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Machining Precious Metals

Precious metals can be particularly difficult to machine due to their wide range of material properties and high cost if a part has to be scrapped. The following article will introduce these elements and their alloys as well as provide a guide on how to machine them effectively and efficiently.

About the Elements

Sometimes called “noble” metals, precious metals consist of eight elements that lie in the middle of the periodic table (seen below in Figure 1). The eight metals are:

  1. Ruthenium (Ru)
  2. Rhodium (Rh)
  3. Palladium (Pd)
  4. Silver (Ag)
  5. Osmium (Os)
  6. Iridium (Ir)
  7. Platinum (Pt)
  8. Gold (Au)

These elements are some of the rarest materials on earth, and can therefore be enormously expensive. Gold and silver can be found in pure nugget form, making them more easily available. However, the other six elements are typically found mixed in the raw ore of the four metals they sit below on the periodic table: Iron (Fe), Cobalt (Co), Nickel (Ni), and Copper (Cu). These elements are a subset of precious metals and are generally called Platinum Group Metals (PGM). Because they are found together in raw ore, this makes mining and extraction difficult, dramatically increasing their cost. Because of their high price tag, machining these materials right the first time is incredibly important to a shop’s efficiency.

machining metals

Figure 1: Periodic table with the 8 precious metals boxed in blue. Image source: clearscience.tumblr.com

Basic Properties and Compositions of Precious Metals

Precious metals have notable material properties as they are characteristically soft, ductile, and oxidation resistant. They are called “noble” metals because of their resistance to most types of chemical and environmental attack. Table 1 lists a few telling material properties of precious metals in their elemental form. For comparison purposes, they are side-by-side with 6061 Al and 4140 Steel. Generally, only gold and silver are used in their purest form as the platinum group metals are alloys that consist mainly of platinum (with a smaller composition of Ru, Rh, Pa, Os, Ir). Precious metals are notable for being extremely dense and having a high melting point, which make them suitable for a variety of applications.

Table 1: Cold-worked Material Properties of Precious Metals, 4140 Steel and 6061 Aluminum 

precious metals

Common Machining Applications of Precious Metals

Silver and gold have particularly favorable thermal conductivity and electrical resistivity. These values are listed in Table 2, along with CC1000 (annealed copper) and annealed 6061 aluminum, for comparison purposes. Copper is generally used in electrical wiring because of its relatively low electrical resistivity, even though silver would make a better substitute. The obvious reason this isn’t the general convention is the cost of silver vs. copper. That being said, copper is generally plated with gold at electrical contact areas because it tends to oxide after extended use, which lowers its resistivity. As stated before, gold and the other precious metals are known to be resistant to oxidation. This corrosion resistance is the main reason that they are used in cathodic protection systems of the electronics industry.

Table 2: Thermal Conductivity and Electrical Resistivity of Ag, Au, Cu, and Al 

machining metals

Platinum and its respective alloys offer the most amount of applications as it can achieve a number of different mechanical properties while still maintaining the benefits of a precious metal (high melting point, ductility, and oxidation resistance). Table 3 lists platinum and a number of other PGMs each with their own mechanical properties. The variance of these properties depends on the alloying element(s) being added to the platinum, the percentage of alloying metal, and whether or not the material has been cold-worked or annealed. Alloying can significantly increase the tensile strength and hardness of a material while decreasing its ductility at the same time. The ratio of this tensile strength/hardness increase to ductility decrease depends on the metal added as well as how much is added, as seen in Table 3. Generally this depends on the particle size of the element added as well as its natural crystalline structure. Ruthenium and Osmium have a specific crystal structure that has a significant hardening effect when added to platinum. Pt-Os alloys in particular are extremely hard and practically unworkable, which doesn’t yield many real-world applications. However, the addition of the other 4 PGMs to platinum allow for a range of mechanical properties with various usages.

Table 3: PGM material properties (Note: the hardness and tensile strength are cold worked values) 

machining metals

Platinum and its alloys are biocompatible, giving them the ability to be placed in the human body for long periods of time without causing adverse reactions or poisoning. Therefore, medical devices including heart muscle screw fixations, stents, and marker bands for angioplasty devices are made from platinum and its alloys. Gold and palladium are also commonly used in dental applications.

Pt-Ir alloys are noticeably harder and stronger than any of the other alloys and make excellent heads for spark plugs in the automobile industry. Rhodium is sometimes added to Pt-Ir alloys to make the material less springy (as they are used as medical spring wire) while also increasing its workability. Pt and Pt-Rh wire pairs are extremely effective at measuring temperatures and are therefore used in thermocouples.

Machining Precious Metals

The two parameters that have the most effect when machining are hardness and percent elongation. Hardness is well-known by machinists and engineers across the manufacturing industry as it indicates a material’s resistance to deformation or cutting. Percent elongation is a measurement used to quantify material ductility. It indicates to a designer the degree to which a structure will deform plastically (permanently) before fracture. For example, a ductile plastic such as ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) has a percent elongation of 350-525%, while a more brittle material such as oil-quenched and tempered cast iron (grade 120-90-02) has a percent elongation of about 2%. Therefore, the greater the percent elongation, the greater the material’s “gumminess.” Gummy materials are prone to built-up edge and have a tendency to produce long stringy chips.

Tools for Precious Metals

Material ductility makes a sharp cutting tool essential for cutting precious metals. Variable Helix for Aluminum Alloy tools can be used for the softer materials such as pure gold, silver, and platinum.

machining metals

Figure 2: Variable Helix Square End Mill for Aluminum Alloys

Higher hardness materials still require a sharp cutting edge. Therefore, one’s best option is to invest in a PCD Diamond tool. The PCD wafer has the ability to cut extremely hard materials while maintaining a sharp cutting edge for a relatively long period of time, compared to standard HSS and carbide cutting edges.

machining metals

Figure 3: PCD Diamond Square End Mill

Speeds and Feeds charts:

machining metals

Figure 4: Speeds and Feeds for precious metals when using a Square Non-ferrous, 3x LOC

 

machining metals

Figure 5: Speeds and Feeds for precious metals when using a 2-Flute Square PCD end mill

 

Get to Know Machining Advisor Pro

Machining Advisor Pro (MAP) is a tool to quickly, seamlessly, and accurately deliver recommended running parameters to machinists using Helical Solutions end mills. This download-free and mobile-friendly application takes into account a user’s machine, tool path, set-up, and material to offer tailored, specific speeds and feed parameters to the tools they are using.

How to Begin with Machining Advisor Pro

This section will provide a detailed breakdown of Machining Advisor Pro, moving along step-by- step throughout the entire process of determining your tailored running parameters.

Register Quickly on Desktop or Mobile

To begin with Machining Advisor Pro, start by accessing its web page on the Harvey Performance Company website, or use the mobile version by downloading the application from the App Store or Google Play.

Whether you are using Machining Advisor Pro from the web or from your mobile device, machinists must first create an account. The registration process will only need to be done once before you will be able to log into Machining Advisor Pro on both the mobile and web applications immediately.

machining advisor pro

Simply Activate Your Account

The final step in the registration process is to activate your account. To do this, simply click the activation link in the email that was sent to the email address used when registering. If you do not see the email in your inbox, we recommend checking your spam folders or company email filters. From here, you’re able to begin using MAP.

Using MAP

A user’s experience will be different depending on whether they’re using the web or mobile application. For instance, after logging in, users on the web application will view a single page that contains the Tool, Material, Operation, Machine, Parameter, and Recommendation sections.

machining advisor pro

 

On the mobile application, however, the “Input Specs” section is immediately visible. This is a summary of the Tool, Material, Operation, and Machine sections that allows a user to review and access any section. Return to this screen at any point by clicking on the gear icon in the bottom left of the screen.

machining advisor pro

Identify Your Helical Tool

To get started generating your running parameters, specify the Helical Solutions tool that you are using. This can be done by entering the tool number into the “Tool #” input field (highlighted in red below). As you type the tool number, MAP will filter through Helical’s 3,400-plus tools to begin identifying the specific tool you are looking for.

machining advisor pro

Once the tool is selected, the “Tool Details” section will populate the information that is specific to the chosen tool. This information will include the type of tool chosen, its unit of measure, profile, and other key dimensional attributes.

machining advisor pro

Select the Material You’re Working In

Once your tool information is imported, the material you’re working in will need to be specified. To access this screen on the mobile application, either swipe your screen to the left or click on the “Material” tab seen at the bottom of the screen. You will move from screen to screen across each step in the mobile application by using the same method.

In this section, there are more than 300 specific material grades and conditions available to users. The first dropdown menu will allow you to specify the material you are working in. Then, you can choose the subgroup of that material that is most applicable to your application. In some cases, you will also need to choose a material condition. For example, you can select from “T4” or “T6” condition for 6061 Aluminum.

machining advisor pro

Machining Advisor Pro provides optimized feeds and speeds that are specific to your application, so it is important that the condition of your material is selected.

Pick an Operation

The next section of MAP allows the user to define their specific operation. In this section, you will define the tool path strategy that will be used in this application. This can be done by either selecting the tool path from the dropdown menu, or clicking on “Tool Path Info” for a visual breakdown and more information on each available toolpath.

machining advisor pro

Tailor Parameters to Your Machine’s Capabilities

The final section on mobile, and the fourth web section, is the machine section. This is where a user can define the attributes of the machine that you are using. This will include the Max RPM, Max IPM, Spindle, Holder, and work holding security. Running Parameters will adjust based on your responses.

machining advisor pro

Access Machining Advisor Pro Parameters

Once the Tool, Material, Operation, and Machine sections are populated there will be enough information to generate the initial parameters, speed, and feed. To access these on the mobile app, either swipe left when on the machine tab or tap on the “Output” tab on the bottom menu.

machining advisor pro

Please note that these are only initial values. Machining Advisor Pro gives you the ability to alter the stick out, axial depth of cut, and radial depth of cut to match the specific application. These changes can either be made by entering the exact numeric value, the % of cutter diameter, or by altering the slider bars.machining advisor pro

The parameters section also offers a visual representation of the portion of the tool that will be engaged with the materials as well as the Tool Engagement Angle.

MAP’s Recommendations

At this point, you can now review the recommended feeds and speeds that Machining Advisor Pro suggests based on the information you have input. These optimized running parameters can then be further refined by altering the speed and feed dials.

machining advisor pro

Machining Advisor Pro recommendations can be saved by clicking on the PDF button that is found in the recommendation section on both the web and mobile platforms. This will automatically generate a PDF of the recommendations, allowing you to print, email, or share with others.

Machining Advisor Pro Summarized

The final section, exclusive to the mobile application, is the “Summary” section. To access this section, first tap on the checkmark icon in the bottom menu. This will open a section that is similar to the “Input Specs” section, which will give you a summary of the total parameter outputs. If anything needs to change, you can easily jump to each output item by tapping on the section you need to adjust.

machining advisor pro

This is also where you would go to reset the application to clear all of the inputs and start a new setup. On the web version, this button is found in the upper right hand corner and looks like a “refresh” icon on a web browser.

Contact Us

For the mobile application we have implemented an in-app messaging service. This was done to give the user a tool to easily communicate any question they have about the application from within the app. It allows the user to not only send messages, but to also include screen shots of what they are seeing! This can be accessed by clicking on the “Contact Us” option in the same hamburger menu that the Logout and Help & Tips are found.

Have more questions? Check out our MAP FAQs for more information.

4 Essential Corner Rounding End Mill Decisions

A Corner Rounding End Mill is typically used to add a specific radius to a workpiece, or in a finishing operation to remove a sharp edge or burr. Prior to selecting your Corner Rounding End Mill, mull the following considerations over. Choosing the right tool will result in a strong tool with a long usable life, and the desired dimensional qualities on your part. Choosing wrong could result in part inaccuracies and a subpar experience.

Selecting the Right Pilot Diameter

The pilot diameter (D1 in the image above) determines the tool’s limitations. When pilot diameters are larger, the tool is able to be run at lower speeds. But with smaller pilot diameters, the tool can be run faster because of its larger effective cutter radius. The effective cutter diameter is determined by the following equations depending on the radius to pilot ratio:

For a Radius/Pilot Ratio < 2.5, Effective Cutter Diameter = Pilot Diameter + Radius
For a Radius/Pilot Ratio ≥ 2.5, Effective Cutter Diameter = Pilot Diameter + .7x Radius

Larger pilot diameters also have more strength than smaller pilot diameters due to the added material behind the radius. A smaller pilot may be necessary for clearance when working in narrow slots or holes. Smaller pilots also allow for tighter turns when machining an inside corner.

Flared or Unflared

Putting a full radius on a part has the potential to leave a step or an over-cut on a workpiece. This can happen if the tool isn’t completely dialed in or if there is minor runout or vibration. A slight 5° flare on the pilot and shoulder blends the radius smoothly on the workpiece and avoids leaving an over-cut.

A flared Corner Rounding End Mill leaves an incomplete radius but allows for more forgiveness. Additionally, this tool leaves a clean surface finish and does not require a second finishing operation to clean leftover marks. An unflared corner radius leaves a complete radius on the workpiece, but requires more set-up time to make sure there is no step.

Front or Back

Choosing between a Corner Rounding End Mill and a Back Corner Rounding End Mill boils down to the location on the part you’re machining. A Back Corner Rounding End Mill should be utilized to put a radius on an area of the part facing the opposite direction as the spindle. While the material could be rotated, and a front Corner Rounding End Mill used, this adds to unnecessary time spent and increased cycle times. When using a Back Corner Rounding End Mill, ensure that you have proper clearance for the head diameter, and that the right reach length is used. If there is not enough clearance, the workpiece will need to be adjusted.

Flute Count

Corner Rounding End Mills are often offered in 2, 3, and 4 flute styles.  2 flute Corner Rounding End Mills are normally used for aluminum and non-ferrous materials, although 3 flutes is quickly becoming a more popular choice for these materials, as they are softer than steels so a larger chip can be taken without an impact on tool life. 4 flutes should be chosen when machining steels to extend tool life by spreading out the wear over multiple teeth. 4 flute Corner Rounding End Mills can also be run at higher feeds compared to 2 or 3 flute tools.

Corner Rounding End Mill Selection Summarized

The best corner rounding end mill varies from job-to-job. Generally speaking, opting for a tool with the largest pilot diameter possible is your best bet, as it has the most strength and requires less power due to its larger effective cutter diameter. A flared Corner Rounding End Mill is preferred for blending purposes if the workpiece is allowed to have an incomplete radius as this allows more forgiveness and can save on set up time. If not, however, an unflared Corner Rounding End Mill should be utilized. As is often the case, choosing between number of flutes boils down to user preference, largely. Softer materials usually require fewer flutes. As material gets harder, the number of flutes on your tool should increase.

Ideal Tooling for Machining Composites

Composite Materials

A material is classified as a composite if it is made up of at least two unique constituents that when combined yield beneficial physical and mechanical properties for a number of different applications. A binding agent that is the matrix material is filled with either particles or fibers of a second material that act as reinforcements. The combination of strength, weight, and rigidity make composites extremely useful for the automotive, aerospace, and power generation industry. Often the matrix material of particulate-reinforced composites is some form of plastic, and the reinforcement material is either glass or carbon particles. These are sometimes called “filled plastics,” and are typically very abrasive materials. Many composites are layered with varying fiber orientations, which increase the strength of the material and are called fiber-reinforced composites.

Common Problems When Machining Composites

  1. Delamination of composite layers
  2. Uncut Fibers
  3. Fiber tear-out
  4. Uneven tool wear
  5. Poor surface finish due to “competing” materials

These problems are all caused by unique conditions created by composite materials, and can be very tricky to correct.  The simple fact of cutting a combination of multiple materials at the same time introduces many factors that make it difficult to strike the right balance of the proper tool for the job and appropriate running parameters.  The following tool styles provide solutions for a wide array of composite concerns.  Composite Drilling Applications can face the same issues, and proper drill choice can help as well.

Straight Flute End Mill

Straight Flute Composite Cutters are designed to prevent delamination of layered materials by applying all cutting forces radially, eliminating axial forces from a typical helical cutting edge. Cutting action is improved with a high positive rake angle for shearing fibers and eccentric relief for improved edge life. Shallow ramping operations can be performed with this tool, but the largest benefits are seen in peripheral milling applications.

straight flute end mill

Compression Cutters

The Compression Cutter consists of an up cut and down cut helix. The top portion of the length of cut has right-hand cutting teeth with a left-hand spiral. The lower portion of the length of cut has right-hand cutting teeth with a right-hand spiral. This creates opposing cutting forces to stabilize the material removal process when cutting layered composites to prevent delamination, fiber pullout, and burs along the surface. Compression of the top and bottom of the workpiece keeps the layered bonded together.

compression cutter end mill

Chipbreaker Cutter

The Chipbreaker Cutter is ideally suited for roughing and profiling composites with a high percentage of fiber fill. The notch-like chipbreakers shear fibers and shorten chips for improved material evacuation. This specialized geometry is great for keeping chips small and avoiding “nesting” of stringy fibrous chips around the cutter.

chipbreaker for composite materials

Diamond Cut End Mill

Diamond Cut Composite Cutters come in two different geometries: End Mill Style and Drill Mill Style. Although the end mill style tool is center cutting, the drill mill style has a 140° point angle, making it more suitable for plunge cutting. This is great for clearing out pockets in the middle of composite sheets.

diamond cut end mill for composites

End Mills for Composites – Diamond Cut – End Mill Style

 

diamond cut drill mill for composites

End Mills for Composites – Diamond Cut – Drill Mill Style

Both the end mill and drill mill style share the same downcut geometry on the outside diameter. This diamond cut tool receives its name from the combination of left-hand and right-hand teeth. The tool is predominantly a downcut style – a geometry that allows for these tools to effectively rough and profile high fiber reinforced or filled composites, breaking up chips and shearing through fibers.

Diamond Cut vs. Chipbreaker Style

The diamond cut tools have a higher flute count, which some may intuitively think would lead to a better finish, but this is not the case as this line of tools contains right-hand and left-hand teeth. There is a trade-off between an increased ability to shear fibers and leaving a poorer finish. The chipbreaker style tool, although not as effective as shearing fibers, is ultimately designed for the same purpose but leaves a better finish as all of the flutes are facing the same direction.

Composite Finisher

The Composite Finisher has optimized geometry for finishing in composite. A slow helix and high flute count for more contact points ultimately renders a smooth finish by minimizing fraying of fiber-reinforced and layered materials.

finishing end mill for composites

Coating or No Coating?

Composite materials, especially those with glass or carbon fiber, can be particularly abrasive and have a tendency to wear down the cutting edge of carbide tools. If one is looking to achieve the best tool life and maintain a sharp cutting edge, then choosing an Amorphous Diamond coated tool is the best option. This thin coating improves lubricity and wear resistance over its uncoated counterpart. Using a tool with CVD diamond coating can be very beneficial in extreme cases, when fiber fill percentage is very large. This is a true diamond coating, and offers the best abrasion resistance, but a slightly less sharp cutting edge as it is a thicker coating. PCD diamond tooling offers the best tool life. If it a solid diamond wafer brazed to a carbide shank, and can maintain the sharpest edge of any diamond tooling. However, PCD is limited to straight flutes, and can come at a higher price.

Composite materials are being increasingly utilized in today’s manufacturing world for their impressive strength to weight ratio. This growth has stimulated innovative techniques of cutting composites seen in the tool choices above. Harvey Tool’s variety of geometries helps any machine shop tackle composite cutting applications and will continue to offer groundbreaking solutions to these types of manufacturing problems.

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.

Tool Deflection & Its Remedies

Every machinist must be aware of tool deflection, as too much deflection can lead to catastrophic failure in the tool or workpiece. Deflection is the displacement of an object under a load causing curvature and/or fracture.

For Example: When looking at a diving board at rest without the pressure of a person’s weight upon it, the board is straight. But as the diver progresses down further to the end of the board, it bends further. Deflection in tooling can be thought of in a similar way.

Deflection Can Result In:

  • Shortened tool life and/or tool breakage
  • Subpar surface finish
  • Part dimensional inaccuracies

Tool Deflection Remedies

Minimize Overhang

Overhang refers to the distance a tool is sticking out of the tool holder. Simply, as overhang increases, the tool’s likelihood of deflection increases. The larger distance a tool hangs out of the holder, the less shank there is to grip, and depending on the shank length, this could lead to harmonics in the tool that can cause fracture. Simply put, For optimal working conditions, minimize overhang by chucking the tool as much as possible.

extended reach tool

Image Source: @NuevaPrecision

Long Flute vs. Long Reach

Another way to minimize deflection is having a full grasp on the differences between a long flute and a long reach tool. The reason for such a difference in rigidity between the two is the core diameter of the tool. The more material, the more rigid the tool; the shorter the length of flute, the more rigid the tool and the longer the tool life. While each tooling option has its benefits and necessary uses, using the right option for an operation is important.

The below charts illustrate the relationship between force on the tip and length of flute showing how much the tool will deflect if only the tip is engaged while cutting. One of the key ways to get the longest life out of your tool is by increasing rigidity by selecting the smallest reach and length of cut on the largest diameter tool.

tool deflection

 

tool deflection

 

When to Opt for a Long Reach Tool

Reached tools are typically used to remove material where there is a gap that the shank would not fit in, but a noncutting extension of the cutter diameter would. This length of reach behind the cutting edge is also slightly reduced from the cutter diameter to prevent heeling (rubbing of noncutting surface against the part). Reached tools are one of the best tools to add to a tool crib because of their versatility and tool life.

 

When to Opt for a Long Flute Tool

Long Flute tools have longer lengths of cut and are typically used for either maintaining a seamless wall on the side of a part, or within a slot for finishing applications. The core diameter is the same size throughout the cutting length, leading to more potential for deflection within a part. This possibly can lead to a tapered edge if too little of the cutting edge is engaged with a high feed rate. When cutting in deep slots, these tools are very effective. When using HEM, they are also very beneficial due to their chip evacuation capabilities that reached tools do not have.

 

Deflection & Tool Core Strength

Diameter is an important factor when calculating deflection. Machinists oftentimes use the cutter diameter in the calculation of long flute tools, when in actuality the core diameter (shown below) is the necessary dimension. This is because the fluted portion of a tool has an absence of material in the flute valleys. For a reached tool, the core diameter would be used in the calculation until its reached portion, at which point it transitions to the neck diameter. When changing these values, it can lower deflection to a point where it is not noticeable for the reached tool but could affect critical dimensions in a long flute tool.

Deflection Summarized

Tool deflection can cause damage to your tool and scrap your part if not properly accounted for prior to beginning a job. Be sure to minimize the distance from the tool holder to the tip of the tool to keep deflection to a minimum. For more information on ways to reduce tool deflection in your machining, view Diving into Depth of Cut.

Attacking Aluminum: A Machining Guide

Aluminum is one of the most commonly machined materials, as most forms of the material feature excellent machinability, and is thus a commonly used material in manufacturing. Because of this, the competition for aluminum machining can be intense. Understanding the basics behind tool selection, running parameters, and advanced milling techniques for aluminum can help machinists earn a competitive advantage.

Material Properties

Aluminum is a highly formable, workable, lightweight material. Parts made from this material can be found in nearly every industry. Additionally, Aluminum has become a popular choice for prototypes due to its low-cost and flexibility.

Aluminum is available in two basic forms: Cast and Wrought. Wrought Aluminum is typically stronger, more expensive, and contains a lower percentage of outside elements in its alloys. Wrought Aluminum is also more heat-resistant than Cast and has a higher level of machinability.

Cast Aluminum has less tensile strength but with a higher flexibility. It costs less, and has higher percentages of outside elements (silicon, magnesium, etc.) in its alloys, making it more abrasive than Wrought.

Tool Geometry

There are a few coating options available for Aluminum tooling, including the popular gold-colored ZrN (Zirconium Nitride) and the lesser known but highly effective TiB2 (Titanium Diboride). Uncoated tooling can also provide solid machining performance. However, the real key to high performance machining in Aluminum is knowing the proper flute count and helix angle required for your operation.

Flute Count

End mills for aluminum are often available in either 2 flute or 3 flute styles. With higher flute counts, it would become difficult to evacuate chips effectively at the high speeds at which you can run in aluminum. This is because aluminum alloys leave a large chip, and chip valleys become smaller with each additional flute on an end mill.

flute count for aluminum

Traditionally, 2 flute end mills have been the preferred choice for Aluminum. However, 3 flute end mills have proven to be more successful in many finishing operations, and with the right parameters they can also work successfully as roughers. While much of the debate between 2 and 3 flute end mills for Aluminum boils down to personal preference, the operation, rigidity, and desired material removal rates can also have an effect on tool selection.

Helix Angles

The helix angle of a tool is measured by the angle formed between the centerline of the tool and a straight line tangent along the cutting edge. Cutting tools for aluminum typically feature higher helix angles than standard end mills. Specialized helix angles for Aluminum are typically either 35°, 40°, or 45°. Variable helix tools are also available and make a great choice for reducing chatter and harmonics while also increasing material removal rates.

Aluminum Machining

A helix angle of 35° or 40° is a good choice for traditional roughing and slotting applications. A 45° helix angle is the preferred choice for finishing, but also for High Efficiency Milling toolpaths as the high helix angle wraps around the tool faster and makes for a more aggressive cut.

Tooling Options

When machining aluminum, standard 2 or 3 flute tools will often get the job done. However, for certain applications and machine setups there are some more tooling options to consider for even better performance.

Chipbreaker Tooling

One of the most important things to consider when machining aluminum (and many other materials) is effective chip evacuation. Standard 2-3 flute end mills running at recommended speeds and feeds and proper chip loads can evacuate chips fairly well. However, 3 flute chipbreaker tooling can run at increased speed and feed rates for even better performance. The unique offset chip breaker geometry creates smaller chips for optimal evacuation while still leaving a semi-finished surface.

Chipbreaker Aluminum

These tools are excellent for more advanced toolpaths like High Efficiency Milling, which is another important tool for a successful aluminum machining experience.

High Balance End Mills

High balance end mills are designed to significantly increase performance in highly balanced machining centers capable of elevated RPMs and feed rates. These tools are precision balanced specifically for high velocity machining in aluminum (up to 33,000 RPM).

High Balance Tools for Aluminum

Helical Solutions offers high balance tooling in standard 2 flute styles, as well as coolant-through 3 flute styles for reduced heat, enhanced chip evacuation, and increased material removal rates. These tools, like the chipbreakers, are also an excellent choice for High Efficiency Milling toolpaths.

Running Parameters

Setting the right parameters for aluminum applications is vital to optimizing productivity and achieving better machining results. Since aluminum is an easier material to machine, pushing your machine to its limits and getting the most out of your tool is vital to stay ahead of the competition and keep winning business.

While there are many factors that go into the parameters for every job, there are some general guidelines to follow when machining aluminum. For cast aluminum alloys (i.e. 308, 356, 380), a surface footage of 500-1000 SFM is recommended, with RPMs varying based on cutter diameter. The basic calculation to find a starting point for RPMs would be (3.82 x SFM) / Diameter.

In wrought aluminum alloys (i.e. 2024, 6061, 7075), a surface footage of 800-1500 SFM is recommended, with the same calculation being used to find a starting point for RPMs.

High Efficiency Milling

High Efficiency Milling, commonly known as HEM, is a strategy that is rapidly gaining popularity in the manufacturing industry. Many CAM programs are now including HEM toolpaths, and while virtually any machine can perform HEM, the CNC controller must feature a fast processor to keep up with the additional lines of code. A great example of High Efficiency Milling toolpaths in Aluminum can be seen below.

At its core, HEM is a roughing technique that utilizes a low Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC) and a high Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC) to take full advantage of the cutting edge of the tool. To learn more about how High Efficiency Milling can increase your efficiency, extend your tool life to keep costs down, and get greater performance for aluminum (and other materials), click here to download the HEM Guidebook.

In Summary

Aluminum is a versatile material with a high level of machinability, but it should not be overlooked. Understanding the best ways to tackle it is important for achieving the desired results. Optimizing your tool crib, machine setups, and toolpaths for aluminum is essential to stay ahead of the competition and make your shop more efficient.

Selecting the Right Harvey Tool Miniature Drill

Among Harvey Tool’s expansive holemaking solutions product offering are several different types of miniature tooling options and their complements. Options range from Miniature Spotting Drills to Miniature High Performance Drills – Deep Hole – Coolant Through. But which tools are appropriate for the hole you aim to leave in your part? Which tool might your current carousel be missing, leaving efficiency and performance behind? Understanding how to properly fill your tool repertoire for your desired holemaking result is the first step toward achieving success.

Pre-Drilling Considerations

Miniature Spotting Drills

Depending on the depth of your desired machined hole and its tolerance mandates, as well as the surface of the machine you will be drilling, opting first for a Miniature Spotting Drill might be beneficial. This tool pinpoints the exact location of a hole to prevent common deep-hole drilling mishaps such as walking, or straying from a desired path. It can also help to promote accuracy in instances where there is an uneven part surface for first contact. Some machinists even use Spotting Drills to leave a chamfer on the top of a pre-drilled hole. For extremely irregular surfaces, however, such as the side of a cylinder or an inclined plane, a Flat Bottom Drill or Flat Bottom Counterbore may be needed to lessen these irregularities prior to the drilling process.

spotting drill

Tech Tip: When spotting a hole, the spot angle should be equal to or wider than the angle of your chosen miniature drill. Simply, the miniature drill tip should contact the part before its flute face does.

spotting drill correct angle

Selecting the Right Miniature Drill

Harvey Tool stocks several different types of miniature drills, but which option is right for you, and how does each drill differ in geometry?

Miniature Drills

Harvey Tool Miniature Drills are popular for machinists seeking flexibility and versatility with their holemaking operation. Because this line of tooling is offered uncoated in sizes as small as .002” in diameter, machinists no longer need to compromise on precision to reach very micro sizes. Also, this line of tooling is designed for use in several different materials where specificity is not required.

miniature drill

Miniature High Performance Drills – Deep Hole – Coolant Through

For situations in which chip evacuation may be difficult due to the drill depth, Harvey Tool’s Deep Hole – Coolant Through Miniature Drills might be your best option. The coolant delivery from the drill tip will help to flush chips from within a hole, and prevent heeling on the hole’s sides, even at depths up to 20 multiples of the drill diameter.

miniature drill coolant through

Miniature High Performance Drills – Flat Bottom

Choose Miniature High Performance Flat Bottom Drills when drilling on inclined and rounded surfaces, or when aiming to leave a flat bottom on your hole. Also, when drilling intersecting holes, half holes, shoulders, or thin plates, its flat bottom tool geometry helps to promote accuracy and a clean finish.

flat bottom drill

Miniature High Performance Drills – Aluminum Alloys

The line of High Performance Drills for Aluminum Alloys feature TiB2 coating, which has an extremely low affinity to Aluminum and thus will fend off built-up edge. Its special 3 flute design allows for maximum chip flow, hole accuracy, finish, and elevated speeds and feeds parameters in this easy-to-machine material.

drill for aluminum

 

Miniature High Performance Drills – Hardened Steels

Miniature High Performance Drills – Hardened Steels features a specialized flute shape for improved chip evacuation and maximum rigidity. Additionally, each drill is coated in AlTiN Nano coating for hardness, and heat resistance in materials 48 Rc to 68 Rc.

drill for hardened steel

Miniature High Performance Drills – Prehardened Steels

As temperatures rise during machining, the AlTiN coating featured on Harvey Tool’s Miniature High Performance Drills – Prehardened Steels creates an aluminum oxide layer which helps to reduce thermal conductivity of the tool and helps to promote heat transfer to the chip, as well as improve lubricity and heat resistance in ferrous materials.

drill for prehardened steel

Post-Drilling Considerations

Miniature Reamers

For many operations, drilling the actual hole is only the beginning of the job. Some parts may require an ultra-tight tolerance, for which a Miniature Reamer (tolerances of +.0000″/-.0002″ for uncoated and +.0002″/-.0000″ for AlTiN Coated) can be used to bring a hole to size. miniature reamer

Tech Tip: In order to maintain appropriate stock removal amounts based on the reamer size, a hole should be pre-drilled at a diameter that is 90-94 percent of the finished reamed hole diameter.

Flat Bottom Counterbores

Other operations may require a hole with a flat bottom to allow for a superior connection with another part. Flat Bottom Counterbores leave a flat profile and straighten misaligned holes. For more information on why to use a Flat Bottom Counterbore, read 10 Reasons to Use Flat Bottom Tools.

flat bottom counterbores

Key Next Steps

Now that you’re familiar with miniature drills and complementary holemaking tooling, you must now learn key ways to go about the job. Understanding the importance of pecking cycles, and using the correct approach, is vital for both the life of your tool and the end result on your part. Read this post’s complement “Choosing the Right Pecking Cycle Approach,” for more information on the approach that’s best for your application.