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What You Need to Know About Coolant for CNC Machining

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

Coolant or Lubricant Purpose

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

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

Types of Coolant Delivery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

Optimize Roughing With Chipbreaker Tooling

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

How Chipbreaker Tooling Works

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

Benefits of Chipbreaker Tooling

Machining Efficiency

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

Prolonged Tool Life

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

Accelerated Running Parameters

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

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

Chipbreaker Product Offering

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

In Summary

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

Why Flute Count Matters

One of the most important considerations when choosing an end mill is determining which flute count is best for the job at hand. Both material and application play an important role in this critical part of the tool selection process. Understanding the effects of flute count on other tool properties, and how a tool will behave in different situations is an essential consideration in the tool selection process.

Tool Geometry Basics

Generally, tools with more flutes have a larger core and smaller flute valleys than tools with fewer flutes.  More flutes with a larger core can provide both benefits and restrictions depending on the application.  Simply put, a larger core is directly proportional to tool strength; the larger the core, the stronger a tool will be.  In turn, a larger core also reduces the flute depth of a tool, restricting the amount of space for chips to exist.  This can cause issues with chip packing in applications requiring heavy material removal.  However, these considerations only lead us part way when making a decision on which tool to use, and when.

flute count core

Material Considerations

Traditionally, end mills came in either a 2 flute or 4 flute option.  The widely accepted rule of thumb was to use 2 flutes for machining aluminum and non-ferrous materials, and 4 flutes for machining steel and harder alloys.  As aluminum and non-ferrous alloys are typically much softer than steels, a tool’s strength is less of a concern, a tool can be fed faster, and larger material removal rates (MRR) is facilitated by the large flute valleys of 2 flute tools.  Ferrous materials are typically much harder, and require the strength of a larger core.  Feed rates are slower, resulting in smaller chips, and allowing for the smaller flute valleys of a larger core tool.  This also allows for more flutes to fit on the tool, which in turn increases productivity.

flute count

Recently, with more advanced machines and toolpaths, higher flute count tools have become the norm in manufacturing.  Non-ferrous tooling has become largely centered on 3 flute tools, allowing greater productivity while still allowing proper chip evacuation.  Ferrous tooling has taken a step further and progressed not only to 5 and 6 flutes, but up to 7 flutes and more in some cases.  With a wider range of hardness, sometimes at the very top of the Rockwell hardness scale, many more flutes have allowed longer tool life, less tool wear, stronger tools, and less deflection.  All of this results in more specialized tools for more specific materials.  The end result is higher MRR and increased productivity.

Running Parameters

Just as material considerations will have an impact on the tool you choose, operation type and depth of cut requirements may also have a big impact on the ideal number of flutes for your application.  In roughing applications, lower flute counts may be desirable to evacuate large amounts of chips faster with larger flute valleys.  That said, there is a balance to find, as modern toolpaths such as High Efficiency Milling (HEM) can achieve extreme MRR with a very small step over, and a higher number of flutes.  In a more traditional sense, higher flute counts are great for finishing operations where very small amounts of material are being removed, and greater finish can be achieved with more flutes, not worrying as much about chip evacuation.

flute count

Flute count plays a big role in speeds and feeds calculation as well.  One common rule of thumb is “more flutes, more feed,” but this can be a very detrimental misconception.  Although true in some cases, this is not an infinitely scalable principle.  As stated previously, increasing the number of flutes on a tool limits the size that the flute valleys can be.  While adding a 5th flute to a 4 flute tool theoretically gives you 25% more material removal per revolution with an appropriately increased feed rate, feeding the tool that much faster may overload the tool.  The 25% increase in material removal is more likely closer to 10-15%, given the tool is exactly the same in all other specifications.  Higher flute count tools may require speeds and feeds to be backed off so much in some cases, that a lower flute count may be even more efficient.  Finding the right balance is key in modern milling practices.