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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.

Choosing The Right Pecking Cycle Approach

Utilizing a proper pecking cycle strategy when drilling is important to both the life of your tool and its performance in your part. Recommended pecking cycles vary depending on the drill being used, the material you’re machining, and your desired final product.

What are Pecking Cycles?

Rather than drill to full drill depth in one single plunge, pecking cycles involve several passes – a little at a time. Pecking aids the chip evacuation process, helps support tool accuracy while minimizing walking, prevents chip packing and breakage, and results in a better all around final part.

Recommended Pecking Cycles / Steps

Miniature Drills

miniature drill pecking cycles

High Performance Drills – Flat Bottom

pecking cycles

High Performance Drills – Aluminum & Aluminum Alloys

aluminum pecking cycles

Note: For hole depths 12x or greater, a pilot hole of up to 1.5X Diameter is recommended.

High Performance Drills – Hardened Steels

hardened steels pecking cycles
High Performance Drills – Prehardened Steels

prehardened steels pecking cycles

Key Pecking Cycle Takeaways

From the above tables, it’s easy to identify how recommended pecking cycles change based on the properties of the material being machined. Unsurprisingly, the harder the material is, the shorter the recommended pecking depths are. As always, miniature drills with a diameter of less than .010″ are extremely fragile and require special precautions to avoid immediate failure. For help with your specific job, contact the Harvey Tool Technical Team at 800-645-5609 or [email protected]

Contouring Considerations

What is Contouring?

Contouring a part means creating a fine finish on an irregular or uneven surface. Dissimilar to finishing a flat or even part, contouring involves the finishing of a rounded, curved, or otherwise uniquely shaped part.

Contouring & 5-Axis Machining

5-axis machines are particularly suitable for contouring applications. Because contouring involves the finishing of an intricate or unique part, the multiple axes of movement in play with 5-axis Machining allow for the tool to access tough-to-reach areas, as well as follow intricate tool paths.

 Recent Contouring Advances

Advanced CAM software can now write the G-Code (the step-by-step program needed to create a finished part) for a machinists application, which has drastically simplified contouring applications. Simply, rather than spend several hours writing the code for an application, the software now handles this step. Despite these advances, most young machinists are still required to write their own G-Codes early on in their careers to gain valuable familiarity with the machines and their abilities. CAM software, for many, is a luxury earned with time.

Benefits of Advanced CAM Software

1. Increased Time Savings
Because contouring requires very specific tooling movements and rapidly changing cutting parameters, ridding machinists of the burden of writing their own complex code can save valuable prep time and reduce machining downtime.

2. Reduced Cycle Times
Generated G-Codes can cut several minutes off of a cycle time by removing redundancies within the application. Rather than contouring an area of the part that does not require it, or has been machined already, the CAM Software locates the very specific areas that require machining time and attention to maximize efficiency.

3. Improved Consistency
CAM Programs that are packaged with CAD Software such as SolidWorks are typically the best in terms of consistency and ability to handle complex designs. While the CAD Software helps a machinist generate the part, the CAM Program tells a machine how to make it.

Contouring Tips

Utilize Proper Cut Depths

Prior to running a contouring operation, an initial roughing cut is taken to remove material in steps on the Z-axis so to leave a limited amount of material for the final contouring pass. In this step, it’s pivotal to leave the right amount of material for contouring — too much material for the contouring pass can result in poor surface finish or a damaged part or tool, while too little material can lead to prolonged cycle time, decreased productivity and a sub par end result.

The contouring application should remove from .010″ to 25% of the tool’s cutter diameter. During contouring, it’s possible for the feeds to decrease while speeds increases, leading to a much smoother finish. It is also important to keep in mind that throughout the finishing cut, the amount of engagement between the tool’s cutting edge and the part will vary regularly – even within a single pass.

Use Best Suited Tooling

Ideal tool selection for contouring operations begins by choosing the proper profile of the tool. A large radius or ball profile is very often used for this operation because it does not leave as much evidence of a tool path. Rather, they effectively smooth the material along the face of the part. Undercutting End Mills, also known as lollipop cutters, have spherical ball profiles that make them excellent choices for contouring applications. Harvey Tool’s 300° Reduced Shank Undercutting End Mill, for example, features a high flute count to benefit part finish for light cut depths, while maintaining the ability to reach tough areas of the front or back side of a part.

Fact-Check G-Code

While advanced CAM Software will create the G-Code for an application, saving a machinist valuable time and money, accuracy of this code is still vitally important to the overall outcome of the final product. Machinists must look for issues such as wrong tool call out, rapids that come too close to the material, or even offsets that need correcting. Failure to look G-Code over prior to beginning machining can result in catastrophic machine failure and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

Inserting an M01 – or a notation to the machine in the G-Code to stop and await machinist approval before moving on to the next step – can help a machinist to ensure that everything is approved with a next phase of an operation, or if any redundancy is set to occur, prior to continuation.

Contouring Summarized

Contouring is most often used in 5-axis machines as a finishing operation for uniquely shaped or intricate parts. After an initial roughing pass, the contouring operation – done most often with Undercutting End Mills or Ball End Mills, removes anywhere from .010″ to 25% of the cutter diameter in material from the part to ensure proper part specifications are met and a fine finish is achieved. During contouring, cut only at recommended depths, ensure that G-Code is correct, and use tooling best suited for this operation.

The Advances of Multiaxis Machining

CNC Machine Growth

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

Multiaxis Machining

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

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

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

9-Axis Machine Centers

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

Set One

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

Set Two

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

Set Three

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

A Growing Industry

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

8 Ways You’re Killing Your End Mill

1. Running It Too Fast or Too Slow

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

2. Feeding It Too Little or Too Much

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

3. Using Traditional Roughing

high efficiency milling

While traditional roughing is occasionally necessary or optimal, it is generally inferior to High Efficiency Milling (HEM). HEM is a roughing technique that uses a lower Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC) and a higher Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC). This spreads wear evenly across the cutting edge, dissipates heat, and reduces the chance of tool failure. Besides dramatically increasing tool life, HEM can also produce a better finish and higher metal removal rate, making it an all-around efficiency boost for your shop.

4. Using Improper Tool Holding

tool holding

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

5. Not Using Variable Helix/Pitch Geometry

variable helix

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

6. Choosing the Wrong Coating

end mill coatings

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

7. Using a Long Length of Cut

optimal length of cut

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

8. Choosing the Wrong Flute Count

flute count

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

Optimizing Material Removal Rates

 What is the Material Removal Rate?

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

Calculating MRR

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

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

Optimizing Efficiency

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

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

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

High Efficiency Milling

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

High Efficiency Milling

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

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

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

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

The Anatomy of an End Mill

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

Flutes

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

end mill flutes

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

Profile

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

Square Profile

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

Corner Radius

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

Ball Profile

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

Cutter Diameter

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

cutter diameter

Shank Diameter

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

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

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

Overall Reach/Length Below Shank (LBS)

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

end mill neck

Helix Angle

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

helix angle

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

Pitch

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

variable pitch