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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.

Introduction to High Efficiency Milling

The following is just one of several blog posts relevant to High Efficiency Milling. To achieve a full understanding of this popular machining method, view any of the additional HEM posts below!

High Speed Machining vs. HEM I How to Combat Chip Thinning I Diving into Depth of Cut I How to Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear I Intro to Trochoidal Milling


High Efficiency Milling (HEM) is a strategy that is rapidly gaining popularity in the metalworking industry. Most CAM packages now offer modules to generate HEM toolpaths, each with their own proprietary name. In these packages, HEM can also be known as Dynamic Milling or High Efficiency Machining, among others. HEM can result in profound shop efficiency, extended tool life, greater performance, and cost savings. High performance end mills designed to achieve higher speeds and feeds will help machinists to reap the full benefits of this popular machining method.

High Efficiency Milling Defined

HEM is a milling technique for roughing that utilizes a lower Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC) and a higher Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC). This spreads wear evenly across the cutting edge, dissipates heat, and reduces the chance of tool failure.

This strategy differs from traditional or conventional milling, which typically calls for a higher RDOC and lower ADOC. Traditional milling causes heat concentrations in one small portion of the cutting tool, expediting the tool wear process. Further, while Traditional Milling call for more axial passes, HEM toolpaths use more passes radially.

For more information on optimizing Depth of Cut in relation to HEM, see Diving into Depth of Cut: Peripheral, Slotting & HEM Approaches.

High Efficiency Milling

Built-In CAM Applications

Machining technology has been advancing with the development of faster, more powerful machines. In order to keep up, many CAM applications have developed built-in features for HEM toolpaths, including Trochoidal Milling, a method of machining used to create a slot wider than the cutting tool’s cutting diameter.

HEM is largely based on the theory surrounding Radial Chip Thinning, or the phenomenon that occurs with varying RDOC, and relates to the chip thickness and feed per tooth. HEM adjusts parameters to maintain a constant load on the tool through the entire roughing operation, resulting in more aggressive material removal rates (MRR). In this way, HEM differs from other high performance toolpaths, which involve different methods for achieving significant MRR.

Virtually any CNC machine can perform HEM – the key is a fast CNC controller. When converting from a regular program to HEM, about 20 lines of HEM code will be written for every line of regular code. A fast processor is needed to look ahead for the code, and keep up with the operation. In addition, advanced CAM software that intelligently manages tool load by adjusting the IPT and RDOC is also needed.

HEM Case Studies

The following example shows the result a machinist had when using a Helical Solutions HEV-5 tool to perform an HEM operation in 17-4PH stainless steel. While performing HEM, this ½” diameter, 5-flute end mill engaged the part just 12% radially, but 100% axially. This machinist was able to reduce tool wear and was able to complete 40 parts with a single tool, versus only 15 with a traditional roughing toolpath.

The effect of HEM on a roughing application can also be seen in the case study below. While machining 6061 aluminum with Helical’s H45AL-C-3, a 1/2″, 3-flute rougher, this machinist was able to finish a part in 3 minutes, versus 11 minutes with a traditional roughing toolpath. One tool was able to make 900 parts with HEM, a boost of more than 150% over the traditional method.

Importance of Tooling to HEM

Generally speaking, HEM is a matter of running the tool – not the tool itself. Virtually every tool can perform HEM, but using tooling built to withstand the rigors of HEM will result in greater success. While you can run a marathon in any type of shoes, you’d likely get the best results and performance from running shoes.

HEM is often regarded as a machining method for larger diameter tooling because of the aggressive MRR of the operation and the fragility of tooling under 1/8” in size. However, miniature tooling can be used to achieve HEM, too.

Using miniature tooling for HEM can create additional challenges that must be understood prior to beginning your operation.

Best Tools for HEM:

  • High flute count for increased MRR.
  • Large core diameter for added strength.
  • Tool coating optimized for the workpiece material for increased lubricity.
  • Variable Pitch/Variable Helix design for reduced harmonics.

Key Takeaways

HEM is a machining operation which continues to grow in popularity in shops worldwide. A milling technique for roughing that utilizes a lower RDOC and higher ADOC than traditional milling, HEM distributes wear evenly across the cutting edge of a tool, reducing heat concentrations and slowing the rate of tool wear. This is especially true in tooling best suited to promote the benefits of HEM.

High Speed Machining Vs. HEM

The following is just one of several blog posts relevant to High Efficiency Milling. To achieve a full understanding of this popular machining method, view any of the additional HEM posts below!

Introduction to High Efficiency Milling I How to Combat Chip Thinning I Diving into Depth of Cut I How to Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear I Intro to Trochoidal Milling


Advancements in the metalworking industry have led to new, innovative ways of increasing productivity. One of the most popular ways of doing so (creating many new buzzwords in the process) has been the discovery of new, high-productivity toolpaths. Terms like trochoidal milling, high speed machining, adaptive milling, feed milling, and High Efficiency Milling are a handful of the names given to these cutting-edge techniques.

With multiple techniques being described with somewhat similar terms, there is some confusion as to what each is referring to. High Efficiency Milling (HEM) and High Speed Machining (HSM) are two commonly used terms and techniques that can often be confused with one another. Both describe techniques that lead to increased material removal rates and boosted productivity.  However, the similarities largely stop there.

High Speed Machining

High speed machining is often used as an umbrella term for all high productivity machining methods including HEM. However, HEM and HSM are unique, separate machining styles. HSM encompasses a technique that results in higher production rates while using a much different approach to depth of cut and speeds and feeds. While certain HEM parameters are constantly changing, HSM uses constant values for the key parameters. A very high spindle speed paired with much lighter axial depths of cut results in a much higher allowable feed rate. This is also often referred to as feed milling. Depths of cut involve a very low axial and high radial components. The method in general is often thought of as z-axis slice machining, where the tool will step down a fixed amount, machine all it can, then step down the next fixed amount and continue the cycle.

High speed machining techniques can also be applied to contoured surfaces using a ball profile or corner radius tool. In these situations, the tool is not used in one plane at a time, and will follow the 3 dimensional curved surfaces of a part. This is extremely effective for using one tool to bring a block of material down to a final (or close to final) shape using high resultant material removal rates paired with the ability to create virtually any shape.

High Efficiency Milling

HEM has evolved from a philosophy that takes advantage of the maximum amount of work that a tool can perform. Considerations for chip thinning and feed rate adjustment are used so that each cutting edge of a tool takes a consistent chip thickness with each rotation, even at varying radial depths of cut and while interpolating around curves. This allows machinists the opportunity to utilize a radial depth of cut that more effectively uses the full potential of a given tool. Utilizing the entire available length of cut allows tool wear to be spread over a greater area, prolonging tool life and lowering production costs. Effectively, HEM uses the depths associated with a traditional finishing operation but boosts speeds and feeds, resulting in much higher material removal rates (MRR). This technique is typically used for hogging out large volumes of material in roughing and pocketing applications.

In short, HEM is somewhat similar to an accelerated finishing operation in regards to depth of cut, while HSM is more of a high feed contouring operation. Both can achieve increased MRR and higher productivity when compared to traditional methods. While HSM can be seen as an umbrella term for all high efficiency paths, HEM has grown in popularity to a point where it can be classified on its own. Classifying each separately takes a bit of clarification, showing they each have power in certain situations.

Check out the video below to see HEM in action!

 

Intro to Trochoidal Milling

The following is just one of several blog posts relevant to High Efficiency Milling. To achieve a full understanding of this popular machining method, view any of the additional HEM posts below!

Introduction to High Efficiency Milling I High Speed Machining vs. HEM I How to Combat Chip Thinning I Diving into Depth of Cut I How to Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear


What Is Trochoidal Milling?

Trochoidal milling is a method of machining used to create a slot wider than the cutting tool’s cutting diameter. This is accomplished using a series of circular cuts known as a trochoidal tool path. A form of High Efficiency Milling (HEM), trochoidal milling leverages high speeds while maintaining a low radial depth of cut (RDOC) and a high axial depth of cut (ADOC).

Trochoidal milling is largely based on the theory surrounding chip thinning in machining. Conventional thinking suggests that cutting tools have an optimal chip load that determines the ideal width and size of the chips produced. The concept of combating chip thinning involves machining with a chip load that is larger than “optimal” in order to maintain a constant maximum chip thickness.

In contrast to a completely linear radial tool path in conventional machining, trochoidal milling takes advantage of a spiral tool path with a low RDOC to reduce load and wear on the tool (Figure 1).

trochoidal milling

Advantages of Trochoidal Milling

  • Decreased cutting forces
  • Reduced heat
  • Greater machining accuracy
  • Improved tool life
  • Faster cycle times
  • One tool for multiple slot sizes

Trochoidal milling can be very advantageous in certain applications. The reduced radial engagement of the cutting edge decreases the amount of heat produced in the cut while also decreasing the cutting forces and load on the spindle. The reduced radial forces allow for greater accuracy during production and make it possible to machine finer and more precise features on a part.

In addition, the lower radial depth of cut allows for a higher axial depth of cut, meaning that the entire length of the cutting edge can be utilized. This ensures that heat and cutting forces are distributed across the tool’s cutting edge, rather than concentrated on a single section. The reduced heat and wear, combined with their uniform spread on the cutting edge, result in significantly improved tool life over conventional slotting methods.

Given the reduced destructive forces, the cutting tool’s speeds can be increased. Since the entire length of cut is utilized, trochoidal milling can eliminate the need for multiple axial depths of cut. Increased running parameters and a reduced number of passes greatly reduce cycle time.

Since trochoidal milling uses a tool to machine a slot wider than its cutting diameter, the same tool can be used to create slots of varying sizes, rather than just one. This can free up space in your tool carousel and save time on tool change outs, depending on the requirements of the part (Figure 2).

trochoidal milling

Although slotting is a roughing operation, the reduced radial depth of cut and decreased cutting forces from trochoidal milling often result in an improved finish over a conventional slotting toolpath. However, a finishing pass along the walls of the workpiece might be required to remove any cusps left from the spiral motion of the cutting tool.

Challenges of Trochoidal Milling

The challenges of trochoidal milling are typically found with the machinery and software. The right machine to take advantage of trochoidal milling will not only be capable of high speeds and feeds, but will also be capable of a constantly changing feed rate as the tool moves along it’s spiral path. Inability to have a changing feed rate will cause chip thinning which can yield non-ideal results and potentially cause tool breakage. Special software might also be required to program tool paths and feed rates for this process. This is further complicated by factors like the ratio of the cutter diameter to the size of the groove, as well as the radial depth of cut for these different ratios. Most figures suggest the cutter diameter be 50%-70% of the final slot width, while the radial depth of cut should equal 10%-35% of cutter diameter (Table 1), but the safest option is always to consult the tool manufacturer.

trochoidal milling

Trochoidal Milling and Micromachining

Benefits When Micromachining

Micromachining can also benefit from trochoidal milling. The decreased radial engagement and lower cutting forces produced during a trochoidal tool path put less force on the cutting tools. This is especially important for smaller diameter tools, as they are weaker and less rigid, and the reduced cutting forces decrease the chance of deflection and breakage.

Challenges When Micromachining

While trochoidal milling with miniature tooling is theoretically beneficial, there are additional challenges associated with smaller tools. Miniature cutting tools are much more susceptible to breakage due to spindle runout and vibration, material inconsistencies, uneven loading, and many other variables that arise during machining. Depending on your application, it may be worth using the tool with the greatest diameter for the extra strength. Although there are potential benefits at the miniature level, more attention must be paid to the machine setup and material to ensure the tools have the highest chance of success.

Just like HEM, as a general rule, trochoidal milling should not be considered when using tools with cutting diameters less than .031”. While possible, trochoidal milling may still be prohibitively challenging or risky at diameters below .062”, and your application and machine must be considered carefully.

Conclusion

Trochoidal milling is a High Efficiency Milling technique (high speed, high ADOC, low RDOC) characterized by a circular, or trochoidal, tool path. This milling style is proven to offer significant machining process benefits, such as increasing tool life, reducing machining times, and fewer tools required for a job. However, it is critical to have a machine and software capable of high speeds and feeds and constantly changing feed rates to avoid critical tool failure. While miniature tools can still benefit from trochoidal milling, the risk of tool breakage must be considered carefully, especially at cutter diameters below .062”. Although trochoidal milling can increase your machining efficiency in many applications, it is always a good idea to consult your tool manufacturer beforehand.

A great example of trochoidal milling in action can be seen in this video, where a 1/2″ Helical Solutions end mill with variable helix, variable pitch was used to machine a block of 316 stainless steel.