choice for traditional roughing and slotting applications. A 45° helix angle is the preferred choice for finishing, but also for High Efficiency Milling toolpaths as the high helix angle wraps around the tool faster and makes for a more aggressive cut.

Tooling Options

When machining aluminum, standard 2 or 3 flute tools will often get the job done. However, for certain applications and machine setups there are some more tooling options to consider for even better performance.

Chipbreaker Tooling

One of the most important things to consider when machining aluminum (and many other materials) is effective chip evacuation. Standard 2-3 flute end mills running at recommended speeds and feeds and proper chip loads can evacuate chips fairly well. However, 3 flute chipbreaker tooling can run at increased speed and feed rates for even better performance. The unique offset chip breaker geometry creates smaller chips for optimal evacuation while still leaving a semi-finished surface.

Chipbreaker Aluminum

These tools are excellent for more advanced toolpaths like High Efficiency Milling, which is another important tool for a successful aluminum machining experience.

High Balance End Mills

High balance end mills are designed to significantly increase performance in highly balanced machining centers capable of elevated RPMs and feed rates. These tools are precision balanced specifically for high velocity machining in aluminum (up to 33,000 RPM).

High Balance Tools for Aluminum

Helical Solutions offers high balance tooling in standard 2 flute styles, as well as coolant-through 3 flute styles for reduced heat, enhanced chip evacuation, and increased material removal rates. These tools, like the chipbreakers, are also an excellent choice for High Efficiency Milling toolpaths.

Running Parameters

Setting the right parameters for aluminum applications is vital to optimizing productivity and achieving better machining results. Since aluminum is an easier material to machine, pushing your machine to its limits and getting the most out of your tool is vital to stay ahead of the competition and keep winning business.

While there are many factors that go into the parameters for every job, there are some general guidelines to follow when machining aluminum. For cast aluminum alloys (i.e. 308, 356, 380), a surface footage of 500-1000 SFM is recommended, with RPMs varying based on cutter diameter. The basic calculation to find a starting point for RPMs would be (3.82 x SFM) / Diameter.

In wrought aluminum alloys (i.e. 2024, 6061, 7075), a surface footage of 800-1500 SFM is recommended, with the same calculation being used to find a starting point for RPMs.

High Efficiency Milling

High Efficiency Milling, commonly known as HEM, is a strategy that is rapidly gaining popularity in the manufacturing industry. Many CAM programs are now including HEM toolpaths, and while virtually any machine can perform HEM, the CNC controller must feature a fast processor to keep up with the additional lines of code. A great example of High Efficiency Milling toolpaths in Aluminum can be seen below.

At its core, HEM is a roughing technique that utilizes a low Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC) and a high Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC) to take full advantage of the cutting edge of the tool. To learn more about how High Efficiency Milling can increase your efficiency, extend your tool life to keep costs down, and get greater performance for aluminum (and other materials), click here to download the HEM Guidebook.

In Summary

Aluminum is a versatile material with a high level of machinability, but it should not be overlooked. Understanding the best ways to tackle it is important for achieving the desired results. Optimizing your tool crib, machine setups, and toolpaths for aluminum is essential to stay ahead of the competition and make your shop more efficient.

Multi-Functional Tools Every Shop Should Have

If there is one thing that all machinists and shop managers can agree on, it’s that time is money. Tool and material costs, employee wages, and keeping the lights on all add up, but most would agree that saving time is one of the best ways to make a shop more efficient.

Tool changes mid-job quickly add up when it comes to cycle times (not to mention tool costs), so using a tool capable of multiple operations whenever possible is an excellent first step. The following multi-functional tools are designed to save time and money at the spindle.

Drill/End Mills

drill mills

One look at Drill/End Mills or “Drill Mills” and it’s obvious that these tools are capable of more than a standard end mill. Two of the intended operations are right in the name (drilling and milling). Besides the obvious, though, drill mills are intended for grooving, spotting, and chamfering, bringing the total to five separate operations.

drill mill operations

Considering the amount of tools normally required to perform all of these common operations, keeping a few drill mills in your tool crib ensures you’re always ready to tackle them, not to mention the potential extra spots in your tool magazine.

Undercutting End Mills

undercutting end mills

Undercutting End Mills, also known as lollipop cutters or spherical ball end mills are surprisingly “well-rounded” tools. Besides milling an undercut feature on a part, which is typically very difficult with a standard end mill, these tools are capable of a few other operations.

undercutting end mill operations

Using an undercutting end mill to deburr in your machine is an excellent way to save time and effort. Some slotting and contouring operations, especially when 5-axis milling, are made far easier with an undercutting end mill, and in some situations, clearance challenges make them necessary.

Double Angle Shank Cutters

double angle shank cutters

Often referred to the “Swiss Army Knife of Machining” due to their versatility, Double Angle Shank Cutters are 6-in1 tools worth keeping on hand in any machine shop. Since these tools cut on all sides of their head, they are useful in a variety of situations.

multi-functional tools

With the ability to thread mill and countersink, Double Angle Shank cutters are perfect for holemaking operations. On top of that, their clearance advantage over standard end mills makes them extremely well suited to a variety of finishing operations in difficult to reach places.

Flat Bottom Tools

flat bottom tools

Flat Bottom Drills and Flat Bottom Counterbores are better suited to holemaking, but they are capable of a large variety of operations. They belong in a category together since their flat bottom geometry is what sets them apart from other tools in the same category. Flat bottom geometry keeps the tool from walking on irregular or angle surfaces and help to correct, straighten, or flatten features created by non-flat bottom tools.

Flat bottom drills are designed for the following operations:

multi-functional tools

While similar in some aspects, flat bottom counterbores are particularly well-suited for these uses:

flat bottom tools

Adjustable Chamfer Cutters

adjustable chamfer cutters

As discussed in a previous post, chamfer mills are capable of more than just chamfering – they are also well-suited for beveling, deburring, spotting, and countersinking. However, these adjustable chamfer cutters aren’t limited to a single angle per side – with a quick adjustment to the carbide insert you can mill any angle from 10° to 80°.

chamfer cutter inserts

When you account for the replaceable insert and the range of angles, this tool has a very high potential for time and tool cost savings.

Tools that are capable of a variety of operations are useful to just about any machine shop. Keeping your tool crib stocked with some or all of these multi-functional tools greatly increases your shop’s flexibility and decreases the chances of being unprepared for a job.

Milling Machines vs. Lathe Machines

Most modern manufacturing centers have both milling machines and lathe machines. Each machine follows the same machining principle, known as subtractive machining, where you begin with a block of material and then shape that material into the desired specifications. How the part is actually shaped is the key difference between the two machines. Understanding the differences in more depth will help in putting the right part in the right machine to maximize their capabilities.

 

cnc lathe

An Example of a Lathe Machine

cnc milling machine

An Example of a Milling Machine

Operation

The major difference between a milling machine and a lathe machine is the relationship of the workpiece and the tool.

Lathe Machines

In a lathe, the workpiece that is being machined spins about it’s axis, while the cutting tool does not. This is referred to as “turning”, and is effective for creating cylindrical parts. Common operations done on a lathe include drilling, boring, threading, ID and OD grooving, and parting. When looking to create quick, repeatable, and symmetrical cylindrical parts, the lathe machine is the best choice.

cnc lathe

Milling Machines

The opposite is true for milling machines. The tool in a milling machine rotates about its axis, while the workpiece does not. This allows the tool to approach the workpiece in many different orientations that more intricate and complex parts demand. If you can program it, you can make it in a milling machine as long as you have the proper clearance and choose the proper tooling.

milling machines

Best Practice

The best reason to use a milling machine for an upcoming project is the versatility. The tooling options for a milling machine are endless, with hundreds of available specialty cutting tools and various styles of end mills which make sure you are covered from start to finish on each job. A mill can also cut more complex pieces than a lathe. For example, it would impossible to efficiently machine something like an intake manifold for an engine on a lathe. For intricate parts like that, a milling machine would be required for successful machining.

While lathe machines are more limited in use than a milling machine, they are superior for cylindrical parts. While a mill can make the same cuts that a lathe does, it may need multiple setups to create the same part. When continuous production of cylindrical parts is necessary, a lathe will outperform the mill and increase both performance and efficiency.

8 Ways You’re Killing Your End Mill

1. Running It Too Fast or Too Slow

Determining the right speeds and feeds for your tool and operation can be a complicated process, but understanding the ideal speed (RPM) is necessary before you start running your machine. Running a tool too fast can cause suboptimal chip size or even catastrophic tool failure. Conversely, a low RPM can result in deflection, bad finish, or simply decreased metal removal rates. If you are unsure what the ideal RPM for your job is, contact the tool manufacturer.

2. Feeding It Too Little or Too Much

Another critical aspect of speeds and feeds, the best feed rate for a job varies considerably by tool type and workpiece material. If you run your tool with too slow of a feed rate, you run the risk of recutting chips and accelerating tool wear. If you run your tool with too fast of a feed rate, you can cause tool fracture. This is especially true with miniature tooling.

3. Using Traditional Roughing

high efficiency milling

While traditional roughing is occasionally necessary or optimal, it is generally inferior to High Efficiency Milling (HEM). HEM is a roughing technique that uses a lower Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC) and a higher Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC). This spreads wear evenly across the cutting edge, dissipates heat, and reduces the chance of tool failure. Besides dramatically increasing tool life, HEM can also produce a better finish and higher metal removal rate, making it an all-around efficiency boost for your shop.

4. Using Improper Tool Holding

tool holding

Proper running parameters have less of an impact in suboptimal tool holding situations. A poor machine-to-tool connection can cause tool runout, pullout, and scrapped parts. Generally speaking, the more points of contact a tool holder has with the tool’s shank, the more secure the connection. Hydraulic and shrink fit tool holders offer increased performance over mechanical tightening methods, as do certain shank modifications, like Helical’s ToughGRIP shanks and the Haimer Safe-Lock™.

5. Not Using Variable Helix/Pitch Geometry

variable helix

A feature on a variety of high performance end mills, variable helix, or variable pitch, geometry is a subtle alteration to standard end mill geometry. This geometrical feature ensures that the time intervals between cutting edge contact with the workpiece are varied, rather than simultaneous with each tool rotation. This variation minimizes chatter by reducing harmonics, which increases tool life and produces superior results.

6. Choosing the Wrong Coating

end mill coatings

Despite being marginally more expensive, a tool with a coating optimized for your workpiece material can make all the difference. Many coatings increase lubricity, slowing natural tool wear, while others increase hardness and abrasion resistance. However, not all coatings are suitable to all materials, and the difference is most apparent in ferrous and non-ferrous materials. For example, an Aluminum Titanium Nitride (AlTiN) coating increases hardness and temperature resistance in ferrous materials, but has a high affinity to aluminum, causing workpiece adhesion to the cutting tool. A Titanium Diboride (TiB2) coating, on the other hand, has an extremely low affinity to aluminum, and prevents cutting edge build-up and chip packing, and extends tool life.

7. Using a Long Length of Cut

optimal length of cut

While a long length of cut (LOC) is absolutely necessary for some jobs, especially in finishing operations, it reduces the rigidity and strength of the cutting tool. As a general rule, a tool’s LOC should be only as long as needed to ensure that the tool retains as much of its original substrate as possible. The longer a tool’s LOC the more susceptible to deflection it becomes, in turn decreasing its effective tool life and increasing the chance of fracture.

8. Choosing the Wrong Flute Count

flute count

As simple as it seems, a tool’s flute count has a direct and notable impact on its performance and running parameters. A tool with a low flute count (2 to 3) has larger flute valleys and a smaller core. As with LOC, the less substrate remaining on a cutting tool, the weaker and less rigid it is. A tool with a high flute count (5 or higher) naturally has a larger core. However, high flute counts are not always better. Lower flute counts are typically used in aluminum and non-ferrous materials, partly because the softness of these materials allows more flexibility for increased metal removal rates, but also because of the properties of their chips. Non-ferrous materials usually produce longer, stringier chips and a lower flute count helps reduce chip recutting. Higher flute count tools are usually necessary for harder ferrous materials, both for their increased strength and because chip recutting is less of a concern since these materials often produce much smaller chips.

10 Reasons to Use Flat Bottom Tools

Flat bottom tools, or tools with flat bottom geometry, are useful in a variety of a situations and operations that tools with typical cutting geometry are not. The standard characteristics of drills or end mills are useful for their primary functions, but make them unsuitable for certain purposes. When used correctly, the following flat bottom tools can make the difference between botched jobs and perfect parts.

Flat Bottom Drills

Flat Bottom Drill

Flat bottom drills are perfect for tricky drilling situations or for creating flat bottom holes without secondary finishing passes. Consider using these specialized drills for the operations below.

 

Flat Bottom Drill Operations

Thin Plate Drilling

When drilling through holes in thin plates, pointed drills are likely to push some material out the exit hole and create underside burrs. Flat bottom drills are significantly less likely to experience this problem, as their flat bottom geometry generates more even downward forces.

Crosshole Drilling

When drilling a hole that crosses the path of another hole, it is important to avoid creating burrs, since they can be extremely difficult to remove in this kind of cross section. Unlike drills with points, flat bottom drills are designed to not create burrs on the other side of through holes.

Irregular/Rounded Surface Drilling

Flat bottom drills initially engage irregular surfaces with their outer edge. Compared to making first contact with a standard drill point, this makes them less susceptible to deflection or “walking” on inclined surfaces, and more capable of drilling straighter holes.

Angled Drilling

Even if the surface of a part is flat or regular, a pointed drill is susceptible to walking if it engages the part at an angle, known as angled or tilted drilling. For the same reason flat bottom drills are ideal for drilling on irregular surfaces, they are perfect for angled drilling.

Half Hole Drilling

When drilling a half hole on the edge of a part, the lack of material on either side of the drill makes the operation unstable In this situation, a pointed drill is susceptible to walking. A flat bottom drill makes contact with its entire cutting geometry, allowing for more versatility and stability when drilling half holes.

 

Flat Bottom Counterbores

Flat Bottom Counterbore

Flat bottom counterbores are an excellent choice when a flat bottom hole is needed and a tool without flat bottom geometry was used to create it. Keep some of these tools on hand to be prepared for the operations below.

 

Flat Bottom Counterbore Operations

Bore & Finish Drilled Holes

Drill geometry is designed first and foremost for factors like stability, rigidity, and chip evacuation. Some holes will need secondary finishing operations. Flat bottom counterbores are often designed with a slow helix and low rake, which help them avoid part engagement and control finish.

Straighten Misaligned Holes

Even experienced machinists may drill a less-than-perfectly-straight hole or two in new and unfamiliar jobs. Fortunately, flat bottom counterbores are well-suited for straightening misaligned holes.

Spot Face & Counterbore on Irregular Surfaces

The unique geometry of flat bottom counterbores makes them  effective at spotting on irregular surfaces. Standard drills and spot drills are susceptible to walking on these kinds of surfaces, which can potentially ruin an operation.

Remove Drill Points

When a standard drill creates a hole (other than a through hole) it leaves a “drill point” at the bottom due to its pointed geometry. This is fine for some holes, but holes in need of a flat bottom will need a secondary operation from a flat bottom counterbore to remove the drill point.

Remove End Mill Dish

The dish angle present on most standard end mills allows proper end cutting characteristics and reduces full diameter contact. However, these end mills will naturally leave a small dish at the bottom of a hole created by a plunging operation. As with drill points, flat bottom counterbores are perfect to even out the bottom of a hole.