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B&R Custom Machining- Featured Customer

B&R Custom Machining is a rapidly expanding aerospace machine shop located in Ontario, Canada, focused primarily on aerospace and military/defense manufacturing. Over the past 17 years, B&R has grown from a 5 person shop with a few manual mills and lathes, into one of Canada’s most highly respected manufacturing facilities, with nearly 40 employees and 21 precision CNC machines.

B&R focuses on quality assurance and constant improvement, mastering the intimacies of metal cutting and maintaining the highest levels of quality through their unique shop management philosophies. They seek to consistently execute on clear contracts through accurate delivery, competitive price, and high quality machined components.

We talked with Brad Jantzi, Co-Founder and Technical Manager of B&R Custom Machining, to learn about how he started in the industry, his experience with High Efficiency Milling, what he looks for most in a cutting tool, and more!

B&R Custom machining

Can you tell us a little bit about how B&R Custom Machining started, and a little background about yourself and the company?

My brother (Ryan Jantzi, CEO/Co-Founder) and I started working in manufacturing back in 2001, when we were just 20/21 years old. We had 5 employees (including ourselves), a few manual mills and lathes, and we were wrapping our parts in newspaper for shipping. We took over from a preexisting shop and assumed their sales and machines.

We bought our first CNC machine in 2003, and immediately recognized the power of CNC and the opportunities it could open up for us. Now, we have 21 CNC machines, 38 employees, and more requests for work than we can keep up with, which is a good thing for the business. We are constantly expanding our team to elevate the business and take on even more work, and are currently hiring for multiple positions if anyone in Ontario is looking for some challenging and rewarding work!

What kind of CNC machines are you guys working with?

Right now we have a lot of Okuma and Matsuura machines, many of which have 5 axis capabilities, and all of them with high RPM spindles. In fact, our “slowest” machine runs at 15k RPM, with our fastest running at 46k. One of our high production machines is our Matsuura LX160, which has the 46k RPM spindle. We use a ton of Harvey Tool and Helical product on that machine and really get to utilize the RPMs.

B&R Custom Machining

What sort of material are you cutting?

We work with Aluminum predominantly, but also with a lot of super alloys like Invar, Kovar, Inconel, Custom 455 Stainless, and lots of Titanium. Some of those super alloys are really tricky stuff to machine. Once we learn about them and study them, we keep a recorded database of information to help us dial in parameters. Our head programmer/part planner keeps track of all that information, and our staff will frequently reference old jobs for new parts.

Sounds like a great system you guys have in place. How did B&R Custom Machining get into aerospace manufacturing?

It is a bit of a funny story actually. Just about 12 years ago we were contacted by someone working at Comdev, which is close to our shop, who was looking to have some parts made. We started a business relationship with him, and made him his parts. He was happy with the work, and so we eventually got involved in his company’s switch division and started to make more and more aerospace parts.

aerospace machining

We immediately saw the potential of aerospace manufacturing, and it promoted where we wanted to go with CNC machining, so it was a natural fit. It really was a case of being in the right place at the right time and seizing the moment. If an opportunity comes up and you aren’t ready for it, you miss it. You have to be hungry enough to see an opportunity, and confident enough to grab it, while also being competent enough to handle the request. So, we took advantage of what we were given, and we grew and went from there.

Who are some of the major players who you work with?

We have great relationships with Honeywell, MDA Brampton, and MDA Quebec. We actually worked on parts for a Mars Rover with MDA that was commissioned by the Canadian Space Agency, which was really cool to be a part of.

Working with large companies like that means quality is key. Why is high quality tool performance important to you?

High quality and superior tool performance is huge. Aside from cutting conditions, there are two quick things that cause poor performance on a tool: tool life and consistency of the tool quality. One without the other means nothing. We all can measure tool life pretty readily, and there is a clear advantage that some tools have over others, but inconsistent quality can sneak up on you and cause trouble. If you have a tool manufacturer that is only producing a quality tool even 95% of the time, that might seem ok, but that means that 5% of the time you suffer something wrong on the machine. Many times, you won’t know where that trouble is coming from. This causes you to pause the machine, investigate, source the problem, and then ultimately switch the tool and create a new program. It becomes an ordeal. Sometimes it is not as simple as manually adjusting the feed knob, especially when you need to rely on it as a “proven program” the next time around.

So, say the probability of a shortcoming on a machine is “x” with one brand of tooling, but is half of that with a brand like Harvey Tool. Sure, the Harvey Tool product might be 10-20% higher in upfront cost, but that pales in comparison to buying cheaper tools and losing time and money due to machine downtime caused by tool failure. The shop rate for an average machine is right around $100/hour, so machine downtime is much more expensive than the added cost of a quality tool.

B&R Custom machining

Inconsistent tool quality can be extremely dangerous to play around with, even outside of machine downtime. We create based on a specific tool and a certain level of expected performance. If that tool cannot be consistent, we now jeopardize an expensive part. The machine never went down, but the part is no good because we programmed based on consistency in tool quality. Again, the cost of scrapped parts heavily outweighs the upfront cost of quality tooling. Tooling is a low cost of what we do here, but poor tooling can cost us thousands versus a few dollars more for quality tools. Too many people focus on the upfront cost, and don’t look downstream through the rest of the process to see how poor quality tooling can affect your business in a much bigger way. We get to see the whole picture because I am involved from cradle to grave, gaining feedback and knowledge along the way.

That’s great feedback Brad, and I think it is important for people to understand what you have laid out here. Speaking of tool performance, have you guys been using High Efficiency Milling techniques in the shop?

Absolutely. We feel that we are on the front edge of efficient milling. We are quite capable of all the latest techniques, as our programmers are well-versed and up to date. For our larger production work, we have programs dialed in that allow us to push the tools to their limits and significantly cut down our cycle times.

What advice would you have for others who are interested in High Efficiency Milling?

Make sure you are smart about using HEM. If we have one-off parts, particularly expensive ones, that do not have time restraints, we want to make sure we have a safe toolpath that will get us the result we want (in terms of quality and cutting security), rather than pushing the thresholds and taking extra time to program the HEM toolpaths. HEM makes total sense for large production runs, but make sure you know when to, and when not to use these techniques to get the most out of HEM.

B&R Custom machining

Have you been using Machining Advisor Pro in your shop when you run Helical end mills?

We have been, and it makes for a great point of reference for the Helical end mills. It has become a part of our new employee training, teaching them about speeds and feeds, how hard they can push the Helical tools, and where the safe zones are. Our more experienced guys also frequent it for new situations where they have no data. Machining Advisor Pro helps to verify what we thought we knew, or helps us get the confidence to start planning for a new job.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist, or someone looking to take the #PlungeIntoMachining for the first time, what would it be?

Learn the intimacies of metal cutting. Get ultra-familiar with the results of what is actually happening with your tool, your setup, your part, and your machine. As well, don’t be limited to thinking “it sounds good,” or “it’s going good so far, so that must be acceptable.” In order to push the tools and confirm they are performing well and making money, you need to identify and understand where the threshold of failure is, and back off the right amount. This doesn’t end here though. Cutting conditions change as the tools, holders, machines, and parts change. Learning the nuances of this fluctuating environment and adapting accordingly is essential. Verify your dimensions, mitigate against risk, and control the variables.

Also, get intimate with what causes tools to succeed and fail, and keep a log of it for reference. Develop a passion for cutting; don’t just punch in and punch out each shift. Here at B&R, we are looking for continuous improvement, and employees who can add value. Don’t stand around all day with your arms folded, but keep constant logs of what’s going on and always be learning and thinking of how to understand what is happening, and improve on it. That is what makes a great machinist, and a successful shop.

B&R custom machining

Shank Tolerances, Collet Fits, & h6 Benefits

A cutting tool’s shank is one of the more vital parts of a tool, as it’s critical to the collet-tool connection. There are several types of shanks, each with their own tolerances and suitable tool holder methods. One of the most popular and effective tool holding styles is a shrink fit tool holder, which works with h6 shanks, but what does this mean and what are the benefits of it? How is this type of shank different from a shank with standard shank tolerances? To answer these questions, we must first explore the principals of tolerances.

The Principals of Tolerances

Defining Industry Standard Tolerances

There are two categories of shank tolerances that machinists and engineers operating a CNC machine should be familiar with: hole basis and shank (or shaft) basis. The hole basis system is where the minimum hole size is the starting point of the tolerance. If the hole tolerance starts with a capital “H,” then the hole has a positive tolerance with no negative tolerance. The shank basis system is where the maximum shank size is the starting point. This system is relatively the same idea as the hole basis system but instead, if the tolerance starts with a lowercase “h,” the shank has a negative tolerance and no positive tolerance.

Letter Designations

The limits of tolerance for a shank or hole are designated by the appropriate letter indicating the deviation. For instance, the letter “k” has the opposite minimum and maximum designations as “h”. Tolerances beginning with “k” are exclusively positive, while tolerances beginning with “h” are exclusively negative. The number following the given letter denotes the International Tolerance (IT) grade. For example, a tolerance with the number 6 will have a smaller tolerance range than the number 7, but larger than the number 5. This range is based on the size of the shank. A hole that has a 0.030” diameter will have an h6 tolerance of (+0.0000,-0.0002), while a 1.00” hole with have an h6 tolerance band of (+0.0000,-0.0005).

It is important to note that most sources list IT tolerances in millimeters, while the graph below has been translated to inches. Operations that require more precise manufacturing, such as reaming, will have lower IT grades. Operations that do not require manufacturing to be as precise will have higher IT grades.

shank tolerances

Preferred Collet Fits

Different types of combinations of hole basis and shank basis tolerances lead to different types of collet fits. The following table offers insight into a few different types of preferred fits and the shank tolerances that are required for each.

collet fits

Image: Machinery’s Handbook 29th Edition.

Shrink Fit Tool Holders

The shrink fit holder is one of the more popular styles of tool holders because of its ability to be more customizable, as evident in the chart above. In this method, a collet is heated to expand, then cooled to contract around the shank of a tool. At room temperature, a cutting tool should not be able to be inserted into a shrink fit holder – only when the holder has undergone thermal expansion due to the introduction of a significant amount of heat should the tool fit. As the holder cools, the tool is held tighter and tighter in place. Typically, a holder is heated through a ring of coils by an induction heater. It is important to heat the holder uniformly, paying mind to not overheat it. Doing so could cause the shank that is being held to expand within the holder and remain stuck.

 

Benefits of Shrink Fit Tool Holders

  1. Gripping power. The shank is held flush and uniform against the holder, resulting in a tighter connection.
  2. Low runout. A more secure connection will result in extended tool life, and a higher quality surface finish.
  3. Better balance for high RPM. With a tighter tool-to-holder connection, the opportunity exists for more aggressive running parameters.

Shank Tolerances Summarized

Understanding shank tolerances is an intricate part of the machining process as it impacts which tool holder is appropriate for your job. A secure holder connection is vital to the performance of the tool in your application. With an h6 shrink fit holder, the result is a secure connection with stronger gripping power. However, only certain shanks are able to be used with this type of holder. From the letter designation assigned to a shank, to whether that letter is upper or lowercase, each detail is vital to ensuring a proper fit between your tools shank and its corresponding shrink fit holder.

Helical Solutions: Behind the Scenes

We have shown our end users bits and pieces of our manufacturing process on our website and via social media, but for the first time we decided to open our own doors to the public and show you every step behind how we manufacture and fulfill the Helical Solutions product. We partnered with John Saunders from NYC CNC to create a “Factory Tour” video, covering topics like our CNC grinding machines and setups, tool manufacturing, and our warehouse organization and fulfillment procedures.

In the video below, we first toured our Gorham, Maine manufacturing plan with Plant Manager Adam Martin. Then, we ran a few tests with the Helical tools on our Haas machine, before heading back to our warehouse in Massachusetts to talk about fulfillment and new products with Fulfillment Manager Megan Townsley.

 

 

7 Facts Revealed in Our Factory Tour (Plus 3 More That Didn’t Make the Cut)

We know you’re busy making amazing parts, and might not have time for the entire video. To save you time, here are some of the most important facts you should know about Helical.

We Take Quality Control Seriously

Our high performance end mills go through an extensive inspection and quality assurance process before they end up in your machine, with multiple inspection points along the manufacturing journey. At the 17 minute mark of the video, you can learn more about how we monitor the quality of the tools in batches as they are manufactured. If you skip ahead to the 29 minute mark, you can see some of our more advanced inspection machines in action.

We Stand Behind Our Tools with Our Renewal Services

Our Tool Renewal service is a great way to maximize your cost-savings and avoid having to re-purchase new tools without sacrificing any aspects of the original design. At Helical, we do not re-sharpen tools. Rather, we restore your tools to their original geometry. We will review the condition of your used tools and return the cutting edge to its original sharpness and strength, allowing the tool to retain its outstanding performance. The renewed tools go through the same rigorous inspection, edge prep, and coating process that we follow for all our of our new tools. To learn more about our Tool Renewal services, head to the 23:30 mark in the video.

Our Tool Coating Is Done In-House

We have multiple tool coating machines in-house which allow us to take the ground tools right off the line and transfer them to our coating room to have Aplus, Zplus, or Tplus coatings added. These machines also have the capability to create roughly 20 different coatings, which are reserved for specials and custom orders. If you want a close-up look at the coating room and learn how the PVD coating process actually works, head to the 35 minute mark.

Our Standard Catalog Items Are Stocked and Ready for Your Machine

We don’t make our standard catalog tools to order. All of our standard tools are stocked and ready to make some chips in your machine. We also introduce hundreds of new tools to our annual catalog to keep providing our customers with the latest in high performance tooling technology. You can check out our new tools for 2018, including our new High Balance Tools and Metric Tooling, by heading to 52:20, or take quick look at our rows of stocked tools in our warehouse by jumping to 56:55.

Diamond Wheels Grind Carbide Tools

Diamond grinding wheels are the essential tool (outside of the machine) when it comes to grinding carbide. We have a unique management system for our diamond wheels, and a redressing process which can see these wheels last up to a year or more before they need replacement. Adam goes through our “frozen wheel” room with John at the 32:45 mark in the video above.

We Track Every Batch of Tools With Laser Etching

Our tools are all laser etched on-site with our logo, phone number, and tool description, but also with a specific batch number. These batch numbers allow us full track-ability of every tool so we can quickly asses any questions or concerns a customer may have about a tool. With these numbers, we are able to track the tool’s journey all the way back to which machine it was made on, which grinding wheel was used, and who ran the program. We have a couple of these laser etching machines in Maine, which you can see in action at the 42 minute mark.

If You Can Dream It, We Have Probably Made It

We have had some crazy tool drawings come in to our custom tool program over the years, including oddly shaped form tools, tools with a crazy long length of cut, “paper cutters”, and more. You can see some cool examples of custom tools we have manufactured by jumping to the 20 minute mark. If you are more interested in how we actually make them, head to the 27 minute mark to see one of our large custom tools being ground on our Walter machines.

Our Technical Resources Are Second To None

We don’t leave you hanging after your purchase of Helical tools. We have a multitude of technical resources and How-Tos available here on our blog, and we also offer the HEM Guidebook, a complete guide to High Efficiency Milling techniques.

If you are looking for information on speeds and feeds, we suggest you try our Machining Advisor Pro application. This application is designed to increase metal removal rates and shop productivity by generating customizable running parameters optimized for your Helical Solutions end mills. You can click here to get started with Machining Advisor Pro today.

You Will Always Get a Real Person When You Call Helical

If you have technical questions about an upcoming job, a special application, or tooling selection, you can contact Helical by phone at 866-543-5422. Our technical experts are available over the phone Monday-Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM EST, and you will always get a real person to talk to with no automated systems to navigate through. You can also reach our team by email at [email protected].

Questions about where to buy Helical tools? You can give our team a call, or you can find your local distributor by using the “Find a Distributor” tool on our website. Simply choose your state to see a complete list of authorized distributors in your area.

We’re Hiring!

We have a current list of our open opportunities on our website! Open jobs include CNC Machinist, Quality Control Inspector, and Customer Service Representative.

Tips for Maintaining Tight Tolerances

In manufacturing large production runs, one of the biggest difficulties machinists experience is holding tooling to necessary tolerances in holes, walls, and threads. Typically, this is an iterative process that can be tedious and stressful, especially for inexperienced machinists. While each job presents a unique set of challenges, there are rules of thumb that can be followed to ensure that your part is living up to its accuracy demands.

What is a Tolerance?

A tolerance is an allowable amount of variation in a part or cutting tool that a dimension can fall within. When creating a part print, tolerances of tooling can’t be overlooked, as tooling tolerances can result in part variations. Part tolerances have to be the same, if not larger, than tool tolerances to ensure part accuracy.

Cutting tool tolerances are oftentimes applied to a tool’s most critical dimensions, such as Cutter Diameter, Length of Cut, Shank Diameter, and Overall Length. When selecting a cutting tool for a job, it’s critical to choose a brand that adheres to strict tolerance standards and reliable batch-to-batch consistency. Manufacturers like Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions prominently display tolerances for many critical tool dimensions and thoroughly inspect each tool to ensure that it meets the tolerances specified. Below is the table header for Harvey Tool’s line of Miniature End Mills – Square – Stub & Standard.

tolerances

Tolerances help to create repeatability and specificity, especially in an industry in which even a thousandth of an inch can make or break a final product. This is especially true for miniature tooling, where Harvey Tool is experienced in the designing and manufacturing of tooling as small as .001” in diameter.

How are Tolerances Used?

When viewing a tolerance, there’s an upper and lower dimension, meaning the range in which the dimension of the tool can stray – both above and below what its size is said to be. In the below example, a .030″ cutter diameter tool’s size range would be anywhere between .0295″ and .0305.”

tooling tolerance

Maintaining Tolerances in Holemaking Operations

Holes oftentimes mandate the tightest dimensional tolerances, as they generally are meant to align perfectly with a mating part. To maintain tolerances, start first by testing the runout of both your machine and your tool. This simple, yet often overlooked step can save machinists a great amount of time and frustration.

Spotting Drills

Spotting Drills allow for drills to have a very precise starting point, minimizing walking or straying from a desired path. This can be especially beneficial when machining irregular surfaces, where accessing a hole’s perfect location can be more difficult.

spotting drills

Reamers

Reaming is great for any very tight tolerance mandate, because many Miniature Reamers have much tighter tolerances than a drill. Harvey Tool’s Miniature Reamers, for example, have tolerances of +.0000″/-.0002. for uncoated options and +.0002″/-.0000″ for AlTiN coated tools. Reamers cut on their chamfered edge, removing a minimal amount of material within a hole with the ultimate goal of bringing it to size. Because the cutting edge of a reamer is so small, the tool has a larger core diameter and is thus a more rigid tool.

miniature reamers

Maintaining Tight Tolerances While Machining Walls

Be Wary of Deflection

Maintaining tolerances when machining walls is made difficult by deflection, or the curvature a tool experiences when a force is applied to it. Where an angle is appearing on a wall due to deflection, opt for a reached tool to allow for less deflection along the tool’s neck. Further, take more axial depths of cut and machine in steps with finishing passes to exert less pressure on the tool. For surface finish tolerances, a long fluted tool may be required to minimize evidence of a tool path left on a part. For more information on ways to minimize deflection, read Tool Deflection & Its Remedies.tool deflection

Corner Radius End Mills

Corner radius End Mills, because they do not feature a sharp edge, will wear slower than a square end mill would. By utilizing corner radius tooling, fracturing on the tool edge will be minimized, resulting in an even pressure distribution on each of the cutting edges. Because the sharper edge on a square tool is less durable and more prone to cracking because of the stress concentration on that point, a corner radius tool would be much more rigid and thus less susceptible to causing a tolerance variation. For this reason, it’s recommended to use a roughing tool with a corner radius profile and a finisher with a square profile for an edge tolerance. When designing a part and keeping manufacturing in mind, if there is a potential for a wall with a radius as opposed to a wall with a square edge, a wall with a radius allows for easier machineability and fewer tool changes.

Maintaining Tight Tolerances While Threading

Making threads to tolerance is all about chip evacuation. Evacuating chips is an issue commonly overlooked; If chips within a hole have not been removed before a threading operation, there could be interference in the tool tip that leads to vibration and chatter within a thread. This would decrease the continuity of the thread while also altering the points of contact. Discontinuity of a thread could be the difference between passing and failing a part, and because threading is typically the last application when machining to decrease damaging the threads, it also increases the likelihood of chips remaining within the hole from other applications.

Tolerances Summarized

If you continue to experience troubles maintaining tight tolerances despite this blog post, consult the Harvey Tool or Helical Solutions tech team, as the problem may exist outside of your machine. Temperature and humidity can vary how gummy a material is, and can lead to workpiece expansion and contraction. Additionally, the foundation of buildings can expand and contract due to outside temperature, which can result in upped runout and irregular vibration in a spindle.

Contouring Considerations

What is Contouring?

Contouring a part means creating a fine finish on an irregular or uneven surface. Dissimilar to finishing a flat or even part, contouring involves the finishing of a rounded, curved, or otherwise uniquely shaped part.

Contouring & 5-Axis Machining

5-axis machines are particularly suitable for contouring applications. Because contouring involves the finishing of an intricate or unique part, the multiple axes of movement in play with 5-axis Machining allow for the tool to access tough-to-reach areas, as well as follow intricate tool paths.

 Recent Contouring Advances

Advanced CAM software can now write the G-Code (the step-by-step program needed to create a finished part) for a machinists application, which has drastically simplified contouring applications. Simply, rather than spend several hours writing the code for an application, the software now handles this step. Despite these advances, most young machinists are still required to write their own G-Codes early on in their careers to gain valuable familiarity with the machines and their abilities. CAM software, for many, is a luxury earned with time.

Benefits of Advanced CAM Software

1. Increased Time Savings
Because contouring requires very specific tooling movements and rapidly changing cutting parameters, ridding machinists of the burden of writing their own complex code can save valuable prep time and reduce machining downtime.

2. Reduced Cycle Times
Generated G-Codes can cut several minutes off of a cycle time by removing redundancies within the application. Rather than contouring an area of the part that does not require it, or has been machined already, the CAM Software locates the very specific areas that require machining time and attention to maximize efficiency.

3. Improved Consistency
CAM Programs that are packaged with CAD Software such as SolidWorks are typically the best in terms of consistency and ability to handle complex designs. While the CAD Software helps a machinist generate the part, the CAM Program tells a machine how to make it.

Contouring Tips

Utilize Proper Cut Depths

Prior to running a contouring operation, an initial roughing cut is taken to remove material in steps on the Z-axis so to leave a limited amount of material for the final contouring pass. In this step, it’s pivotal to leave the right amount of material for contouring — too much material for the contouring pass can result in poor surface finish or a damaged part or tool, while too little material can lead to prolonged cycle time, decreased productivity and a sub par end result.

The contouring application should remove from .010″ to 25% of the tool’s cutter diameter. During contouring, it’s possible for the feeds to decrease while speeds increases, leading to a much smoother finish. It is also important to keep in mind that throughout the finishing cut, the amount of engagement between the tool’s cutting edge and the part will vary regularly – even within a single pass.

Use Best Suited Tooling

Ideal tool selection for contouring operations begins by choosing the proper profile of the tool. A large radius or ball profile is very often used for this operation because it does not leave as much evidence of a tool path. Rather, they effectively smooth the material along the face of the part. Undercutting End Mills, also known as lollipop cutters, have spherical ball profiles that make them excellent choices for contouring applications. Harvey Tool’s 300° Reduced Shank Undercutting End Mill, for example, features a high flute count to benefit part finish for light cut depths, while maintaining the ability to reach tough areas of the front or back side of a part.

Fact-Check G-Code

While advanced CAM Software will create the G-Code for an application, saving a machinist valuable time and money, accuracy of this code is still vitally important to the overall outcome of the final product. Machinists must look for issues such as wrong tool call out, rapids that come too close to the material, or even offsets that need correcting. Failure to look G-Code over prior to beginning machining can result in catastrophic machine failure and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

Inserting an M01 – or a notation to the machine in the G-Code to stop and await machinist approval before moving on to the next step – can help a machinist to ensure that everything is approved with a next phase of an operation, or if any redundancy is set to occur, prior to continuation.

Contouring Summarized

Contouring is most often used in 5-axis machines as a finishing operation for uniquely shaped or intricate parts. After an initial roughing pass, the contouring operation – done most often with Undercutting End Mills or Ball End Mills, removes anywhere from .010″ to 25% of the cutter diameter in material from the part to ensure proper part specifications are met and a fine finish is achieved. During contouring, cut only at recommended depths, ensure that G-Code is correct, and use tooling best suited for this operation.

TL Technologies – Featured Customer

TL Technologies helps manufacturers reduce time to market and drive down per-piece cost with their unique “Intelligent Design and Planning” processes. Located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, TL Technologies serves manufacturers throughout the mid-Atlantic from their centrally located, 10,000 sq. ft. facility. Their unique manufacturing processes and services quickly made them stand out in the industry since their inception in 2012.

Jonathon Thompson is the Vice President of Engineering at TL Technologies. Jonathon talked with us about their rigorous manufacturing and inspection processes, the advantage of using high-quality tooling, their unique on-site assembly services, and much more in this Featured Customer interview.

Tell us a bit about your shop, how you got started, and what sort of products you manufacture.

TL Technologies got started in January 2012. Our first customers were firearms and defense based. Since then we have diversified our business through growth within customers and word of mouth. We started with the intent to be precise and accurate in a lights-out or nearly automated fashion.

What sort of machines do you use in your shop?

We use an array of modern equipment. 4 axis Kitamura HX400G Horizontal Mills. Nakamura Tome 9 axis Turn Mill, Star 6 axis, and two 5 axis vertical Hurco Machines. All our machines are optioned out with Renishaw probing and all the bells and whistles required to handle high accuracy runs for 24 hours a day with no process issues. Most of the machines have glass scales and thermal packages.

kitamura cnc machine

Which materials do you most often work with at your shop?

Mostly steels; the usual 4000 and 8000 series steels. Comparatively less 6061 and 7075 aluminum and other common stainless grades. We’ve been fortunate to have many of our materials within a reasonable range of Rockwell so that we may tool accordingly for most of the business.

How has your experience been with multi-axis machining?

Fantastic. Multi axis Machining has been excellent for us. It requires high-level understanding to fully maximize but the benefits are huge.

On your website, you mention that TL Technologies has never delivered a rejected part. What sets your quality apart from the competition?

From day one and job one, we worked with the customer to understand exactly how they were measuring the parts, exactly with what tools, processes, and methods to identically duplicate the process in our shop. After replicating key processes we performed many correlation studies to ensure that our measurements were within single-digit microns of what our customers were seeing on their end during inspection. This methodology was scaled up into our overall quality program and allows us to greater understand and manufacture our goods. Our ISO process coupled with this method truly does prevent bad work from getting out. We have never had a case where a part did not function or perform due to our oversight or bad specs. There have been failures on the customer side of things due to engineering, bad prints, and tolerance stackups, but we have not supplied parts that were flat out incorrect.

TL Technologies

What sort of tolerances do you work in on a daily basis?

Typically single or double-digit microns. .0002” to .003” total is common for a large percentage of specs. It is not unusual for +/-.0002” to run long-term over many fixture stations with no manual adjustment. Our machined products are from 1” to 8” cubed.

What are some of the coolest projects you have had come through the shop?

That’s a good question. TL Technologies sat on the United States Senate committee in 2013 for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. We were featured on the cover of New York Times business section in 2013 as well. Throughout our years we’ve been fortunate to meet many amazing people from high branches in the government, the US Military, top name manufacturers, lenders, and local municipalities. Some of the coolest contacts were folks that formerly operated with US Special Forces. Unfortunately, we cannot comment.

As for projects not covered by an NDA, one of my personal favorites was producing low impact physical therapy products for rehabilitating shoulders after surgery. Though simple in manufacturing, this project provided an array of fun challenges that required high performance tooling, 3D printing, and using our machines with custom cycles. This allowed us to use the equipment very unconventionally. In this way, we were able to provide a cost-effective product utilizing the maximum ability of our equipment with a very short lead-time and low up-front cost.

harvey tool catalog

You also offer assembly services on-site, which is fairly unique in the industry. Can you talk a little bit more about this?

Sure. Both my business partner and I have tremendous experience with assemblies in both hands-on and directorial roles. Whether it was a high precision multi-axis mechanism that ended up being a custom machine, on and off-road vehicles, or even things like child safety seats, we have had our hands in a lot of things over the years. At TL Technologies we’ve provided assistance to machine tool builders, special tooling designers, consumer goods of various types, and most frequently to firearms builders. Mostly we drive out cost, but as we age we’ve been called upon to troubleshoot high-end assemblies where the issues were not immediately apparent. This led to us creating sub-assemblies and even semi-finished OEM products. This includes hand fitting and assembling collectible pistols and precision bolt action rifles. This is usually offered as a temporary solution or process engineering service to larger companies developing new goods or revamping existing ones, and is offered as part of our comprehensive knowledge to attract clients. It has been very successful.

You service a variety of industries, including defense, automotive, agricultural equipment, and consumer products. Do you have a personal favorite?

I’d have to say the products we make that almost every soldier carries and relies on are my favorite. We take great pride in knowing that these parts have not failed due to machining error since we took over the production years ago on the core components.

TL Technologies

Why is American manufacturing important to you?

It’s everything. It’s the heart and soul of all products and by extension facilitates the means with which goods and services exist in our society. By bolstering the skills, knowledge, and experience, we can not only succeed economically but also further the craft and pride of making quality goods. We will always need to be able to make our own goods. The skill and craft to create is more than just economic. We absolutely must embrace and respect the skill and hard work it takes to create. We must pass that knowledge on for posterity so the next generation might find the satisfaction and pride of skilled work.

Why is high-quality tool performance important to you?

It’s everything. The old adage, “Garbage in, garbage out,” is accurate for us. We feel that if we invested so much in these high-end machining centers, it would be criminal to put insufficient tooling and holders into them. We found that by selecting the proper tool with the appropriate sciences behind it we have been able to create products with a cost per cut that is not only competitive, but required to stay current. By keeping the quality as high as possible on the part making side of things, we’ve insured as much ease and reliability into our downstream process as we could. Quality tooling also provides predictability and added safety into the workflow. High-quality carbide tooling is the lifeblood of the business.

Have Harvey Tools had an impact on your performance?

Oh man…frequently. Harvey Tools are a mainstay in our company. If I had to think of some key examples it would have to be your variety of Keyseat Cutters, 3 Flute Counterbores, Extended Reach Ball End Mills, and Miniature End Mills under .040”. The 270 degree Lollipop Cutters are excellent for deburring, and we also rely on the 140° spot drills, corner radius forming tools, and more. In short, not only are the tools good, but they provide exactly what we need and the specifications to handle major OEM jobs. We absolutely love metric and you’ve got that too. Your catalogs help us eliminate the need for customs. That is key to cost and lead time.

harvey tool

 

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist ready to take the #PlungeIntoMachining, what would it be?

Embrace the old knowledge and techniques. The manual skills learned with files and hand ground tools translate critically into the concepts you will need to master if CNC becomes your career. Understand how and why materials cut or refuse to cut, what rake angle to use and when, and how to leverage machine physics to help you work smarter instead of harder. Don’t be afraid to jump down the rabbit hole of engineering concepts, materials, physics, elementary chemistry; these all help give you an edge. Machining is done best with comprehensive knowledge of the machines and machining environment. You never stop learning. All that said, keep a fresh perspective. Old knowledge can be great, but operationally each business will likely have its own methods and flow. Try to understand there is more to the overall business picture than you can often see.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the In The Loupe community?

Oh definitely! Buy our stuff!! Ha. We are a supplier of choice for OEM, and small batch bolt actions for rifles, pistol components, and pistol slides. We machine to spec and provide cost-competitive options as well as super-premium options.  We are working now to release our own line of aftermarket products in 2018, so keep an eye out for those!

TL Technologies


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5 Ways Your Shop is Inefficient

5 Ways Your Shop is Inefficient

In today’s ultracompetitive industry, every machine shop seeks even the slightest edge to gain an advantage on their competition and boost their bottom line. However, what many machinists don’t know is that improving their shop’s efficiency might be easier than they thought. The following five ways your shop is inefficient will provide a clear starting point of where to look for machinists desperate to earn a competitive edge.

1. Premature Tool Decay / Tool Failure

If you’re finding that your tools are failing or breaking at an unacceptable rate, don’t mistake it for commonplace. It doesn’t have to be. Prolonging the life of your tooling starts with finding not just the right tool, but the best one; as well as running it in a way to get its optimal performance. Many machinists mistake premature tool failure with running parameters that were too aggressive. In fact, not pushing the tool to its full potential can actually cause it to decay at an accelerated rate in certain situations.

Tool failure can occur in many different ways: Abrasive Wear, Chipping, Thermal Cracking or Tool Fracture, just to name a few. Understanding each type and its causes can help you to quickly boost your shop’s efficiency by minimizing downtime and saving on replacement tool costs.

tool wear

An example of a tool with excessive wear

For more information on tool wear, view Avoiding 4 Major Types of Tool Wear.

2. Subpar Part Finish

Your shop spends money to employ machinists, run machines, and buy cutting tools. Get your money’s worth, lead the industry, and ensure that you’re providing your customers with the highest quality product. Not only will this help to keep your buyer-seller relationship strong, but it will allow you the flexibility to increase your prices in the future, and will attract prospective customers.

Many factors influence part finish, including the material and its hardness, the speeds and feeds you’re running your tool at, tool deflection, and the tool-to-workpiece orientation.

For more information on ways to improve your part finish, view our Part Finish Reference Guide.

3. Inefficient Coolant Usage

One often forgotten expense of a machine shop is coolant – and it can be pricey. A 55-gallon drum of coolant can run more than $1,500. What’s worse is that coolant is often applied in excess of what’s required for the job. In fact, some machines even feature a Minimum Quantity Lubricant (MQL) functionality, which applies coolant as an extremely fine mist or aerosol, providing just enough coolant to perform a given operation effectively. While drowning a workpiece in coolant, known as a “Flood Coolant,” is sometimes needed, it is oftentimes utilized on jobs that would suffice with much less.

For more information about coolants and which method of application might be best for your job, view What You Need to Know About Coolant for CNC Machining.

4. Not Taking Advantage of Tool Versatility

Did you know that several CNC cutting tools can perform multiple operations? For example, a Chamfer Mill can chamfer, bevel, deburr, and countersink. Some Chamfer Mills can even be used as a Spotting Drill. Of course, the complexity of the job will dictate your ability to reap the benefits of a tool’s versatility. For instance, a Spotting Drill is obviously the best option for spotting a hole. If performing a simple operation, though, don’t go out of your way to buy additional tooling when what’s already in your carousel can handle it.

chamfer mills

To learn more about versatile tools that can perform multiple applications, check out Multi-Functional Tools Every Shop Should Have.

5. High Machine Downtime

What use is a machine that’s not running? Minimizing machine downtime is a key way to ensure that your shop is reaching its efficiency pinnacle. This can be accomplished a variety of ways, including keeping like-parts together. This allows for a simple swap-in, swap-out of material to be machined by the same cutting tool. This saves valuable time swapping out tooling, and lets your machine to do its job for more time per workday. Production planning is a key factor to running an efficient machine shop.

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.

The Advances of Multiaxis Machining

CNC Machine Growth

As the manufacturing industry has developed, so too have the capabilities of machining centers. CNC Machines are constantly being improved and optimized to better handle the requirements of new applications. Perhaps the most important way these machines have improved over time is in the multiple axes of direction they can move, as well as orientation. For instance, a traditional 3-axis machine allows for movement and cutting in three directions, while a 2.5-axis machine can move in three directions but only cut in two. The possible number of axes for a multiaxis machine varies from 4 to 9, depending on the situation. This is assuming that no additional sub-systems are installed to the setup that would provide additional movement. The configuration of a multiaxis machine is dependent on the customer’s operation and the machine manufacturer.

Multiaxis Machining

With this continuous innovation has come the popularity of multiaxis machines – or CNC machines that can perform more than three axes of movement (greater than just the three linear axes X, Y, and Z). Additional axes usually include three rotary axes, as well as movement abilities of the table holding the part or spindle in place. Machines today can move up to 9 axes of direction.

Multiaxis machines provide several major improvements over CNC machines that only support 3 axes of movement. These benefits include:

  • Increasing part accuracy/consistency by decreasing the number of manual adjustments that need to be made.
  • Reducing the amount of human labor needed as there are fewer manual operations to perform.
  • Improving surface finish as the tool can be moved tangentially across the part surface.
  • Allowing for highly complex parts to be made in a single setup, saving time and cost.

9-Axis Machine Centers

The basic 9-axis naming convention consists of three sets of three axes.

Set One

The first set is the X, Y, and Z linear axes, where the Z axis is in line with the machine’s spindle, and the X and Y axes are parallel to the surface of the table. This is based on a vertical machining center. For a horizontal machining center, the Z axis would be aligned with the spindle.

Set Two

The second set of axes is the A, B, and C rotary axes, which rotate around the X, Y, and Z axes, respectively. These axes allow for the spindle to be oriented at different angles and in different positions, which enables tools to create more features, thereby decreasing the number of tool changes and maximizing efficiency.

Set Three

The third set of axes is the U, V, and W axes, which are secondary linear axes that are parallel to the X, Y, and Z axes, respectively. While these axes are parallel to the X, Y, and Z axes, they are managed by separate commands. The U axis is common in a lathe machine. This axis allows the cutting tool to move perpendicular to the machine’s spindle, enabling the machined diameter to be adjusted during the machining process.

A Growing Industry

In summary, as the manufacturing industry has grown, so too have the abilities of CNC Machines. Today, tooling can move across nine different axes, allowing for the machining of more intricate, precise, and delicate parts. Additionally, this development has worked to improve shop efficiency by minimizing manual labor and creating a more perfect final product.

Aspex CNC – Featured Customer

Aspex CNC is a CNC machine shop based out of Poway, California. They offer prototype turning and milling, as well as production level machining. Their quick turnaround times and premium quality have garnered them some serious recognition in the manufacturing industry. Aspex CNC is just one of the four businesses that Gary Colle Jr. currently owns, but they are an essential part of his business ecosystem, creating parts for the other three product-based companies while also offering machining services to outside customers.

We talked to Gary about his unique experiences in the industry, his thoughts on 5 axis machining, his advice for trying High Efficiency Milling, and more!

Tell us a bit about how you got started in machining, your businesses, and how Aspex CNC was formed.

It is a bit of an interesting story. I got started in manufacturing because my father designed, developed, and manufactured one of the first lines of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle lifts, which allow people in wheelchairs to easily get in and out of their vehicles. The company was called GoldenBoy Mobility and is still one of the four business I currently own and operate today.

At a young age, I was working in my father’s shop, answering phones and doing odd jobs as young as the age of 10. When I got to high school, I worked after school and during the summers in a more hands-on position, welding parts, cutting up cars, and helping on the shop floor. This really inspired my love for metalworking at a young age.

goldenboy mobility

My dad used to let me mess around in the shop at night, so I started welding my own parts and trying to learn as much as I could. One day, someone came in and asked if I could create a “tuna tower” (an accessory for wakeboarding/water skiing) for their boat. I relented at first, but eventually gave in and welded all the parts together for him. After I made that one, word got around that I could create these at night. I started to advertise a little bit locally, and people started ordering more and more. That summer, I ended up making 50 of these towers and got noticed by a couple of big distributors. Scaling up like that made it necessary to outsource some of our parts to local machine shops, which is where I discovered machining. I had very little prior knowledge of machining, but once I stepped into my first machine shop, I was blown away.

As that business grew even larger (now known as DBG Concepts), I needed more parts and needed them faster. We outgrew the local shops and purchased our first machine, a Fadal 4020 CNC Mill, from a local machine salesman, who also helped teach me the ropes. I learned a lot in those first 6 months about machining.

Business kept ramping up, and my father eventually retired and I took over GoldenBoy Mobility. With all the extra parts we needed, we kept machining things in-house, and buying more mills. Eventually, machining became an even larger part of the business than either DBG Concepts or GoldenBoy Mobility, so we formed Aspex CNC to move our machining out of the product line and more into prototype work and production machining for other business. We still machine most of the parts for DBG and GoldenBoy in-house, but we are doing much more for outside sources than we used to.

What sort of machines do you use in your shop?

Right now, we are a Haas-only shop. We currently have eight Haas machines in our shop. Our lineup consists of a couple of lathes (ST10 and ST30), a Super Mini Mill, and five CNC Mills (VF2SS, VF2SSYT, VF4SS, VF5SS, and UMC750SS), with another UMC750 on the way!

aspex cnc

Which materials do you most often work with in your shop?

We work with a lot of the common materials, 6061/7075 Aluminum, 1018/1045 Steel, 303/304/17-4ph Stainless, as well as plastics like Acetal, UHMW, HDPE, and PVC.

How has your experience been with 5 axis machining?

If you don’t keep up with technology, you won’t be able to keep up with business, so learning multi-axis machining was a no-brainer for us. We first started with a Haas HRT210 4th axis rotary, and began to play with that. Over the next two years, we learned everything we could about multi-axis machining and made the decision to upgrade to a 5 axis machine. We actually went to IMTS that year to talk to manufacturers and find the perfect machine for us and ended up sticking with Haas because of their support platform and educational resources.

5 axis can be hard, but there are a lot of tools out there (HSM Works from Autodesk being one) that can help you learn. It does require a little more upfront work and discipline, but it eliminates a lot of setup time, creates new opportunities for our shop, and has been really good for us from a business standpoint. A big part of our business is machining one-off parts, so the 5 axis machine allows for a faster turnaround time for those odd shapes and sizes we come across.

5 axis machining

You are very active on social media promoting your business. How has the online machinist community helped your business?

Honestly, even though it can become a bit of a distraction at times, using social media to share our work and partner up with companies like Harvey Tool and Helical has been a lot of fun. We are still young in the social media space, so we haven’t seen a massive impact yet, but the best is yet to come. We have received a few bites here and there which has led to work, but as with everything, it takes some time. We expect a lot of growth this year as we work on more really neat projects and continue to get our name out there. As we grow, the opportunities are going to come.

aspex cnc

What are some of the coolest projects you have ever worked on?

Unfortunately, we can’t talk about most of the work we do, due to customer confidentiality, but we did just do a project for the State of California building a training vehicle for their driver’s education program. We designed and built a dual steering system that gave the driver’s trainer a second steering wheel on the passenger side of the car to be used during training. Another job we just finished up was some parts for the new Raiders football stadium in Las Vegas. They contacted us in a pinch and needed them in two days, and we made it happen. It is pretty cool to know you played a part in a huge project like that.

Aspex CNC also does a lot of work with racing/off-road vehicle companies, often machining parts for the chassis and suspension components. We have worked on projects for companies like Scarbo Performance, ID Designs, TSCO Racing and a whole list of others.

You can only use one machine for the rest of your life. Do you go with a CNC Milling machine or the Lathe?

I would hate to have to choose between them, but it is 100% the CNC Mill. I love ripping around with end mills and working with the 5 axis machines. It is mind blowing what these things are capable of.

Why is manufacturing products in America important to you?

Growing up in the industry which I did while working under my father (building wheelchair accessible vehicles), we had a lot of customers who were veterans coming back from Vietnam or Desert Storm who had been injured overseas and needed extra accommodations, which we could provide for them. The veterans I have worked with made me so patriotic with their stories and courage. We also get to work on a lot of projects with the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, which is putting money back into the American economy by supporting companies like ours and contracting us to make these vehicles. It only makes sense that we employ more people here and avoid sending things overseas to support those who have supported us.

aspex cnc

Do you utilize High Efficiency Milling (HEM) techniques in your shop? What advice do you have for those who are getting started with HEM?

Absolutely, all the time!

The biggest thing is listening to your tool manufacturer for recommendations and then cut those in half to start. From there, work your way up until you are comfortable. Just because the tool can handle it doesn’t necessarily mean your machine, work holding and or set up can, so I would advise people to walk before you run when it comes to HEM.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist ready to take the #PlungeIntoMachining, what would it be?

Be conservative and establish good habits from the start. You can get more aggressive as your career starts to take off, but don’t run out and try to run the biggest and baddest machines on day one and try to cut corners. You need to learn what is behind machining; you can get easily lost in all the technology that is available, but you need to understand the core science behind it first. Take it slow, because if you go too fast, you might miss something important along the way.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the In The Loupe community?

The best thing is building relationships with companies like Haas, Harvey Tool, and Helical. Not only do they provide great service and support for you, but it quickly becomes a mutually beneficial relationship. As we give feedback to the tool and machine manufacturers, and even our metal supplier, it helps them improve their products, which in turn allows our shop to increase our production and efficiency.

Also, having a good team with good people makes all the difference. No matter how many machines you have and how automated you get, you still need good people on your side. I would put my guys up against any other machine shop out there in terms of skill, and it is a big part of what has made our business so successful.

aspex cnc


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