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5 Ways Your Shop is Inefficient

5 Ways Your Shop is Inefficient

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

1. Premature Tool Decay / Tool Failure

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

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

tool wear

An example of a tool with excessive wear

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

2. Subpar Part Finish

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

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

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

3. Inefficient Coolant Usage

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

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

4. Not Taking Advantage of Tool Versatility

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

chamfer mills

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

5. High Machine Downtime

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

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.

How To Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear

The following is just one of several blog posts relevant to High Efficiency Milling. To achieve a full understanding of this popular machining method, view any of the additional HEM posts below!

Introduction to High Efficiency Milling I High Speed Machining vs. HEM I How to Combat Chip Thinning I Diving into Depth of Cut I Intro to Trochoidal Milling


Defining Tool Wear

Tool wear is the breakdown and gradual failure of a cutting tool due to regular operation. Every tool will experience tool wear at some point in its life. Excessive wear will show inconsistencies and have unwanted effects on your workpiece, so it is important to avoid tool wear in order to achieve optimal end mill performance. Tool wear can also lead to failure, which in turn can lead to serious damage, rework, and scrapped parts.

tool wear

An example of a tool with no wear

tool wear

An example of a tool with excessive wear

To prolong tool life, identifying and mitigating the various signs of tool wear is key. Both thermal and mechanical stresses cause tool wear, with heat and abrasion being the major culprits. Learning how to identify the most common types of tool wear and what causes them can help machinists remedy issues quickly and extend tool longevity.


Abrasive Wear

The wear land is a pattern of uniform abrasion on the cutting edge of the tool, caused by mechanical abrasion from the workpiece. This dulls the cutting edge of a tool, and can even alter dimensions such as the tool diameter. At higher speeds, excessive heat becomes more of an issue, causing more damage to the cutting edge, especially when an appropriate tool coating is not used.

tool wear

If the wear land becomes excessive or causes premature tool failure, reducing the cutting speed and optimizing coolant usage can help. High Efficiency Milling (HEM) toolpaths can help reduce wear by spreading the work done by the tool over its entire length of cut. This prevents localized wear and will prolong tool life by using the entire cutting edge available.


Chipping

Chipping can be easily identified by a nicked or flaked edge on the cutting tool, or by examining the surface finish of a part. A poor surface finish can often indicate that a tool has experienced some sort of chipping, which can lead to eventual catastrophic tool failure if it is not caught.

tool wear

Chipping is typically caused by excessive loads and shock-loading during operation, but it can also be caused by thermal cracking, another type of tool wear which is explored in further detail below. To counter chipping, ensure the milling operation is completely free of vibration and chatter. Taking a look at the speeds and feeds can also help. Interrupted cuts and repeated part entry can also have a negative impact on a tool. Reducing feed rates for these situations can mitigate the risk of chipping.


Thermal Cracking

Thermal cracking is often identified by cracks in the tool perpendicular to the cutting edge. Cracks form slowly, but they can lead to both chipping and premature tool failure.

tool wear

Thermal cracking, as its name suggests, is caused by extreme temperature fluctuations during milling. Adding a proper coating to an end mill is beneficial in providing heat resistance and reduced abrasion on a tool. HEM toolpaths provide excellent protection against thermal cracking, as these toolpaths spread the heat across the cutting edge of the tool, reducing the overall temperature and preventing serious fluctuations in heat.


Fracture

Fracture is the complete loss of tool usage due to sudden breakage, often as a result of improper speeds and feeds, an incorrect coating, or an inappropriate depth of cut. Tool holder issues or loose work holding can also cause a fracture, as can inconsistencies in workpiece material properties.

tool wear

Photo courtesy of @cubanana___ on Instagram

Adjusting the speeds, feeds, and depth of cut and checking the setup for rigidity will help to reduce fracturing. Optimizing coolant usage can also be helpful to avoid hot spots in materials which can dull a cutting edge and cause a fracture. HEM toolpaths prevent fracture by offering a more consistent load on a tool. Shock loading is reduced, causing less stress on a tool, which lessens the likelihood of breakage and increases tool life.


It is important to monitor tools and keep them in good, working condition to avoid downtime and save money. Wear is caused by both thermal and mechanical forces, which can be mitigated by running with appropriate running parameters and HEM toolpaths to spread wear over the entire length of cut. While every tool will eventually experience some sort of tool wear, the effects can be delayed by paying close attention to speeds and feeds and depth of cut. Preemptive action should be taken to correct issues before they cause complete tool failure.