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Machining Precious Metals

Precious metals can be particularly difficult to machine due to their wide range of material properties and high cost if a part has to be scrapped. The following article will introduce these elements and their alloys as well as provide a guide on how to machine them effectively and efficiently.

About the Elements

Sometimes called “noble” metals, precious metals consist of eight elements that lie in the middle of the periodic table (seen below in Figure 1). The eight metals are:

  1. Ruthenium (Ru)
  2. Rhodium (Rh)
  3. Palladium (Pd)
  4. Silver (Ag)
  5. Osmium (Os)
  6. Iridium (Ir)
  7. Platinum (Pt)
  8. Gold (Au)

These elements are some of the rarest materials on earth, and can therefore be enormously expensive. Gold and silver can be found in pure nugget form, making them more easily available. However, the other six elements are typically found mixed in the raw ore of the four metals they sit below on the periodic table: Iron (Fe), Cobalt (Co), Nickel (Ni), and Copper (Cu). These elements are a subset of precious metals and are generally called Platinum Group Metals (PGM). Because they are found together in raw ore, this makes mining and extraction difficult, dramatically increasing their cost. Because of their high price tag, machining these materials right the first time is incredibly important to a shop’s efficiency.

machining metals

Figure 1: Periodic table with the 8 precious metals boxed in blue. Image source: clearscience.tumblr.com

Basic Properties and Compositions of Precious Metals

Precious metals have notable material properties as they are characteristically soft, ductile, and oxidation resistant. They are called “noble” metals because of their resistance to most types of chemical and environmental attack. Table 1 lists a few telling material properties of precious metals in their elemental form. For comparison purposes, they are side-by-side with 6061 Al and 4140 Steel. Generally, only gold and silver are used in their purest form as the platinum group metals are alloys that consist mainly of platinum (with a smaller composition of Ru, Rh, Pa, Os, Ir). Precious metals are notable for being extremely dense and having a high melting point, which make them suitable for a variety of applications.

Table 1: Cold-worked Material Properties of Precious Metals, 4140 Steel and 6061 Aluminum 

precious metals

Common Machining Applications of Precious Metals

Silver and gold have particularly favorable thermal conductivity and electrical resistivity. These values are listed in Table 2, along with CC1000 (annealed copper) and annealed 6061 aluminum, for comparison purposes. Copper is generally used in electrical wiring because of its relatively low electrical resistivity, even though silver would make a better substitute. The obvious reason this isn’t the general convention is the cost of silver vs. copper. That being said, copper is generally plated with gold at electrical contact areas because it tends to oxide after extended use, which lowers its resistivity. As stated before, gold and the other precious metals are known to be resistant to oxidation. This corrosion resistance is the main reason that they are used in cathodic protection systems of the electronics industry.

Table 2: Thermal Conductivity and Electrical Resistivity of Ag, Au, Cu, and Al 

machining metals

Platinum and its respective alloys offer the most amount of applications as it can achieve a number of different mechanical properties while still maintaining the benefits of a precious metal (high melting point, ductility, and oxidation resistance). Table 3 lists platinum and a number of other PGMs each with their own mechanical properties. The variance of these properties depends on the alloying element(s) being added to the platinum, the percentage of alloying metal, and whether or not the material has been cold-worked or annealed. Alloying can significantly increase the tensile strength and hardness of a material while decreasing its ductility at the same time. The ratio of this tensile strength/hardness increase to ductility decrease depends on the metal added as well as how much is added, as seen in Table 3. Generally this depends on the particle size of the element added as well as its natural crystalline structure. Ruthenium and Osmium have a specific crystal structure that has a significant hardening effect when added to platinum. Pt-Os alloys in particular are extremely hard and practically unworkable, which doesn’t yield many real-world applications. However, the addition of the other 4 PGMs to platinum allow for a range of mechanical properties with various usages.

Table 3: PGM material properties (Note: the hardness and tensile strength are cold worked values) 

machining metals

Platinum and its alloys are biocompatible, giving them the ability to be placed in the human body for long periods of time without causing adverse reactions or poisoning. Therefore, medical devices including heart muscle screw fixations, stents, and marker bands for angioplasty devices are made from platinum and its alloys. Gold and palladium are also commonly used in dental applications.

Pt-Ir alloys are noticeably harder and stronger than any of the other alloys and make excellent heads for spark plugs in the automobile industry. Rhodium is sometimes added to Pt-Ir alloys to make the material less springy (as they are used as medical spring wire) while also increasing its workability. Pt and Pt-Rh wire pairs are extremely effective at measuring temperatures and are therefore used in thermocouples.

Machining Precious Metals

The two parameters that have the most effect when machining are hardness and percent elongation. Hardness is well-known by machinists and engineers across the manufacturing industry as it indicates a material’s resistance to deformation or cutting. Percent elongation is a measurement used to quantify material ductility. It indicates to a designer the degree to which a structure will deform plastically (permanently) before fracture. For example, a ductile plastic such as ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) has a percent elongation of 350-525%, while a more brittle material such as oil-quenched and tempered cast iron (grade 120-90-02) has a percent elongation of about 2%. Therefore, the greater the percent elongation, the greater the material’s “gumminess.” Gummy materials are prone to built-up edge and have a tendency to produce long stringy chips.

Tools for Precious Metals

Material ductility makes a sharp cutting tool essential for cutting precious metals. Variable Helix for Aluminum Alloy tools can be used for the softer materials such as pure gold, silver, and platinum.

machining metals

Figure 2: Variable Helix Square End Mill for Aluminum Alloys

Higher hardness materials still require a sharp cutting edge. Therefore, one’s best option is to invest in a PCD Diamond tool. The PCD wafer has the ability to cut extremely hard materials while maintaining a sharp cutting edge for a relatively long period of time, compared to standard HSS and carbide cutting edges.

machining metals

Figure 3: PCD Diamond Square End Mill

Speeds and Feeds charts:

machining metals

Figure 4: Speeds and Feeds for precious metals when using a Square Non-ferrous, 3x LOC

 

machining metals

Figure 5: Speeds and Feeds for precious metals when using a 2-Flute Square PCD end mill

 

When To and Not To Use Drop Hole Allowance

Dovetail Cutters are cutting tools that create a trapezoidal-type shape, or a dovetail groove, in a part. Due to the form of these tools, special considerations need to be made in order to achieve long tool life and superior results. This is particularly true when machining O-ring grooves, as this operation requires the tool to drop into the part to begin cutting. Using an appropriate tool entry method, specifically understanding when drop hole allowance is (and is not) needed, is important to keep common dovetail mishaps from occurring.

What is a Drop-Hole?

When designing parts featuring O-ring grooves, the consideration of drop-hole allowance is a pivotal first step. A drop-hole is an off-center hole milled during the roughing/slotting operation. This feature allows for a significantly larger, more rigid tool to be used. This is because the cutter no longer has to fit into the slot, but into a hole with a diameter larger than its cutter diameter.

drop hole allowance

Why consider adding a Drop-Hole?

When compared to tools without drop-hole allowance, tools with drop-hole allowance have a much larger neck diameter-to-cutter diameter ratio. This makes the drop-hole tools far stronger, permitting the tool to take heavy radial depths of cut and fewer step-overs. Using a drop-hole will allow the use of the stronger tool, which will increase production rate and improve tool life.

Machining Operation with Drop-Hole Allowance

drop hole allowance

A maximum of 4 radial passes per side are needed.

When Not to Drop Hole

Drop-holes are sometimes not permitted in a design due to the added stress concentration point it leaves. Common examples for where a drop-hole would not be allowed include:

  • In high pressure applications
  • In seals requiring a high reliability
  • Where dangerous or hazardous fluids are being used

The issue with drop-hole allowance is that the additional clearance used for tool entry can create a weak spot in the seal, which can then become compromised under certain conditions. Ultimately, drop-hole allowance requires approval from the customer to ensure the application allows for it.

Machining Operation Without Drop-Hole Allowance

drop hole allowance

A maximum of 20 radial passes per side are needed.

Drop-Hole Placement

When adding a drop-hole to your part, it is important to ensure that the feature is placed correctly to maximize seal integrity. Per the below figure, the drop-hole should be placed off center of the groove, ensuring that only one side of the groove is affected.

drop hole allowance

It is also necessary to ensure that drop-hole features are put on the correct side of the groove. Since O-rings are used as a seal between pressures, it is important to have the drop-hole bordering the high pressure zone. As pressure moves from high to low, the O-ring will be forced into the fully supported side, allowing for a proper seal (See image below).

drop hole allowance

What To Know About Helical Solution’s Zplus Coating

Non-ferrous and non-metallic materials are not usually considered difficult to machine, and therefore, machinists often overlook the use of tool coatings. But while these materials may not present the same machining difficulties as hardened steels and other ferrous materials, a coating can still vastly improve performance in non-ferrous applications. For instance, materials such as aluminum and graphite can cause machinists headaches because of the difficulty they often create from abrasion. To alleviate these issues in non-ferrous machining applications, a popular coating choice is Helical Solution’s Zplus coating.

zplus coating

What is Helical Solutions’ Zplus Coating?

Helical’s Zplus is a Zirconium Nitride-based coating, applied by a Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) process. This method of coating takes place in a vacuum and forms layers only microns thick onto the properly prepared tool. Zirconium Nitride does not chemically react to a variety of non-ferrous metals, increasing the lubricity of the tool and aiding in chip evacuation.

zplus coating

When Should a Machinist Use Helical Solution’s Zplus?

Working with Abrasive Materials

While Zplus was created initially for working in aluminum, its hardness level and maximum working temperature of 1,110°F enables it to work well in abrasive forms of other non-ferrous materials, as well. This coating decreases the coefficient of friction between the tool and the part, allowing it to move easier through more abrasive materials. This abrasion resistance decreases the rate of tool wear, prolonging tool life.

Concerns with Efficient Chip Evacuation

One of the primary functions of this coating is to increase the smoothness of the flutes of the tool, which allows for more efficient chip removal. By decreasing the amount of friction between the tool and the material, chips will not stick to the tool, helping to prevent chip packing. The increased lubricity and smoothness provided by the coating allows for a higher level of performance from the cutting tool. Zplus is also recommended for use in softer, gummy alloys, as the smooth surface encourages maximum lubricity within the material – this decreases the likelihood of those gummier chips sticking to the tool while machining.

Large Production Runs

Uncoated tools can work well in many forms of non-ferrous applications. However, to get a genuinely cost-effective tool for your job, the proper coating is highly recommended. Large production runs are known for putting a lot of wear and tear on tools due to their increased use, and by utilizing an appropriate coating, there can be a significant improvement in the tools working life.

When is Zplus Coating Not Beneficial to My Application?

Finishing Applications

When your parts finish is vital to its final application, a machinist may want to consider going with an uncoated tool. As with any coating, ZrN will leave a very minor rounded edge on the tip of the cutting edge. The best finish often requires an extremely sharp tool, and an uncoated tool will have a sharper cutting edge than its coated version.

 

Chipbreakers vs. Knuckle Rougher End Mills

Knuckle Roughers and Chipbreakers are common profiles found on roughing end mills that, while fairly similar in appearance, actually serve different functions. Chipbreakers refer to the notches along the cutting edge of a tool that work to break up chips to prevent common evacuation mishaps. Knuckle Roughers refer to the serrated cutting edge of a tool, which works to enhance cutting action for an overall smoother operation.

Determining the appropriate style of tool is a very important first step to a successful roughing application.

Understanding the Two Styles

Chipbreaker End Mills

To aid chip evacuation, Chipbreaker End Mills feature a notched profile along the cutting edge that break down long chips into smaller, more manageable pieces. These tools are often utilized in aluminum jobs, as long, stringy chips are common with that material.

Each notch is offset flute-to-flute to enhance the surface finish on the part. This works by ensuring that as each flute rotates and impacts a part, following flutes work to clean up any marks or extra material that was left behind by the first pass. This leaves a semi-finished surface on your part.

In addition to improving chip control and reducing cutting resistance, these tools also help in decreasing heat load within the chips. This delays tool wear along the cutting edge and improves cutting performance. Not only are these tools great for hogging out a great deal of material, but they can be utilized in a wide array of jobs – from aluminum to steels. Further, a machinist can take full advantage of the unique benefits this tool possesses by utilizing High Efficiency Milling toolpaths, meant to promote efficiency and boost tool life.

Knuckle Roughers

Knuckle Rougher End Mills have a serrated cutting edge that generates significantly smaller chips than a standard end mill cutting edge. This allows for smoother machining and a more efficient metal removal process, similar to Chipbreaker End Mills. However, the serrations chop the chips down to much finer sizes, which allows more chips into the flutes during the evacuation process without any packing occurring.

Designed for steels, Knuckle Rougher End Mills are built to withstand harder materials and feature a large core. Because of this, these tools are great for roughing out a lot of material. However, due to the profile on the cutting edge, tracks along the wall can sometimes be left on a part. If finish is a concern, be sure to come in with a finishing tool after the roughing operation. Knuckle Roughers have proven the ability to run at higher chip loads, compared to similar end mills, which makes this a highly desired style for roughing. Further, this style of rougher causes a lot of heat and friction within the chips, so it’s important to run flood coolant when running this tool.

Key Differences Between Knuckle Roughers & Chipbreakers

While the two geometries offer similar benefits, it’s important to understand the distinct differences between them. Chipbreakers feature offset notches, which help to leave an acceptable finish on the walls of a part. Simply, the material left on an initial flute pass is removed by subsequent passes. A Knuckle Rougher does not feature this offset geometry, which can leave track marks on your part. Where part finish is of upmost importance, utilize a Knuckle Rougher to first hog out a great deal of steel, and work a final pass with a Finishing End Mill.

A unique benefit of Knuckle Roughers is the grind they possess – a cylindrical grind, compared to a relieved grind of a Chipbreaker End Mill. Because of this, Knuckle Roughers are easier to resharpen. Therefore, instead of buying a new tool, resharpening this profile is often a cheaper alternative.

How Material Specific Tooling Pays Off

A machinist is faced with many questions while selecting the proper tool for their job. One key decision that must be made is whether a material specific tool is appropriate and necessary for the application that’s going to be performed – whether the benefits of using this type of tool outweigh the higher price tag than that of a tool designed for use in a variety of materials. There are four main categories to consider when deciding whether a material specific tool is your best bet: internal tool geometry, coatings, material removal rates (MRR), and cost.

When to Utilize Material Specific Tooling

Are you a machinist in a shop that deals primarily with one type of material? Or, do you generally change materials frequently throughout the day? Further, how many parts do you make at a time? These are questions you must ask yourself prior to making a tooling decision.

Material Specific Tooling is best utilized where several parts are being machined of the same material. For instance, if your shop is machining 1,000 plastic parts, it would be in your best interest to opt for a tool designed for this material as your tooling would not only last longer but perform better. If machining flexibility is paramount for your shop, if you’re only machining a few parts, or if part finish is not of high importance, a regular end mill may suffice.

Pros and Cons of Material Specific Tooling

There are pros and cons to purchasing a Material Specific Tool.

Pros:

  • Tool geometry designed for the material you’re working in to achieve the best results.
  • Coating optimized for the material you’re cutting.
  • More aggressive speeds and feeds, and boosted MRR as a result.
  • Increased tool life.

Cons:

  • Higher upfront cost, though long term savings are possible if used in proper situations.
  • Less opportunity for flexibility. While most end mills may be suitable for use in many jobs and many machines, Material Specific End Mills are engineered for use in specific materials

Special Benefits of Material Specific Tooling

A Unique Internal Tool Geometry

Many manufacturers supply tooling designed for use in specific material buckets. For instance, Harvey Tool has distinct catalog sections for material specific tooling for Hardened Steels, Exotic Alloys, Medium Alloy Steels, Free Machining Steels, Aluminum Alloys, Plastics, Diamond Tooling for Non-Ferrous Materials, and Composites. The special geometry of tools found in these sections is optimized to allow the tool to perform optimally in its select material group.

For instance, a machinist may be faced with a dilemma while preparing to machine a plastic part. While an end mill found in Harvey Tool’s Miniature End Mill section could certainly machine this material, Harvey Tool’s end mill offering designed to machine plastics feature a high rake, high relief design. This is ideal for plastics because you want to effectively cut and form chips while the strength of the tool is less of a concern. The high rake and high relief creates a sharp cutting edge that would quickly break down in metals. However, in plastics, this effectively shears the material and transfers the heat into the chip to produce a great finish in your part.

material specific tooling

Harvey Performance Company, LLC.

Specific Coatings & Substrates for Optimal Performance

One key benefit of opting for a material specific tool is the ability to utilize the best coating option available for that material. Tool coatings serve many functions, including improved lubricity, increased tool life, and a higher-quality part finish. In addition, coated tools can typically be run around 10% faster than uncoated tools.

While many manufacturers will specially coat a standard end mill at your request, this takes added time and cost. In its Material Specific catalog sections, Harvey Tool offers coated tools stocked and ready to ship. For instance, their Hardened Steels and Exotic Alloys categories utilize AlTiN Nano coating. This is a unique nanocomposite coating that has a max working temperature of 2,100° F and shows improved performance in materials such as Hardened Steels, Titantium Alloys, and Inconel, among others.

Increased Material Removal Rates

Because Material Specific Tooling features optimal tool geometry for a job, running parameters are generally able to be more aggressive. Any machinist knows that Material Removal Rates (MRR), is the metric that’s most closely related to shop efficiency, as the more material removed from a part in a given period of time, the faster parts are made and the higher the shop output.

The following example compares running parameters of end mills from Harvey Tool’s Miniature End Mill and Material Specific End Mill Sections. You can notice that while key geometries between the two tools are identical, and are in use in the same material with the same operation, the chip load (+25%), linear feed rate (+33%), and depth of cut (+43%) are boosted. This allows for more material to be removed in a shorter period of time.

Miniature End Mill

Part Number: 836408

Description: 3 Flute 1/8 inch diameter 3x LOC Square Stub & Standard

Material: 6061 Aluminum

Application: Slotting

Speed: 10,000 RPM

Chip Load: .00124 IPT

Linear Feed: 37.2 IPM

DOC: .04375

material specific tooling

Harvey Performance Company, LLC.

 

Material Specific End Mill

Part Number: 942308

Description: 3 Flute 1/8 inch diameter 3x LOC Square Variable Helix for Aluminum Alloys

Material: 6061 Aluminum

Application: Slotting

Speed: 10,000 RPM

Chip Load: .00165 IPT

Linear Feed: 49.5 IPM

DOC: .0625

material specific tooling

Harvey Performance Company, LLC.

Extensive Cost Savings

The following chart displays a cost analysis breakdown between a tool found in the Miniature End Mill section, item 993893-C3; and a tool found in the Material Specific End Mill section, item 933293-C6. When compared for the machining of 1,000 parts, the overall savings is nearly $2,500.

material specific tooling

Material Specific Tooling Summarized

In conclusion, Material Specific End Mills have many benefits, but are best utilized in certain situations. While the initial cost of these tools are higher, they can work to save your shop time and money in the long run by lasting longer and producing more parts over a given period of time.

Confidently Select Your Next Thread Mill

Do you know the key differences between a Single Form Thread Mill and a Multi-Form Thread Mill? Do you know which tooling option is best for your job? This blog post examines how several factors, including the tool’s form and max depth of thread, are important to ultimately making the appropriate Harvey Tool thread mill decision.

Thread Mill Product Offering

Single Form Thread Mill

The single form thread mill is the most versatile threading solution Harvey Tool offers. These tools are ground to a sharp point and are capable of milling 60° thread styles, such as UN, metric, and NPT threads. With over 14 UN and 10 Metric sized tools, Harvey Tool’s single form selections allow machinists the opportunity to machine many different types of threads.

Thread Mill

Harvey Performance Company, LLC.

Single Form Thread Mills for Hardened Steels

Similar to the standard single form thread mills, Harvey Tool’s thread mills for hardened steels offer machinists a quality option when dealing with hardened steels from 46-68 Rc. The following unique geometries helps this tool machine tough alloys:

  1. Ground Flat – Instead of a sharp point these tools have a ground flat to help ensure long tool life.
  2. Eccentric Relief – Gives the cutting edges extra strength for the high feeds at relatively low RPMs required for harder materials.
  3. AlTiN Nano Coating – Allows for superior heat resistance.
thread mill

Harvey Performance Company, LLC.

A key difference between the standard Single Form Thread Mill and the Single Form Thread Mills for Hardened Steels is that the thread mills for hardened steels are actually only capable of milling 83% of the actual thread depth. At first, this may seem detrimental to your operation. However, according to the Machinery’s Handbook 29th Edition, “Tests have shown that any increase in the percentage of full thread over 60% does not significantly increase the strength of the thread. Often, a 55% to 60% thread is satisfactory, although 75% threads are commonly used to provide an extra margin of safety.” With the ability to preserve tool life and effectively perform thread components, Harvey Tool’s single form thread mills for hardened steels are a natural choice when tackling a hardened material.

Tri-Form Thread Mills

Tri-Form thread mills are designed for difficult-to-machine materials. The tri-form design reduces tool pressure and deflection, which results in more accurate threading. Its left-hand cut, left-hand spiral design allows it to climb mill from the top of the thread to the bottom.

thread mill

Harvey Performance Company, LLC.

Multi-Form Thread Mills

Our multi-form thread mills are offered in styles such as UN, NPT, and Metric. Multi-Form Thread Mills are optimized to produce a full thread in single helical interpolation. Additionally, they allow a machinist to quickly turn around production-style jobs.

thread mill

Harvey Performance Company, LLC.

Coolant-Through Multi Form Thread Mills

Coolant-Through Multi Form Thread Mills are the perfect tool for when a job calls for thread milling in a blind hole. The coolant through ability of the tool produces superior chip evacuation. These tools also improve coolant flow to the workpiece – delivering it directly from the tip of the tool – for decreased friction and high cutting speeds.

thread mill

Harvey Performance Company, LLC.

Long Flute Thread Mills

These tools are great when a job calls for a deep thread, due to their long flute. Long Flute Thread Mills also have a large cutter diameter and core, which provides the tool with improved tool strength and stability.

thread mill

Harvey Performance Company, LLC.

N.P.T. Multi-Form Thread Mills

While it may seem obvious, N.P.T. Multi-Form Thread Mills are perfect for milling NPT threads. NPT threads are great for when a part requires a full seal, different from traditional threads that hold pieces together without the water-tight seal.

thread mill

Harvey Performance Company, LLC.

Effective Ways To Reduce Heat Generation

Any cutting tool application will generate heat, but knowing how to counteract it will improve the life of your tool. Heat can be good and doesn’t need to totally be avoided, but controlling heat will help prolong your tool life. Sometimes, an overheating tool or workpiece is easy to spot due to smoke or deformation. Other times, the signs are not as obvious. Taking every precaution possible to redirect heat will prolong your tool’s usable life, avoid scrapped parts, and will result in significant cost savings.

Reduce Heat Generation with HEM Tool Paths

High Efficiency Milling (HEM), is one way a machinist should explore to manage heat generation during machining. HEM is a roughing technique that uses the theory of chip thinning by applying a smaller radial depth of cut (RDOC) and a larger axial depth of cut (ADOC). HEM uses RDOC and ADOC similar to finishing operations but increases speeds and feeds, resulting in greater material removal rates (MRR). This technique is usually used for removing large amounts of material in roughing and pocketing applications. HEM utilizes the full length of cut and more effectively uses the full potential of the tool, optimizing tool life and productivity. You will need to take more radial passes on your workpiece, but using HEM will evenly spread heat across the whole cutting edge of your tool, instead of building heat along one small portion, reducing the possibility of tool failure and breakage.

heat generation

Chip Thinning Awareness

Chip thinning occurs when tool paths include varying radial depths of cut, and relates to chip thickness and feed per tooth. HEM is based off of the principal of chip thinning. However, if not properly executed, chip thinning can cause a lot of heat generation. When performing HEM, you effectively reduce your stepover and increase your speeds and feeds to run your machine at high rates. But if your machine isn’t capable of running high enough speeds and feeds, or you do not adjust accordingly to your reduced stepover, trouble will occur in the form of rubbing between the material and tool. Rubbing creates friction and mass amounts of heat which can cause your material to deform and your tool to overheat. Chip thinning can be good when used correctly in HEM, but if you fall below the line of reduced stepover without higher speeds and feeds, you will cause rubbing and tool failure. Because of this, it’s always important to be aware of your chips during machining.

heat generation

Consider Climb Milling

There are two ways to cut materials when milling: conventional milling and climb milling. The difference between the two is the relationship of the rotation of the cutter to the direction of feed. In climb milling, the cutter rotates with the feed, as opposed to conventional milling where the cutter rotates against the feed.

When conventional milling, chips start at theoretical zero and increase in size, causing rubbing and potentially work hardening. For this reason, it’s usually recommended for tools with higher toughness or for breaking through case hardened materials.

In climb milling, the chip starts at maximum width and decreases, causing the heat generated to transfer into the chip instead of the tool or workpiece. When going from max width to theoretical zero, heat will be transferred to the chip and pushed away from the workpiece, reducing the possibility of damage to the workpiece. Climb milling also produces a cleaner shear plane which will cause less tool rubbing, decreasing heat and improving tool life. When climb milling, chips are removed behind the cutter, reducing your chances of re-cutting. climb milling effectively reduces heat generated to the tool and workpiece by transferring heat into the chip, reducing rubbing and by reducing your chances of re-cutting chips.

 

heat generation

Utilize Proper Coolant Methods

If used properly, coolant can be an extremely effective way to keep your tool from overheating. There are many different types of coolant and different ways coolant can be delivered to your tool. Coolant can be compressed air, water-based, straight oil-based, soluble oil-based, synthetic or semi-synthetic. It can be delivered as mist, flood, high pressure or minimum quantity lubricant.

Different applications and tools require different types and delivery of coolant, as using the wrong delivery or type could lead to part or tool damage. For instance, using high pressure coolant with miniature tooling could lead to tool breakage. In materials where chip evacuation is a major pain point such as aluminum, coolant is often used to flush chips away from the workpiece, rather than for heat moderation. When cutting material that produces long, stringy chips without coolant, you run the risk of creating built-up edge from the chips evacuating improperly. Using coolant will allow those chips to slide out of your toolpath easily, avoiding the chance of re-cutting and causing tool failure. In materials like titanium that don’t transfer heat well, proper coolant usage can prevent the material from overheating. With certain materials, however, thermal shock becomes an issue. This is when coolant is delivered to a very hot material and decreases its temperature rapidly, impacting the material’s properties. Coolant can be expensive and wasteful if not necessary for the application, so it’s important to always make sure you know the proper ways to use coolant before starting a job.

Importance of Controlling Heat Generation

Heat can be a tool’s worst nightmare if you do not know how to control it. High efficiency milling will distribute heat throughout the whole tool instead of one small portion, making it less likely for your tool to overheat and fail. By keeping RDOC constant throughout your toolpath, you will decrease the chances of rubbing, a common cause of heat generation. Climb milling is the most effective way to transfer heat into the chip, as it will reduce rubbing and lessen the chance of re-chipping. This will effectively prolong tool life. Coolant is another method for keeping temperatures moderated, but should be used with caution as the type of coolant delivery and certain material properties can impact its effectiveness.

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

Experience the Benefits of Staggered Tooth Keyseats

Keyseat Cutters, also known as Woodruff Cutters, Keyway Cutters, and T-Slot Cutters, are commonly used in machine shops. Many machinists opt to use this tool to put a slot on the side of a part in an efficient manner, rather than rotating the workpiece and using a traditional end mill. A Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter has alternating right-hand and left hand shear flutes and is right-hand cut, whereas a traditional keyseat cutter has all straight flutes and is right-hand cut. Simply, the unique geometry of a Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter gives the tool its own set of advantages including the ability to index within the slot, increase feed rates, and achieve better part finish.

staggered tooth keyseat cutter

Three Key Benefits

Indexing

The alternating right-and-left-hand flutes of a Harvey Tool Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutters are relieved on both sides of its head, meaning that it allows for both end cutting and back cutting. This adds to the versatility of the staggered tooth keyseat cutter, where one singular tool can be indexed axially within a slot to expand the slot to a specific uncommon dimension. This can save space in a machinist’s magazine and reduce machine time by eliminating the need to swap to a new tool.

Increased Feed Rates

Due to the unique geometry of a Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter, chips evacuate efficiently and at a faster rate than that of a Straight Flute Keyseat Cutter. The unique flutes of Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutters are a combination of right-and-left-hand shear flutes, but both types are right-hand cutting. This results in the tool’s teeth alternating between upcut and downcut. Chip packing and chip recutting is less of a concern with running this tool, and results in increased chip loads compared to that of a standard keyseat with the same number of flutes. Because of this, the tool can account for chiploads of about 10% higher than the norm, resulting in heightened feed rates and shorter cycle times overall.

Better Part Finish

Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutters have “teeth”, or flutes, that are ground at an angle creating a shear flute geometry. This geometry minimizes chip recutting, chip dragging and reduces the force needed to cut into the material. Chip recutting and dragging are minimized because chips are evacuated out of the top and bottom of the head on the side of the cutter that is not engaged in the material. Shear flutes also reduce vibrations that can lead to chatter and poor finish. By minimizing cutting forces, vibration, and chatter, a machinist can expect a better part finish.

staggered tooth keyseat cutter

Image courtesy of @edc_machining

Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter Diverse Product Offering

On top of the higher performance one will experience when using the Stagger Tooth Keyseats, there are also multiple options available with various combinations to suit multiple machining needs. This style is offered in a square and corner radius profile which helps if a fillet or sharp corner is needed. There are also multiple cutter diameters ranging from 1/8” to 5/8”. The increased diameter comes with an increase of radial depth of cut, allowing deeper slots to be achievable. Within the most popular cutter diameters, ¼”, 3/8”, and ½” there are also deep slotting options with even greater radial depth of cuts for increased slot depths. On top of the diameters and radii, there are also multiple cutter widths to choose from to create different slots in one go. Finally, an uncoated and AlTiN coatings are available to further increase tool life and performance depending on the material that is being cut.

Opt for a Smoother Operation

A Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter adds versatility to a tool magazine. It can be indexed axially to expand slots to make multiple widths, allowing machinists to progress operations in a more efficient manner where tool changes are not required. Further, this tool will help to reduce harmonics and chatter, as well as minimize recutting. This works to create a smoother operation with less force on the cutter, resulting in a better finish compared to a Standard Keyseat Cutter.

For more information on Harvey Tool Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutters and its applications, visit Harvey Tool’s Keyseat Cutter page.

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