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How to Optimize Results While Machining with Miniature End Mills

 The machining industry generally considers miniature end mills to be any end mill with a diameter under 1/8 of an inch. This is also often the point where tolerances must be held to a tighter window. Because the diameter of a tool is directly related to the strength of a tool, miniature end mills are considerably weaker than their larger counterparts, and therefore, lack of strength must be accounted for when machining with them. If you are using these tools in a repetitive application, then optimization of this process is key.

Key Cutting Differences between Conventional and Miniature End Mills

Runout

Runout during an operation has a much greater effect on miniature tools, as even a very small amount can have a large impact on the tool engagement and cutting forces. Runout causes the cutting forces to increase due to the uneven engagement of the flutes, prompting some flutes to wear faster than others in conventional tools, and breakage in miniature tools. Tool vibration also impacts the tool life, as the intermittent impacts can cause the tool to chip or, in the case of miniature tools, break. It is extremely important to check the runout of a setup before starting an operation. The example below demonstrates how much of a difference .001” of runout is between a .500” diameter tool and a .031” diameter tool.

The runout of an operation should not exceed 2% of the tool diameter. Excess runout will lead to a poor surface finish.

Chip Thickness

The ratio between the chip thickness and the edge radius (the edge prep) is much smaller for miniature tools. This phenomena is sometimes called “the size effect” and often leads to an error in the prediction of cutting forces. When the chip thickness-to-edge radius ratio is smaller, the cutter will be more or less ploughing the material rather than shearing it. This ploughing effect is essentially due to the negative rake angle created by the edge radius when cutting a chip with a small thickness.

If this thickness is less than a certain value (this value depends of the tool being used), the material will squeeze underneath the tool. Once the tool passes and there is no chip formation, part of the plowed material recovers elastically. This elastic recovery causes there to be higher cutting forces and friction due to the increased contact area between the tool and the workpiece. These two factors ultimately lead to a greater amount of tool wear and surface roughness.

Figure 1: (A) Miniature tool operation where the edge radius is greater than the chip thickness (B) Conventional operation where the edge radius is small than the chip thickness

Tool Deflection

Tool deflection has a much greater impact on the formation of chips and accuracy of the operation in miniature operations, when compared to conventional operations. Cutting forces concentrated on the side of the tool cause it to bend in the direction opposite the feed. The magnitude of this deflection depends upon the rigidity of the tool and its distance extended from the spindle. Small diameter tools are inherently less stiff compared to larger diameter tools because they have much less material holding them in place during the operation. In theory, doubling the length sticking out of the holder will result in 8 times more deflection. Doubling the diameter of an end mill it will result in 16 times less deflection. If a miniature cutting tool breaks on the first pass, it is most likely due to the deflection force overcoming the strength of the carbide. Here are some ways you can minimize tool deflection.

Workpiece Homogeny

Workpiece homogeny becomes a questionable factor with decreasing tool diameter. This means that a material may not have uniform properties at an exceptionally small scale due to a number of factors, such as container surfaces, insoluble impurities, grain boundaries, and dislocations. This assumption is generally saved for tools that have a cutter diameter below .020”, as the cutting system needs to be extremely small in order for the homogeny of the microstructure of the material to be called into question.

Surface Finish

Micromachining may result in an increased amount of burrs and surface roughness when compared to conventional machining. In milling, burring increases as feed increases, and decreases as speed increases. During a machining operation, chips are created by the compression and shearing of the workpiece material along the primary shear zone. This shear zone can be seen in Figure 2 below. As stated before, the chip thickness-to-edge radius ratio is much higher in miniature applications. Therefore, plastic and elastic deformation zones are created during cutting and are located adjacent to the primary shear zone (Figure 2a). Consequently, when the cutting edge is close to the border of the workpiece, the elastic zone also reaches this border (Figure 2b). Plastic deformation spreads into this area as the cutting edge advances, and more plastic deformation forms at the border due to the connecting elastic deformation zones (Figure 2c). A permanent burr begins to form when the plastic deformation zones connect (Figure 2d) and are expanded once a chip cracks along the slip line (Figure 2e). When the chips finally break off from the edge of the workpiece, a burr is left behind (Figure 2f).

Tool Path Best Practices for Miniature End Mills

Because of the fragility of miniature tools, the tool path must be programmed in such a way as to avoid a sudden amount of cutting force, as well as permit the distribution of cutting forces along multiple axes. For these reasons, the following practices should be considered when writing a program for a miniature tool path:

Ramping Into a Part

Circular ramping is the best practice for moving down axially into a part, as it evenly distributes cutting forces along the x, y, and z planes. If you have to move into a part radially at a certain depth of cut, consider an arching tool path as this gradually loads cutting forces onto the tool instead of all at once.

Machining in Circular Paths

You should not use the same speeds and feed for a circular path as you would for a linear path. This is because of an effect called compounded angular velocity. Each tooth on a cutting tool has its own angular velocity when it is active in the spindle. When a circular tool path is used, another angular velocity component is added to the system and, therefore, the teeth on the outer portion of tool path are traveling at a substantially different speed than expected. The feed of the tool must be adjusted depending on whether it is an internal or external circular operation. To find out how to adjust your feed, check out this article on running in circles.

Slotting with a Miniature Tool

Do not approach a miniature slot the same way as you would a larger slot. With a miniature slot, you want as many flutes on the tool as possible, as this increases the rigidity of the tool through a larger core. This decreases the possibility of the tool breaking due to deflection. Because there is less room for chips to evacuate with a higher number of flutes, the axial engagement must be decreased. With larger diameter tools you may be stepping down 50% – 100% of the tool diameter. But when using miniatures with a higher flute count, only step down between 5% – 15%, depending on the size of the diameter and risk of deflection. The feed rate should be increased to compensate for the decreased axial engagement. The feed can be increased even high when using a ball nose end mill as chip thinning occurs at these light depths of cut and begins to act like a high feed mill.

Slowing Down Your Feed Around Corners

Corners of a part create an additional amount of cutting forces as more of the tool becomes engaged with the part. For this reason it is beneficial to slow down your feed when machining around corners to gradually introduce the tool to these forces.

Climb Milling vs. Conventional Milling

This is somewhat of a tricky question to answer when it comes to micromachining. Climb milling should be utilized whenever a quality surface finish is called for on the part print. This type of tool path ultimately leads to more predictable/lower cutting forces and therefore higher quality surface finish. In climb milling, the cutter engages the maximum chip thickness at the beginning of the cut, giving it a tendency to push away from the workpiece. This can potentially cause chatter issues if the setup does not have enough rigidity.  In conventional milling, as the cutter rotates back into the cut it pulls itself into the material and increases cutting forces. Conventional milling should be utilized for parts with long thin walls as well as delicate operations.

Combined Roughing and Finishing Operations

These operations should be considered when micromachining tall thin walled parts as in some cases there is not sufficient support for the part for a finishing pass.

Helpful Tips for Achieving Successful Micromachining Operations

Try to minimize runout and deflection as much as possible.This can be achieved by using a shrink-fit or press-fit tool holder. Maximize the amount of shank contact with the collet while minimizing the amount of stick-out during an operation. Double check your print and make sure that you have the largest possible end mill because bigger tools mean less deflection.

  • Choose an appropriate depth of cut so that the chip thickness to edge radius ratio is not too small as this will cause a ploughing effect.
  • If possible, test the hardness of the workpiece before machining to confirm the mechanical properties of the material advertised by the vender. This gives the operator an idea of the quality of the material.
  • Use a coated tool if possible when working in ferrous materials due to the excess amount of heat that is generated when machining these types of metals. Tool coatings can increase tool life between 30%-200% and allows for higher speeds, which is key in micro-machining.
  • Consider using a support material to control the advent of burrs during a micro milling application. The support material is deposited on the workpiece surface to provide auxiliary support force as well as increase the stiffness of the original edge of the workpiece. During the operation, the support material burrs and is plastically deformed rather than the workpiece.
  • Use flood coolant to lower cutting forces and a greater surface finish.
  • Scrutinize the tool path that is to be applied as a few adjustments can go a long way in extending the life of a miniature tool.
  • Double-check tool geometry to make sure it is appropriate for the material you are machining. When available, use variable pitch and variable helix tools as this will reduce harmonics at the exceptionally high RPMs that miniature tools are typically run at.
Figure 3: Variable pitch tool (yellow) vs. a non-variable pitch tool (black)

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

How to Extend the Life of Your End Mill

Breaking and damaging an end mill is oftentimes an avoidable mistake that can be extremely costly for a machine shop. To save time, money, and your end mill it is important to learn some simple tips and tricks to extend your tool’s life.

Properly Prepare Before the Tool Selection Process

The first step of any machining job is selecting the correct end mill for your material and application. However, this doesn’t mean that there should not be an adequate amount of legwork done beforehand to ensure the right decision on a tool is being made. Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions have thousands of different tools for different operations – a vast selection which, if unprepared – can easily result in selecting a tool that’s not the best for your job. To start your preparation, answer the 5 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an End Mill to help you quickly narrow down your selection and better understand the perfect tool you require.

Understand Your Tooling Requirements

It’s important to understand not only what your tool needs, but also general best practices to avoid common machining mishaps. For instance, it is important to use a tool with a length of cut only as long as needed, as the longer a tools length of cut is, the greater the chance of deflection or tool bending, which can decrease its effective life.

tool life

Another factor to consider is the coating composition on a tool. Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions offer many varieties of coatings for different materials. Some coatings increase lubricity, slowing tool wear, while others increase the hardness and abrasion resistance of the tool. Not all coatings increase your tool’s life in every material, however. Be wary of coatings that don’t perform well in your part’s material – such as the use of AlTiN coating in Aluminum (Both coating and material are aluminum-based and have a high affinity for each other, which can cause built-up edge and result in chip evacuation problems).

Consider Variable Helix & Pitch Geometry

A feature on many of our high performance end mills is variable helix or variable pitch geometry, which have differently-spaced flutes. As the tool cuts, there are different time intervals between the cutting edges contacting the workpiece, rather than simultaneously on each rotation. The varying time intervals minimizes chatter by reducing harmonics, increasing tool life and producing better results.

Ensure an Effective Tool Holding Strategy

Another factor in prolonging tool life is proper tool holding. A poor tool holding strategy can cause runout, pullout, and scrapped parts. Generally, the most secure connection has more points of contact between the tool holder and tool shank. Hydraulic and Shrink Fit Tool Holders provide increased performance over other tightening methods.

tool life

Helical also offers shank modifications to all stocked standards and special quotes, such as the ToughGRIP Shank, which provides added friction between the holder and the shank of the tool for a more secure grip; and the Haimer Safe-Lock™, which has grooves on the shank of the tool to help lock it into place in a tool holder.

tool life

Trust Your Running Parameters, and their Source

After selecting the correct end mill for your job, the next step is to run the tool at the proper speeds and feeds.

Run at the Correct Speed

Understanding the ideal speed to run your machine is key to prolonging tool life. If you run your tool too fast, it can cause suboptimal chip size, ineffective chip evacuation, or even total tool failure. Adversely, running your tool too slowly can result in deflection, bad finish, or decreased metal removal rates.

Push at the Best Feed Rate

Another critical parameter of speeds and feeds is finding the best possible feed rate for your job, for sake of both tool life and achieving maximum shop efficiency. Pushing your tool too aggressively can result in breakage, but being too conservative can lead to recutting chips and excess heat generation, accelerating tool wear.

Use Parameters from Your Tooling Manufacturer

A manufacturer’s speeds and feeds calculations take into account every tool dimension, even those not called out in a catalog and readily available to machinists. Because of this, it’s best to rely on running parameters from tooling manufacturers. Harvey Tool offers speeds and feeds charts for every one of its more than 21,000 tools featured in its catalog, helping machinists to confidently run their tool the first time.

Harvey Performance Company offers the Machining Advisor Pro application, a free, cutting-edge resource that generates custom running parameters for optimized machining with all of Helical’s products.

tool life

Opt for the Right Milling Strategy: Climb vs Conventional

There are two ways to cut material when milling: Climb Milling and Conventional Milling. In conventional milling, the cutter rotates against the feed. In this method, chips will start at theoretical zero and increase in size. Conventional milling is usually recommended for tools with higher toughness, or for breaking through case hardened materials.

In Climb Milling, the cutter rotates with the feed. Here, the chips start at maximum width and decrease, causing the heat generated to transfer into the chip instead of being left in the tool or work piece. Climb milling also produces a cleaner shear plane, causing less rubbing, decreasing heat, and improving tool life. When climb milling, chips will be removed behind the cutter, reducing your chances of recutting.

Utilize High Efficiency Milling

High Efficiency Milling (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). The parameters for HEM are similar to that of finishing, but with increased speeds and feeds, allowing for higher material removal rates (MRR). HEM utilizes the full length of cut instead of just a portion of the cutter, allowing heat to be distributed across the cutting edge, maximizing tool life and productivity. This reduces the possibility of accelerated tool wear and breakage.

Decide On Coolant Usage & Delivery

Coolant can be an extremely effective way to protect your tool from premature wear and possible tool breakage. There are many different types of coolant and methods of delivery to your tool. Coolant can come in the form of 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.

Appropriate coolant type and delivery vary depending on your application and tool. For example, using a high pressure coolant with miniature tooling can lead to tool breakage due to the fragile nature of extremely small tools. In applications of materials that are soft and gummy, flood coolant washes away the long stringy chips to help avoid recutting and built-up edge, preventing extra tool wear.

Extend Your Tool’s Life

The ability to maximize tool life saves you time, money and headaches. To get the best possible outcome from your tool, you first need to be sure you’re using the best tool for your job. Once you find your tool, ensure that your speeds and feeds are accurate and are from your tooling manufacturer. Nobody knows the tools better than they do. Finally, think about how to run your tool: the rotation of your cutter, whether utilizing an HEM approach is best, and how to introduce coolant to your job.

 

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.

Tips for Machining Gummy Materials

Machinists face many problems and challenges when manufacturing gummy materials. These types of materials include low carbon steels, stainless steels, nickel alloys, titanium, copper, and metals with high chromium content. Gummy materials have a tendency to produce long, stringy chips, and are prone to creating built-up edge. These common problems can impact surface finish, tool life, and part tolerances.

Continuous Chip With a Built-Up Edge

Continuous chips are long, ribbon-like chips that are formed when the tool cuts through a material, separating chips along the shear plane created by the tool’s cutting edge. These chips slide up the tool face at a constant flow to create a long and stringy chip. The high temperatures, pressures, and friction produced when cutting are all factors that lead to the sticky chips that adhere to the cutting edge. When this built up edge becomes large enough, it can break off leaving behind some excess material on the workpiece, or gouge the workpiece leaving a poor surface finish.

Coolant

Using large amounts of coolant can help with temperature control and chip evacuation while machining gummy materials. Temperature is a big driving force behind built-up edge. The higher the temperature gets, the easier and faster a built-up edge can form. Coolant will keep local temperatures lower and can prevent the material from work hardening and galling. Long, stringy chips have the potential to “nest” around the tool and cause tool failure. Coolant will help break these chips into smaller pieces and move them away from the cutting action by flash cooling them, resulting in fracturing of the chip into smaller pieces. Coolant should be applied directly to the contact area of the tool and workpiece to have the maximum effect.

Tool Engagement

Running Parameters

The tool should be constantly fed into the workpiece. Allowing the tool to dwell can cause work hardening and increase the chance of galling and built up edge. A combination of higher feed rates and lower speeds should also be used to keep material removal rates at a reasonable level. An increase in feed rates will raise the temperature less than an increase in speed. This relates to chip thinning and the ability of a tool to cut the material rather than rub against it.

Climb Milling

Climb milling is the preferred method as it directs more heat into the chip than the tool. Using climb milling, the largest chip cross section is created first, allowing the tool to cut through the material much easier. The heat generated from friction when the tool penetrates the workpiece is transferred to the chip rather than the tool because the thickest part of the chip is able to hold more heat than the thinnest.

climb milling

Initial Workpiece Engagement

Sudden, large changes in force, like when a tool initially engages a workpiece, have a negative impact on tool life. Using an arc-in tool path to initially engage the material allows for increased stability with a gradual increase in cutting forces and heat. A gradual tool entry such as this is always the preferred method over an abrupt straight entry.

Tool Selection

A tool with a sharp and robust cutting edge should be selected to machine gummy materials. Helical has tooling specifically designed for Titanium and Stainless Steel to make your tool selection process easy.

Additionally, choosing a tool with the correct coating for the material you are machining will help to protect the cutting edge and result in a far lower chance of built up edge or galling than an uncoated tool. A tool with a higher flute count can spread tool wear out over multiple cutting edges, extending tool life. Tool wear is not always linear in gummy materials; as soon as a little bit of wear appears, tool failure will happen relatively quickly. Changing the tool at the first sign of wear may be necessary to ensure that parts are not scrapped.

Gummy Materials Summarized

Every material machines somewhat differently, but understanding what is happening when the tool cuts the workpiece and how this affects tool life and finish will go a long way to successfully completing any job.  Built-up edge and excess heat can be minimized by selecting the correct tool and coating for the material, and following the tips and techniques mentioned above. Finally, be sure to check your machine’s runout and ensure maximum rigidity prior to beginning your machining operation.

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.

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.

Ball Nose Milling Strategy Guide

Ball Nose Milling Without a Tilt Angle

Ball nose end mills are ideal for machining 3-dimensional contour shapes typically found in the mold and die industry, the manufacturing of turbine blades, and fulfilling general part radius requirements. To properly employ a ball nose end mill (with no tilt angle) and gain the optimal tool life and part finish, follow the 2-step process below (see Figure 1).

ball nose

Step One: Calculate Your Effective Cutting Diameter

A ball nose end mill’s Effective Cutting Diameter (Deff) differs from its actual cutting diameter when utilizing an Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC) that is less than the full radius of the ball. Calculating the effective cutting diameter can be done using the chart below that represents some common tool diameters and ADOC combinations or by using the traditional calculation (see Figure 2).

ball nose

ball nose

Step Two: Calculate Your Compensated Speed

Given the new effective cutting diameter a “Compensated Speed” will need to be calculated. If you are using less than the cutter diameter, then its likely your RPM’s will need to be adjusted upward (see Figure 3).

ball nose

KEY
ADOC = Axial Depth of Cut
D = Cutting Diameter
Deff = Effective Cutting Diameter
R = Tool Radius (Dia./2)
RDOC = Radial Depth of Cut
SFM = Surface Feet per Minute
Sc = Compensated Speed


Ball Nose Milling With a Tilt Angle

If possible, it is highly recommended to use ball nose end mills on an incline (ß) to avoid a “0” SFM condition at the center of the tool, thus increasing tool life and part finish (Figure 4). For ball nose optimization (and in addition to tilting the tool), it is highly recommended to feed the tool in the direction of the incline and utilize a climb milling technique.

ball nose

To properly employ a ball nose end mill with a tool angle and gain the most optimal tool life and part finish, follow the 2-step process below.

Step One: Calculate Your Effective Cutting Diameter

The chart below that represents some common effective cutting diameters and ADOCs at a 15º tilt angle. Otherwise, the traditional calculation below may be used (see Figure 5).

ball nose

ball nose

Step Two: Calculate Your Compensated Speed

Given the new effective cutting diameter a compensated speed will need to be calculated. If you are using less than the cutter diameter, then its likely your RPM’s will need to be adjusted upward (see Figure 6).

ball nose

KEY
Deff = Effective Cutting Diameter
SFM = Mfg Recommended Surface Feet per Minute
Sc = Compensated Speed

Climb Milling vs. Conventional Milling

There are two distinct ways to cut materials when milling: Conventional Milling (Up) and Climb Milling (Down). The difference between these two techniques is the relationship of the rotation of the cutter to the direction of feed. In Conventional Milling, the cutter rotates against the direction of the feed. During Climb Milling, the cutter rotates with the feed.

Conventional Milling is the traditional approach when cutting because the backlash, or the play between the lead screw and the nut in the machine table, is eliminated (Figure 1). Recently, however, Climb Milling has been recognized as the preferred way to approach a workpiece since most machines today compensate for backlash or have a backlash eliminator.

 


Key Conventional and Climb Milling Properties:

Conventional Milling (Figure 2)

  • Chip width starts from zero and increases which causes more heat to diffuse into the workpiece and produces work hardening
  • Tool rubs more at the beginning of the cut causing faster tool wear and decreases tool life
  • Chips are carried upward by the tooth and fall in front of cutter creating a marred finish and re-cutting of chips
  • Upwards forces created in horizontal milling* tend to lift the workpiece, more intricate and expansive work holdings are needed to lessen the lift created*

climb milling

 

Climb Milling (Figure 3)

  • Chip width starts from maximum and decreases so heat generated will more likely transfer to the chip
  • Creates cleaner shear plane which causes the tool to rub less and increases tool life
  • Chips are removed behind the cutter which reduces the chance of recutting
  • Downwards forces in horizontal milling is created that helps hold the workpiece down, less complex work holdings are need when coupled with these forces
  • Horizontal milling is when the center line of the tool is parallel to the work piece

climb milling


When to Choose Conventional or Climb Milling

Climb Milling is generally the best way to machine parts today since it reduces the load from the cutting edge, leaves a better surface finish, and improves tool life. During Conventional Milling, the cutter tends to dig into the workpiece and may cause the part to be cut out of tolerance.

However, though Climb Milling is the preferred way to machine parts, there are times when Conventional Milling is the necessary milling style. One such example is if your machine does not counteract backlash. In this case, Conventional Milling should be implemented. In addition, this style should also be utilized on casting, forgings or when the part is case hardened (since the cut begins under the surface of the material).