Posts

Master Machine Manufacturing – Featured Customer

Master Machine Manufacturing, or MMM USA, is a family-owned and operated machine shop based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Master Machine is a rapidly expanding company which has seen serious growth as both a job shop and as an OEM Manufacturer of their own Quick Vise Handles and Piranha Jaws for CNC machinists.

Brothers Geordan and Nace Roberts, along with their mother, Sherry Roberts, are the owners of Master Machine Manufacturing. With Geordan and Nace, we dove into topics like having a growth mindset, working smarter instead of harder, and expanding a “job shop” business while also creating and manufacturing their own OEM products.

Tell us a little about Master Machine’s history and the type of work that your company does.

Geordan: Master Machine has been in business since 1981. Our father, George Roberts, started the business. At the beginning it was a pretty typical manual machine shop operating primarily as a job shop. As Nace and I got older, Dad introduced us to the business and we started working there part-time, eventually transitioning into full-time employees. In 1996, we transitioned to high precision machining with our first CNC machine – a Haas VF1, and we kept adding new CNC machines from there.

Nace and I took over in 2013 after our Dad passed. We had to make the transition from managers and shop foreman to owners and dealing with customers. We now own and operate the business with our mother, Sherry Roberts.

master machine

Geordan, Nace, Sherry, and the rest of the MMM USA team at IMTS with Mark Terryberry from Haas Automation

At its core, Master Machine is a job shop that does a lot of high precision machining. We work on things like lab test equipment, parts for the aerospace industry, and a lot of parts for the oil and gas industry. More medical jobs and odd things like parts for off-road racing have started to come in recently as well. One cool thing about us is that we have the unique ability to operate as a job shop, but also to design and manufacture our own products. Many of your readers have probably seen some of our vise handles and jaws in use online, especially on Instagram.

Your MMM USA Jaws and Vise Handles have become extremely popular in the CNC machining community. Where did you get the idea for that product?

Geordan: We had been using other brands of vise handles and jaws for a long time and got tired of buying products that were cheap and didn’t work well. We had this idea for a while, so in 2013 when things started to slow down a little bit, we had an opportunity to spend some time and design our own products. It was just about 2 years ago that we designed our first vise handle and Piranha Jaws. After using social media, showing them off at IMTS and other Industrial Trade Shows, they really started to take off. Our vise handles and jaws have really started to become a business of their own over the past couple of years.

vise handle

Can you breakdown the shop for us? What are you working with in terms of shop size, machine capabilities, and software?

Nace: We operate as a 100% debt-free company, so we grow as we need to. We have been at our current location for 10 years with 5-7 different additions along the way. Our shop is now spread across 10,300 square feet.

We currently have 18 CNC milling machines, including our original machine, the 1996 Haas VF1. We have been growing very fast over the past 10 years. From 2004-2007, we only had 3 CNC mills, and we have acquired the other 15 machines all in the last decade. We like buying from companies that make their products right here in the USA, so we have grown our shop through the Haas line of machines. Almost everything we own here is made by Haas Automation. In fact, our Haas VF4 and our 5-axis Haas UMC750 are some of our biggest mills in the shop right now.

Geordan: We also have other capabilities in the shop. We can do welding, painting, surface grinding, and we have a nice setup of bar feeders and lathes. For software, we use a lot of BOBCAD V31 for our 4th and 5th axis mill programming and all of our lathe programming, Nace uses a lot of Autodesk Fusion 360 for the mill side of things.

For inspection, we have many inspection tools, including a Fowler Z-Cat CMM that can measure down to +/- .0002″ for our most high precision jobs.

How did you guys first get involved in manufacturing?

Geordan: I started machining with my Dad at age 13, and got into it full-time after high school, but was not yet fully committed. At this point, I learned manual and CNC machining entirely through working with my Dad and my Uncle.  It wasn’t until my Uncle, the main machinist in our shop, decided to split off and start his own shop that I was faced with a more urgent need to commit to the family business. So I decided to make manufacturing a full time career move and started learning fixturing, programming, and everything I needed to know to be successful. We still have a great relationship with my uncle and his shop and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him stepping out on his own.

Nace: I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew I wanted to make money, and a lot of money. I was actually in college for radiology and physical therapy, but I didn’t like the layout of the career path. I could not convince myself to wait to start making real money until I had finished a long education and received a license 6-8 years down the road.

Instead of physical therapy and radiology, I started taking more computer engineering courses and learned a lot about programming and technology. After my uncle left, I told my Dad I would like to be a bigger part of the business and take what I knew from my computer programming classes and apply it to the shop. Within a year I had gone from never running a CNC to fully doing everything on the machine. My computer programming skills definitely helped me make the transition into CNC machining and programming.

master machine

As a second generation owner of a family business, how do you stick to those family values while also rapidly expanding the business?

Nace: We have grown a lot with our systems and technology, but our culture has also changed since we took over. We educated ourselves on workplace culture and maintaining a positive work environment. When we were kids, Dad worked probably 100 hours a week and we were always fortunate that he was able to provide us with food, clothes, and a roof over our heads. But no matter how hard he worked, he can’t replace the time with us that was spent working.

One of the major improvements we focused on was trying to maintain repeatability. Everything in the shop is labeled in boxes and readily available for our employees. Ultimately, we want to do everything we can to make it easy as possible for our employees. We want to work smarter, not harder, so there is more time for our employees to spend with family and not spend their lives in the shop.

As owners, we often need to work odd hours of the day to maintain the business, but we do it in a way that makes sure we have our family time. There are many times where we will go home, have dinner and hang out with the family, and wait until they are all sleeping to go back to work until 2 or 3 a.m.. We will get back home later that morning to sleep a little and have breakfast with the family and send them on their way before heading back in to the shop.

Working with family, we have to remind ourselves that business is business, and outside of business it is all about family. It can be tough to differentiate those two, but you have to. We went to business counseling and learned how to respect family members and build up the team while also making tough business decisions. We have our tough moments at the shop, but at the end of the day this is still your family. You can’t carry any frustration with other family members outside of those shop doors and into the home.

mmm usa piranha jaws

What are some other things you have done to maintain your “Work Smarter, Not Harder” mantra?

Geordan: One of the first things we did was look into getting more tooling and better tooling. We paid more for tools that can push harder and faster, and last longer. When Dad ran the shop, he would just buy whatever he thought we could afford and still get the job done. Now as CNC technology and advanced CAM systems have improved, the need for quality tooling is extremely important. Finding the best and most reliable tools helped take our shop to the next level and that is where Harvey Tool and Helical come into play.

Nace: We like to be the “purple cow” of the industry, differentiating ourselves in any way that we can. We strive to maintain a certain level of quality across our website, our Instagram page, our products, and the entire business as a whole. We are proud to support products made in the USA and keep supporting American manufacturing to help keep the business thriving in our shop and others. We are always happy to support companies like Haas, Harvey Tool, Helical, and many others who are doing it all right here in the USA.

What are some of your “go-to” Harvey Tool and Helical products?

Geordan: The Helical Chipbreaker End Mill for Aluminum is key for making our vise handles. We use the ½” end mill and run it at 10k RPM, 300 IPM with a .700” DOC and 40% stepover. We can push those tools harder than others while also maintaining our product’s quality. We also rely heavily on Helical’s HEV-5 for our steel applications.

One of our favorite and most-used tools is the Harvey Tool 90 Degree Helically Fluted Chamfer Mill. We use the 3-flute style on everything that isn’t Aluminum because we can simply push it faster and harder than anything else that we have tried.

master machine

Nace: We actually keep a ton of other Harvey Tool and Helical products in our Autocrib. It made sense for us to get an inventory system, and we got a great deal on a system during the recession. Industrial Mill & Maintenance Supply got us hooked up with an Autocrib and a ton of tools, and they have been great at supplying it whenever we need more. It has helped a lot having an inventory system like that. It is reassuring to know that we have the best tools ready on hand so we can eliminate any potential downtime.

Master Machine is everywhere in the online machining community, specifically on Instagram. How has online marketing and social media changed the way you promote your business?

Geordan: Most people who run businesses seem to just hope that the word of mouth gets out there, or they have a website and hope it just goes viral one day and gets some attention. With the way the Internet is so crowded these days, you have to do something more to stand out. On our side, we have boosted our business through the use of paid online advertising with Google, boosting our SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to rank higher in search results, and being heavy users of social media like Instagram.

When I started the Master Machine Instagram account, I was really just using it to see what other machinists were doing. It was actually only a personal account for my use. I was skeptical of Instagram because of the Facebook community of machinists. I always viewed Facebook as a little more negative and less productive, while the Instagram community was much more collaborative.

mmm usa

I started by following people like Aeroknox, Kalpay, John Saunders, Bad Ass Machinists, and Tactical Keychains. I immediately noticed how helpful everyone was. I started posting as a business just about 2 years ago, when I posted our first version of the vise handles. Almost immediately people started asking to buy them. We were blown away by the response.

We didn’t set out to create something new with these handles, but by getting our name out there and filling a need for people following us, the hype continued to grow and grow and grow. Instagram has been a great tool for that aspect of the business, especially. We now have around 15 distributors across the US who are carrying our products, and are getting some great momentum. We also sell a lot of our products direct on our website, and 99% of that probably comes through Instagram.

Nace: We have actually landed distributors through someone following us online and going to their integrated distributor asking for our products. The distributor then called us and asked if they could carry our product on their shelves. Other online connections have also helped us land distributors through simple messages and phone calls.

Where do you see MMM USA in 10 years?

Nace: That’s a tough question…

At the shop, we always stress four major actions: Define, Act, Measure, and Refine. In our eyes, there are always better ways to do things and improve our processes. We hire people to have a growth mindset, and so we are redefining our future every day through our continual improvement process. We strive to always have that growth mindset to figure out how to do a job more efficiently. With constant improvement always taking place, it is hard to nail down exactly where the shop will be in 10 years, 5 years, or even 1 year from now. One thing is for sure – we will be successful.

Geordan: Something we do want to focus on is creating new assets, exploring new ventures, and doubling in size every year. We want to continue to release new products to build out our own product line and have MMM USA distributors worldwide.

Back in the day, Kurt Workholding was just a job shop, and now they are one of the most recognized workholding brands in the CNC machining industry. It is really hard to say where this ends or goes, but we think we have a bright future as both a job shop and as a supplier of our own OEM products for manufacturing.

vise handles

Are you currently hiring new machinists? If so, what qualities and skills do you look for?

Geordan: Every Tuesday we have an open interview at 4 PM. As you can imagine, with our company’s growth, we are constantly hiring. We are looking for people that are positive that have a growth mindset who can grow within the company. We always believe we can promote from within. Most of our people have been at Master Machine for 10-15 years because we can always move people up closer to the top and help them advance in their careers as we grow.

Nace: We are really focused on finding people with good attitudes, and people who want to be here. Skilled machinists are great, but they can be rare, so attitude and fitting in with the culture is huge. We can always take a good attitude and train the skill level up, but we can’t take a good skill level and change the bad attitude. We want team members who will coach each other up and help improve the team as a whole. We love working together and supporting the business together in every aspect of the business.

master machine

What is the best advice you have ever received?

Geordan: We really like “Notable Quotables.” Here are a couple of our favorites.

“The pen is for remembering, and the mind is for making decisions.”

We only have so much brain power to make crucial decisions, so we write all the day-to-day action items down on our checklists to make sure nothing is left undone. That frees our minds up from having to remember every little piece of the business so we can save that brain power for strategic decision making moments. We must be proactive and not reactive as we lead our team.

Nace: “Your employees want to follow someone who is always real, and not always right.”

As a leader, you need to take responsibility when you screw up, and be open with the team. Let them be a part of fixing the problem, and approach every situation looking at the positive.


Would you like to be considered for a future “Featured Customer” blog? Click here to submit your information.

Fleet Machine Co. – Featured Customer

Fleet Machine Co. was founded in 2010 to dramatically outperform other contract manufacturers by fusing advanced machine tools, automation and custom software to achieve what they call “Zero Manufacturing”. The team at Fleet Machine take pride in their ability to produce zero defects, zero missed delivery dates, carry zero part and material inventory, and maintain zero process inefficiencies. Every strategic decision and investment that they make is based on this philosophy of eliminating waste and human error from the manufacturing process.

For Manufacturing Day 2018, the team at Fleet Machine hosted several shop tours for Harvey Performance Company employees. Employees across all departments from Customer Service and Marketing to Finance and Accounting were given a in-depth tour of Fleet Machine’s manufacturing process. Josh Pregent, co-owner of Fleet Machine, was kind enough to host the tours at his shop and talk to us for this post. We talked with Josh about manufacturing automation, the challenges of obtaining AS9100/ISO9001 certification for your business, and the advantages of different milling machine types.

Thanks for hosting our team at your shop. It was a great tour! To get started, tell us a little bit about Fleet Machine’s history, and what sort of products you typically manufacture.

Fleet Machine Co. was incorporated in 2010 in Gloucester, MA to manufacture precision components for the Aerospace, Defense, Medical, and Robotics industries. Fleet’s emphasis on quality, customer service, and professionalism quickly distinguished us from other manufacturers and allowed us to outgrow our original location and expand to our current location. Since our inception, we have devoted our company to automating manufacturing and business processes to minimize human interaction and error in the manufacturing process. Our ultimate goal is to completely eliminate all human involvement in production. This may seem like a lofty goal, but you have to have dreams!

Fleet Machine

How did you first get involved in manufacturing?

My business partner and I both worked in a machine shop while we were in college and instantly became interested in manufacturing. Over the years, we advanced through the different facets of manufacturing, learning everything we could. In 2010 we seized an opportunity and decided to branch out on our own to start Fleet Machine.

Do you have any advice for someone who is looking to open their own shop?

Opening your own shop involves more than knowing how to program and machine. You also need to be willing to sacrifice some of your free time by working long hours to build your business from the ground up. Being a great machinist is important, but you also need to understand the basics of business, and you need to be able to sell your service and maintain a certain level of quality to keep your customers coming back.

We saw a good mix of machine types while walking around the shop floor. What sort of machines and software do you have here in the shop?

Fleet currently has three two axis turning centers, four three axis VMCs (Vertical Milling), one mill/turn with sub-spindle, and two HMCs (horizontal milling) with sixteen work stations each. It is a long list, but the specific types of machines we have in our facility are listed below. For software, we use a custom Salesforce CRM module, E2 MRP, and Mastercam 2019 for programming.

CNC MILLING

  • (2) Akari-Seiki 450i HMC 27 x 26 x 25 X, Y, Z Travel, dual 400mm pallets, 15,000 RPM, through spindle coolant, 80 tools
  • (2) Mori-Seiki MV-40E VMC 22 x 16 x 18” X, Y, Z Travel, 20 tools, 8000 RPM
  • (1) Mori-Seiki MV-40B VMC 31 x 16 x 20” X, Y, Z Travel, 20 tools, 8000 RPM
  • (1) Haas VF-2 VMC 30 x 16 x 20” X, Y, Z Travel, 25 tools, 10,000 RPM

CNC TURNING

  • (1) Mori-Seiki SL-15 5000 RPM, 9” maximum turning diameter x 16” maximum length
  • (1) Yama-Seiki GA-2000 6000 RPM, 13” maximum turning diameter x 20” maximum length, programmable tailstock, tool setter
  • (1) Doosan Puma 240MSB 6000 RPM, 11” maximum turning diameter, 18” maximum length, dual spindle, live tooling, C-axis milling, tool setter, part catcher/part conveyor
  • (1) Mori-Seiki CL-200 4000 RPM, 11” Maximum turning diameter, 12” maximum length

fleet machine

How has the mill/turn CNC machine helped you speed up production? Would you recommend it to others?

Our mill/turn machine has helped us increase production by reducing our setup time. There is no longer a need to remove a turned part, get it over to a mill, and set everything up again. Most basic milling operations can be performed on the mill/turn machine, so it is a great time saver.

We would definitely recommend this type of machine to other shops. Ultimately, we highly recommend any machine/software/process/ancillary equipment that eliminates or reduces human labor. Manufacturing is a ruthlessly competitive, tech-driven industry and the failure to invest in technology of this type exposes you to over reliance on expensive, scarce, and potentially unreliable human labor and possible obsolescence.

You also have both horizontal milling centers (HMCs) and vertical milling centers (VMCs). What has been your experience with both, and do you prefer one style over the other?

In my opinion, HMCs are superior to VMCs in every respect due to the additional axis, superior chip evacuation, greater load capacity, and the ability to run unattended with pallet pools. VMCs are still useful for simple jobs and rapid prototyping, but for high production runs we lean on the HMCs to get the job done.

Fleet Machine

What have been some of your keys to success for expanding the business and growing your shop to take on more work?

Fleet Machine provides a superior product in terms of quality and value and uses automation and poke yoke techniques to streamline processes and eliminate the possibility of error.

We noticed the banner hanging in the shop celebrating your AS9100/ISO9001 certification. How important has that been in your manufacturing process?

Having an AS9100/ISO9001-certified quality system will improve every aspect of your organization while eliminating waste, improving product quality, and improving OTD. Imposing the discipline required to attain certification on your company will reveal inefficiencies that you never realized existed.

Do you have any advice for shops looking to try and get their AS9100/ISO9001 certification?

It is easily worth the investment but it requires attention to detail, extensive documentation, focus on constant improvement, and a real commitment from all employees. It needs to govern every aspect of your business, from the quoting process to shipping. If you don’t have someone who is extremely organized and enjoys data collection, measurement, and documentation, or employees who aren’t compliant or don’t understand the value of certification, it probably isn’t for you.

Fleet Machine

Who are some of your key customers?

Some of our key customers (the ones we can name) include Hill-Rom, United Technologies Corp, Rockwell, and B/E Aerospace. We do work under NDAs for some projects so we cannot reveal all of our customers, but they are heavily skewed to the Aerospace, Medical, Robotics, and Defense industries.

How do Harvey Tool products help Fleet Machine stay at the top of their game?

Harvey Tool products are an integral part of what we do, from the quoting process through finishing. Fleet relies on the tooling engineers and technical support team at Harvey to help us produce parts that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to make.

What skills or qualities do you look for when hiring a new machinist?

Fleet Machine has a robust training program for all new employees. We look for important soft skills such as good written and verbal communication, reliability, a positive attitude, the ability to work as part of team, and basic computer skills. We have found that people with this combination of attributes rapidly surpass people with machining skills who lack these qualities.

Being well-rounded is important as an employee in any business, but as manufacturing progresses to become more and more technology-based it will be important to hire machinists with computer skills and technological know-how to stay ahead of your competitors.


Would you like to be considered for a future “Featured Customer” blog? Click here to submit your information.

Liberty Machine – Featured Customer

Liberty Machine, Inc. is a small Aerospace and Defense-focused machine shop located out of owner Seth Madore’s garage in Gray, Maine. In just a few years, Liberty Machine has transformed from a side hustle into a full-fledged machine shop with customers all over the world.

We were given the chance to visit Seth at his shop in Maine and interview him for this post. We picked Seth’s mind about entrepreneurship, the online manufacturing community, some interesting home construction choices made to accommodate a machine shop, and more.

Thanks for having us come out and visit the shop for this Featured Customer post. To get started, tell us a little bit about Liberty Machine’s history, and what sort of products you typically manufacture.

I founded Liberty Machine, Inc. out of my garage about 6 years ago while I was still working full-time at one of Maine’s largest (and best) Aerospace and Defense shops. I was working close to around 80-100 hours a week, maintaining my full-time job as well as coming home and making chips in the evenings and weekends. At first, I was doing a lot of smaller pieces and one-off parts, such as fixtures and prototype work to help build up a customer base and make enough money to eventually upgrade my machine.

In the early years, I was using an old 1982 Matsuura MC-500 Mill that I picked up for around $6,000. I used that machine to generate enough cash flow and eventually pull the trigger on a 2015 DMG Mori Duravertical 5100 with a 4th axis, probing and high-pressure coolant which really allowed me to take on the type of aerospace and defense work I had been doing at my day job and make the leap into full time entrepreneurship in my own shop. Now, we have the capabilities to focus on aerospace and defense work for major clients all over the country.

We are still working out of my garage, with myself and one other employee, but there are hopes for further expansion in the future as we acquire more work and expand our customer base. If you want to keep up with our shop, follow us on Instagram @liberty_machine!

Liberty Machine

You have a great shop here and are definitely maximizing the space. How much square footage are you working with?

Currently, we are working out of a 940 sq/ft shop. We “technically” have room for one more CNC mill if we really squeezed things together. I don’t think that is in the cards though; it is more likely that we will move to a larger space if and when the time comes for expansion. Heat management and air quality are real issues when working in small spaces with low ceilings, which is something we deal with currently.

What sort of machines and software do you have here in the shop?

For now, we have two VMC’s and a decent amount of inspection equipment. We have the DMG Mori machine I previously mentioned, as well as a 2016 Kitamura-3XD. Both machines have 12k spindles, Renishaw probes, and feature coolant through spindles.

For inspection equipment, we have a 2014 Mitutoyo QM-Height 350 Digital Height Gage, a 2003 Brown & Sharpe Gage 2000 CMM with Renishaw MIP Articulating Probe Head, and a 2003 Mitutoyo PH-A14 Optical Comparator. We also recently acquired a Scienscope Stereo/Digital microscope. This allows us to perform visual inspection of our parts at an extreme amount of detail.

Liberty Machine

There are still holes in our inspection lineup, so we are always looking at adding onto what we do to provide our customers with quality machined products.

For CAD/CAM software, we use Autodesk’s Fusion 360 as well as Inventor HSM.

You mentioned using Fusion 360 for CAD/CAM. Some of our readers may know you from the Autodesk CAM forums as an “Autodesk Expert Elite.” How did that come together?

About 4-5 years ago, I knew I needed a legal, supported, capable CAM solution. After several “30-day trials” of the more affordable packages, I stumbled upon Fusion 360. Having a fair amount of experience with Esprit and MasterCAM, I taught myself Fusion 360 in between running my shop and trying to spend what little time I had with my wife and children. Even though I had prior experience in other CAM packages, I still had lots of questions. I turned to the Fusion CAM Forums for assistance. The employees and other users were excellent to work with and got me sorted out quickly.

Liberty Machine

After I became more comfortable with the Fusion 360 software, I decided to spend some of my free time helping others by answering their questions on the forums. I wanted to give back to the community that had helped me learn. Autodesk eventually took notice of my constant presence on the forums and granted me the title of “Autodesk Expert Elite,” an honor given to some of their most prolific community members and advocates. Now I work with them to help test new features, provide insight from a user’s point of view, and participate in events like Autodesk University.

How did you first get involved in manufacturing?

I will be honest – I never meant to end up working in manufacturing. When I was a teen, I had glamorous ideas about law enforcement, federal work and so forth. But, life doesn’t always work out that way (I met a wonderful girl and goals shifted, so I started looking for alternate career paths).

My friend (future brother-in-law) was a machinist, so I started asking about his work and what it involved. He was working in a “job shop” using all sorts of cool machines and technology I had never really heard about. I was very excited about this career shift and I pursued it with fervor. 19 years later and I still LOVE this trade. The thing that intrigued me most about manufacturing, and the real reason I became so fixated on the trade, was the integral role the machinist plays in every aspect of manufactured society. I believe it is the most fundamental profession there is, and I take great pride in it. The evolution of the trade from manual machining to skilled programmers running CNC machines has always fascinated me as well and has kept pushing me to learn more and continue growing as a machinist.

Liberty Machine

Is it true that you built an addition to your garage specifically for the DMG Mori machine?

That is true! Before I bought the machine, I knew it was going to be too tall for my existing space, and was also going to need a solid foundation to sit on (it weighs 7 tons). Before the machine arrived, I had a concrete slab poured right against the side wall of the existing garage, and placed the DMG Mori on that slab.

After a couple days of unfortunate rain and multiple layers of tarps covering the machine, I had several family members (carpenters by trade) help me build the addition. Ok…I helped them. They were able to get it all framed and covered in just one day, breaking down the side wall of the garage and literally building the new space around the dimensions of the machine. Like they say, if there is a will, there is a way!

Running a shop out of your garage must have been a challenge to startup. What were some of the growing pains you experienced as this shop was built out?

On a professional level, the struggle was real. Two jobs, huge payments on the horizon, wondering where all the work (and money) is going to come from… As I mentioned, at that point, I was working 100 hours a week between the two jobs, and really feeling wiped out at the end of each week. However, the hard work did eventually pay off. Once I was able to get the DMG Mori and prove to customers that I had the capabilities to go full-time on my own, it was all worth it.

Liberty Machine

Outside of that, there were the literal growing pains, like cutting holes in my garage ceiling to fit the column on the Kitamura machine, and of course, building an addition to house the DMG. But like I said, it was all worth it in the end to own my own shop.

What is the best thing about working for yourself?

I’d say the best thing about working out of my shop (and for myself) is seeing my family on a daily basis. Yes, I still work 60-70 hours a week, but to have breakfast with them each morning before our day starts and have the flexibility to shift schedules around for doctor visits and other “life stuff” is worth its weight in gold. We are all so busy in life and I think we suffer as a society because of it. I want my children to know what it’s like to have a parent that is around. Busy, yes. But still present.

You mentioned that you had used a lot of Harvey and Helical tools at your last job. However, once you were on your own, you could choose any tooling you wanted to use. What made you stick with the Harvey Performance Company brands as your go-to tools?

The thing with Harvey Tool and Helical products that keep me coming back is the consistency of quality. I know that when I buy one of these tools, I am going to get a high-performing tool that has gone through multiple levels of inspection and is consistently ground within the tight tolerances that were promised. I honestly cannot remember a single time I have had to send any Harvey or Helical tools back for quality issues.

Liberty Machine

I tell friends and others in the manufacturing community about the tools, and the hurdle is always getting them to look past the slightly higher cost. That additional cost is always worth the payoff in the end knowing that you have a tool that will produce quality parts and shave valuable minutes off your cycle times. The slightly higher cost of the Harvey/Helical product is small change compared to the long term cost savings associated with their performance.

Can you remember a key moment where Harvey Tool/Helical products really saved the day?

Truthfully, Harvey and Helical are my first thought when I’m looking at a challenging feature on a new part. If they offer something that looks like it will work, I don’t even look for an alternative. Order it, get it in house. I’d say where Harvey helps the most is their awesome selection of long reach/stub flute end mills for stainless steel. I cut so much of that, so it’s great to have a vendor stock what is truly needed.

Liberty Machine

Would you recommend entrepreneurship to other young machinists hoping to open their own shop some day?

Yes! But like all things in life, “It depends.” Entrepreneurship is certainly not for everyone. The amount of work required to get a shop rolling and out of “crisis-mode” is insane. There is no other term for it. If you have a significant other in your life, MAKE SURE they are on the same page as you. I am blessed to have a wife by my side who sees the end goal and is understanding of the sacrifice needed in the short-term for the long-term benefit of our family.

What advice might you want to give to someone starting in this trade?

Don’t stop learning. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut. That old guy in the shop has likely forgotten more than you will ever learn. The amount of tools in your Kennedy box doesn’t mean you’re a good machinist. Some of the best toolmakers I knew had small boxes with only the common tools. Learn how to excel with limited resources. Ask questions, and own up to your mistakes.

Form Factory – Featured Customer

Form Factory is a machine shop located in Portland, Oregon focused primarily on prototype work, taking 3D CAD models and making them a physical reality through CNC precision machining. Over the past 14 years, Form Factory has grown from a one man operation with a single CNC mill into a highly respected shop in the Northwest US, making prototype models for clients all over the world. Harvey Tool customers may recognize the name Form Factory from their photo on the front cover of the Fall 2018 Catalog, as they were the first place winners of the #MachineTheImpossible Catalog Cover Contest!

We talked with Brian Ross, Founder/Owner of Form Factory, to learn about how he suggests entrepreneurs and inventors think about prototyping their ideas, his unique experience working on many different models, his winning part in the #MachineTheImpossible contest, and more!

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us for this Featured Customer post. To get started, tell us a little bit about Form Factory, how you got started, and what sort of products you manufacture.

Prior to starting my own business, I had worked as a machinist at 4 different prototyping firms which is where I learned the trade and got the itch to run my own shop. I started Form Factory myself just over 14 years ago with a single Haas VF1. I had no client base and a bunch of loans. It was a scary time for me to jump in to entrepreneurship. Now, we have three CNC machines, various other components and machines, and four full-time employees.

At Form Factory we focus primarily on industrial design models and prototypes. We do a lot of work in the electronics industry, making prototypes of cell phones, laptops, printers, and other consumer electronics. Many of our models are created for display at trade shows or in Kickstarter and other product announcement videos, but we also do a fair share of working prototypes as well. It all depends on what the client wants, and we pride ourselves on the ability to deliver exactly what they need.

form factory

What sort of machines and software do you use in your shop?

We currently have 3 CNC mills – a Haas VF1, Haas VF2, and Haas VF3. We like using machines made in the USA because we like making products in the USA. Haas is what I knew and had run predominantly, and Haas is fairly common in the Northwest so it was easier to find skilled employees in the area who knew these machines well.

We use Mastercam for our CAM software, which is what I learned on. It also seems to be very common in this area which makes for an easy transition for new employees.

form factory

What were some of the keys to success as you built Form Factory from the ground up?

I based much of Form Factory’s business model on my past experiences in manufacturing. Many of the other small companies I had worked for ended up closing, even though the guys on the shop floor would be working lots of overtime and we had plenty of business. What I realized was that these other places often closed because of greed, over-expansion, and rapid growth which they could not sustain. They ended up overextending themselves and they could not keep the doors open as a result.

I like the spot I am in now because while we can certainly expand, we have found a happy medium. We have kept our customers happy and consistently deliver parts on time, so we get a lot of repeat business. Being a small company, word of mouth is one of our only forms of marketing. Word definitely gets around on how you treat people so we try to treat everyone with respect and honesty, which is key to running a good business.

form factory

Working Prototype of a “Smart Ball” Charger for Adidas

Prototype manufacturing is a very competitive segment of this industry. What sets Form Factory apart from the competition?

Understanding how model making relates to industrial design separates us from a typical machine shop. We can take a prototype design or simple drawing and we are able to implement all of the functionality into a prototype model. We do not deal much with the actual production run, which will come later, so we have the ability to focus more on the prototype and a customer’s exact needs to get a product off the ground. This level of expertise and focus sets us apart from your typical shop.

For example, if the model is for photography purposes, a trade show display, or a promotional video, appearance will be key. We will spend more time working on building what we consider to be a true work of art; something that will immediately stand out to the consumer, but may lack in complete functionality. If the client requires a fully functioning prototype, we will spend more time making sure that all of the components work as intended over multiple stages of design. The final result may be a bit “uglier” than a prototype designed for appearance alone, but it will work as intended.

Let’s say I have an idea for a new product. What should I know about getting my design manufactured?

Right now, especially with 3D printing and cheap overseas manufacturing, it can seem very easy to prototype a new product. However, these options are not always the best route to take to get a quality prototype. With 3D printing, you get a huge step down in resolution and quality, although you can save in cost. You can also save on cost by having things made overseas, but the communication can easily breakdown and the quality is often lower. The other factor is that virtually anyone can end up copying your product overseas and you have very little protection against that.

form factory

By going with a local machine shop and sticking with CNC-machined parts, you are guaranteed to get a higher quality finished product with better communication. We do a ton of back and forth communication with our clients to understand their exact design intent. With a prototype, there are often a lot of blanks that need to be filled in to completely understand the product, and we do our best to communicate with the client to deliver the perfect piece, and always on time. Sure, your cost may be higher, but the entire process will be smoother and the time saved on revisions or scrapping poor quality prototypes is invaluable.

It sounds like you guys take a lot of pride in the work you do, which is great!

Absolutely! Our models are all one of a kind works of art. We can take things from the early stages where a client might have an idea drawn on a napkin, all the way to a fully functional piece.

Our goal is always to make parts look like they grew that way. In my opinion, taking a solid block of material and making it into a finished part is truly a work of art. We work hard to determine where the burrs are, what the radiuses are, and how the finish should look, amongst many other variables. We take a lot of pride in the finished appearance and want everyone in the shop to produce the same level of quality as their co-workers. We hold all ourselves and our work to very high standards.

form factory

Finished Laptop Display Models

How has the online machinist community helped your business/changed your thinking/helped you grow as a machinist/business owner?

I follow tons of great machinists and other companies on Instagram.  It’s funny how quick you can get an idea from a simple picture or short video of another project somebody else is working on.  I love machining because after 25 years, I am still learning so much every day.  The machines, the software, and the tooling are changing so fast its hard to keep up.  Every day I see something on Instagram that makes me say “Oh WOW!” or “Hey, I can do my part that way!”  I was machining before there was an internet, so I really appreciate having an on-line community, and body of knowledge to draw from. You can find us on Instagram @FormFactory!

We loved the ball in chain part you created for our #MachineTheImpossible Fall 2018 Catalog Cover contest, and so did our followers, as they voted you into first place. Tell us a little more about that part.

So that piece was something I had been wanting to try for a while to challenge myself. It was not a part for a customer or part of a job, but simply a practice in more complex machining. The entire part was actually machined from one solid piece of aluminum on a 3 axis mill. With some clever fixturing and a few setups, I was able to make it work!

machine the impossible

Harvey Tool’s Tapered and Long Reach End Mills played a huge part in the creation. There would have been no way for me to get at those impossible angles or hard to reach areas without the multiple available dimensions and angles that you guys offer. In total, that piece took me about 20 hours, but it was a great piece to learn with and it definitely paid off in the end! As a small business, getting that exposure and marketing from being on your catalog cover was huge, and we appreciate the opportunity you gave us and the entire machinist community.

To a small business like yours, what did it mean to you to be highlighted on the Fall 2018 catalog cover?

I found out we had won when one of my customer’s emailed me congratulations! I was blown away! Even to be chosen as a finalist was exciting. The Harvey Tool Catalog is the ONE catalog we always have around the shop at the ready. I have been a Harvey fan for two decades, so making the cover of the catalog was pretty awesome!

In your career, how has Harvey Tool helped you #MachineTheImpossible?

Being able to overnight tools straight to the shop on a moment’s notice has saved us too many times to count. Harvey Tool makes some of the most impossible reach tooling; I still don’t know how they do it. ‘Back in the day” I would grind my own relief on an old Deckel. There’s nothing quite like looking for that extra 50 thou of reach and snapping off the tool! Now I let Harvey do ALL of that work for me, so I can focus on the machining. It takes nice tools to make nice parts. If you need tools that are always accurately relieved to just under the tool diameter, crazy sharp, and balanced, then look no further than Harvey Tool.

form factory

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist ready to take the #PlungeIntoMachining, what would it be?

Find the ‘Distance to Go’ setting or view on your machine’s control, and hit ‘feed hold’ with the first plunge of every new tool you set, and every new work offset, 100% of the time. It will save your mill and your parts from disaster. Machining is the art of doing thousands of simple things, exactly right and in the right order. The hard part is to keep your focus and pay keen attention through the entire process. Understand how easy it is to make a simple mistake, and how quickly you can be starting over. Allow yourself room for mistakes along the way by triple checking BEFORE your mill lets you know it’s too late. If you have other things on your mind, don’t machine parts.


Would you like to be considered for a future “Featured Customer” blog? Click here to submit your information.

B&R Custom Machining- Featured Customer

B&R Custom Machining is a rapidly expanding aerospace machine shop located in Ontario, Canada, focused primarily on aerospace and military/defense manufacturing. Over the past 17 years, B&R has grown from a 5 person shop with a few manual mills and lathes, into one of Canada’s most highly respected manufacturing facilities, with nearly 40 employees and 21 precision CNC machines.

B&R focuses on quality assurance and constant improvement, mastering the intimacies of metal cutting and maintaining the highest levels of quality through their unique shop management philosophies. They seek to consistently execute on clear contracts through accurate delivery, competitive price, and high quality machined components.

We talked with Brad Jantzi, Co-Founder and Technical Manager of B&R Custom Machining, to learn about how he started in the industry, his experience with High Efficiency Milling, what he looks for most in a cutting tool, and more!

B&R Custom machining

Can you tell us a little bit about how B&R Custom Machining started, and a little background about yourself and the company?

My brother (Ryan Jantzi, CEO/Co-Founder) and I started working in manufacturing back in 2001, when we were just 20/21 years old. We had 5 employees (including ourselves), a few manual mills and lathes, and we were wrapping our parts in newspaper for shipping. We took over from a preexisting shop and assumed their sales and machines.

We bought our first CNC machine in 2003, and immediately recognized the power of CNC and the opportunities it could open up for us. Now, we have 21 CNC machines, 38 employees, and more requests for work than we can keep up with, which is a good thing for the business. We are constantly expanding our team to elevate the business and take on even more work, and are currently hiring for multiple positions if anyone in Ontario is looking for some challenging and rewarding work!

What kind of CNC machines are you guys working with?

Right now we have a lot of Okuma and Matsuura machines, many of which have 5 axis capabilities, and all of them with high RPM spindles. In fact, our “slowest” machine runs at 15k RPM, with our fastest running at 46k. One of our high production machines is our Matsuura LX160, which has the 46k RPM spindle. We use a ton of Harvey Tool and Helical product on that machine and really get to utilize the RPMs.

B&R Custom Machining

What sort of material are you cutting?

We work with Aluminum predominantly, but also with a lot of super alloys like Invar, Kovar, Inconel, Custom 455 Stainless, and lots of Titanium. Some of those super alloys are really tricky stuff to machine. Once we learn about them and study them, we keep a recorded database of information to help us dial in parameters. Our head programmer/part planner keeps track of all that information, and our staff will frequently reference old jobs for new parts.

Sounds like a great system you guys have in place. How did B&R Custom Machining get into aerospace manufacturing?

It is a bit of a funny story actually. Just about 12 years ago we were contacted by someone working at Comdev, which is close to our shop, who was looking to have some parts made. We started a business relationship with him, and made him his parts. He was happy with the work, and so we eventually got involved in his company’s switch division and started to make more and more aerospace parts.

aerospace machining

We immediately saw the potential of aerospace manufacturing, and it promoted where we wanted to go with CNC machining, so it was a natural fit. It really was a case of being in the right place at the right time and seizing the moment. If an opportunity comes up and you aren’t ready for it, you miss it. You have to be hungry enough to see an opportunity, and confident enough to grab it, while also being competent enough to handle the request. So, we took advantage of what we were given, and we grew and went from there.

Who are some of the major players who you work with?

We have great relationships with Honeywell, MDA Brampton, and MDA Quebec. We actually worked on parts for a Mars Rover with MDA that was commissioned by the Canadian Space Agency, which was really cool to be a part of.

Working with large companies like that means quality is key. Why is high quality tool performance important to you?

High quality and superior tool performance is huge. Aside from cutting conditions, there are two quick things that cause poor performance on a tool: tool life and consistency of the tool quality. One without the other means nothing. We all can measure tool life pretty readily, and there is a clear advantage that some tools have over others, but inconsistent quality can sneak up on you and cause trouble. If you have a tool manufacturer that is only producing a quality tool even 95% of the time, that might seem ok, but that means that 5% of the time you suffer something wrong on the machine. Many times, you won’t know where that trouble is coming from. This causes you to pause the machine, investigate, source the problem, and then ultimately switch the tool and create a new program. It becomes an ordeal. Sometimes it is not as simple as manually adjusting the feed knob, especially when you need to rely on it as a “proven program” the next time around.

So, say the probability of a shortcoming on a machine is “x” with one brand of tooling, but is half of that with a brand like Harvey Tool. Sure, the Harvey Tool product might be 10-20% higher in upfront cost, but that pales in comparison to buying cheaper tools and losing time and money due to machine downtime caused by tool failure. The shop rate for an average machine is right around $100/hour, so machine downtime is much more expensive than the added cost of a quality tool.

B&R Custom machining

Inconsistent tool quality can be extremely dangerous to play around with, even outside of machine downtime. We create based on a specific tool and a certain level of expected performance. If that tool cannot be consistent, we now jeopardize an expensive part. The machine never went down, but the part is no good because we programmed based on consistency in tool quality. Again, the cost of scrapped parts heavily outweighs the upfront cost of quality tooling. Tooling is a low cost of what we do here, but poor tooling can cost us thousands versus a few dollars more for quality tools. Too many people focus on the upfront cost, and don’t look downstream through the rest of the process to see how poor quality tooling can affect your business in a much bigger way. We get to see the whole picture because I am involved from cradle to grave, gaining feedback and knowledge along the way.

That’s great feedback Brad, and I think it is important for people to understand what you have laid out here. Speaking of tool performance, have you guys been using High Efficiency Milling techniques in the shop?

Absolutely. We feel that we are on the front edge of efficient milling. We are quite capable of all the latest techniques, as our programmers are well-versed and up to date. For our larger production work, we have programs dialed in that allow us to push the tools to their limits and significantly cut down our cycle times.

What advice would you have for others who are interested in High Efficiency Milling?

Make sure you are smart about using HEM. If we have one-off parts, particularly expensive ones, that do not have time restraints, we want to make sure we have a safe toolpath that will get us the result we want (in terms of quality and cutting security), rather than pushing the thresholds and taking extra time to program the HEM toolpaths. HEM makes total sense for large production runs, but make sure you know when to, and when not to use these techniques to get the most out of HEM.

B&R Custom machining

Have you been using Machining Advisor Pro in your shop when you run Helical end mills?

We have been, and it makes for a great point of reference for the Helical end mills. It has become a part of our new employee training, teaching them about speeds and feeds, how hard they can push the Helical tools, and where the safe zones are. Our more experienced guys also frequent it for new situations where they have no data. Machining Advisor Pro helps to verify what we thought we knew, or helps us get the confidence to start planning for a new job.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist, or someone looking to take the #PlungeIntoMachining for the first time, what would it be?

Learn the intimacies of metal cutting. Get ultra-familiar with the results of what is actually happening with your tool, your setup, your part, and your machine. As well, don’t be limited to thinking “it sounds good,” or “it’s going good so far, so that must be acceptable.” In order to push the tools and confirm they are performing well and making money, you need to identify and understand where the threshold of failure is, and back off the right amount. This doesn’t end here though. Cutting conditions change as the tools, holders, machines, and parts change. Learning the nuances of this fluctuating environment and adapting accordingly is essential. Verify your dimensions, mitigate against risk, and control the variables.

Also, get intimate with what causes tools to succeed and fail, and keep a log of it for reference. Develop a passion for cutting; don’t just punch in and punch out each shift. Here at B&R, we are looking for continuous improvement, and employees who can add value. Don’t stand around all day with your arms folded, but keep constant logs of what’s going on and always be learning and thinking of how to understand what is happening, and improve on it. That is what makes a great machinist, and a successful shop.

B&R custom machining

How To Maximize High Balance End Mills

High speed machining is becoming increasingly widespread in machine shops all over the world due to the proven benefits of greater efficiency and productivity through increased spindle speeds and metal removal rates.  However, at such high spindle speeds, otherwise negligible errors and imperfections can cause negative effects such as reduced tool life, poor surface finish, and wear on the machine itself. Many of these negative effects stem from an increase in total centrifugal forces leading to vibration, commonly referred to in the industry as chatter. A key contributor to vibrations and one of the more controllable factors, is tool unbalance.

Why Balance is Critical to Machining

Unbalance is the extent to which the tool’s center of mass diverges from its axis of rotation.  Small levels of unbalance may be indistinguishable at lower RPMs, but as centrifugal force increases, small variations in the tool’s center of mass can cause substantial detrimental effects on its performance. High Balance End Mills are often used to help solve the problem of vibrations at the increased spindle speeds. Balancing is used to make compensation for the intrinsic unsymmetrical distribution of mass, which is typically completed by removing mass of a calculated amount and orientation.

Image Source: Haimer; Fundamentals of Balancing

Helical Solutions offers High Balance End Mills in both 2 and 3 flute options (see Figure 2), square and corner radius, along with coolant-through on the 3 fluted tools. These end mills are balanced at the industry standard of G2.5 at 33,000 RPM: G stands for the potential damage due to unbalance, which can be expressed as “Balancing Quality Grade” or G and 2.5 is the vibration velocity in MM per second. These tools are designed specifically to increase performance in highly balanced machining centers that are capable of elevated RPMs and feed rates. With high balance tooling, improved surface finishes are also achieved due to reduced vibrations during the machining process. Additionally, these end mills have been designed around current high-end tool holding, and come in a variety of neck lengths at specific overall lengths. These dimensional combinations result in maximum rigidity and reduced excess stick out, allowing for optimal performance and the ability to push the tools to the limit.

High Balanced Tooling Cost Benefits

Machinists who choose to use High Balance End Mills will see certain benefits at the spindle, but also in their wallets. Cost benefits of opting to run this type of tool include:

Utilizing Tap Testers

What Tap Testers Do

Vibrations are your applications worst enemy, especially at elevated RPMs and feed rates. Using resources such as a Tap Tester can help decrease vibrations and allow you to get the most out of your High Balance End Mills by generating cutting performance predictions and chatter limits.

How Tap Testing Works

High balance

Image Source: Manufacturing Automation Laboratories Inc.

Tap Testing generates cutting performance predictions and chatter limits. In a tap test, the machine-tool structure is “excited,” or tested, by being hit with an impulse hammer. In milling, the machine-tool structure is usually flexible in all three directions: X, Y, and Z, but in milling applications where High Balance Tooling is used, the flexibility is commonly only considered in two planes – the X and Y directions. By hitting the X and Y directions with the impulse hammer, the impact will excite the structure over a certain frequency range that is dependent on the hammer’s size, the type of tool being used, and the structure itself. The frequencies generated from the initial hit will produce enough information that both the impact force measurement and the displacement/accelerometer measurement are available. Combining these two measurements will result in the Frequency Response Function, which is a plot of the dynamic stiffness of the structure in frequencies.

After the information from the Tap Test is gathered, it will then process the information into useful cutting parameters for all spindles speeds such as cut depths, speed rates, and feed rates. In knowing the optimum running parameters, vibrations can be minimized and the tool can be utilized to its full potential.

High Balanced Tooling Summarized

Keeping vibrations at bay during the machining process is extremely important to machining success. Because one cause of vibration is tool unbalance, utilizing a balanced tool will result in a smoother job, a cleaner final product, and a longer life of both the tool and spindle. Machinists who choose to use High Balance Tooling can utilize a Tap Tester, or a method for generating the perfect running parameters for your tool and machine setup to ensure that machining vibration is as minimal as possible.

University of Michigan Formula SAE Racing Team – Featured Customer

Formula SAE is a student design competition that began in 1980. The competition was founded by the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) branch at the University of Texas. Each year, hundreds of universities across the world spend months designing and manufacturing their best Formula style car before putting them to the test in competitions.

Alex Marshalek is the Team Captain of the University of Michigan’s Formula SAE team, MRacing. The team was originally founded in 1986, and has been very successful over the years. In the 2017 season, they finished 5th at the Formula SAE Michigan event, and took home a 1st place finish at Formula North. They are hoping to continue riding that momentum into another successful season in 2018.

Mracing

Alex reached out to Harvey Tool and Helical earlier this year, and after some conversation, the decision was made to sponsor their team’s efforts by supplying cutting tools and providing technical support. With competitions on the horizon and a new build coming over the summer, Alex was kind enough to find some time to talk with us about his experiences as a student learning the ropes in engineering, manufacturing, and design, the importance of quality tooling and maintaining a superior part finish for competition, and challenges he has faced during this process.

Hi Alex. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. When you were looking into college degree programs, what initially interested you in manufacturing and engineering?

I have always had an interest in Aerospace Engineering, but it was nothing more than a personal interest until I started college. My high school unfortunately did not have any machine shop or manufacturing type classes, so a lot of what I knew, I learned from my dad. My dad worked as a Mechanical Engineer at an axle manufacturing company, and he used to always be doing things around the house and showing me the basics of engineering and design.

When it came time to choose a school, I knew that Michigan had an impressive Aerospace Engineering department, and I liked the feel of the campus and community better than other schools I had toured.

How did you first get involved with the Formula SAE team?

I knew going into school that I wanted to get involved in a design team and advance my learning in that way. We have about a dozen different design teams at Michigan, but the Formula SAE team really stood out to me as a really cool project to get involved in.

I started with the team in Fall of 2016, helping out with the design and manufacturing of the vehicle’s suspension. Now, for the upcoming 2018 season, I am taking over the role of Team Captain. There will be a little bit less hands-on design and manufacturing work for me as it is more of an administrative/outreach role.

michigan racing

How does a typical FSAE season run?

So FSAE seasons are constantly running, and nearly overlapping with each other. For example, we are currently finishing up competitions from the 2018 season, but at the same time we are beginning the design of the vehicle for the 2019 season. Typically, the design work is done over the summer, and finalized in October. After that, the major manufacturing begins and lasts until about March, with spare parts and additions being added as we go. Testing begins in March, where we fine tune the vehicle and optimize the design for performance. Then, the rest of the Spring and early Summer is competition time, and the process starts all over again!

What sort of machines do you have in the shop?

Right now, we have three manual Bridgeport mills, two retro-fit CNC Bridgeport mills, 2 manual lathes, 1 retro-fit CNC lathe, and a Haas VF-2SS and Haas SL-20. For the vast majority of what we are machining, we are using the Haas. We do most of our work in Aluminum, with some parts made out of steel or titanium, and the Haas has been great for everything.

We are also using AutoDesk’s Fusion 360 software for our CAD/CAM, and we love it.

What has been the most difficult part of the build?

Time is really the biggest challenge. We are all full-time students, so time is already hard to find, but we also don’t have an overabundance of machinists so the operators can get overburdened. It all works out in the end and our machinists are great, but time management is truly the biggest challenge.

michigan formula sae

The composite materials we work with are also very challenging to machine. We constructed the vehicle’s monocoque (the structural “skin”, often seen in Formula One cars) out of carbon fiber. While we cut a lot of it on the water jet machine, we needed more precise holes than a water jet could offer, so we went to the Haas for that. We were using HSS drills and only getting 10-12 holes at a time before they wore out. However, we had Don Grandt (Harvey Performance Company Application Engineer) stop in the shop and he sent us a few Harvey Tool diamond coated drills, which should make this a much faster and more precise process!

You mentioned Don stopped in to give you guys a visit. What were some of your biggest takeaways?

Don was great. He stopped by and we gave him a tour of the facility and showed off some of the parts we were designing. We talked shop for quite a bit, and he gave us a bunch of great tips and tricks we could use to really optimize our machining. As I mentioned, he also went through the catalogs with us and helped us find exactly what we need for tooling. The Harvey Tool diamond coated drills are going to be a life saver for carbon fiber. I guess the biggest takeaway was just all of the knowledge we received from Don and how helpful that was to have someone direct from the tooling manufacturer sharing everything we knew with us.

Now that you have the Harvey and Helical tools in the shop, how have they helped you complete this project and get a leg up on your competition?

One of the most impressive things for us have been the finishing end mills we received. The Helical finishers for Aluminum are giving us some of the best finishes we have ever seen. For us, that is a point of pride. We not only want to have the fastest and most well-designed vehicle, but we also want to have the best looking parts. Subpar finishes reflect poorly on the entire build, and first impressions mean a lot in these competitions.

We have also been blown away by the Chipbreaker roughers. We absolutely love those tools and push them to the limits with great results. In fact, the first time we ran them, we used Machining Advisor Pro to dial in our speeds and feeds, and the numbers seemed insane to us. We were nervous, but we pushed the button and let it run. It was amazing to see that we could push a tool that fast without tool failure.

How has your experience been using Machining Advisor Pro?

We use Machining Advisor Pro every time we picked up the Helical end mills. MAP was actually one of the main reasons we were looking for Helical to sponsor us. We had heard a lot about MAP and your level of technical support, which was important to us as we are learning more about manufacturing and machining. Machining Advisor Pro has quickly become one of our best learning tools in the shop.

The nice thing about MAP is that is takes a look at all of the parameters. A lot of applications only give you numbers on your speeds and feeds, but MAP takes a look at the depth of cut, chip thinning, engagement angle, and all of the other parameters that are so essential to a successful run. As a result, we have been able to get very aggressive with the end mills. We are not a huge production shop, so cycle times are not as important, but we still want to get the most out of our tools in the least amount of possible time.

So, let’s break down some specs. What are you all working with on this year’s build?

Right now our car features a 4 cylinder Honda 600 CBR engine, with a Turbo and 600cc displacement. We are one of the few teams that run a turbo in competition. As we mentioned, the monocoque is completely carbon fiber, and the car features a full aero package with an undertray. The max speed is around 80 MPH, and the car weighs 420 pounds without the driver.

Once the build is complete, how does a typical competition work?

Most of the Formula SAE competitions are multi-day events, with a few static events, and then dynamic events where the car is running. For static events, we first have a Design portion. We validate and argue for our design in front of judges who are engineers in the industry. Then, we get into a Cost presentation, as one of the goals is to build the cheapest possible car with a high level of performance. That balance of cost vs. performance is a critical part of the build. The last static event is a Business presentation, where we introduce a business/manufacturing plan on how to get this design to a production level of 100 units in a year.

For the dynamic events, we have 4 different tests. First, we have the Accel Run, which is a 75 meter sprint, and the fastest cars win. From there we go to the Skip Pad event, which is centered on turning radius and the stiffness of the chassis as we do tight figure eight turns with the car.

University of Michigan FSAE

Then we have the AutoCross, a one lap race, which determines our placement in the final event; Endurance. For the Endurance event, we drive the cars around a 22km track, and the goal is to finish the race without any mechanical or design failures in the quickest time possible. Only around 50% of participants actually complete this event. If a single part falls off, or breaks, you are disqualified. Many times we see things like the suspension, powertrain, or wings falling off. It is disappointing when it happens, but it allows us to easily identify any flaws and fix them for the next event.

What is next for you after school? Any future plans or goals?

I am currently majoring in Aerospace Engineering, and would like to stay within that industry. I am leaning towards working on aircraft. Designing either aircraft structures or the aerodynamics would be very cool. I really like the size and scale of working on commercial aircraft, but I could see myself doing something more specialty like working in Defense as well.


Alex and his team had a very successful 2018 season. They recently placed 9th overall in a competition at the Michigan International Speedway. In the dynamic events, they placed 4th in Skidpad, and 7th in Autocross. The high placement in the Autocross event allowed them to race head to head against top teams in the world, and they ended up placing 4th in Endurance out of 104 cars!

The MRacing team also competed at Formula North, a competition in Ontario, Canada, where they achieved a top ranking of 2nd place overall. They passed all of the technical inspections on the first try and placed 1st in Acceleration, 2nd in Skidpad and Endurance, 3rd in Autocross, and 4th in Efficiency.

michigan fsae

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.

Tips for Maintaining Tight Tolerances

In manufacturing large production runs, one of the biggest difficulties machinists experience is holding tooling to necessary tolerances in holes, walls, and threads. Typically, this is an iterative process that can be tedious and stressful, especially for inexperienced machinists. While each job presents a unique set of challenges, there are rules of thumb that can be followed to ensure that your part is living up to its accuracy demands.

What is a Tolerance?

A tolerance is an allowable amount of variation in a part or cutting tool that a dimension can fall within. When creating a part print, tolerances of tooling can’t be overlooked, as tooling tolerances can result in part variations. Part tolerances have to be the same, if not larger, than tool tolerances to ensure part accuracy.

Cutting tool tolerances are oftentimes applied to a tool’s most critical dimensions, such as Cutter Diameter, Length of Cut, Shank Diameter, and Overall Length. When selecting a cutting tool for a job, it’s critical to choose a brand that adheres to strict tolerance standards and reliable batch-to-batch consistency. Manufacturers like Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions prominently display tolerances for many critical tool dimensions and thoroughly inspect each tool to ensure that it meets the tolerances specified. Below is the table header for Harvey Tool’s line of Miniature End Mills – Square – Stub & Standard.

tolerances

Tolerances help to create repeatability and specificity, especially in an industry in which even a thousandth of an inch can make or break a final product. This is especially true for miniature tooling, where Harvey Tool is experienced in the designing and manufacturing of tooling as small as .001” in diameter.

How are Tolerances Used?

When viewing a tolerance, there’s an upper and lower dimension, meaning the range in which the dimension of the tool can stray – both above and below what its size is said to be. In the below example, a .030″ cutter diameter tool’s size range would be anywhere between .0295″ and .0305.”

tooling tolerance

Maintaining Tolerances in Holemaking Operations

Holes oftentimes mandate the tightest dimensional tolerances, as they generally are meant to align perfectly with a mating part. To maintain tolerances, start first by testing the runout of both your machine and your tool. This simple, yet often overlooked step can save machinists a great amount of time and frustration.

Spotting Drills

Spotting Drills allow for drills to have a very precise starting point, minimizing walking or straying from a desired path. This can be especially beneficial when machining irregular surfaces, where accessing a hole’s perfect location can be more difficult.

spotting drills

Reamers

Reaming is great for any very tight tolerance mandate, because many Miniature Reamers have much tighter tolerances than a drill. Harvey Tool’s Miniature Reamers, for example, have tolerances of +.0000″/-.0002. for uncoated options and +.0002″/-.0000″ for AlTiN coated tools. Reamers cut on their chamfered edge, removing a minimal amount of material within a hole with the ultimate goal of bringing it to size. Because the cutting edge of a reamer is so small, the tool has a larger core diameter and is thus a more rigid tool.

miniature reamers

Maintaining Tight Tolerances While Machining Walls

Be Wary of Deflection

Maintaining tolerances when machining walls is made difficult by deflection, or the curvature a tool experiences when a force is applied to it. Where an angle is appearing on a wall due to deflection, opt for a reached tool to allow for less deflection along the tool’s neck. Further, take more axial depths of cut and machine in steps with finishing passes to exert less pressure on the tool. For surface finish tolerances, a long fluted tool may be required to minimize evidence of a tool path left on a part. For more information on ways to minimize deflection, read Tool Deflection & Its Remedies.tool deflection

Corner Radius End Mills

Corner radius End Mills, because they do not feature a sharp edge, will wear slower than a square end mill would. By utilizing corner radius tooling, fracturing on the tool edge will be minimized, resulting in an even pressure distribution on each of the cutting edges. Because the sharper edge on a square tool is less durable and more prone to cracking because of the stress concentration on that point, a corner radius tool would be much more rigid and thus less susceptible to causing a tolerance variation. For this reason, it’s recommended to use a roughing tool with a corner radius profile and a finisher with a square profile for an edge tolerance. When designing a part and keeping manufacturing in mind, if there is a potential for a wall with a radius as opposed to a wall with a square edge, a wall with a radius allows for easier machineability and fewer tool changes.

Maintaining Tight Tolerances While Threading

Making threads to tolerance is all about chip evacuation. Evacuating chips is an issue commonly overlooked; If chips within a hole have not been removed before a threading operation, there could be interference in the tool tip that leads to vibration and chatter within a thread. This would decrease the continuity of the thread while also altering the points of contact. Discontinuity of a thread could be the difference between passing and failing a part, and because threading is typically the last application when machining to decrease damaging the threads, it also increases the likelihood of chips remaining within the hole from other applications.

Tolerances Summarized

If you continue to experience troubles maintaining tight tolerances despite this blog post, consult the Harvey Tool or Helical Solutions tech team, as the problem may exist outside of your machine. Temperature and humidity can vary how gummy a material is, and can lead to workpiece expansion and contraction. Additionally, the foundation of buildings can expand and contract due to outside temperature, which can result in upped runout and irregular vibration in a spindle.

Shining a Light on Diamond End Mills

Diamond tooling and diamond-coated end mills are a great option when machining highly abrasive materials, as the coating properties help to significantly increase tool life relative to uncoated carbide tools. Diamond tools and diamond-like coated tools are only recommended for non-ferrous applications, including highly abrasive materials ranging from graphite to green ceramics, as they have a tendency to break down in the presence of extreme heat.

Understanding the Properties of Diamond Coatings

To ensure proper diamond tooling selection, it’s critical to understand the unique properties and makeup of the coatings, as there are often several diamond coating variations to choose from. Harvey Tool, for example, stocks Amorphous Diamond, CVD Diamond, and PCD Diamond End Mills for customers looking to achieve significantly greater tool life when working in non-ferrous applications.

Diamond, the hardest known material on earth, obtains its strength from the structure of carbon molecules. Graphite, a relatively brittle material, can have the same chemical formula as diamond, but is a completely different material; while Graphite has a sp2 bonded hexagonal structure, diamond has a sp3 bonded cubic structure. The cubic structure is harder than the hexagonal structure as more single bonds can be formed to interweave the carbon into a stronger network of molecules.

diamond tool coatings

Amorphous Diamond Coating

Amorphous Diamond is transferred onto carbide tools through a process called physical vapor deposition (PVD). This process spreads a mono-layer of DLC coating about 0.5 – 2.5 microns thick onto any given tool by evaporating a source material and allowing it to condense onto that tool over the course of a few hours.

amorphous diamond coating

Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)

Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) is a coating process used to grow multiple layers of polycrystalline diamond onto carbide tooling. This procedure takes much longer than the standard PVD coating method. During the coating process, hydrogen molecules are dissociated from the carbon molecules deposited onto the tool, leaving a diamond matrix under the right temperature and pressure conditions. Under the wrong conditions, the tool may be simply coated in graphite. 6% cobalt carbide blanks allow for the best adhesion of diamond and a substrate. CVD diamond coated end mills have a typical thickness of coating that is between 8 and 10 microns thick.

CVD Diamond Coating

Polycrystalline Diamond (PCD)

Polycrystalline Diamond (PCD) is a synthetic diamond, meaning it is grown in a lab and contains mostly cubic structures. Diamond hardness ranges from about 80 GPa up to about 98 GPa. PCD end mills have the same diamond structure as CVD diamond tools but the binding technique is different. The diamond starts in a powdery form that is sintered onto a carbide plate using cobalt as a solvent metal substrate. This is done at an extreme temperature and pressure as the cobalt infiltrates the powder, causing the grains to grow together. This effectively creates a thick diamond wafer, between 010” and .030” in width, with a carbide base. This carbide base is then brazed onto the head an end mill and sharpened.

PCD Diamond CoatingHow Diamond Coatings Differ

Coating Hardness & Thickness

Polycrystalline tools (CVD or sintered) have a much higher hardness, thickness, and max working temperature than Amorphous Diamond oated tools. As mentioned previously, a PCD tool consists of a diamond wafer brazed to a carbide body while a CVD tool is a carbide end mill with a relatively thick layer of polycrystalline diamond grown into it. This grown layer causes the CVD tools to have a rounded cutting edge compared to PCD and Amorphous Diamond coated tools. PCD tools have the thickest diamond layer that is ground to a sharp edge for maximum performance and tool life. The difference between PCD tools and CVD coated tools lies in the thickness of this coat and the sharpness of the cutting edge. Amorphous Diamond tools maintain a sharper edge than CVD coated tools because of their thin coating.

Flute Styles

Harvey Tool’s line of PCD end mills are all straight fluted, CVD coated tools are all helically fluted, and Amorphous Diamond tools are offered in a variety of options. The contrast between straight fluted and helically fluted can be seen in the images below, PCD (top) and CVD (bottom). Electrical discharge machining, grinding or erosion are used cut the PCD wafer to the specifications. The size of this wafer limits the range of diameters that can be achieved during manufacturing. In most situations a helically fluted tool would be preferred over a straight fluted tool but with true diamond tooling that is not the case. The materials that PCD tools and CVD coated tools are typically used to cut produce a powdery chip that does not require the same evacuation that a metallic or plastic chip necessitates.

PCD Diamond end mill

PCD Ball End Mill

CVD Diamond end mill

CVD Ball End Mill

Proper Uses

CVD tools are ideally suited for abrasive material not requiring a sharp cutting edge – typically materials that produce a powdery chip such as composites and graphite. Amorphous Diamond tools have a broad range of non-ferrous applications spanning from carbon fiber to precious metals but ceramics are typically outside their range as they can be too abrasive and wear away the coating. PCD tools overlap their CVD and DLC coated counterparts as they can be used for any non-ferrous abrasive material.

Cut to the Point

Harvey Tool carries physical vapor deposition diamond-like carbon coated tools, chemical vapor deposition diamond tools and polycrystalline diamond tools. PCD tools are composed of the thickest diamond wafer brazed onto a carbide shank and are ground to a sharp edge. CVD coated tools have the diamond grown into a carbide end mill. Amorphous Diamond coated tools have the DLC coated onto them through the PVD process. For more information on the diamond coating best suited for your operation, contact a Harvey Tool Tech Team Member for immediate help.