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The Anatomy of an End Mill

End mills feature many different dimensions that can be listed in a tool description. It is important to understand how each dimension can impact tool selection, and how even small choices can make all the difference when the tool is in motion.

Flutes

Flutes are the easiest part of the end mill to recognize. These are the deep spiraled grooves in the tool that allow for chip formation and evacuation. Simply put, flutes are the part of the anatomy that allows the end mill to cut on its edge.

end mill flutes

One consideration that must be made during tool selection is flute count, something we have previously covered in depth. Generally, the lower the flute count, the larger the flute valley – the empty space between cutting edges. This void affects tool strength, but also allows for larger chips with heavier depths of cut, ideal for soft or gummy materials like aluminum. When machining harder materials such as steel, tool strength becomes a larger factor, and higher flute counts are often utilized.

Profile

The profile refers to the shape of the cutting end of the tool. It is typically one of three options: square, corner radius, and ball.

Square Profile

Square profile tooling features flutes with sharp corners that are squared off at a 90° angle.

Corner Radius

This type of tooling breaks up a sharp corner with a radius form. This rounding helps distribute cutting forces more evenly across the corner, helping to prevent wear or chipping while prolonging functional tool life. A tool with larger radii can also be referred to as “bull nose.”

Ball Profile

This type of tooling features flutes with no flat bottom, rounded off at the end creating a “ball nose” at the tip of the tool.

Cutter Diameter

The cutter diameter is often the first thing machinists look for when choosing a tool for their job. This dimension refers to the diameter of the theoretical circle formed by the cutting edges as the tool rotates.

cutter diameter

Shank Diameter

The shank diameter is the width of the shank – the non-cutting end of the tool that is held by the tool holder. This measurement is important to note when choosing a tool to ensure that the shank is the correct size for the holder being used. Shank diameters require tight tolerances and concentricity in order to fit properly into any holder.

Overall Length (OAL) & Length of Cut (LOC)

Overall length is easy to decipher, as it is simply the measurement between the two axial ends of the tool. This differs from the length of cut (LOC), which is a measurement of the functional cutting depth in the axial direction and does not include other parts of the tool, such as its shank.

Overall Reach/Length Below Shank (LBS)

An end mill’s overall reach, or length below shank (LBS), is a dimension that describes the necked length of reached tools. It is measured from the start of the necked portion to the bottom of the cutting end of the tool.  The neck relief allows space for chip evacuation and prevents the shank from rubbing in deep-pocket milling applications. This is illustrated in the photo below of a tool with a reduced neck.

end mill neck

Helix Angle

The helix angle of a tool is measured by the angle formed between the centerline of the tool and a straight line tangent along the cutting edge. A higher helix angle used for finishing (45°, for example) wraps around the tool faster and makes for a more aggressive cut. A lower helix angle (35°) wraps slower and would have a stronger cutting edge, optimized for the toughest roughing applications.

helix angle

A moderate helix angle of 40° would result in a tool able to perform basic roughing, slotting, and finishing operations with good results. Implementing a helix angle that varies slightly between flutes is a technique used to combat chatter in some high-performance tooling. A variable helix creates irregular timing between cuts, and can dampen reverberations that could otherwise lead to chatter.

Pitch

Pitch is the degree of radial separation between the cutting edges at a given point along the length of cut, most visible on the end of the end mill. Using a 4-flute tool with an even pitch as an example, each flute would be separated by 90°. Similar to a variable helix, variable pitch tools have non-constant flute spacing, which helps to break up harmonics and reduce chatter. The spacing can be minor but still able to achieve the desired effect. Using a 4-flute tool with variable pitch as an example, the flutes could be spaced at 90.5 degrees, 88.2 degrees, 90.3 degrees, and 91 degrees (totaling 360°).

variable pitch

4 Important Keyseat Cutter Considerations

Keyseat cutters, also called woodruff cutters, keyway cutters, and T-slot cutters, are a type of cutting tool used frequently by many machinists – some operations are impractical or even impossible without one. If you need one of these tools for your job, it pays to know when and how to pick the right one and how to use it correctly.

1. Keyseat Cutter Geometry

Selecting and utilizing the right tool is often more complicated than identifying the right diameter and dialing in the speeds and feeds. A keyseat cutter’s strength should be considered carefully, especially in tricky applications and difficult materials.

As with any tool, a longer reach will make a keyseat cutter more prone to deflection and breakage. A tool with the shortest allowable reach should be used to ensure the strongest tool possible.

A keyseat cutter’s neck diameter greatly affects its performance. A thinner neck allows for a comparatively larger radial depth of cut (RDOC) and more clearance, but makes for a weaker tool. A thicker neck reduces the keyseat cutter’s RDOC, but greatly strengthens the tool overall. When clearances allow, a keyseat cutter with a thicker neck and larger cutter diameter should be chosen over one with a thinner neck and smaller cutter diameter (Figure 1).

keyseat cutter geometry

Cutter width has an effect on tool strength as well. The greater a keyseat cutter’s cutter width, the more prone to deflection and breakage it is. This is due to the increased forces on the tool – a greater cutter width equates to an increased length of engagement. You should be particularly careful to use the strongest tool possible and a light RDOC when machining with a keyseat cutter with a thick cutter width.

2. Radial Depth of Cut

Understanding a keyseat cutter’s RDOC is critical to choosing the correct tool, but understanding how it affects your tool path is necessary for optimal results. While it may be tempting to make a cut using a keyseat cutter’s maximum RDOC, this will result in increased stress on the tool, a worse finish, and potential catastrophic tool failure. It is almost always better to use a lighter depth of cut and make multiple passes (Figure 2).

keyseat cutter RDOC
When in doubt about what RDOC is correct for your tool and application, consider consulting the tool manufacturer’s speeds and feeds. Harvey Tool’s keyseat cutter speeds and feeds take into account your tool dimensions, workpiece material, operation, and more.

3. Desired Slot Size

Some machinists use keyseat cutters to machine slots greater than their cutter width. This is done with multiple operations so that, for example, a keyseat cutter with a 1/4” cutter width can create a slot that is 3/8” wide. While this is possible and may save on up-front tooling costs, the results are not optimal. Ideally, a keyseat cutter should be used to machine a slot equal to its cutter width as it will result in a faster operation, fewer witness marks, and a better finish (Figure 3).

ideal keyseat slot

4. Staggered Tooth Geometry

When more versatility is required from a keyseat cutter, staggered tooth versions should be considered. The front and back reliefs allow the tools to cut not only on the OD, but also on the front and back of the head. When circumstances do not allow for the use of a cutter width equal to the final slot dimensions as stated above, a staggered tooth tool can move axially in the slot to expand its width.

staggered tooth keyseat cutter
Machining difficult or gummy materials can be tricky, and using a staggered tooth keyseat cutter can help greatly with tool performance. The shear flutes reduce the force needed to cut, as well as leave a superior surface finish by reducing harmonics and chatter.

Having trouble finding the perfect keyseat cutter for your job? Harvey Tool offers over 1,800 keyseat cutter options, with cutter diameters from 1/16” to 1-1/2” and cutter widths from .010” to ½”.

3 Steps to Shutting Up Tool Chatter

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

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

1. Select the Right Tool for Your Job

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

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

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

2. Ensure a Secure Connection

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

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

For more information, see Key Tool Holding Considerations

3. Choose a Chatter Minimizing Strategy

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

Conventional Milling

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

tool chatter

Climb Milling

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

decrease tool chatter

For more information, see Climb Milling Vs. Conventional Milling

In Conclusion

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

Optimize Roughing With Chipbreaker Tooling

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

How Chipbreaker Tooling Works

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

Benefits of Chipbreaker Tooling

Machining Efficiency

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

Prolonged Tool Life

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

Accelerated Running Parameters

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

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

Chipbreaker Product Offering

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

In Summary

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

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.

Most Common Methods of Tool Entry

Tool entry is pivotal to machining success, as it’s one of the most punishing operations for a cutter. Entering a part in a way that’s not ideal for the tool or operation could lead to a damaged part or exhausted shop resources. Below, we’ll explore the most common part entry methods, as well as tips for how to perform them successfully.


Pre-Drilled Hole

Pre-drilling a hole to full pocket depth (and 5-10% larger than the end mill diameter) is the safest practice of dropping your end mill into a pocket. This method ensures the least amount of end work abuse and premature tool wear.

tool entry predrill

 


Helical Interpolation

Helical Interpolation is a very common and safe practice of tool entry with ferrous materials. Employing corner radius end mills during this operation will decrease tool wear and lessen corner breakdown. With this method, use a programmed helix diameter of greater than 110-120% of the cutter diameter.

helical interpolation

 


Ramping-In

This type of operation can be very successful, but institutes many different torsional forces the cutter must withstand. A strong core is key for this method, as is room for proper chip evacuation. Using tools with a corner radius, which strengthen its cutting portion, will help.

ramping

Suggested Starting Ramp Angles:

Hard/Ferrous Materials: 1°-3°

Soft/Non-Ferrous Materials: 3°-10°

For more information on this popular tool entry method, see Ramping to Success.


Arcing

This method of tool entry is similar to ramping in both method and benefit. However, while ramping enters the part from the top, arcing does so from the side. The end mill follows a curved tool path, or arc, when milling, this gradually increasing the load on the tool as it enters the part. Additionally, the load put on the tool decreases as it exits the part, helping to avoid shock loading and tool breakage.


Straight Plunge

This is a common, yet often problematic method of entering a part. A straight plunge into a part can easily lead to tool breakage. If opting for this machining method, however, certain criteria must be met for best chances of machining success. The tool must be center cutting, as end milling incorporates a flat entry point making chip evacuation extremely difficult. Drill bits are intended for straight plunging, however, and should be used for this type of operation.

tool entry

 


Straight Tool Entry

Straight entry into the part takes a toll on the cutter, as does a straight plunge. Until the cutter is fully engaged, the feed rate upon entry is recommended to be reduced by at least 50% during this operation.

tool entry

 


Roll-In Tool Entry

Rolling into the cut ensures a cutter to work its way to full engagement and naturally acquire proper chip thickness. The feed rate in this scenario should be reduced by 50%.

tool entry

 

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.

Diving Into Depth of Cut: Peripheral, Slotting, & HEM Approaches

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 How to Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear I Intro to Trochoidal Milling


Every machining operation entails a radial and axial depth of cut strategy. Radial depth of cut (RDOC), the distance a tool is stepping over into a workpiece; and Axial depth of cut (ADOC), the distance a tool engages a workpiece along its centerline, are the backbones of machining. Machining to appropriate depths – whether slotting or peripheral milling (profiling, roughing, and finishing), is vital to your machining success (Figure 1).

Below, you will be introduced to the traditional methods for both peripheral milling and slotting. Additionally, High Efficiency Milling (HEM) strategies – and appropriate cutting depths for this method – will be explained.

Quick Definitions:

Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC): The distance a tool is stepping over into a workpiece. Also referred to as Stepover, Cut Width, or XY.

Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC): The distance a tool engages a workpiece along its centerline. Also referred to as Stepdown, or Cut Depth.

Peripheral Milling: An application in which only a percentage of the tool’s cutter diameter is engaging a part.

Slotting: An application in which the tool’s entire cutter diameter is engaging a part.

High Efficiency Milling (HEM): A newer machining strategy in which a light RDOC and heavy ADOC is paired with increased feed rates to achieve higher material removal rates and decreased tool wear.

depth of cut


Peripheral Milling Styles and Appropriate RDOC

The amount a tool engages a workpiece radially during peripheral milling is dependent upon the operation being performed (Figure 2). In finishing applications, smaller amounts of material are removed from a wall, equating to about 3-5% of the cutter diameter per radial pass. In heavy roughing applications, 30-50% of the tool’s cutter diameter is engaged with the part. Although heavy roughing involves a higher RDOC than finishing, the ADOC is most often smaller than for finishing due to load on the tool.

roughing depth of cut


Slotting Styles and Appropriate ADOC Engagement

The amount a tool engages a part axially during a slotting operation must be appropriate for the tool being used (Figure 3). Using an inappropriate approach could lead to tool deflection and damage, and poor part quality.

End mills come in various length of cut options, as well as numerous reached options. Choosing the tool that allows the completion of a project with the least deflection, and highest productivity, is critical. As the ADOC needed to slot can be lower, a stub length of cut is often the strongest and most appropriate tool choice. As slot depths increase, longer lengths of cut become necessary, but reached tooling should be used where allowable.

slotting depth of cut


Depth of Cut Strategy for High Efficiency Milling (HEM)

Pairing a light RDOC and heavy ADOC with high performance toolpaths is a machining strategy known as High Efficiency Milling or HEM. With this machining style, feed rates can be increased and cuts are kept uniform to evenly distribute stresses across the cutting portion of the tool, prolonging tool life.

Traditional Strategy

  • Heavy RDOC
  • Light ADOC
  • Conservative Feed Rate

Newer Strategy – High Efficiency Milling (HEM)

  • Light RDOC
  • Heavy ADOC
  • Increased Feed Rate

HEM involves using 7-30% of the tool diameter radially and up to twice the cutter diameter axially, paired with increased feed rates (Figure 4).  Accounting for chip thinning, this combination of running parameters can result in noticeably higher metal removal rates (MRR). Modern CAM software often offers a complete high performance solution with built-in features for HEM toolpaths.  These principals can also be applied to trochoidal toolpaths for slotting applications.

depth of cut