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Contouring Considerations

What is Contouring?

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

Contouring & 5-Axis Machining

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

 Recent Contouring Advances

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

Benefits of Advanced CAM Software

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

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

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

Contouring Tips

Utilize Proper Cut Depths

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

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

Use Best Suited Tooling

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

Fact-Check G-Code

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

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

Contouring Summarized

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

5 Ways Your Shop is Inefficient

5 Ways Your Shop is Inefficient

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

1. Premature Tool Decay / Tool Failure

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

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

tool wear

An example of a tool with excessive wear

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

2. Subpar Part Finish

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

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

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

3. Inefficient Coolant Usage

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

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

4. Not Taking Advantage of Tool Versatility

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

chamfer mills

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

5. High Machine Downtime

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

The Advances of Multiaxis Machining

CNC Machine Growth

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

Multiaxis Machining

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

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

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

9-Axis Machine Centers

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

Set One

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

Set Two

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

Set Three

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

A Growing Industry

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

Optimizing Material Removal Rates

 What is the Material Removal Rate?

Material Removal Rate (MRR), otherwise known as Metal Removal Rate, is the measurement for how much material is removed from a part in a given period of time. Every shop aims to create more parts in a shorter period of time, or to maximize money made while also minimizing money spent. One of the first places these machinists turn is to MRR, which encompasses Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC), Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC), and Inches Per Minute (IPM). If you’re aiming to boost your shop’s efficiency, increasing your MRR even minimally can result in big gains.

Calculating MRR

The calculation for Material Removal Rate is RDOC x ADOC x Feed Rate. As an example, if your RDOC is .500″, your ADOC is .100″ and your Feed Rate is 41.5 inches per minute, you’d calculate MRR the following way:

MRR = .500″ x .100″ x 41.5 in/min = 2.08 cubic inches per minute.

Optimizing Efficiency

A machinists’ depth of cut strategy is directly related to the Material Removal Rate. Using the proper RDOC and ADOC combination can boost MRR rates, shaving minutes off of cycle times and opening the door for greater production. Utilizing the right approach for your tool can also result in prolonged tool life, minimizing the rate of normal tool wear. Combining the ideal feed rate with your ADOC and RDOC to run at your tool’s “sweet spot” can pay immediate and long term dividends for machine shops.

The following chart illustrates how a 1/2″, 5-flute tool will perform in Steel when varying ADOC and RDOC parameters are used. You can see that by varying the ADOC and RDOC, a higher feed rate is achievable, and thus, a higher MRR. In this case, pairing a high ADOC, low RDOC approach with an increased feed rate was most beneficial. This method has become known as High Efficiency Milling.

Axial Depth of Cut Radial Depth of Cut Feed Rate Material Removal Rate
 .125″  .200″ 19.5 IPM  .488 in.³/min.
.250″ .150″ 26.2 IPM .983 in.³/min.
.500″ .100″ 41.5 IPM 2.08 in.³/min.
.750″ .050″ 89.2 IPM 3.35 in.³/min.
1.00″ .025″ 193 IPM 4.83 in.³/min.

High Efficiency Milling

High Efficiency Milling (HEM) is a milling technique for roughing that utilizes a lower RDOC and a higher ADOC strategy. This spreads wear evenly across the cutting edge, dissipates heat, and reduces the chance of tool failure. This results in a greater ability to increase your MRR, while maintaining and even prolonging tool life versus traditional machining methods.

High Efficiency Milling

The following video provides an excellent look into the efficiency-boosting power of HEM operations. By following the MRR calculation, we can see that @jcast.cnc will have experienced 40.6 cu.in.³ MRR.

MRR = .145″ x .800″ x 350 in./min. = 40.6 in.³/min.

Obviously, with higher MRR’s, chip evacuation becomes vitally important as more chips are evacuated in a shorter period of time. Utilizing a tool best suited for the operation – in terms of quality and flute count – will help to alleviate the additional workload. Additionally, a tool coating optimized for your workpiece material can significantly help with chip packing. Further, compressed air or coolant can help to properly remove chips from the tool and workpiece.

In conclusion, optimizing workplace efficiency is vital to sustained success and continued growth in every business. This is especially true in machine shops, as even a very minor adjustment in operating processes can result in a massive boost in company revenue. Proper machining methods will boost MRR, minimize cycle times, prolong tool life, and maximize shop output.

What You Need to Know About Coolant for CNC Machining

Coolant in purpose is widely understood – it’s used to temper high temperatures common during machining, and aid in chip evacuation. However, there are several types and styles, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Knowing which coolant – or if any – is appropriate for your job can help to boost your shop’s profitability, capability, and overall machining performance.

Coolant or Lubricant Purpose

Coolant and lubricant are terms used interchangeably, though not all coolants are lubricants. Compressed air, for example, has no lubricating purpose but works only as a cooling option. Direct coolants – those which make physical contact with a part – can be compressed air, water, oil, synthetics, or semi-synthetics. When directed to the cutting action of a tool, these can help to fend off high temperatures that could lead to melting, warping, discoloration, or tool failure. Additionally, coolant can help evacuate chips from a part, preventing chip recutting and aiding in part finish.

Coolant can be expensive, however, and wasteful if not necessary. Understanding the amount of coolant needed for your job can help your shop’s efficiency.

Types of Coolant Delivery

Coolant is delivered in several different forms – both in properties and pressure. The most common forms include air, mist, flood coolant, high pressure, and Minimum Quantity Lubricant (MQL). Choosing the wrong pressure can lead to part or tool damage, whereas choosing the wrong amount can lead to exhausted shop resources.

Air: Cools and clears chips, but has no lubricity purpose. Air coolant does not cool as efficiently as water or oil-based coolants. For more sensitive materials, air coolant is often preferred over types that come in direct contact with the part. This is true with many plastics, where thermal shock – or rapid expansion and contraction of a part – can occur if direct coolant is applied.

Mist: This type of low pressure coolant is sufficient for instances where chip evacuation and heat are not major concerns. Because the pressure applied is not great in a mist, the part and tool do not undergo additional stresses.

Flood: This low pressure method creates lubricity and flushes chips from a part to avoid chip recutting, a common and tool damaging occurrence.

High Pressure: Similar to flood coolant, but delivered in greater than 1,000 psi. This is a great option for chip removal and evacuation, as it blasts the chips away from the part. While this method will effectively cool a part immediately, the pressure can be high enough to break miniature diameter tooling. This method is used often in deep pocket or drilling operations, and can be delivered via coolant through tooling, or coolant grooves built into the tool itself. Harvey Tool offers Coolant Through Drills and Coolant Through Threadmills.

Minimum Quantity Lubricant (MQL): Every machine shop focuses on how to gain a competitive advantage – to spend less, make more, and boost shop efficiency. That’s why many shops are opting for MQL, along with its obvious environmental benefits. Using only the necessary amount of coolant will dramatically reduce costs and wasted material. This type of lubricant is applied as an aerosol, or an extremely fine mist, to provide just enough coolant to perform a given operation effectively.

To see all of these coolant styles in action, check out the video below from our partners at CimQuest.

In Conclusion

Coolant is all-too-often overlooked as a major component of a machining operation. The type of coolant or lubricant, and the pressure at which it’s applied, is vital to both machining success and optimum shop efficiency. Coolant can be applied as compressed air, mist, in a flooding property, or as high pressure. Certain machines also are MQL able, meaning they can effectively restrict the amount of coolant being applied to the very amount necessary to avoid being wasteful.

3 Steps to Shutting Up Tool Chatter

Cutting tools undergo a great deal of force during the machining process, which cause vibrations – also known as chatter or harmonics. Avoiding these vibrations entirely is not possible, though minimizing them is pivotal for machining success. Vibrations become damaging when proper machining steps are not followed. This leads to strong, part-ruining chatter. In these situations, parts have what is known as “chatter marks,” or clear vibration marks along the surface of a part. Tools can experience an increased rate of wear due to excess vibration.

Tool Chatter can be kept at bay by following three simple, yet often overlooked steps:

1. Select the Right Tool for Your Job

It seems elementary, but selecting the best tool for your application can be confusing. With so many different geometric styles for tooling – overall length, length of cut, reach, number of flutes – it can sometimes be difficult to narrow down one specific tool for your job. Oftentimes, machinists opt for general purpose tooling that can perform a variety of operations, overlooking the option that’s optimized for one material and job.

Opting for Material Specific Tooling is helpful, as each material has different needs. For example, steels are machined differently than aluminum materials. Everything from the chip size, to chip evacuation, is different. Variable Helix or Variable Pitch designs help to minimize chatter by reducing harmonics, which are caused by the cutting edge having repeated contact with the workpiece. In order to reduce harmonics, the time intervals between flute contact with the workpiece are varied.

Overall length is another important factor to consider when deciding on a tool for your job. The more overhang, or length the tool hangs from the spindle, the less secure the spindle-to-tool connection is, and the more vibration. Ensuring that your tool is only as long as needed for your operation is important to minimizing chatter and harmonics. If machining deep within a part, opt for reached tooling or an extended reach tool holder to help solidify the connection.

2. Ensure a Secure Connection

When it comes to secure tool holding approaches, both the tool shank and the collet are important. A loose tool, unsurprisingly, has more ability to move, or vibrate, during machining. With this in mind, Helical offers Shank Configurations to help the connection including the ToughGRIP Shank, which replaces a smooth, mirror-like surface with a rougher, coarser one for increased friction. Helical is also a licensee of the HAIMER Safe-Lock™, added grooves on the shank of a tool that work opposite of the spindle rotation, securely fastening the tool in place.

Machinists must also know the different types of collets available to them to identify if a better solution might be necessary. For example, Hydraulic Tool Holders or Shrink Fit Tool Holders promote a stronger connection than a Mechanical Spindle Tightening method.

For more information, see Key Tool Holding Considerations

3. Choose a Chatter Minimizing Strategy

How a tool is run can mean the difference between stellar job results and a ruined part. This includes both the parameters a tool is run at, as well as the direction by which it rotates – either a Conventional Milling or a Climb Milling technique.

Conventional Milling

In this method, the chip width starts from zero and increases gradually, causing more heat to diffuse into the workpiece. This can lead to work hardening, creating more headaches for a machinist.

tool chatter

Climb Milling

Most modern machine shops will use a climb milling technique, or when the chip width starts at its maximum and decreases during the cut. Climb Milling will offer a more consistent cut than traditional methods, and puts less stress on the tool. Think of it like weight lifting – doing the heavy lifting will be easiest at the beginning of your workout. Similarly, a cut in which the thickest chip is removed first helps the tool maintain its strength. Because the chip cutting process is more swift, vibrations are minimized.

decrease tool chatter

For more information, see Climb Milling Vs. Conventional Milling

In Conclusion

Vibrations are unavoidable during the machining process, but minimizing them can mean the difference between successful machining and scrapped parts. Following three simple rules can help to keep your chatter and harmonics under control, including: Selecting the right tool, ensuring a secure machine-tool connection, and using it in a climb milling strategy. Both Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions have tools that can help, including shank modifications and Variable Helix or Variable Pitch end mills.

Optimize Roughing With Chipbreaker Tooling

Chipbreaker End Mills feature unique notch profiles, creating a serrated cutting edge. These dividers break otherwise long, stringy chips into small, easily-managed swarf that can be cleanly evacuated from the part. But why is a chipbreaker necessary for some jobs, and not others? How does the geometry of this unique tool impact its proper running parameters? In this post, we’ll answer these questions and others to discover the very real benefits of this unique cutting geometry.

How Chipbreaker Tooling Works

As a tool rotates and its cutting edge impacts a workpiece, material is sheared off from a part, creating chips. When that cutting process is interrupted, as is the case with breaks in the cutting portion of the tool, chips become smaller in length and are thus easier to evacuate. Because the chipbreakers are offset flute-to-flute, a proper, flat surface finish is achieved as each flute cleans up any excess material left behind from previously passed flutes.

Benefits of Chipbreaker Tooling

Machining Efficiency

When chips are removed from the part, they begin to pile in the machine. For extensive operations, where a great deal of material is hogged out, chip accumulation can very rapidly get in the way of the spindle or part. With larger chips, accumulation occurs much faster, leaving machinists to stop their machine regularly to remove the waste. As any machinist knows, a stopped machine equates to lost money.

Prolonged Tool Life

Inefficient chip evacuation can lead to chip recutting, or when the the tool impacts and cuts chips left behind during the machining process. This adds stresses on the tool and accelerates rate of wear on the cutting edge. Chipbreaker tooling creates small chips that are easily evacuated from a part, thus minimizing the risk of recutting.

Accelerated Running Parameters

A Harvey Performance Company Application Engineer recently observed the power of a chipbreaker tool firsthand while visiting a customer’s shop in Minnesota. The customer was roughing a great amount of 4340 Steel. Running at the parameters below, the tool was able to run uninterrupted for two hours!

Helical Part No. 33737
Material 4340 Steel
ADOC 2.545″
RDOC .125″
Speed 2,800 RPM
Feed 78 IPM
Material Removal Rate 24.8 Cubic In/Min

Chipbreaker Product Offering

Chipbreaker geometry is well suited for materials that leave a long chip. Materials that produce a powdery chip, such as graphite, should not be machined with a chipbreaker tool, as chip evacuation would not be a concern. Helical Solutions’ line of chipbreaker tooling includes a 3-flute option for aluminum and non-ferrous materials, and its reduced neck counterpart. Additionally, Helical offers a 4-flute rougher with chipbreaker geometry for high-temp alloys and titanium. Harvey Tool’s expansive product offering includes a composite cutting end mill with chipbreaker geometry.

In Summary

Chipbreaker geometry, or grooves within the cutting face of the tool, break down chips into small, manageable pieces during the machining process. This geometry can boost shop efficiency by minimizing machine downtime to clear large chips from the machining center, improve tool life by minimizing cutting forces exerted on the tool during machining, and allow for more accelerated running parameters.

Why Flute Count Matters

One of the most important considerations when choosing an end mill is determining which flute count is best for the job at hand. Both material and application play an important role in this critical part of the tool selection process. Understanding the effects of flute count on other tool properties, and how a tool will behave in different situations is an essential consideration in the tool selection process.

Tool Geometry Basics

Generally, tools with more flutes have a larger core and smaller flute valleys than tools with fewer flutes.  More flutes with a larger core can provide both benefits and restrictions depending on the application.  Simply put, a larger core is directly proportional to tool strength; the larger the core, the stronger a tool will be.  In turn, a larger core also reduces the flute depth of a tool, restricting the amount of space for chips to exist.  This can cause issues with chip packing in applications requiring heavy material removal.  However, these considerations only lead us part way when making a decision on which tool to use, and when.

flute count core

Material Considerations

Traditionally, end mills came in either a 2 flute or 4 flute option.  The widely accepted rule of thumb was to use 2 flutes for machining aluminum and non-ferrous materials, and 4 flutes for machining steel and harder alloys.  As aluminum and non-ferrous alloys are typically much softer than steels, a tool’s strength is less of a concern, a tool can be fed faster, and larger material removal rates (MRR) is facilitated by the large flute valleys of 2 flute tools.  Ferrous materials are typically much harder, and require the strength of a larger core.  Feed rates are slower, resulting in smaller chips, and allowing for the smaller flute valleys of a larger core tool.  This also allows for more flutes to fit on the tool, which in turn increases productivity.

flute count

Recently, with more advanced machines and toolpaths, higher flute count tools have become the norm in manufacturing.  Non-ferrous tooling has become largely centered on 3 flute tools, allowing greater productivity while still allowing proper chip evacuation.  Ferrous tooling has taken a step further and progressed not only to 5 and 6 flutes, but up to 7 flutes and more in some cases.  With a wider range of hardness, sometimes at the very top of the Rockwell hardness scale, many more flutes have allowed longer tool life, less tool wear, stronger tools, and less deflection.  All of this results in more specialized tools for more specific materials.  The end result is higher MRR and increased productivity.

Running Parameters

Just as material considerations will have an impact on the tool you choose, operation type and depth of cut requirements may also have a big impact on the ideal number of flutes for your application.  In roughing applications, lower flute counts may be desirable to evacuate large amounts of chips faster with larger flute valleys.  That said, there is a balance to find, as modern toolpaths such as High Efficiency Milling (HEM) can achieve extreme MRR with a very small step over, and a higher number of flutes.  In a more traditional sense, higher flute counts are great for finishing operations where very small amounts of material are being removed, and greater finish can be achieved with more flutes, not worrying as much about chip evacuation.

flute count

Flute count plays a big role in speeds and feeds calculation as well.  One common rule of thumb is “more flutes, more feed,” but this can be a very detrimental misconception.  Although true in some cases, this is not an infinitely scalable principle.  As stated previously, increasing the number of flutes on a tool limits the size that the flute valleys can be.  While adding a 5th flute to a 4 flute tool theoretically gives you 25% more material removal per revolution with an appropriately increased feed rate, feeding the tool that much faster may overload the tool.  The 25% increase in material removal is more likely closer to 10-15%, given the tool is exactly the same in all other specifications.  Higher flute count tools may require speeds and feeds to be backed off so much in some cases, that a lower flute count may be even more efficient.  Finding the right balance is key in modern milling practices.

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.

Tackling Titanium: A Guide to Machining Titanium and Its Alloys

In today’s manufacturing industry, titanium and its alloys have become staples in aerospace, medical, automotive, and firearm applications. This popular metal is resistant to rust and chemicals, is recyclable, and is extremely strong for its weight. However, there are several challenges that must be considered when machining titanium and selecting the appropriate tools and parameters for the job.

Titanium Varieties

Titanium is available in many varieties, including nearly 40 ASTM grades, as well as several additional alloys. Grades 1 through 4 are considered commercially pure titanium with varying requirements on ultimate tensile strength. Grade 5 (Ti6Al4V or Ti 6-4) is the most common combination, alloyed with 6 percent aluminum and 4 percent vanadium. Although titanium and its alloys are often grouped together, there are some key differences between them that must be noted before determining the ideal machining approach.

Titanium 6AL4V

Helical Solutions’ HVTI End Mill is a great choice for high efficiency toolpaths in Titanium.

Titanium Concerns

Workholding

Although titanium may have more desirable material properties than your average steel, it also behaves more flexibly, and is often not as rigid as other metals. This requires a secure grip on titanium workpieces, and as rigid a machine setup as is possible. Other considerations include avoiding interrupted cuts, and keeping the tool in motion at all times of contact with the workpiece. Dwelling in a drilled hole or stopping a tool next to a profiled wall will cause the tool to rub – creating excess heat, work-hardening the material, and causing premature tool wear.

Heat Generation

Heat is a formidable enemy, and heat generation must be considered when selecting speeds and feeds. While commercially pure grades of titanium are softer and gummier than most of its alloys, the addition of alloying elements typically raises the hardness of titanium. This increases concerns regarding generated heat and tool wear. Maintaining a larger chipload and avoiding unnecessary rubbing aids with tool performance in the harder titanium alloys, and will minimize the amount of work hardening produced. Choosing a lower RPM, paired with a larger chipload, can provide a significant reduction in temperature when compared to higher speed options. Due to its low conduction properties, keeping temperatures to a minimum will put less stress on the tool and reduce wear. Using high-pressure coolant is also an effective method to reduce heat generation when machining titanium.

cutting tools for titanium

These camshaft covers were custom made in titanium for Mitsubishi Evos.
Photo courtesy of @RebootEng (Instagram)

Galling and Built-Up Edge

The next hurdle to consider is that titanium has a strong tendency to adhere to a cutting tool, creating built up edge. This is a tricky issue which can be reduced by using copious amounts of high pressure coolant aimed directly at the cutting surface. The goal is to remove chips as soon as possible to prevent chip re-cutting, and keep the flutes clean and clear of debris. Galling is a big concern in the commercially pure grades of titanium due to their “gummy” nature. This can be addressed using the strategies mentioned previously, such as continuing feed at all times of workpiece contact, and using plenty of high-pressure coolant.

Titanium Solutions

While the primary concerns when machining titanium and its alloys may shift, the methods for mitigating them remain somewhat constant. The main ideas are to avoid galling, heat generation, work hardening, and workpiece or tool deflection. Use a lot of coolant at high pressure, keep speeds down and feeds up, keep the tool in motion when in contact with the workpiece, and use as rigid of a setup as possible.

In addition, selecting a proper tool coating can help make your job a successful one. With the high heat being generated during titanium machining operations, having a coating that can adequately deal with the temperature is key to maintaining performance through an operation. The proper coating will also help to avoid galling and evacuate chips effectively. Coatings such as Harvey Tool’s Aluminum Titanium Nitride (AlTiN Nano) produce an oxide layer at high temperatures, and will increase lubricity of the tool.

As titanium and its many alloys continue to grow in use across various industries, more machinists will be tasked with cutting this difficult material. However, heat management and appropriate chip evacuation, when paired with the correct coating, will enable a successful run.

machining titanium