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5 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an End Mill

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

Question 1: What Material am I Cutting?

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

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

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

Question 2: Which Operations Will I Be Performing?

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

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

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

Question 3: How Many Flutes Do I Need?

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

Material:

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

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

Application:

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

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

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

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

end mill selection

Question 4: What Specific Tool Dimensions are Needed?

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

Cutter Diameter

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

Length of Cut & Reach

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

Tool Profile

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

Question 5: Should I use a Coated Tool?

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

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

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

Ready to Decide on an End Mill

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

Harvey Tool Technical Support: 800-645-5609

Helical Solutions Technical Support: 866-543-5422

4 Essential Corner Rounding End Mill Decisions

A Corner Rounding End Mill is typically used to add a specific radius to a workpiece, or in a finishing operation to remove a sharp edge or burr. Prior to selecting your Corner Rounding End Mill, mull the following considerations over. Choosing the right tool will result in a strong tool with a long usable life, and the desired dimensional qualities on your part. Choosing wrong could result in part inaccuracies and a subpar experience.

Selecting the Right Pilot Diameter

The pilot diameter (D1 in the image above) determines the tool’s limitations. When pilot diameters are larger, the tool is able to be run at lower speeds. But with smaller pilot diameters, the tool can be run faster because of its larger effective cutter radius. The effective cutter diameter is determined by the following equations depending on the radius to pilot ratio:

For a Radius/Pilot Ratio < 2.5, Effective Cutter Diameter = Pilot Diameter + Radius
For a Radius/Pilot Ratio ≥ 2.5, Effective Cutter Diameter = Pilot Diameter + .7x Radius

Larger pilot diameters also have more strength than smaller pilot diameters due to the added material behind the radius. A smaller pilot may be necessary for clearance when working in narrow slots or holes. Smaller pilots also allow for tighter turns when machining an inside corner.

Flared or Unflared

Putting a full radius on a part has the potential to leave a step or an over-cut on a workpiece. This can happen if the tool isn’t completely dialed in or if there is minor runout or vibration. A slight 5° flare on the pilot and shoulder blends the radius smoothly on the workpiece and avoids leaving an over-cut.

A flared Corner Rounding End Mill leaves an incomplete radius but allows for more forgiveness. Additionally, this tool leaves a clean surface finish and does not require a second finishing operation to clean leftover marks. An unflared corner radius leaves a complete radius on the workpiece, but requires more set-up time to make sure there is no step.

Front or Back

Choosing between a Corner Rounding End Mill and a Back Corner Rounding End Mill boils down to the location on the part you’re machining. A Back Corner Rounding End Mill should be utilized to put a radius on an area of the part facing the opposite direction as the spindle. While the material could be rotated, and a front Corner Rounding End Mill used, this adds to unnecessary time spent and increased cycle times. When using a Back Corner Rounding End Mill, ensure that you have proper clearance for the head diameter, and that the right reach length is used. If there is not enough clearance, the workpiece will need to be adjusted.

Flute Count

Corner Rounding End Mills are often offered in 2, 3, and 4 flute styles.  2 flute Corner Rounding End Mills are normally used for aluminum and non-ferrous materials, although 3 flutes is quickly becoming a more popular choice for these materials, as they are softer than steels so a larger chip can be taken without an impact on tool life. 4 flutes should be chosen when machining steels to extend tool life by spreading out the wear over multiple teeth. 4 flute Corner Rounding End Mills can also be run at higher feeds compared to 2 or 3 flute tools.

Corner Rounding End Mill Selection Summarized

The best corner rounding end mill varies from job-to-job. Generally speaking, opting for a tool with the largest pilot diameter possible is your best bet, as it has the most strength and requires less power due to its larger effective cutter diameter. A flared Corner Rounding End Mill is preferred for blending purposes if the workpiece is allowed to have an incomplete radius as this allows more forgiveness and can save on set up time. If not, however, an unflared Corner Rounding End Mill should be utilized. As is often the case, choosing between number of flutes boils down to user preference, largely. Softer materials usually require fewer flutes. As material gets harder, the number of flutes on your tool should increase.

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.

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.

Increase Productivity with Tapered End Mills

In today’s manufacturing industry, the reach necessary for many complex parts is pushing the boundaries of plausibility. Deep cavities and complex side milling operations are typical to the mold, tool, and die industry but are also quite common in many machining applications requiring angled walls. Fortunately, many long reach applications include angled walls extending into deep pockets and mold cavities. These slight angles afford machinists the opportunity to gain the necessary strength of tapered reach tool designs.

Increased Tool Performance & Productivity

The benefits of tapered end mills become clear when considering the increase in cross-sectional area compared to tools with straight reaches. Generally speaking, the larger a tool’s diameter is, the stronger it will be. A tool with a tapered neck will offer an increasing cross section, resulting in less tool deflection and increased strength over straight reach options.

tapered end mills

 

When considering an end mill with a straight reach versus the same end mill with a slightly tapered reach, there are clear gains in tool performance and productivity. With just a 3° angle per side, feed rates may be increased by an average of 10% over a straight neck. In long-run jobs, or long run-time operations, this can offer a significant reduction in production time and cost. The same 3° angle also affords a tool as much as 60% less deflection than a straight neck tool (Figure 1). A taper as small as half a degree also provides a 10% decrease in deflection even for shorter reaches. This reduction in deflection results in less chatter, better finish, and ultimately a higher quality product.

Tapered End Mills vs. Straight End Mills

 

tapered end mills

Tapered Reach

Compared with straight reach end
mills, tapered reach end mills have the
following pros and cons:

Pros:

• Increased tool strength
• Reduced tool deflection
• Less chatter, better finish
• Higher speeds and feeds capability
• Increased productivity

Cons:

• Reduced clearance
• Not plausible for use in certain situations

 

tapered end mills

 

Tapered Length of Cut

End mills with a tapered length of cut experience
the following pros and cons when compared with
end mills with a straight length of cut:

Pros:

• Easier to create flat tapered walls on 3-axis machines
• Avoid witness marks caused by multiple passes with other tools
• Better, more consistent finish

Cons:

• “Single-use” tools, suited only to specific wall angles
• Inconsistent cutting diameter can complicate optimizing speeds and feeds

 

Despite the potential significant benefits of even a slight taper, it is important to note that tapered end mills are not a plausible choice for every job. Depending on the wall angle of your part, a tapered end mill can interfere with the work piece in situations where a straight tool would not. In Figure 2 below, the top two images show the ideal use of a tapered tool, while the bottom two images show when using a tapered end mill is implausible and a straight tool is necessary. Where clearances allow, an end mill with the largest possible tapered reach should be chosen for optimal tool performance.

tapered end mills

 

Even a slight taper offers an increase in tool performance over the same tool with a straight neck. With added strength and reduced deflection, the benefits of a tapered end mill can be significant, and extend to a much broader range of industries and applications beyond just mold tool and die.

Tapered Reach Tooling Interference Charts

Where clearances allow, an end mill with the largest possible tapered reach angle should be chosen to allow for optimal tool performance. Refer to Harvey Tool’s interference charts for our Square and Ball clearance cutters to ensure that you pick the ideal tapered end mill based on the parameters of your operation.

tapered end mills

tapered end mills