High Speed Machining Vs. HEM

The following is just one of several blog posts relevant to High Efficiency Milling. To achieve a full understanding of this popular machining method, view any of the additional HEM posts below!

Introduction to High Efficiency Milling I How to Combat Chip Thinning I Diving into Depth of Cut I How to Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear I Intro to Trochoidal Milling

Advancements in the metalworking industry have led to new, innovative ways of increasing productivity. One of the most popular ways of doing so (creating many new buzzwords in the process) has been the discovery of new, high-productivity toolpaths. Terms like trochoidal milling, high speed machining, adaptive milling, feed milling, and High Efficiency Milling are a handful of the names given to these cutting-edge techniques.

With multiple techniques being described with somewhat similar terms, there is some confusion as to what each is referring to. High Efficiency Milling (HEM) and High Speed Machining (HSM) are two commonly used terms and techniques that can often be confused with one another. Both describe techniques that lead to increased material removal rates and boosted productivity.  However, the similarities largely stop there.

High Speed Machining

High speed machining is often used as an umbrella term for all high productivity machining methods including HEM. However, HEM and HSM are unique, separate machining styles. HSM encompasses a technique that results in higher production rates while using a much different approach to depth of cut and speeds and feeds. While certain HEM parameters are constantly changing, HSM uses constant values for the key parameters. A very high spindle speed paired with much lighter axial depths of cut results in a much higher allowable feed rate. This is also often referred to as feed milling. Depths of cut involve a very low axial and high radial components. The method in general is often thought of as z-axis slice machining, where the tool will step down a fixed amount, machine all it can, then step down the next fixed amount and continue the cycle.

High speed machining techniques can also be applied to contoured surfaces using a ball profile or corner radius tool. In these situations, the tool is not used in one plane at a time, and will follow the 3 dimensional curved surfaces of a part. This is extremely effective for using one tool to bring a block of material down to a final (or close to final) shape using high resultant material removal rates paired with the ability to create virtually any shape.

High Efficiency Milling

HEM has evolved from a philosophy that takes advantage of the maximum amount of work that a tool can perform. Considerations for chip thinning and feed rate adjustment are used so that each cutting edge of a tool takes a consistent chip thickness with each rotation, even at varying radial depths of cut and while interpolating around curves. This allows machinists the opportunity to utilize a radial depth of cut that more effectively uses the full potential of a given tool. Utilizing the entire available length of cut allows tool wear to be spread over a greater area, prolonging tool life and lowering production costs. Effectively, HEM uses the depths associated with a traditional finishing operation but boosts speeds and feeds, resulting in much higher material removal rates (MRR). This technique is typically used for hogging out large volumes of material in roughing and pocketing applications.

In short, HEM is somewhat similar to an accelerated finishing operation in regards to depth of cut, while HSM is more of a high feed contouring operation. Both can achieve increased MRR and higher productivity when compared to traditional methods. While HSM can be seen as an umbrella term for all high efficiency paths, HEM has grown in popularity to a point where it can be classified on its own. Classifying each separately takes a bit of clarification, showing they each have power in certain situations.

Check out the video below to see HEM in action!


Reducing Tool Runout

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.

Measuring Runout

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.

Z-Mike Laser

Z-Mike laser measurement devices are common instruments used to measure levels of tool runout.

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.

tool runout

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.

Shank Modifications

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.

haimer safe lock

The Haimer Safe-Lock™ system is one option to greatly reduce tool runout.

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.

Most Common Methods of Tool Entry

Tool entry is pivotal to machining success, as it’s one of the most punishing operations for a cutter. Entering a part in a way that’s not ideal for the tool or operation could lead to a damaged part or exhausted shop resources. Below, we’ll explore the most common part entry methods, as well as tips for how to perform them successfully.

Pre-Drilled Hole

Pre-drilling a hole to full pocket depth (and 5-10% larger than the end mill diameter) is the safest practice of dropping your end mill into a pocket. This method ensures the least amount of end work abuse and premature tool wear.

tool entry predrill


Helical Interpolation

Helical Interpolation is a very common and safe practice of tool entry with ferrous materials. Employing corner radius end mills during this operation will decrease tool wear and lessen corner breakdown. With this method, use a programmed helix diameter of greater than 110-120% of the cutter diameter.

helical interpolation



This type of operation can be very successful, but institutes many different torsional forces the cutter must withstand. A strong core is key for this method, as is room for proper chip evacuation. Using tools with a corner radius, which strengthen its cutting portion, will help.


Suggested Starting Ramp Angles:

Hard/Ferrous Materials: 1°-3°

Soft/Non-Ferrous Materials: 3°-10°

For more information on this popular tool entry method, see Ramping to Success.


This method of tool entry is similar to ramping in both method and benefit. However, while ramping enters the part from the top, arcing does so from the side. The end mill follows a curved tool path, or arc, when milling, this gradually increasing the load on the tool as it enters the part. Additionally, the load put on the tool decreases as it exits the part, helping to avoid shock loading and tool breakage.

Straight Plunge

This is a common, yet often problematic method of entering a part. A straight plunge into a part can easily lead to tool breakage. If opting for this machining method, however, certain criteria must be met for best chances of machining success. The tool must be center cutting, as end milling incorporates a flat entry point making chip evacuation extremely difficult. Drill bits are intended for straight plunging, however, and should be used for this type of operation.

tool entry


Straight Tool Entry

Straight entry into the part takes a toll on the cutter, as does a straight plunge. Until the cutter is fully engaged, the feed rate upon entry is recommended to be reduced by at least 50% during this operation.

tool entry


Roll-In Tool Entry

Rolling into the cut ensures a cutter to work its way to full engagement and naturally acquire proper chip thickness. The feed rate in this scenario should be reduced by 50%.

tool entry


How To Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear

The following is just one of several blog posts relevant to High Efficiency Milling. To achieve a full understanding of this popular machining method, view any of the additional HEM posts below!

Introduction to High Efficiency Milling I High Speed Machining vs. HEM I How to Combat Chip Thinning I Diving into Depth of Cut I Intro to Trochoidal Milling

Defining Tool Wear

Tool wear is the breakdown and gradual failure of a cutting tool due to regular operation. Every tool will experience tool wear at some point in its life. Excessive wear will show inconsistencies and have unwanted effects on your workpiece, so it is important to avoid tool wear in order to achieve optimal end mill performance. Tool wear can also lead to failure, which in turn can lead to serious damage, rework, and scrapped parts.

tool wear

An example of a tool with no wear

tool wear

An example of a tool with excessive wear

To prolong tool life, identifying and mitigating the various signs of tool wear is key. Both thermal and mechanical stresses cause tool wear, with heat and abrasion being the major culprits. Learning how to identify the most common types of tool wear and what causes them can help machinists remedy issues quickly and extend tool longevity.

Abrasive Wear

The wear land is a pattern of uniform abrasion on the cutting edge of the tool, caused by mechanical abrasion from the workpiece. This dulls the cutting edge of a tool, and can even alter dimensions such as the tool diameter. At higher speeds, excessive heat becomes more of an issue, causing more damage to the cutting edge, especially when an appropriate tool coating is not used.

tool wear

If the wear land becomes excessive or causes premature tool failure, reducing the cutting speed and optimizing coolant usage can help. High Efficiency Milling (HEM) toolpaths can help reduce wear by spreading the work done by the tool over its entire length of cut. This prevents localized wear and will prolong tool life by using the entire cutting edge available.


Chipping can be easily identified by a nicked or flaked edge on the cutting tool, or by examining the surface finish of a part. A poor surface finish can often indicate that a tool has experienced some sort of chipping, which can lead to eventual catastrophic tool failure if it is not caught.

tool wear

Chipping is typically caused by excessive loads and shock-loading during operation, but it can also be caused by thermal cracking, another type of tool wear which is explored in further detail below. To counter chipping, ensure the milling operation is completely free of vibration and chatter. Taking a look at the speeds and feeds can also help. Interrupted cuts and repeated part entry can also have a negative impact on a tool. Reducing feed rates for these situations can mitigate the risk of chipping.

Thermal Cracking

Thermal cracking is often identified by cracks in the tool perpendicular to the cutting edge. Cracks form slowly, but they can lead to both chipping and premature tool failure.

tool wear

Thermal cracking, as its name suggests, is caused by extreme temperature fluctuations during milling. Adding a proper coating to an end mill is beneficial in providing heat resistance and reduced abrasion on a tool. HEM toolpaths provide excellent protection against thermal cracking, as these toolpaths spread the heat across the cutting edge of the tool, reducing the overall temperature and preventing serious fluctuations in heat.


Fracture is the complete loss of tool usage due to sudden breakage, often as a result of improper speeds and feeds, an incorrect coating, or an inappropriate depth of cut. Tool holder issues or loose work holding can also cause a fracture, as can inconsistencies in workpiece material properties.

tool wear

Photo courtesy of @cubanana___ on Instagram

Adjusting the speeds, feeds, and depth of cut and checking the setup for rigidity will help to reduce fracturing. Optimizing coolant usage can also be helpful to avoid hot spots in materials which can dull a cutting edge and cause a fracture. HEM toolpaths prevent fracture by offering a more consistent load on a tool. Shock loading is reduced, causing less stress on a tool, which lessens the likelihood of breakage and increases tool life.

It is important to monitor tools and keep them in good, working condition to avoid downtime and save money. Wear is caused by both thermal and mechanical forces, which can be mitigated by running with appropriate running parameters and HEM toolpaths to spread wear over the entire length of cut. While every tool will eventually experience some sort of tool wear, the effects can be delayed by paying close attention to speeds and feeds and depth of cut. Preemptive action should be taken to correct issues before they cause complete tool failure.  

Corner Engagement: How to Machine Corners

Corner Engagement

During the milling process, and especially during corner engagement, tools undergo significant variations in cutting forces. One common and difficult situation is when a cutting tool experiences an “inside corner” condition. This is where the tool’s engagement angle significantly increases, potentially resulting in poor performance.

Machining this difficult area with the wrong approach may result in:

  • Chatter – visible in “poor” corner finish
  • Deflection – detected by unwanted “measured” wall taper
  • Strange cutting sound – tool squawking or chirping in the corners
  • Tool breakage/failure or chipping

Least Effective Approach (Figure 1)

Generating an inside part radius that matches the radius of the tool at a 90° direction range is not a desirable approach to machining a corner. In this approach, the tool experiences extra material to cut (dark gray), an increased engagement angle, and a direction change. As a result, issues including chatter, tool deflection/ breakage, and poor surface finish may occur.

Feed rate may need to be lessened depending on the “tool radius-to-part radius ratio.”

corner engagement

More Effective Approach (Figure 2)

Generating an inside part radius that matches the radius of the tool with a sweeping direction change is a more desirable approach. The smaller radial depths of cut (RDOC) in this example help to manage the angle of engagement, but at the final pass, the tool will still experience a very high engagement angle.  Common results of this approach will be chatter, tool deflection/breakage and poor surface finish.

Feed rate may need to be reduced by 30-50% depending on the “tool radius-to-part radius ratio.”

corner engagement

Most Effective Approach (Figure 3)

Generating an inside part radius with a smaller tool and a sweeping action creates a much more desirable machining approach. The manageable RDOC and smaller tool diameter allow for management of the tool engagement angle, higher feed rates and better surface finishes. As the cutter reaches full radial depth, its engagement angle will increase, but the feed reduction should be much less than in the previous approaches.

Feed rate may need to be heightened depending on the “tool-to-part ratio.” Utilize tools that are smaller than the corner you are machining.

corner engagement

Dodging Dovetail Headaches: 7 Common Dovetail Mistakes

Cutting With Dovetails

While they are specialty tools, dovetail style cutters have a broad range of applications. Dovetails are typically used to cut O-ring grooves in fluid and pressure devices, industrial slides and detailed undercutting work. Dovetail cutters have a trapezoidal shape—like the shape of a dove’s tail. General purpose dovetails are used to undercut or deburr features in a workpiece. O-ring dovetail cutters are held to specific standards to cut a groove that is wider at the bottom than the top. This trapezoidal groove shape is designed to hold the O-ring and keep it from being displaced.

Avoiding Tool Failure

The dovetail cutter’s design makes it fragile, finicky, and highly susceptible to failure. In calculating job specifications, machinists frequently treat dovetail cutters as larger than they really are because of their design, leading to unnecessary tool breakage. They mistake the tool’s larger end diameter as the critical dimension when in fact the smaller neck diameter is more important in making machining calculations.

As the tools are downsized for micro-applications, their unique shape requires special considerations. When machinists understand the true size of the tool, however, they can minimize breakage and optimize cycle time.

Miniature Matters – Micro Dovetailing

As the trend towards miniaturization continues, more dovetailing applications arise along with the need for applying the proper technique when dovetailing microscale parts and features. However, there are several common misunderstandings about the proper use of dovetails, which can lead to increased tool breakage and less-than-optimal cycle times.

There are seven common mistakes made when dovetailing and several strategies for avoiding them:

1. Not Taking Advantage of Drop Holes

Many O-ring applications allow for a drop hole to insert the cutter into the groove. Take advantage of a drop hole if the part design allows it, as it will permit usage of the largest, most rigid tool possible, minimizing the chance of breakage (Figure 1).

dovetail cutters
Figure 1. These pictured tools are designed to mill a groove for a Parker Hannifin O-ring groove No. AS568A-102 (left). These O-rings have cross sections of 0.103″. There is a large variation in the tools’ neck diameters. The tool at right, with a neck diameter of 0.024″, is for applications without a drop hole, while the other tool, with a neck diameter of 0.088″, is for drop-hole applications. The drop-hole allowance allows application of the more rigid tool.

2. Misunderstanding a Dovetail’s True Neck Diameter.

The dovetail’s profile includes a small neck diameter behind a larger end-cutting diameter. In addition, the flute runs through the neck, further reducing the tool’s core diameter. (In the example shown in Figure 2, this factor produces a core diameter of just 0.014″.) The net result is that an otherwise larger tool becomes more of a microtool. The torque generated by the larger diameter is, in effect, multiplied as it moves to the narrower neck diameter. You must remember that excess stress may be placed on the tool, leading to breakage. Furthermore, as the included angle of a dovetail increases, the neck diameter and core diameter are further reduced. O-ring dovetail cutters have an included angle of 48°. Another common included angle for general purpose dovetails is 90°. Figure 3 illustrates how two 0.100″-dia. dovetail tools have different neck diameters of 0.070″ vs. 0.034″ and different included angles of 48° vs. 90°.

dovetail cutters
Figure 2. The dovetail tool pictured is the nondrop-hole example from Figure 1. The cross section illustrates the relationship between the end diameter of the tool (0.083″) and the significantly smaller core diameter (0.014″). Understanding this relationship and the effect of torque on a small core diameter is critical to developing appropriate dovetailing operating parameters.
dovetail cutters
Figure 3: These dovetail tools have the same end diameter but different neck diameters (0.070″ vs. 0.034″) and different included angles (48° vs. 90°).

3. Calculating Speeds and Feeds from the Wrong Diameter.

Machinists frequently use the wrong tool diameter to calculate feed rates for dovetail cutters, increasing breakage. In micromachining applications where the margin for error is significantly reduced, calculating the feed on the wrong diameter can cause instantaneous tool failure. Due to the angular slope of a dovetail cutter’s profile, the tool has a variable diameter. While the larger end diameter is used for speed calculations, the smaller neck diameter should be used for feed calculations. This yields a smaller chip load per tooth. For example, a 0.083″-dia. tool cutting aluminum might have a chip load of approximately 0.00065 IPT, while a 0.024″-dia. mill cutting the same material might have a 0.0002-ipt chip load. This means the smaller tool has a chip load three times smaller than the larger tool, which requires a significantly different feed calculation.

4. Errors in Considering Depth of Cut.

In micromachining applications, machinists must choose a depth of cut (DOC) that does not exceed the limits of the fragile tool. Typically, a square end mill roughs a slot and the dovetail cutter then removes the remaining triangular-shaped portion. As the dovetail is stepped over with each subsequent radial cut, the cutter’s engagement increases with each pass. A standard end mill allows for multiple passes by varying the axial DOC. However, a dovetail cutter has a fixed axial DOC, which allows changes to be made only to the radial DOC. Therefore, the size of each successive step-over must decrease to maintain a more consistent tool load and avoid tool breakage (Figure 4).

dovetail cutters
Figure 4: In microdovetailing operations, increased contact requires diminishing stepover to maintain constant tool load.

5. Failing to Climb Mill.

Although conventional milling has the benefit of gradually loading the tool, in low-chip load applications (as dictated by a dovetail cutter’s small neck diameter) the tool has a tendency to rub or push the workpiece as it enters the cut, creating chatter, deflection and premature cutting edge failure. The dovetail has a long cutting surface and tooth pressure becomes increasingly critical with each pass. Due to the low chip loads encountered in micromachining, this approach is even more critical to avoid rubbing. Although climb milling loads the tool faster than conventional milling, it allows the tool to cut more freely, providing less deflection, finer finish and longer cutting-edge life. As a result, climb milling is recommended when dovetailing.

6. Improper Chip Flushing.

Because dovetail cuts are typically made in a semi-enclosed profile, it is critical to flush chips from the cavity. In micro-dovetailing applications, chip packing and recutting due to poorly evacuated chips from a semi-enclosed profile will dull the cutter and lead to premature tool failure. In addition to cooling and lubricating, a high-pressure coolant effectively evacuates chips. However, excessive coolant pressure placed directly on the tool can cause tool vibration and deflection and even break a microtool before it touches the workpiece. Take care to provide adequate pressure to remove chips without putting undue pressure on the tool itself. Specific coolant pressure settings will depend upon the size of the groove, the tool size and the workpiece material. Also, a coolant nozzle on either side of the cutter cleans out the groove ahead of and behind the cutter. An air blast or vacuum hose could also effectively remove chips.

7. Giving the Job Away.

As discussed in item number 3, lower chip loads result in significantly lower material-removal rates, which ultimately increase cycle time. In the previous example, the chip load was three times smaller, which would increase cycle time by the same amount. Cycle time must be factored into your quote to ensure a profitable margin on the job. In addition to the important micro-dovetailing considerations discussed here, don’t forget to apply the basics critical to all tools. These include keeping runout low, using tools with application-specific coatings and ensuring setups are rigid. All of these considerations become more important in micro-applications because as tools get smaller, they become increasingly fragile, decreasing the margin of error. Understanding a dovetail cutter’s profile and calculating job specifications accordingly is critical to a successful operation. Doing so will help you reach your ultimate goal: bidding the job properly and optimizing cycle time without unnecessary breakage.

This article was written by Peter P. Jenkins of Harvey Tool Company, and it originally appeared in MicroManufacturing Magazine.

Your Guide to Thin Wall Milling

Milling part features with thin wall characteristics, while also maintaining dimensional accuracy and straightness, can be difficult at best. Although multiple factors contribute, some key components are discussed below and can help to increase your thin wall milling accuracy.

Use Proper Tooling

Long length tooling with a long length of cut can spell trouble in thin wall milling situations due to deflection, chatter and breakage. It is essential to keep your tool as strong as possible while maintaining the ability to reach to the desired depth. Necked-down tooling provides added tool strength while also helping you to reach greater than 3x Diameter depths.

Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC)

To support the thin wall during the machining process, keep a wide-cross section behind it. We recommend utilizing a “stepped down” approach, which divides the total wall height to manageable depths while working each side of the wall. The Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC) dimension will vary depending on the material (and its hardness) being cut.

thin wall milling

Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC)

A progressive Radial Depth Of Cut (RDOC) strategy is also important as the thin wall height is increasing. Reducing tool pressure while support stock is disappearing is equally important to keep the thin wall stable.

  • Detail A represents a 5-step progressive radial approach. The number of passes will depend upon your particular application, material hardness and final wall dimensions.
  • This approach helps to keep the pressure off the wall as you make your way towards it. Additionally, it is recommended to alternate sides when using this RDOC strategy.
  • The final RDOC passes should be very light to keep wall vibration to a minimum while maximizing your part finish.

thin wall milling

Additional Thin Wall Milling Accuracy Tips:

  • Climb milling will help to keep tool pressure to a minimum.
  • Manual vibration dampening and wall stabilization can be achieved by using thermoplastic compounds, or wax, which can be thermally removed.
  • The use of ultra-high performance tool paths can optimize tool performance.