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5 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an End Mill

Few steps in the machining process are as important as selecting the best tooling option for your job. Complicating the process is the fact that each individual tool has its own unique geometries, each pivotal to the eventual outcome of your part. We recommend asking yourself 5 key questions before beginning the tool selection process. In doing so, you can ensure that you are doing your due diligence in selecting the best tool for your application. Taking the extra time to ensure that you’re selecting the optimal tool will reduce cycle time, increase tool life, and produce a higher quality product.

Question 1: What Material am I Cutting?

Knowing the material you are working with and its properties will help narrow down your end mill selection considerably. Each material has a distinct set of mechanical properties that give it unique characteristics when machining. For instance, plastic materials require a different machining strategy – and different tooling geometries – than steels do. Choosing a tool with geometries tailored towards those unique characteristics will help to improve tool performance and longevity.

Harvey Tool stocks a wide variety of High Performance Miniature End Mills. Its offering includes tooling optimized for hardened steels, exotic alloys, medium alloy steels, free machining steels, aluminum alloys, highly abrasive materials, plastics, and composites. If the tool you’re selecting will only be used in a single material type, opting for a material specific end mill is likely your best bet. These material specific tools provide tailored geometries and coatings best suited to your specific material’s characteristics. But if you’re aiming for machining flexibility across a wide array of materials, Harvey Tool’s miniature end mill section is a great place to start.

Helical Solutions also provides a diverse product offering tailored to specific materials, including Aluminum Alloys & Non-Ferrous Materials; and Steels, High-Temp Alloys, & Titanium. Each section includes a wide variety of flute counts – from 2 flute end mills to Multi-Flute Finishers, and with many different profiles, coating options, and geometries.

Question 2: Which Operations Will I Be Performing?

An application can require one or many operations. Common machining operations include:

  • Traditional Roughing
  • Slotting
  • Finishing
  • Contouring
  • Plunging
  • High Efficiency Milling

By understanding the operations(s) needed for a job, a machinist will have a better understanding of the tooling that will be needed. For instance, if the job includes traditional roughing and slotting, selecting a Helical Solutions Chipbreaker Rougher to hog out a greater deal of material would be a better choice than a Finisher with many flutes.

Question 3: How Many Flutes Do I Need?

One of the most significant considerations when selecting an end mill is determining proper flute count. Both the material and application play an important role in this decision.

Material:

When working in Non-Ferrous Materials, the most common options are the 2 or 3-flute tools. Traditionally, the 2-flute option has been the desired choice because it allows for excellent chip clearance. However, the 3-flute option has proven success in finishing and High Efficiency Milling applications, because the higher flute count will have more contact points with the material.

Ferrous Materials can be machined using anywhere from 3 to 14-flutes, depending on the operation being performed.

Application:

Traditional Roughing: When roughing, a large amount of material must pass through the tool’s flute valleys en route to being evacuated. Because of this, a low number of flutes – and larger flute valleys – are recommend. Tools with 3, 4, or 5 flutes are commonly used for traditional roughing.

Slotting: A 4-flute option is the best choice, as the lower flute count results in larger flute valleys and more efficient chip evacuation.

Finishing: When finishing in a ferrous material, a high flute count is recommended for best results. Finishing End Mills include anywhere from 5-to-14 flutes. The proper tool depends on how much material remains to be removed from a part.

High Efficiency Milling: HEM is a style of roughing that can be very effective and result in significant time savings for machine shops. When machining an HEM toolpath, opt for 5 to 7-flutes.

end mill selection

Question 4: What Specific Tool Dimensions are Needed?

After specifying the material you are working in, the operation(s) that are going to be performed, and the number of flutes required, the next step is making sure that your end mill selection has the correct dimensions for the job. Examples of key considerations include cutter diameter, length of cut, reach, and profile.

Cutter Diameter

The cutter diameter is the dimension that will define the width of a slot, formed by the cutting edges of the tool as it rotates. Selecting a cutter diameter that is the wrong size – either too large or small – can lead to the job not being completed successfully or a final part not being to specifications.  For example, smaller cutter diameters offer more clearance within tight pockets, while larger tools provide increased rigidity in high volume jobs.

Length of Cut & Reach

The length of cut needed for any end mill should be dictated by the longest contact length during an operation. This should be only as long as needed, and no longer. Selecting the shortest tool possible will result in minimized overhang, a more rigid setup, and reduced chatter. As a rule of thumb, if an application calls for cutting at a depth greater than 5x the tool diameter, it may be optimal to explore necked reach options as a substitute to a long length of cut.

Tool Profile

The most common profile styles for end mills are square, corner radius, and ball. The square profile on an end mill has flutes with sharp corners that are squared off at 90°. A corner radius profile replaces the fragile sharp corner with a radius, adding strength and helping to prevent chipping while prolonging tool life. Finally, a ball profile features flutes with no flat bottom, and is rounded off at the end creating a “ball nose” at the tip of the tool. This is the strongest end mill style.  A fully rounded cutting edge has no corner, removing the mostly likely failure point from the tool, contrary to a sharp edge on a square profile end mill. An end mill profile is often chosen by part requirements, such as square corners within a pocket, requiring a square end mill.  When possible, opt for a tool with the largest corner radius allowable by your part requirements. We recommend a corner radii whenever your application allows for it. If square corners are absolutely required, consider roughing with a corner radius tool and finishing with the square profile tool.

Question 5: Should I use a Coated Tool?

When used in the correct application, a coated tool will help to boost performance by providing the following benefits:

  • More Aggressive Running Parameters
  • Prolonged Tool life
  • Improved Chip Evacuation

Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions offer many different coatings, each with their own set of benefits. Coatings for ferrous materials, such as AlTiN Nano or TPlus, typically have a high max working temperature, making them suitable for materials with a low thermal conductivity. Coatings for non-ferrous applications, such as TiB2 or ZPlus, have a low coefficient of friction, allowing for easier machining operations. Other coatings, such as Amorphous Diamond or CVD Diamond Coatings, are best used in abrasive materials because of their high hardness rating.

Ready to Decide on an End Mill

There are many factors that should be considered while looking for the optimal tooling for the job, but asking the aforementioned five key question during the process will help you to make the right decision. As always, The Harvey Performance Company Technical Service Department is always available to provide recommendations and walk you through the tool selection process, if need be.

Harvey Tool Technical Support: 800-645-5609

Helical Solutions Technical Support: 866-543-5422

University of Michigan Formula SAE Racing Team – Featured Customer

Formula SAE is a student design competition that began in 1980. The competition was founded by the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) branch at the University of Texas. Each year, hundreds of universities across the world spend months designing and manufacturing their best Formula style car before putting them to the test in competitions.

Alex Marshalek is the Team Captain of the University of Michigan’s Formula SAE team, MRacing. The team was originally founded in 1986, and has been very successful over the years. In the 2017 season, they finished 5th at the Formula SAE Michigan event, and took home a 1st place finish at Formula North. They are hoping to continue riding that momentum into another successful season in 2018.

Mracing

Alex reached out to Harvey Tool and Helical earlier this year, and after some conversation, the decision was made to sponsor their team’s efforts by supplying cutting tools and providing technical support. With competitions on the horizon and a new build coming over the summer, Alex was kind enough to find some time to talk with us about his experiences as a student learning the ropes in engineering, manufacturing, and design, the importance of quality tooling and maintaining a superior part finish for competition, and challenges he has faced during this process.

Hi Alex. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. When you were looking into college degree programs, what initially interested you in manufacturing and engineering?

I have always had an interest in Aerospace Engineering, but it was nothing more than a personal interest until I started college. My high school unfortunately did not have any machine shop or manufacturing type classes, so a lot of what I knew, I learned from my dad. My dad worked as a Mechanical Engineer at an axle manufacturing company, and he used to always be doing things around the house and showing me the basics of engineering and design.

When it came time to choose a school, I knew that Michigan had an impressive Aerospace Engineering department, and I liked the feel of the campus and community better than other schools I had toured.

How did you first get involved with the Formula SAE team?

I knew going into school that I wanted to get involved in a design team and advance my learning in that way. We have about a dozen different design teams at Michigan, but the Formula SAE team really stood out to me as a really cool project to get involved in.

I started with the team in Fall of 2016, helping out with the design and manufacturing of the vehicle’s suspension. Now, for the upcoming 2018 season, I am taking over the role of Team Captain. There will be a little bit less hands-on design and manufacturing work for me as it is more of an administrative/outreach role.

michigan racing

How does a typical FSAE season run?

So FSAE seasons are constantly running, and nearly overlapping with each other. For example, we are currently finishing up competitions from the 2018 season, but at the same time we are beginning the design of the vehicle for the 2019 season. Typically, the design work is done over the summer, and finalized in October. After that, the major manufacturing begins and lasts until about March, with spare parts and additions being added as we go. Testing begins in March, where we fine tune the vehicle and optimize the design for performance. Then, the rest of the Spring and early Summer is competition time, and the process starts all over again!

What sort of machines do you have in the shop?

Right now, we have three manual Bridgeport mills, two retro-fit CNC Bridgeport mills, 2 manual lathes, 1 retro-fit CNC lathe, and a Haas VF-2SS and Haas SL-20. For the vast majority of what we are machining, we are using the Haas. We do most of our work in Aluminum, with some parts made out of steel or titanium, and the Haas has been great for everything.

We are also using AutoDesk’s Fusion 360 software for our CAD/CAM, and we love it.

What has been the most difficult part of the build?

Time is really the biggest challenge. We are all full-time students, so time is already hard to find, but we also don’t have an overabundance of machinists so the operators can get overburdened. It all works out in the end and our machinists are great, but time management is truly the biggest challenge.

michigan formula sae

The composite materials we work with are also very challenging to machine. We constructed the vehicle’s monocoque (the structural “skin”, often seen in Formula One cars) out of carbon fiber. While we cut a lot of it on the water jet machine, we needed more precise holes than a water jet could offer, so we went to the Haas for that. We were using HSS drills and only getting 10-12 holes at a time before they wore out. However, we had Don Grandt (Harvey Performance Company Application Engineer) stop in the shop and he sent us a few Harvey Tool diamond coated drills, which should make this a much faster and more precise process!

You mentioned Don stopped in to give you guys a visit. What were some of your biggest takeaways?

Don was great. He stopped by and we gave him a tour of the facility and showed off some of the parts we were designing. We talked shop for quite a bit, and he gave us a bunch of great tips and tricks we could use to really optimize our machining. As I mentioned, he also went through the catalogs with us and helped us find exactly what we need for tooling. The Harvey Tool diamond coated drills are going to be a life saver for carbon fiber. I guess the biggest takeaway was just all of the knowledge we received from Don and how helpful that was to have someone direct from the tooling manufacturer sharing everything we knew with us.

Now that you have the Harvey and Helical tools in the shop, how have they helped you complete this project and get a leg up on your competition?

One of the most impressive things for us have been the finishing end mills we received. The Helical finishers for Aluminum are giving us some of the best finishes we have ever seen. For us, that is a point of pride. We not only want to have the fastest and most well-designed vehicle, but we also want to have the best looking parts. Subpar finishes reflect poorly on the entire build, and first impressions mean a lot in these competitions.

We have also been blown away by the Chipbreaker roughers. We absolutely love those tools and push them to the limits with great results. In fact, the first time we ran them, we used Machining Advisor Pro to dial in our speeds and feeds, and the numbers seemed insane to us. We were nervous, but we pushed the button and let it run. It was amazing to see that we could push a tool that fast without tool failure.

How has your experience been using Machining Advisor Pro?

We use Machining Advisor Pro every time we picked up the Helical end mills. MAP was actually one of the main reasons we were looking for Helical to sponsor us. We had heard a lot about MAP and your level of technical support, which was important to us as we are learning more about manufacturing and machining. Machining Advisor Pro has quickly become one of our best learning tools in the shop.

The nice thing about MAP is that is takes a look at all of the parameters. A lot of applications only give you numbers on your speeds and feeds, but MAP takes a look at the depth of cut, chip thinning, engagement angle, and all of the other parameters that are so essential to a successful run. As a result, we have been able to get very aggressive with the end mills. We are not a huge production shop, so cycle times are not as important, but we still want to get the most out of our tools in the least amount of possible time.

So, let’s break down some specs. What are you all working with on this year’s build?

Right now our car features a 4 cylinder Honda 600 CBR engine, with a Turbo and 600cc displacement. We are one of the few teams that run a turbo in competition. As we mentioned, the monocoque is completely carbon fiber, and the car features a full aero package with an undertray. The max speed is around 80 MPH, and the car weighs 420 pounds without the driver.

Once the build is complete, how does a typical competition work?

Most of the Formula SAE competitions are multi-day events, with a few static events, and then dynamic events where the car is running. For static events, we first have a Design portion. We validate and argue for our design in front of judges who are engineers in the industry. Then, we get into a Cost presentation, as one of the goals is to build the cheapest possible car with a high level of performance. That balance of cost vs. performance is a critical part of the build. The last static event is a Business presentation, where we introduce a business/manufacturing plan on how to get this design to a production level of 100 units in a year.

For the dynamic events, we have 4 different tests. First, we have the Accel Run, which is a 75 meter sprint, and the fastest cars win. From there we go to the Skip Pad event, which is centered on turning radius and the stiffness of the chassis as we do tight figure eight turns with the car.

University of Michigan FSAE

Then we have the AutoCross, a one lap race, which determines our placement in the final event; Endurance. For the Endurance event, we drive the cars around a 22km track, and the goal is to finish the race without any mechanical or design failures in the quickest time possible. Only around 50% of participants actually complete this event. If a single part falls off, or breaks, you are disqualified. Many times we see things like the suspension, powertrain, or wings falling off. It is disappointing when it happens, but it allows us to easily identify any flaws and fix them for the next event.

What is next for you after school? Any future plans or goals?

I am currently majoring in Aerospace Engineering, and would like to stay within that industry. I am leaning towards working on aircraft. Designing either aircraft structures or the aerodynamics would be very cool. I really like the size and scale of working on commercial aircraft, but I could see myself doing something more specialty like working in Defense as well.


Alex and his team had a very successful 2018 season. They recently placed 9th overall in a competition at the Michigan International Speedway. In the dynamic events, they placed 4th in Skidpad, and 7th in Autocross. The high placement in the Autocross event allowed them to race head to head against top teams in the world, and they ended up placing 4th in Endurance out of 104 cars!

The MRacing team also competed at Formula North, a competition in Ontario, Canada, where they achieved a top ranking of 2nd place overall. They passed all of the technical inspections on the first try and placed 1st in Acceleration, 2nd in Skidpad and Endurance, 3rd in Autocross, and 4th in Efficiency.

michigan fsae

Ideal Tooling for Machining Composites

Composite Materials

A material is classified as a composite if it is made up of at least two unique constituents that when combined yield beneficial physical and mechanical properties for a number of different applications. A binding agent that is the matrix material is filled with either particles or fibers of a second material that act as reinforcements. The combination of strength, weight, and rigidity make composites extremely useful for the automotive, aerospace, and power generation industry. Often the matrix material of particulate-reinforced composites is some form of plastic, and the reinforcement material is either glass or carbon particles. These are sometimes called “filled plastics,” and are typically very abrasive materials. Many composites are layered with varying fiber orientations, which increase the strength of the material and are called fiber-reinforced composites.

Common Problems When Machining Composites

  1. Delamination of composite layers
  2. Uncut Fibers
  3. Fiber tear-out
  4. Uneven tool wear
  5. Poor surface finish due to “competing” materials

These problems are all caused by unique conditions created by composite materials, and can be very tricky to correct.  The simple fact of cutting a combination of multiple materials at the same time introduces many factors that make it difficult to strike the right balance of the proper tool for the job and appropriate running parameters.  The following tool styles provide solutions for a wide array of composite concerns.  Composite Drilling Applications can face the same issues, and proper drill choice can help as well.

Straight Flute End Mill

Straight Flute Composite Cutters are designed to prevent delamination of layered materials by applying all cutting forces radially, eliminating axial forces from a typical helical cutting edge. Cutting action is improved with a high positive rake angle for shearing fibers and eccentric relief for improved edge life. Shallow ramping operations can be performed with this tool, but the largest benefits are seen in peripheral milling applications.

straight flute end mill

Compression Cutters

The Compression Cutter consists of an up cut and down cut helix. The top portion of the length of cut has right-hand cutting teeth with a left-hand spiral. The lower portion of the length of cut has right-hand cutting teeth with a right-hand spiral. This creates opposing cutting forces to stabilize the material removal process when cutting layered composites to prevent delamination, fiber pullout, and burs along the surface. Compression of the top and bottom of the workpiece keeps the layered bonded together.

compression cutter end mill

Chipbreaker Cutter

The Chipbreaker Cutter is ideally suited for roughing and profiling composites with a high percentage of fiber fill. The notch-like chipbreakers shear fibers and shorten chips for improved material evacuation. This specialized geometry is great for keeping chips small and avoiding “nesting” of stringy fibrous chips around the cutter.

chipbreaker for composite materials

Diamond Cut End Mill

Diamond Cut Composite Cutters come in two different geometries: End Mill Style and Drill Mill Style. Although the end mill style tool is center cutting, the drill mill style has a 140° point angle, making it more suitable for plunge cutting. This is great for clearing out pockets in the middle of composite sheets.

diamond cut end mill for composites

End Mills for Composites – Diamond Cut – End Mill Style

 

diamond cut drill mill for composites

End Mills for Composites – Diamond Cut – Drill Mill Style

Both the end mill and drill mill style share the same downcut geometry on the outside diameter. This diamond cut tool receives its name from the combination of left-hand and right-hand teeth. The tool is predominantly a downcut style – a geometry that allows for these tools to effectively rough and profile high fiber reinforced or filled composites, breaking up chips and shearing through fibers.

Diamond Cut vs. Chipbreaker Style

The diamond cut tools have a higher flute count, which some may intuitively think would lead to a better finish, but this is not the case as this line of tools contains right-hand and left-hand teeth. There is a trade-off between an increased ability to shear fibers and leaving a poorer finish. The chipbreaker style tool, although not as effective as shearing fibers, is ultimately designed for the same purpose but leaves a better finish as all of the flutes are facing the same direction.

Composite Finisher

The Composite Finisher has optimized geometry for finishing in composite. A slow helix and high flute count for more contact points ultimately renders a smooth finish by minimizing fraying of fiber-reinforced and layered materials.

finishing end mill for composites

Coating or No Coating?

Composite materials, especially those with glass or carbon fiber, can be particularly abrasive and have a tendency to wear down the cutting edge of carbide tools. If one is looking to achieve the best tool life and maintain a sharp cutting edge, then choosing an Amorphous Diamond coated tool is the best option. This thin coating improves lubricity and wear resistance over its uncoated counterpart. Using a tool with CVD diamond coating can be very beneficial in extreme cases, when fiber fill percentage is very large. This is a true diamond coating, and offers the best abrasion resistance, but a slightly less sharp cutting edge as it is a thicker coating. PCD diamond tooling offers the best tool life. If it a solid diamond wafer brazed to a carbide shank, and can maintain the sharpest edge of any diamond tooling. However, PCD is limited to straight flutes, and can come at a higher price.

Composite materials are being increasingly utilized in today’s manufacturing world for their impressive strength to weight ratio. This growth has stimulated innovative techniques of cutting composites seen in the tool choices above. Harvey Tool’s variety of geometries helps any machine shop tackle composite cutting applications and will continue to offer groundbreaking solutions to these types of manufacturing problems.

Shining a Light on Diamond End Mills

Diamond tooling and diamond-coated end mills are a great option when machining highly abrasive materials, as the coating properties help to significantly increase tool life relative to uncoated carbide tools. Diamond tools and diamond-like coated tools are only recommended for non-ferrous applications, including highly abrasive materials ranging from graphite to green ceramics, as they have a tendency to break down in the presence of extreme heat.

Understanding the Properties of Diamond Coatings

To ensure proper diamond tooling selection, it’s critical to understand the unique properties and makeup of the coatings, as there are often several diamond coating variations to choose from. Harvey Tool, for example, stocks Amorphous Diamond, CVD Diamond, and PCD Diamond End Mills for customers looking to achieve significantly greater tool life when working in non-ferrous applications.

Diamond, the hardest known material on earth, obtains its strength from the structure of carbon molecules. Graphite, a relatively brittle material, can have the same chemical formula as diamond, but is a completely different material; while Graphite has a sp2 bonded hexagonal structure, diamond has a sp3 bonded cubic structure. The cubic structure is harder than the hexagonal structure as more single bonds can be formed to interweave the carbon into a stronger network of molecules.

diamond tool coatings

Amorphous Diamond Coating

Amorphous Diamond is transferred onto carbide tools through a process called physical vapor deposition (PVD). This process spreads a mono-layer of DLC coating about 0.5 – 2.5 microns thick onto any given tool by evaporating a source material and allowing it to condense onto that tool over the course of a few hours.

amorphous diamond coating

Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)

Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) is a coating process used to grow multiple layers of polycrystalline diamond onto carbide tooling. This procedure takes much longer than the standard PVD coating method. During the coating process, hydrogen molecules are dissociated from the carbon molecules deposited onto the tool, leaving a diamond matrix under the right temperature and pressure conditions. Under the wrong conditions, the tool may be simply coated in graphite. 6% cobalt carbide blanks allow for the best adhesion of diamond and a substrate. CVD diamond coated end mills have a typical thickness of coating that is between 8 and 10 microns thick.

CVD Diamond Coating

Polycrystalline Diamond (PCD)

Polycrystalline Diamond (PCD) is a synthetic diamond, meaning it is grown in a lab and contains mostly cubic structures. Diamond hardness ranges from about 80 GPa up to about 98 GPa. PCD end mills have the same diamond structure as CVD diamond tools but the binding technique is different. The diamond starts in a powdery form that is sintered onto a carbide plate using cobalt as a solvent metal substrate. This is done at an extreme temperature and pressure as the cobalt infiltrates the powder, causing the grains to grow together. This effectively creates a thick diamond wafer, between 010” and .030” in width, with a carbide base. This carbide base is then brazed onto the head an end mill and sharpened.

PCD Diamond CoatingHow Diamond Coatings Differ

Coating Hardness & Thickness

Polycrystalline tools (CVD or sintered) have a much higher hardness, thickness, and max working temperature than Amorphous Diamond oated tools. As mentioned previously, a PCD tool consists of a diamond wafer brazed to a carbide body while a CVD tool is a carbide end mill with a relatively thick layer of polycrystalline diamond grown into it. This grown layer causes the CVD tools to have a rounded cutting edge compared to PCD and Amorphous Diamond coated tools. PCD tools have the thickest diamond layer that is ground to a sharp edge for maximum performance and tool life. The difference between PCD tools and CVD coated tools lies in the thickness of this coat and the sharpness of the cutting edge. Amorphous Diamond tools maintain a sharper edge than CVD coated tools because of their thin coating.

Flute Styles

Harvey Tool’s line of PCD end mills are all straight fluted, CVD coated tools are all helically fluted, and Amorphous Diamond tools are offered in a variety of options. The contrast between straight fluted and helically fluted can be seen in the images below, PCD (top) and CVD (bottom). Electrical discharge machining, grinding or erosion are used cut the PCD wafer to the specifications. The size of this wafer limits the range of diameters that can be achieved during manufacturing. In most situations a helically fluted tool would be preferred over a straight fluted tool but with true diamond tooling that is not the case. The materials that PCD tools and CVD coated tools are typically used to cut produce a powdery chip that does not require the same evacuation that a metallic or plastic chip necessitates.

PCD Diamond end mill

PCD Ball End Mill

CVD Diamond end mill

CVD Ball End Mill

Proper Uses

CVD tools are ideally suited for abrasive material not requiring a sharp cutting edge – typically materials that produce a powdery chip such as composites and graphite. Amorphous Diamond tools have a broad range of non-ferrous applications spanning from carbon fiber to precious metals but ceramics are typically outside their range as they can be too abrasive and wear away the coating. PCD tools overlap their CVD and DLC coated counterparts as they can be used for any non-ferrous abrasive material.

Cut to the Point

Harvey Tool carries physical vapor deposition diamond-like carbon coated tools, chemical vapor deposition diamond tools and polycrystalline diamond tools. PCD tools are composed of the thickest diamond wafer brazed onto a carbide shank and are ground to a sharp edge. CVD coated tools have the diamond grown into a carbide end mill. Amorphous Diamond coated tools have the DLC coated onto them through the PVD process. For more information on the diamond coating best suited for your operation, contact a Harvey Tool Tech Team Member for immediate help.

Anderson Prototypes – Featured Customer

Anderson Prototypes is a custom machine shop in Port Moody, British Columbia. Working with everything from Titanium to Bamboo, they create mechanical mechanisms and working prototypes of new technology. By applying 25 years of experience with manual and CNC machinery, they craft amazing parts, some even bordering on impossible. The team at Anderson Prototypes works in a variety of industries, ranging from large-scale prototype work to small batch production, machine repair, and even movie and TV props.

Jim Anderson, a 30 year veteran of the manufacturing industry, is the Founder and Owner of Anderson Prototypes. We caught up with Jim and talked to him about some of the “impossible” projects his team likes to take, his experiences in the film industry, and his advice for the aspiring machinist.

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

I started in machining in 1985, as a full-time student in a machining class at a local community college. I spent years working in jobbing shops, plastic mold injection shops, and specialized start-up companies, scratch building a range of things from high-speed water “pouch” filling machines to hydrogen fuel-cells. Today I work with a wide range of clients including 3 submarine companies, a military contractor, companies that use custom built or modified ROVs and drones, food packaging companies, production companies needing film and TV props, and more.

What made you get into machining?

I have always been an actively creative person, and I enjoyed wood and machine shop in high school. I found a creative outlet for my talents to build and fix things inside the machine shop environment. I continue to study machines and items, to understand how they were made, and how it could be made better or simplified.

anderson prototypes

What is your favorite part of this profession?

I always enjoy creating something for a client that they have been dreaming of, sometimes for years. They come to me with a sketch on a napkin or a verbal idea, and I turn that dream into reality. When they come to pick it up and see it for the first time, the emotions are tremendous!

What sort of machines do you use in your shop?

I have 2 Tormach 1100 CNC mills, one 4 axis and the other 3 axis, a Sherline 2000, 4 axis CNC mill, a Frankenstein CNC lathe with a 8 station tool changer for small work, a Milltronics ML-17 CNC lathe, a Colchester Student Engine Lathe, and a smaller manual milling machine. I also have drill presses, tapping heads and tons of specialized fixturing and work holding devices, as well as a 60 ton hydraulic press and the specialized equipment that comes with it.

micro machining

Which materials do you work with in your shop?

Just about everything. Lots of plastics, PEEK, Delrin and Acrylic, aluminum, steels, stainless steels, carbon fiber, different woods, laminates, and more.

What sets Anderson Prototypes apart from the competition?

We often take on jobs that other shops won’t, due to our team’s large vision. We stand behind every piece we make and have zero returned items to date. Embodying both old-school traditions and cutting-edge technology, Anderson Prototypes believes that “Impossible is just an Opinion”. We work with a project from the very beginning to the time it is up and running at the client’s facility. We work with building very small detailed machines to unique and weird items that someone dreamed up and could not find anyone able to make. We also love to give back to the community. We have sponsored local high school and university students in competitions, and we have played a part in the Maker Community since Day One. We also made and donated a doggy wheelchair to a dog in need (YouTube), and we sponsor a local softball league.

How did you get into the entertainment/prop business?

Vancouver has a huge movie industry, and there are many people in my network that work in the industry. The need for various props, new equipment, and repairs can go up and down as movies are being filmed. The first job I did (I think), was for a movie called Space Buddies, the 4th or 5th entry in the Air Bud movie series. I made the Doggles (dog goggles), that the dog is wearing on the DVD cover. Most movies require a Non-Disclosure Agreements before any work is done, so I can’t talk about much, but I have made my impact on the screen, behind the scenes, and even live on stage. I also did a major prop for an Australian TV show that was apparently popular down under, so you never know where this work will take you!

micro machined

Who is the most famous contact that you have worked on a project with?

I have met many directors and producers of large budget films and TV shows. Unfortunately, because of the Non-Disclosure Agreements, I cannot mention any names.

Why is high-quality tool performance important to you?

I buy all my tooling from North America. I am lucky enough to have a solid carbide tooling manufacturer 5 miles from my shop, so I get quality endmills, made to order. When I need something specialized, Harvey is the only company I go to. When a tool does more than I expect, I make more money and have less stress. I count on that and become a return customer. For example, I used a .018″ Miniature End Mill (#73018-C3) on some acrylic parts I was making. There were 40 parts in total, all around the size of a stamp, with lots of tiny details, high tolerances, and very small features. I had the machine running at 15,500 RPM for 3 weeks, and I only broke one tool in that entire run. What a great tool!

What is your favorite process to work on as a machinist?

I really enjoy making something I have never worked on before, that new challenge. Often it seems that I am designing new items now more than ever. I have to do things that are not being done commercially and I stand behind it. So I might run the manual lathe, the CNC mill and then the CNC lathe on one part. I enjoy the variety.

anderson prototypes

Why is manufacturing your products in North America important to you?

American and Canadian-made products are very important to me. I purchase North American-made products like steel and aluminum, and bearings and fasteners all of kinds. I also access services locally, such as laser cutting, anodizing and powder coating, to support these local businesses. I feel its very important to the customer making the purchase that these are products my neighbors are helping to build.

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

Take the time to take an accredited machine shop training course, like I did. It will give you all the groundwork to understand the real world of machining. I know a few fellas with small CNCs that can’t make a living because they don’t understand the depth of set-ups or work holding, for example, because they never learned from an expert. They can’t make parts fast enough, they charge 1/2 of what I do, and it takes then 3 times as long, so they simply can’t compete with me. Just be aware that it doesn’t happen overnight; I was a Journeyman Machinist for over 30 years, and still ask for help from my mentors occasionally. Oh, and find yourself a quality machine. Find a good used HAAS, or OKK, or something made in the US, UK or Europe. Your clients will respect you more and it will work longer and more accurately.

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

I am grateful for the education I have received from the many journeyman machinists, engineers, mechanics, electricians, pilots, sea captains and more who I have worked beside in my years. I am happy to share and offer problem-solving, sometimes for free, other times at consultation rates. When a young eager person asks me a question, I do the best I can to answer it in a way that benefits them long term. Sometimes they don’t like the answer, but I tell them to come back in 6 months and tell me how it went. That’s when the rubber hits the road.

anderson prototypes


Would you like to be considered for a future “Featured Customer” blog? Click here to submit your information.

Photos courtesy of Anderson Prototypes.

How to Avoid Composite Delamination with Compression Cutters

Composites are a group of materials made up of at least two unique constituents that, when combined, produce mechanical and physical properties favorable for a wide array of applications. These materials usually contain a binding ingredient, known as a matrix, filled with particles or fibers called reinforcements. Composites have become increasingly popular in the Aerospace, Automotive, and Sporting Goods industries because they can combine the strength of metal, the light weight of plastic, and the rigidity of ceramics.

Unfortunately, composite materials present some unique challenges to machinists. Many composites are very abrasive and can severely reduce tool life, while others can melt and burn if heat generation is not properly controlled. Even if these potential problems are avoided, the wrong tool can leave the part with other quality issues, including delamination.

While composites such as G10 and FR4 are considered “fibrous”, composites can also be “layered,” such as laminated sheets of PEEK and aluminum. Layered composites are vulnerable to delamination, when the layers of the material are separated by a tool’s cutting forces. This yields less structurally sound parts, defeating the purpose of the combined material properties in the first place. In many cases, a single delaminated hole can result in a scrapped part.

Using Compression Cutters in Composite Materials

Composite materials are generally machined with standard metal cutting end mills, which generate exclusively up or down cutting forces, depending on if they have right or left hand flute geometry. These uni-directional forces cause delamination (Figure 1).

delamination

Conversely, compression cutters are designed with both up and down-cut flutes. The top portion of the length of cut, closest to the shank, has a left hand spiral, forcing chips down. The bottom portion of the length of cut, closest to the end, has a right hand spiral, forcing chips up. When cutting, the opposing flute directions generate counteracting up-cut and down-cut forces. The opposing cutting forces stabilize the material removal, which compresses the composite layers, combatting delamination on the top and bottom of a workpiece (Figure 2).

compression cutters

Since compression cutters do not pull up or press down on a workpiece, they leave an excellent finish on layered composites and lightweight materials like plywood. It is important to note, however, that compression cutters are suited specifically to profiling, as the benefits of the up and down-cut geometry are not utilized in slotting or plunging operations.

Something as simple as choosing a tool suited to a specific composite material can have significant effects on the quality of the final part. Consider utilizing tools optimized for different composites and operations or learn how to select the right drill for composite holemaking.

KeyBar – Featured Customer

KeyBar® is a manufacturing company based in Savannah, Georgia that prides itself on American-made products. Mike Taylor, the CEO, Owner, and Founder of KeyBar®, first got the idea for this company while working as the chief engineer at an upscale hotel in Savannah, Georgia. As a part of this position, he carried around countless keys attached to his belt. One day he realized that there must be an easier way to carry his keys, so that they made less noise and were easier to access. Mike used a multi-tool daily, and it occurred to him that he could apply the same concept to keys to create the KeyBar®, a patented key organizer that promises to “Stop the Noise”® of jangling keys, kill the clutter of a handful of keys, and make the key ring obsolete.

In 2014, Mike and his wife, Jessica, left their full-time jobs to take a chance on their new business, and it paid off. Mike, now 34, has built a thriving online store, retailers all over the country are carrying KeyBars, and they have an entire team of employees working at their Savannah, Georgia machine shop; quite the achievement for a young entrepreneur.

KeyBar® also offers other products, including the newly released Quick-Draw, which is a revolver-inspired, rotating desktop pen holder that recently raised over $25,000 in a Kickstarter campaign.

keybar

KeyBars are made of many different materials, ranging from aluminum and copper to brass, titanium, and carbon fiber, and end mills from Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions play a crucial part in the creation of each one.

We spoke with Mike for this Featured Customer profile, and talked about his experiences starting his own shop and the way Harvey Tool and Helical products have impacted his shop’s overall performance.

What made you get into machining?

We actually started manufacturing KeyBars by outsourcing our parts to some of my machinist friends. After watching several YouTube videos, I decided that machining our own parts in-house was something I wanted to achieve. I am new to machining, so every day is a challenge. I am truly learning as I go, but I learn more every single day in the shop and every day is a huge payoff.

Would you recommend a career as a machinist to young people trying to find a career path?

Absolutely! In this day and age of smart phones and computers, young people would be great in CNC machining and manufacturing.

How did you first hear about the Harvey Tool & Helical brands?

I first heard about both Harvey Tool and Helical from your Instagram pages. KeyBar® really took off when I started posting the finished product on Instagram, so I have always been an active user and firm believer in the power of social media.

keybar

What made you decide to go with these brands for your cutting tool needs?

I was told that Harvey made the best tool for cutting carbon fiber, which we do a lot of while manufacturing KeyBars, so it was a no-brainer.

How easy was the purchase process?

With only a quick email or phone call, I usually have my tools within 1-2 days, which is important for us to keep up our production and never lose a single second of time in the shop waiting for a tool.

Did you receive any help from our customer service teams? How was that experience?

It was great. I needed some initial speeds and feeds for all my composites, and in just a few minutes they had me all squared away. Time is money, and the customer service team saved me lots of time when we first started working with composite materials.

Tell us about your favorite product that Harvey Tool or Helical products helped to create.

We are currently producing a run of custom KeyBars with inlays. The Harvey end mills for composite materials allowed us to achieve a perfect fit and made the project a success.

keybar

What is your favorite operation to work on with Helical end mills?

I really like working on 1/4″ roughing passes with a Helical chipbreaker.

What was your first impression of these brands’ tools?

“Damn! That worked pretty good!”

You use a lot of Harvey Tool miniature drills in your work. Why is high quality drill performance important to you?

We drill a lot of holes, and every second counts in production. Most importantly, being able to depend on a tool and get consistent results is worth more than anything else.

How have the Harvey Tool and Helical products impacted your overall performance?

I never have to worry about getting a less than superior finish on our composite products. Harvey Tool products do an excellent job with composite materials– like I said, this is a huge part of our manufacturing process and so it is very important to our performance.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only one Harvey Performance tool, which would it be, and why?

I would choose the Harvey Tool 933316-C6 (1/4″ Corner Radius End Mill for Hardened Steels up to 55 Rc) because you never know what you are going to run in to, and there isn’t much that a 1/4″ end mill can’t do!

keybar

Would you like to be considered for a future “Featured Customer” blog? Click here to submit your information.

Photos courtesy of KeyBar