Tool runout is a given in any machine shop, and can never be 100% avoided. Thus, it is important to establish an acceptable level of runout for any project, and stay within that range to optimize productivity and prolong tool life. Smaller runout levels are always better, but choice of machine and tool holder, stick-out, tool reach, and many other factors all have an influence on the amount of runout in every setup.
Defining Tool Runout
Tool runout is the measurement of how far a cutting tool, holder, or spindle rotates off of its true axis. This can be seen in low quality end mills where the cutting diameter is true to size when measured while stationary, but measures above tolerance while rotating.
The first step to minimizing runout is understanding what individual factors cause runout in every machine setup. Runout is seen in the accuracy of every cutting tool, collet, tool holder, and spindle. Every added connection between a machine and the workpiece it is cutting will introduce a higher level of runout. Each increase can add to the total runout further and further. Steps should be taken with every piece of tooling and equipment to minimize runout for best performance, increased tool life, and quality finished products.
Determining the runout of your system is the first step towards finding how to combat it. Runout is measured using an indicator that measures the variation of a tool’s diameter as it rotates. This is done with either a dial/probe indicator or a laser measuring device. While most dial indicators are both portable and easy to use, they are not as accurate as the available laser indicators, and can also make a runout measurement worse by pushing on a tool. This is mostly a concern for miniature and micro-tooling, where lasers should be strictly used due to the tool’s fragile nature. Most end mill manufacturers recommend using a laser runout indicator in place of a dial indicator wherever possible.
Runout should be measured at the point where a tool will be cutting, typically at the end of the tools, or along a portion of the length of cut. A dial indicator may not be plausible in these instances due to the inconsistent shape of a tool’s flutes. Laser measuring devices offer another advantage due to this fact.
High Quality Tools
The amount of runout in each component of a system, as-manufactured, often has a significant impact on the total runout of a given setup. Cutting tools all have a restriction on maximum runout allowed when manufactured, and some can have allowances of .0002” or less. This is often the value that should be strived for in a complete system as well. For miniature tooling down to .001” diameter, this measurement will have to be held to an even smaller value. As the ratio of tool runout to tool diameter becomes larger, threats of tool failure increase. As stated earlier, starting with a tool that has minimal runout is pivotal in keeping the total runout of a system to a minimum. This is runout that cannot be avoided.
Precision Tool Holders
The next step to minimizing runout is ensuring that you are using a high quality, precision tool holder. These often come in the form of shrink-fit, or press-fit tool holders offering accurate and precise tool rotation. Uniform pressure around the entire circumference of a shank is essential for reducing runout. Set screw based holders should be avoided, as they push the tool off-center with their uneven holding pressure. Collet-based tool holders also often introduce an extra amount of runout due to their additional components. Each added connection in a tool holding system allows more methods of runout to appear. Shrink-fit and press-fit tool holders are inherently better at minimizing runout due to their fewer components.
Included in your tool holding considerations should be machine tool cleanliness. Often, chips can become lodged in the spindle, and cause an obstruction between two high-precision surfaces in the system. Ensuring that your tool holder and spindle are clean and free of chips and debris is paramount when setting up for every job.
Apart from equipment itself, many other factors can contribute to an increasing amount of tool runout. These can include how long a tool is, how rigid a machine setup is, and how far a tool is hanging out of its holder. Shank modifications, along with their methods of tool holding can have a large impact. Often thought of as an older, obsolete technology, Weldon flats are found guilty of adding large amounts of runout in many shops. While many shops still use Weldon flats to ensure a secure grip on their tools, having a set screw pushing a tool to one side can push it off center, yielding very high levels of runout. Haimer Safe Lock™ is another option increasing in popularity that is a much higher performance holding technology. The Safe-Lock™ system is designed with the same tolerances as shrink fit and other high precision tool holders. It is able to minimize runout, while firmly holding a tool in place with no chance of pull-out.
Runout will never be completely eliminated from a machining system. However, steps can (and should) be taken to keep it to a minimum using every method possible. Keeping a tool running true will extend tool life, increase performance, and ultimately save your shop time and money. Runout is a common concern in the metalworking industry, but it is often overlooked when it could be main issue causing part rejections and unacceptable results. Every piece of a machine tool plays a part in the resultant runout, and none should be overlooked.