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5 Ways Your Shop is Inefficient

5 Ways Your Shop is Inefficient

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

1. Premature Tool Decay / Tool Failure

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

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

tool wear

An example of a tool with excessive wear

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

2. Subpar Part Finish

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

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

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

3. Inefficient Coolant Usage

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

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

4. Not Taking Advantage of Tool Versatility

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

chamfer mills

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

5. High Machine Downtime

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

The Advances of Multiaxis Machining

CNC Machine Growth

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

Multiaxis Machining

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

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

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

9-Axis Machine Centers

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

Set One

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

Set Two

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

Set Three

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

A Growing Industry

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

8 Ways You’re Killing Your End Mill

1. Running It Too Fast or Too Slow

Determining the right speeds and feeds for your tool and operation can be a complicated process, but understanding the ideal speed (RPM) is necessary before you start running your machine. Running a tool too fast can cause suboptimal chip size or even catastrophic tool failure. Conversely, a low RPM can result in deflection, bad finish, or simply decreased metal removal rates. If you are unsure what the ideal RPM for your job is, contact the tool manufacturer.

2. Feeding It Too Little or Too Much

Another critical aspect of speeds and feeds, the best feed rate for a job varies considerably by tool type and workpiece material. If you run your tool with too slow of a feed rate, you run the risk of recutting chips and accelerating tool wear. If you run your tool with too fast of a feed rate, you can cause tool fracture. This is especially true with miniature tooling.

3. Using Traditional Roughing

high efficiency milling

While traditional roughing is occasionally necessary or optimal, it is generally inferior to High Efficiency Milling (HEM). HEM is a roughing technique that uses 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. Besides dramatically increasing tool life, HEM can also produce a better finish and higher metal removal rate, making it an all-around efficiency boost for your shop.

4. Using Improper Tool Holding

tool holding

Proper running parameters have less of an impact in suboptimal tool holding situations. A poor machine-to-tool connection can cause tool runout, pullout, and scrapped parts. Generally speaking, the more points of contact a tool holder has with the tool’s shank, the more secure the connection. Hydraulic and shrink fit tool holders offer increased performance over mechanical tightening methods, as do certain shank modifications, like Helical’s ToughGRIP shanks and the Haimer Safe-Lock™.

5. Not Using Variable Helix/Pitch Geometry

variable helix

A feature on a variety of high performance end mills, variable helix, or variable pitch, geometry is a subtle alteration to standard end mill geometry. This geometrical feature ensures that the time intervals between cutting edge contact with the workpiece are varied, rather than simultaneous with each tool rotation. This variation minimizes chatter by reducing harmonics, which increases tool life and produces superior results.

6. Choosing the Wrong Coating

end mill coatings

Despite being marginally more expensive, a tool with a coating optimized for your workpiece material can make all the difference. Many coatings increase lubricity, slowing natural tool wear, while others increase hardness and abrasion resistance. However, not all coatings are suitable to all materials, and the difference is most apparent in ferrous and non-ferrous materials. For example, an Aluminum Titanium Nitride (AlTiN) coating increases hardness and temperature resistance in ferrous materials, but has a high affinity to aluminum, causing workpiece adhesion to the cutting tool. A Titanium Diboride (TiB2) coating, on the other hand, has an extremely low affinity to aluminum, and prevents cutting edge build-up and chip packing, and extends tool life.

7. Using a Long Length of Cut

optimal length of cut

While a long length of cut (LOC) is absolutely necessary for some jobs, especially in finishing operations, it reduces the rigidity and strength of the cutting tool. As a general rule, a tool’s LOC should be only as long as needed to ensure that the tool retains as much of its original substrate as possible. The longer a tool’s LOC the more susceptible to deflection it becomes, in turn decreasing its effective tool life and increasing the chance of fracture.

8. Choosing the Wrong Flute Count

flute count

As simple as it seems, a tool’s flute count has a direct and notable impact on its performance and running parameters. A tool with a low flute count (2 to 3) has larger flute valleys and a smaller core. As with LOC, the less substrate remaining on a cutting tool, the weaker and less rigid it is. A tool with a high flute count (5 or higher) naturally has a larger core. However, high flute counts are not always better. Lower flute counts are typically used in aluminum and non-ferrous materials, partly because the softness of these materials allows more flexibility for increased metal removal rates, but also because of the properties of their chips. Non-ferrous materials usually produce longer, stringier chips and a lower flute count helps reduce chip recutting. Higher flute count tools are usually necessary for harder ferrous materials, both for their increased strength and because chip recutting is less of a concern since these materials often produce much smaller chips.

Optimizing Material Removal Rates

 What is the Material Removal Rate?

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

Calculating MRR

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

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

Optimizing Efficiency

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

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

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

High Efficiency Milling

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

High Efficiency Milling

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

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

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

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

What You Need to Know About Coolant for CNC Machining

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

Coolant or Lubricant Purpose

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

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

Types of Coolant Delivery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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