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CNC Machining & 3D Printing: A Hybrid Approach to Precision Manufacturing

With recent advancements in 3D printing capabilities, it is becoming easier for manufacturers to use additive manufacturing to create parts from a wide variety of materials, including polymers like ABS, TPE, and PLA as well as carbon fiber composites, nylon, and polycarbonates. Even pricey metals like Titanium, Stainless Steel, and Inconel are becoming increasingly common in the world of additive manufacturing as well.

There is no doubt that the additive manufacturing space will continue to develop and grow in the coming years, but will it render subtractive manufacturing methods like CNC Machining obsolete? Absolutely not. In fact, precision CNC machining is likely more important to the additive manufacturing process than you may think, as a new process called “hybrid manufacturing” is quickly taking hold in the industry.

3d printing metal
3D printing of metal parts is becoming more common, but subtractive manufacturing is an important part of manufacturing precision additive parts.

Additive Manufacturing vs. Subtractive Manufacturing

Before implementing a hybrid manufacturing approach, it is important to understand the pros and cons of each method. Here is a quick breakdown of both additive and subtractive manufacturing, and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Additive ManufacturingSubtractive Manufacturing
Adds material layers to create partsRemoves material layers to create parts
Slower process, better for small production runsFaster process, better for large production runs
Better for smaller partsBetter for larger parts
Rough surface finish that requires significant post-operation finishingMore definied surface finish with minimal post-operation finishing required
Less precise part tolerancesAble to hold extremely precise part tolerances
Cheaper material costsMore expensive material costs
Less material wasteMore material waste
Intricate details easier to createIntricate details can require complex programs and additional capabilities (5 axis)

Using CNC Machining to Create Precise 3D Printed Parts

Looking at the chart above, you will notice that one of the key differences between additive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing is the surface finish and tolerances that can be achieved with each method. This is where a hybrid approach to additive manufacturing can be extremely beneficial.

As parts come off the printer, they can be quickly moved into a CNC machine with a program designed for part completion. The CNC machine will be able to get 3D printed parts down to the tight tolerances required by many industries and reach the desired surface finish. Advanced finishing tools and long reach, tapered tools from brands like Harvey Tool can easily machine the tight geometries of 3D printed parts, while extremely sharp diamond-coated tooling and material-specific tools designed for plastics and composites can work to create a beautiful, in-tolerance finished part regardless of the material.

long reach end mill
Long reach tools can easily machine hard to reach, intricate part details on 3D printed parts.

By designing a workflow like this in your shop, you can spend less time worrying about the precision of printed parts by adding in subtractive operations to keep material costs low, create less waste, and keep parts in tight tolerances for precision machining excellence.

Using 3D Printing to Increase CNC Machining Efficiency

If your shop is focused completely on subtractive manufacturing methods, you are probably thinking that there is no need for an additive option in your shop. Can’t a CNC machine create everything a 3D printer can, and in less time? Not necessarily. Again, by using the two methods together and taking a hybrid approach, you may be able to lower your manufacturing and material costs.

For example, you could machine the bulk of a part with typical subtractive machines, which would likely take a very long time using additive methods. Then you can go back to that part with a 3D printer to add intricate features to the part that may take complex programming and hours of planning on a subtractive machine. An impeller is a great example, where the bulk of that part can be machined, but the tricky fins and blades could be printed onto the part, and then finished back on the CNC machine.

3d printed metal parts
3D printed impeller waiting for finishing operations

The ability of additive machines to literally “add-on” to a part can also make for a cheaper approach to part design. Instead of using expensive materials like Inconel or Titanium to machine an entire part, portions of the part that do not require extreme heat resistance could be machined out of cheaper steel, while the heat resistant portions using expensive materials can be added later through additive methods.

Hybrid Manufacturing Machines

As hybrid manufacturing workflows become more popular, so do new hybrid manufacturing machines. These hybrid machines are all-in-one machines where both additive and subtractive manufacturing can be performed in a single setup. Many of these machines offer metal 3D printing as well as multi-axis machining capabilities, ready for even the most complex parts thrown their way. With a bit of customization, large-scale 3D printing machines or CNC mills can be retrofit to allow for hybrid manufacturing with add-ons from companies like Hybrid Manufacuring Technologies.

hybrid manufacturing machines
Example of a hybrid machine add-on from Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies, featuring 3D printing spindles and milling tools in the same machine carousel.

As manufacturing and design techniques get progressively “smarter” with CAM/CAD programs offering generative design and artificial intelligence, these hybrid machines could become a new standard in high-end machine shops working in advanced manufacturing industries like aerospace, medical, defense, and the mold, tool & die market.

Overall, in 2021 we are still early on in this new revolution of hybrid machining and advanced design methods, but it is important to understand the role that adding a CNC machine could have in your additive-focused shop, and vice versa. By combining additive and subtractive together, shops can mitigate the cons of each method and take full advantage of the benefits of having both options available on the shop floor.

Harvey Performance Company Partners With Bantam Tools on New Desktop CNC Milling Machine

Harvey Performance Company is proud to announce a new initiative in an existing partnership with Bantam Tools, a desktop CNC milling machine manufacturer based out of Peekskill, NY.

Bantam Tools has been well known for their excellent PCB milling machine they launched back in 2017, and now they are ready to take a step up with their new Desktop CNC Milling Machine. This new machine adds a beefier solid aluminum frame, a 28k RPM spindle, feed rates up to 250 in/min, a larger working area, repeatability down to .001″, automatic stock probing, and support for tooling up to 1/4″ in diameter. Even with all of those upgrades, the new machine still clocks in at under 80 pounds and can be easily integrated into a variety of workspaces. Best of all, the Desktop CNC Milling Machine is manufactured and assembled right in New York.

As part of the new initiative with Bantam Tools, Harvey Performance Company is excited to offer more high-performance tooling solutions from the Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions brands for Bantam Tools users. Bantam Tools currently offer a selection of miniature and specialty cutting tools from Harvey Tool in their online store, and with the launch of the new machine, that selection will expand to include more cutting tools from Harvey, as well as additional tools from Helical.

With each shipment of the new Bantam Tools Desktop CNC Machine, users will receive a high-performance end mill from Helical Solutions included as part of their purchase. This tool will ensure every user can have an excellent aluminum milling experience right out of the box.

helical end mill on bantam tools desktop cnc mill

Bantam Tools and the Harvey Performance Company team have also put together a “Harvey Tool & Helical Prototyping Bundle” which will be available as an additional purchase for machine users. This tool kit will provide users with a bundle of Harvey Tool and Helical end mills which are designed to optimize stock removal and offer a superior finish. This bundle is ideal for those looking to do some serious work in aluminum.

Harvey Performance Company is happy to support this new machine and continue to promote the world of CNC milling to makers of all sizes by supplying high-performance tooling which will get the job done right the first time.

To place an order for the new Bantam Tools Desktop CNC Milling Machine, click here.

To learn more about Harvey Performance Company and our cutting tool brands, click here.

Grappling With Graphite: A Machining Guide

Despite being a softer material, graphite is actually one of the most difficult materials to machine. There are many considerations machinists need to make in terms of tooling, coolant use, and personal safety when it comes to machining these parts. This “In The Loupe” post will examine the material properties, key machining techniques to consider, and tips for properly selecting cutting tools to achieve success in this tricky material.

What is Graphite?

While graphite is an allotrope of carbon, the two terms are not simply interchangeable. Carbon is an element that can form into several different allotropes including graphite, diamond, and fullerite. Graphite happens to be the most stable form of carbon, and is the most common, as carbon naturally occurs as graphite under standard conditions.

Graphite is most recognized for its superior conductivity and resistance to high heat and corrosion. This makes it a common material in high heat, high-pressure situations in the aerospace, electrode, nuclear, energy, and military industries.

graphite cnc material

Even though graphite can handle intense high-pressure situations with ease, it is actually a very soft, abrasive, and brittle material. This can cause serious challenges when machining, as graphite can eat up cutting tools, and severely minimize a tool’s usable life. However, with the proper tooling and techniques, there are ways to optimize graphite machining to be more cost-effective than the competition.

Graphite Machining Techniques

Since graphite is such a soft and brittle material, special consideration needs to be made when machining to avoid chipping it. To get a good cut, it is recommended that you take light chip loads and use lower feed rates in graphite. If you were to take a heavy cut at a fast feed rate, you would start chipping the graphite and could cause it to fracture completely. To give a comparison point, chip loads for graphite are similar to those for Aluminum materials, but with less than half the feed rate.

To give you an idea of speeds and feeds for graphite, here is an example using a 1/4″ Harvey Tool CVD Diamond Coated, 4 flute Square End Mill. If that tool was running at a standard RPM of 12,000 at 780 SFM, the recommended chip load would be .00292 for a feed rate of 140 IPM.

electrode machining

In terms of machine setup, the one major tip to remember is to always avoid using coolant. Graphite is a fairly porous material, and so it can absorb coolant and act as a “coolant sponge,” which will cause problems with finished parts. Inside the machine and on the tooling, the coolant can actually react with the graphite dust and create an abrasive slurry, which will cause problems while machining. A vacuum system is recommended for clearing material while machining graphite. Otherwise, coated tools should be able to run dry.

Another thing to note when machining graphite is that because graphite does not produce chips, but rather a cloud of very abrasive dust, it can be harmful to operators and machines without proper care. Operators should be wearing a protective mask to avoid inhaling the graphite dust. Proper ventilation and maintaining air quality in the shop is also key for the protection of machinists when working in graphite.

Since the graphite dust is also extremely conductive, it can easily damage non-protective circuits inside your CNC machine, which can cause major electrical issues. While coolant is not recommended, a vacuum system can help to remove the dust, keeping it from accumulating too much inside the machine and preventing serious problems.

Cutting Tools for Graphite Machining

As previously mentioned, graphite is a notorious cutting tool-killer due to its extremely abrasive nature. Even the highest quality carbide end mills, if left uncoated, will wear quickly on most jobs. This extreme wear may force a tool change during an operation, which could lead to an imperfection in the part when trying to restart the operation where the worn tool left off.

graphite cutting tools

When selecting a cutting tool for graphite machining, the coating and cutting edge is the most important consideration. Flute count, helix angles, and other key features of the tool geometry ultimately come second to the coating when purchasing tooling.

For graphite machining, a CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) diamond coating is recommended whenever possible to maximize tool life and tool performance. These coatings are grown directly into the carbide end mill, improving the hardness and leaving the tool with a coating layer that is 5 times thicker than a PVD Diamond Coating. While not the sharpest edge, the CVD diamond coating provides much longer tool life than other diamond coatings due to the thicker diamond layer.

Even though initial tooling costs may be higher with CVD coated tools versus uncoated tools, since CVD coated tools see considerably longer tool life than uncoated tools, this makes the cost per part shrink significantly. In difficult, abrasive materials like graphite, the uncoated carbide tool will last a short time before the abrasiveness of the graphite completely wears down the cutting edge. Having a CVD coated tool will give you a leg up over the competition, keep your machine running with less downtime for tool changes, and ultimately deliver substantial cost savings.

end mills for graphite
CVD Diamond Coated End Mill from Harvey Tool

Overall, graphite can be a difficult material to machine, but with the right cutting tools and proper speeds and feeds you will be making quality parts in no time. Harvey Tool offers a wide selection of CVD coated end mills in various diameters, reaches, and lengths of cut to ensure you have what you need for any job that comes your way.

Harvey Performance Company Joins High Speed Machining Roadshow

Updated March 30, 2020 – All In-Person Events Postponed, Join The Webinar on April 7th

Due to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and in an effort to maintain the safety and health of all employees and attendees, all in-person High Speed Machining events have been postponed until further notice. We hope to reschedule these events in the future.

In the meantime, we are offering the event in a virtual webinar setting on April 7th. Interested users can register here: https://micromachine.fusion360.events-autodesk.com/ 


Harvey Performance Company is excited to announce that we have partnered with Air Turbine Spindles, Autodesk, and 5th Axis Workholding on a series of nationwide events focused on high speed machining with miniature tooling from our Harvey Tool brand. This “High Speed Machining Roadshow” will be stopping at different machine tool suppliers across the US, ranging from Connecticut and Ohio to Arizona and California.

Each event will feature live high speed, micro machining demos at spindle speeds up to 65,000 RPM, and in-depth technical presentations to help unlock the mystery behind high speed machining. A free lunch will be provided for all in attendance, and there will be many opportunities to network with local CNC machinists, programmers, and engineers. Attendees will also have access to Application Engineers from all of the industry participants, including Harvey Performance Company, to help discuss difficult applications, troubleshoot current projects, and develop new, valuable relationships with local experts.

“We receive questions from our customers on a daily basis, and many are about micro machining with high RPMs,” said Jeff Rauseo, Manager of Digital Marketing, Harvey Performance Company. “We hope that by participating in these events, we can ease some of the fears that come with using miniature tooling and help enable successful micromachining projects in shops nationwide.”

A current list of dates and locations for these events can be seen here. More events and locations may be added at a later date, so stay tuned for updates from Air Turbine Spindles and Harvey Performance Company.

If you have any questions, please reach out to Tony Gunn at Air Turbine Spindles or visit their website for more information.


high speed machining

Benefits & Drawbacks of High and Low Helix Angles

While many factors impact the outcome of a machining operation, one often overlooked factor is the cutting tool’s 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, usually 40° or more, will wrap around the tool “faster,” while a “slower” helix angle is usually less than 40°.

When choosing a tool for a machining operation, machinists often consider the material, the tooling dimensions and the flute count. The helix angle must also be considered to contribute to efficient chip evacuation, better part finish, prolonged tool life, and reduced cycle times.

Helix Angles Rule of Thumb

One general rule of thumb is that as the helix angle increases, the length of engagement along the cutting edge will decrease. That said,
there are many benefits and drawbacks to slow and high helix angles that can impact any machining operation.

Slow Helix Tool <40°

Benefits

  • Enhanced Strength – A larger core creates a strong tool that can resist deflection, or the force that will bend a tool under pressure.
  • Reduced Lifting – A slow helix will decrease a part from lifting off of the worktable in settings that are less secure.
  • Larger Chip Evacuation – The slow helix allows the tool to create a large chip, great for hogging out material.

Drawbacks

  • Rough Finish – A slow helix end mill takes a large chip, but can sometimes struggle to evacuate the chip. This inefficiency can result in a sub-par part finish.
  • Slower Feed Rate – The increased radial force of a slow helix end mill requires running the end mill at a slower feed rate.

High Helix Tool >40°

Benefits

  • Lower Radial Force – The tool will run quieter and smoother due to better shearing action, and allow for less deflection and more stability in thin wall applications.
  • Efficient Chip Evacuation – As the helix angle increases, the length of cutting edge engagement will decrease, and the axial force will increase. This lifts chips out and away, resulting in efficient chip evacuation.
  • Improved Part Finish – With lower radial forces, high helix tools are able to cut through material much more easily with a better shearing action, leaving an improved surface finish.

Drawbacks

  • Weaker Cutting Teeth – With a higher helix, the teeth of a tool will be thinner, and therefore thinner.
  • Deflection Risk – The smaller teeth of the high helix tool will increase the risk of deflection, or the force that will bend a tool under pressure. This limits how fast you can push high helix tools.
  • Increased Risk of Tool Failure – If deflection isn’t properly managed, this can result in a poor finish quality and tool failure.

Helix Angle: An Important Decision

In summary, a machinist must consider many factors when choosing tools for each application. Among the material, the finish requirements, and acceptable run times, a machinist must also consider the helix angle of each tool being used. A slow helix end mill will allow for larger chip formation, increased tool strength and reduce lifting forces. However, it may not leave an excellent finish. A high helix end mill will allow for efficient chip evacuation and excellent part finish, but may be subject to increased deflection, which can lead to tool breakage if not properly managed.

Axis CNC Inc. – Featured Customer

Featured Image Courtesy of Axis CNC Inc

Axis CNC Inc was founded in 2012 in Ware, Massachusetts, when Dan and Glenn Larzus, a father and son duo, decided to venture into the manufacturing industry. Axis CNC Inc has provided customers with the highest quality manufacturing, machining, and programming services since they’ve opened. They specialize in manufacturing medical equipment and have a passion for making snowmobile parts.

We sat down with Axis CNC Inc to discuss how they got started and what they have learned over there years in the manufacturing world. Watch our video below to see our full interview.

How to Select a Spindle

When trying to develop efficient processes, many machinists and programmers turn to tool selection first. It is true that tooling can often make a big difference in machining time, and speeds and feeds, but did you know that your machine’s spindle can have an equally impactful effect? The legs of any CNC machine, spindles are comprised of a motor, a taper for holding tools, and a shaft that will hold all of the components together. Often powered by electricity, spindles rotate on an axis which receives its input from the machine’s CNC controller.

Why is Choosing the Right Spindle Important?

Choosing the right spindle to machine your workpiece with is of very high importance to a successful production run. As tooling options continue to grow, it is important to know what tooling your spindle can utilize. Large diameter tools such as large end mills or face mills typically require slower spindle speeds and take deeper cuts to remove vast amounts of material. These applications require supreme machine rigidity and require a spindle with high torque.

Contrastingly, smaller diameter tools will need a higher-speed spindle. Faster speeds and feeds deliver better surface finishes and are used in a variety of applications. A good rule of thumb is that an end mill that is a half inch or smaller will run well with lower torque.

Types of CNC Spindles

After finding out what you should look for in a spindle, it is time to learn about your different options. Spindles typically vary by the type, style of the taper, or its size. The taper is the conical portion of the tool holder that fits inside of the opening of the spindle. Every spindle is designed to mate with a certain taper style and size.

properly selecting a spindle

CAT and BT Holders

This is the most widely utilized holder for milling in the United States. Referred to as “V-flange holders,” both of these styles need a retention knob or pull stud to be secured within the machine spindle. The BT (metric style) is popular overseas.

HSK Holders

This type of holder is a German standard known as “hollow shank taper.” The tapered portion of the holder is much shorter than its counterparts. It also engages the spindle in a different way and does not require a pull stud or retention knob. The HSK holder is utilized to create repeatability and longer tool life – particularly in High Efficiency Milling (HEM) applications.

All of these holders have benefits and limitations including price, accuracy, and availability. The proper selection will depend largely on your application requirements.

Torque vs. Horsepower

Torque is defined as force perpendicular to the axis of rotation across a distance. It is important to have high torque capabilities when using an end mill larger than ½ inch, or when machining a difficult material such as Inconel. Torque will help put power behind the cutting action of the tool.

Horsepower refers to the amount of work being done. Horsepower is important for smaller diameter end mills and easy-to-machine materials like aluminum.

You can think of torque as a tractor: It can’t go very fast, but there is a lot of power behind it. Think of horsepower as a racecar: It can go very fast but cannot pull or push.

Torque-Horsepower Chart

Every machine and spindle should come with a torque horsepower chart. These charts will help you understand how to maximize your spindle for torque or horsepower, depending on what you need:

Haas spindle horsepower and torque chart
Image Source: HAAS Machine Manual

Proper Spindle Size

The size of the spindle and shank taper corresponds to the weight and length of the tools being used, as well as the material you are planning to machine. CAT40 is the most commonly used spindle in the United States. These spindles are great for utilizing tools that have a ½ inch diameter end mill or smaller in any material. If you are considering using a 1 inch end mill in a material like Inconel or Titanium, a CAT50 would be a more appropriate choice. The higher the taper angle is, the more torque the spindle is capable of.

While choosing the correct tool for your application is important, choosing a tool your spindle can utilize is paramount to machining success. Knowing the amount of torque required will help machinists save a lot of headaches.

The Geometries and Purposes of a Slitting Saw

When a machinist needs to cut material significantly deeper than wide, a Slitting Saw is an ideal choice to get the job done. These are unique due to their composition and rigidity, which allows it to hold up in a variety of both straightforward and tricky to machine materials.

What is a Slitting Saw?

A Slitting Saw is a flat (with or without a dish), circular-shaped tool that has a hole in the middle and teeth on the outer diameter. Used in conjunction with an arbor, this tool is intended for machining purposes that require a large amount of material to be removed within a small diameter, such as slotting or cutoff applications.

Other names include (but are not limited to) Slitting Cutters, Slotting Cutters, Jewelers Saws, and Slitting Knives. Both Jewelers Saws and Slitting Knives are particular types of saws. Jewelers Saws have a high tooth count enabling them to cut tiny, precise features, and Slitting Knives have no teeth at all. On Jewelers Saws, the tooth counts are generally much higher than other types of saws in order to make the cuts as accurate as possible.

Key Terminology

slitting saw terminology chart

Why Use a Slitting Saw?

These saws are designed for cutting into both ferrous and non-ferrous materials, and by utilizing their unique shape and geometries, they can cut thin slot type features on parts more efficiently than any other machining tool.

harvey tool slitting saw

Common Applications:

  1. Separating Two Pieces of Material
    1. If an application calls for cutting a piece of material, such as a rod, in half, then a slitting saw will work well to cut the pieces apart while increasing efficiency.
  2. Undercutting Applications
    1. Saws can perform undercutting applications if mounted correctly, which can eliminate the need to remount the workpiece completely.
  3. Slotting into Material
    1. Capable of creating thin slots with a significant depth of cut, Slitting Saws can be just the right tool for the job!

When Not to Use a Slitting Saw

While it may look similar to a stainless steel circular saw blade from a hardware store, this tool should never be used with construction tools such as a table or circular saw.  Brittle saw blades will shatter when used on manual machines, and can cause injury when not used on the proper set up.

In Conclusion

Slitting Saws can be beneficial to a wide variety of machining processes, and it is vital to understand their geometries and purpose before attempting to utilize them in the shop. They are a great tool to have in the shop and can assist with getting jobs done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

How to Advance Your Machining Career: 8 Tips From Machining Pros

Since we began shining a light on Harvey Performance Company brand customers via “In the Loupe’s,” Featured Customer posts, more than 20 machinists have been asked to share insight relevant to how they’ve achieved success. Each Featured Customer post includes interesting and useful information on a variety of machining-related subjects, including prototyping ideas, expanding a business, getting into machining, advantages and disadvantages of utilizing different milling machine types, and more. This post compiles 8 useful tips from our Featured Customers on ways to advance your machining career.

Tip 1: Be Persistent – Getting Your Foot in the Door is Half the Battle

With machining technology advancing at the amazing rate that it is, there is no better time to become a machinist. It is a trade that is constantly improving, and offers so many opportunities for young people. Eddie Casanueva of Nueva Precision first got into machining when he was in college, taking a job at an on-campus research center for manufacturing systems to support himself.

“The research center had all the workings of a machine shop,” Eddie said. “There were CNC mills, lathes, injection molding machines, and more. It just looked awesome. I managed to get hired for a job at minimum wage sweeping the shop floor and helping out where I could.

As a curious student, I would ask a million questions… John – an expert machinist – took me under his wing and taught me lots of stuff about machining. I started buying tools and building out my toolbox with him for a while, absorbing everything that I could.”

One of the best things about becoming a machinist is that there is a fairly low entry barrier. Many machinists start working right out of high school, with 12-18 months of on-the-job training or a one to two year apprenticeship. Nearly 70% of the machinist workforce is over the age of 45. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting a 10% increase in the machinist workforce with opportunities for 29,000 additional skilled machinists by 2024, so it is certainly a great time to get your foot in the door.

Tip 2: Keep an Open Mind – If You Can Think of It, You Can Machine It

Being open-minded is crucial to becoming the best machinist you can be. By keeping an open mind, Oklahoma City-based company Okluma’s owner Jeff Sapp has quickly earned a reputation for his product as one of the best built and most reliable flashlights on the market today. Jeff’s idea for Okluma came to him while riding his motorcycle across the country.

“I had purchased what I thought was a nice flashlight for $50 to carry with me on the trip. However, two days in to the trip the flashlight broke. Of course, it was dark and I was in the middle of nowhere trying to work on my bike. I’m happy to pay for good tools, but that wasn’t what happened. Not only was there no warranty for replacement, there was no way to fix it. It was just made to be thrown away. That whole attitude makes me angry. When I got home, I decided I was going to put my new skills to work and design and build my own flashlight, with the goal of never running into an issue like I had on my trip ever again. I started by making one for myself, then four, then twenty. That was four years ago. Now I have my own business with one employee and two dogs, and we stay very busy.”

An awesome side benefit to working as a machinist is that you have all the resources to create anything you can dream of, like Jeff did with Okluma.

machining career

Image courtesy of Okluma.

Tip 3: Be Patient – Take Time to Ensure Your Job is Setup Correctly before Beginning

The setup process is a huge part of machining, but is often overlooked. Alex Madsen, co- owner of M5 Micro in Minnesota, has been working in manufacturing for more than 11 years. Alex is also a part owner of World Fabrication, and owns his own job shop called Madsen Machine and Design. Alex has spent countless hours perfecting his setup to improve his part times.

“It is certainly challenging to use little tools, but the key is to not get discouraged. You should plan on lots of trial and error; breaking tools is just a part of the game. You may buy ten end mills and break six, but once you dial one in it will last the rest of the job.

You should also make sure to put extra time and effort into understanding your machine when working on micromachining jobs. You need to know where there is any backlash or issues with the machine because with a tiny tool, even an extra .0003” cut can mean the end of your tool. When a difference of one tenth can make or break your job, you need to take your time and be extra careful with your machine, tool inspection, and programming before you hit run.”

Tip 4: Effort Pays Off – Long Hours Result in Shop Growth

Success isn’t earned overnight. That is especially true in the machining world. Becoming a good machinist takes a great deal of sacrifice, says Josh from Fleet Machine Co. in Gloucester, MA.

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

Working hard is a common theme we hear from our featured customers. Brothers Geordan and Nace Roberts of Master Machine Manufacturing have similar advice.

“We often need to work odd hours of the day to maintain the business, but we do it in a way that makes sure we have our family time. There are many times where we will go home, have dinner and hang out with the family, and wait until they are all sleeping to go back to work until two or three a.m. We will get back home later that morning to sleep a little and have breakfast with the family and send them on their way before heading back into the shop.” Starting and growing a business takes time. Every machinist starts from the beginning and through hard work and determination, grows their business.

Liberty Machine cnc mill

Image courtesy of Liberty Machine Inc.

Tip 5: Utilize Tooling from Quality Manufacturers – All Tooling Isn’t Created Equal

When it comes down to it, tooling is singlehandedly the biggest choice you will make as a machinist. Grant Hughson, manufacturing engineer at Weiss Watch Company who works as a manufacturing instructor in his spare time, reflected on the importance of tooling.

“Tool to tool accuracy and performance is vital in this business, especially with our extremely tight tolerances. High quality tools make sure that we get the same performance time after time without needing to scrap parts. This saves us valuable time and money.”

While opting for cheaper tooling can appear to be beneficial when just starting out, before long, machinists are losing time and money because of unpredictability. Jonathan from TL Technologies echoed this point, saying:

“We feel that if we invested so much in these high-end machining centers, it would be criminal to put insufficient tooling and holders into them. We found that by selecting the proper tool with the appropriate sciences behind it we have been able to create products with a cost per cut that is not only competitive, but required to stay current. By keeping the quality as high as possible on the part making side of things, we’ve insured as much ease and reliability into our downstream process as we could. Quality tooling also provides predictability and added safety into the workflow. High-quality carbide tooling is the lifeblood of the business.”

Additional Thoughts Regarding Boosting Your Machining Career With Tooling:

Don’t Cheap Out

  • “The additional cost is always worth the payoff in the end knowing that you have a tool that will produce quality parts and shave valuable minutes off your cycle times. The slightly higher cost of the Harvey/Helical product is small change compared to the long term cost savings associated with their performance” – Seth, Liberty Machine

Consistency is Key

  • “We know the performance we are going to get from the tools is consistent, and we can always rely on getting immaculate finishes. While using the Harvey Tool and Helical product, we can confidently walk away from the machine and come back to a quality finished part every time.” – Bennett, RIT Baja SAE

Superior Specialty Tools

  • “One of the greatest things that I’ve experienced over the past year and a half is flexibility. We’ve asked for some specific tools to be made typically, the lead times that we found were beyond what we needed. We went through the Helical specials division and had them built within a couple of weeks. That was a game changer for us.” – Tom, John Force Racing

“Having high quality tooling like Helical is essential. Helical tools help us maintain a much higher machining efficiency because of the outstanding tool life, while also achieving more aggressive run times. In addition, we are able to consistently keep high tolerances, resulting in a better final product.” – Cameron, Koenig Knives

Tip 6: Get With the Times – Join the Social Media Community

Social media is a valuable tool for machinists. With ever-increasing popularity in networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, there will always be an audience to showcase new and unique products to. We asked a few of our featured customers how they incorporated social media into their machining and the benefits that come along with it.

“A lot of our sales come through Instagram or Facebook, so I would recommend those platforms to anyone who is trying to start a business,” Jeff from Okluma said. “We have also had a lot of success collaborating with others in the community. Typically it is something we couldn’t do ourselves, or they couldn’t do themselves, so we share the labor and collaborate on some really cool items.”

Tip 7: Value Your Customers – Always Put Them First

“In the Loupe’s” featured customers repeatedly emphasized the importance of putting customers first. It’s a simple concept to master, and pays off immensely. Repeat customers tell you that you are doing something right, said Brian Ross, owner of Form Factory.

“We have kept our customers happy and consistently deliver parts on time, so we get a lot of repeat business. Word definitely gets around on how you treat people so we try to treat everyone with respect and honesty which is key to running a good business.” Jeff from Okluma takes great pride in his customer service, saying “we only sell direct to consumers through our website so we can control our lifetime warranty. It has worked really well for us so far, so we have no plans to change that right now. I care more about our customers than any retailer is able to.”

man examining machined part for machining career

Image courtesy of MedTorque.

Tip 8: Never Stop Learning – Ask Questions Whenever You Can

Hopefully some of these tips from our featured customers stuck with you. To leave you with a quote from of Seth Madore, owner of Liberty Machine, “Don’t stop learning. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut,” “That old guy in the shop has likely forgotten more than you will ever learn. The amount of tools in your Kennedy box doesn’t mean you’re a good machinist. Some of the best toolmakers I knew had small boxes with only the common tools. Learn how to excel with limited resources. Ask questions, and own up to your mistakes.”

Okluma – Featured Customer

Featured Image Courtesy of Okluma

Okluma is a small manufacturing business located in Oklahoma City focused primarily on creating high-quality flashlights that can stand up to the most extreme conditions. The company was founded in early 2015 out of owner Jeff Sapp’s garage, and has quickly gained a solid reputation as one of the best-built and most reliable flashlights on the market today.

We were able to steal a few moments of Jeff’s time to interview him for this Featured Customer post, where he shared his thoughts on topics like the importance of customer service, the reason to use higher quality tooling, and his transition into the world of CNC machining.

To get started, how did you first get involved in manufacturing?

In high school I actually worked in a machine shop. This is where I got my first exposure to big machines and manufacturing. I worked at the shop until I graduated, doing simple things like sweeping the floor and running errands. The work wasn’t very exciting, but it did give me some really good exposure to the world of machining. Every now and then one of the machinists would let me help out with a part, but that would be rare. I did manage to save up enough money to buy a small mill and lathe, which I took with me when I went off to college.

During college and after graduation, I made a living by writing software, which I did successfully for 15 years. Eventually I got tired of writing software after I had spent more than a decade in that space, and I wanted to try something new. I had picked up small jobs and worked on personal projects over the years, so I decided to enroll in a machine shop school in Oklahoma City to learn more about manufacturing and becoming a machinist, and graduated from there with a renewed sense of what I wanted to do. Technical schools are a great way to pick up new skills and advance your career. The manufacturing technology program at the Francis Tuttle Technology Center here in Oklahoma City was great and the instructors there, Dean and Julia, are talented and very patient people.

okluma

Photo Courtesy of: Okluma

Did your background in writing software help you transition into CNC programming?

Absolutely. It was a tremendous help to understand some very strange programming concepts that came with writing software, and it all translated very well into CNC programming. These days, CNC machinists and programmers need to be as knowledgeable about the software and programs as they do the tools and parts, so having a background in software programming or development certainly translates well to the world of CNC machines.

Where did the idea to start Okluma stem from?

After graduation from the machine shop program, I took a few weeks off and went on a long, off-road motorcycle trip across the country. I had purchased what I thought was a nice flashlight for $50 to carry with me on the trip. However, two days in to the trip the flashlight broke. Of course, it was dark and I was in the middle of nowhere trying to work on my bike. I’m happy to pay for good tools, but that wasn’t what happened. Not only there was no warranty for replacement, there was no way to fix it. It was just made to be thrown away. That whole attitude makes me angry.

When I got home, I decided I was going to put my new skills to work and design and build my own flashlight, with the goal of never running into an issue like I had on my trip ever again. I started by making one for myself, then 4, then 20. That was 4 years ago. Now I have my own business with one employee and two dogs, and we stay very busy.

okluma

Photo Courtesy of: Okluma

What does your current product offering look like?

For our products, I currently have two flashlights models (the DC1 and DC2) and we are working on some cool new projects for 2019. With battery and LED technology advancing like it has, there are some interesting applications, way beyond just flashlights, that haven’t been possible until recently. Stay tuned for more information on those by following us on Instagram.

okluma DC1

The Titanium version of the Okluma DC1 flashlight. Photo Courtesy of: Okluma

What do you think separates an Okluma flashlight from the competition?

The basic values behind Okluma all stem from me simply wanting a nice tool that won’t break easily and will be supported by the manufacturer. I offer a lifetime warranty and stand firmly behind that. I want an Okluma flashlight to last forever so you will never have to buy another flashlight.

The quality and hardiness of a flashlight is important to many outdoors types, homeowners, and collectors, but we also sell lots of our flashlights to the military and police. If their light goes out in a tough situation it could be really bad, so we have to make sure our flashlights can be dependable above all else. Like they always say, you get what you pay for. Our flashlights aren’t going to be the cheapest, but we stand behind them with our warranty and pride ourselves on the quality and reliability.

okluma facility

Photo Courtesy of: Okluma

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

Right now I have the old standards like a Bridgeport mill and an old LeBlond lathe, as well as my CNC machines – a Daewoo Lynx 220LC CNC Lathe and a Doosan DNM 4500 CNC Mill.

For software, I use Autodesk Fusion 360 for the mill, and I write the G-code by hand for the lathe. I was more familiar with the lathe, so I had an easier time writing my own code for it. Getting Fusion 360 for my milling has been a huge help.

okluma cnc mill

Photo Courtesy of: Okluma

Have you been using the Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions tool libraries in Fusion 360?

Yes! The tool library in Fusion 360 was a huge help for me. To be able to get the right tool and not model things incorrectly probably saved me a lot of broken tools. That was a big reason why I came to Harvey Tool and Helical for support in the first place.

It was cool to come from the software community, where we collaborated on a lot of open-source projects, and see companies like Autodesk opening up their software to manufacturers like Harvey Tool and Helical for these great partnerships.

What sort of operations/parts do you create on the lathe versus the mills?

As you can imagine (being a cylindrical shaped part) most of the flashlight manufacturing is done on the lathe. For a while I had been making them all by hand, until we got the CNC lathe. While most of the work is done on the lathe, for the more intense pieces we have to drill and tap and do some different slotting operations. We also drill and tap the clip holes for all of the flashlights, so the CNC mill is huge for those operations.

As Okluma started to grow, we realized that we had a huge bottleneck doing our secondary operations by hand on the manual milling machine. We solved that problem by buying the Doosan mill to help with secondary operations, but you still have to know how to use it to make it worth the purchase!

I was completely in the dark on the CNC milling side of things at that time, as I was much more familiar with the lathe. I actually called Harvey Tool with a few questions, and the Harvey Tech team really held my hand and walked me through all of the things I needed to know, which was huge. I also used the Machining Advisor Pro application to generate speeds and feeds for my Helical end mills. MAP helped save me a lot of broken end mills and increased my production times.

okluma

Photo Courtesy of: Okluma

You are using almost exclusively Harvey Tool and Helical for milling operations on your Doosan VMC. Why is purchasing quality tooling important to you?

I can try to do things on my own and eventually get it, but it costs me money on broken tools and it costs me my time, which is even more valuable. I could go that route with any number of different tooling manufacturers, but the fact that I can call Harvey or Helical and get an answer to my questions the first time, usually in a few minutes, and know it will work is hugely helpful. I don’t really look at the cost of the tools so much, because I just know they work and I know I will get the support I need to make my milling operations a success.

Can you remember a crucial moment when Harvey Tool or Helical technical support helped you to be more productive?

As we try to get more creative with our designs, we plan to rely heavily on Harvey and Helical to explore some of these new applications. We actually build our own tool to work on the flashlights, and we are using Harvey and Helical exclusively to machine that. At first, I was making the tools in two operations; I was doing a radius on top and then flipping the part over to create a radius on the bottom. I was having a hard time lining it up. We moved the second radius on the first operation, and used an undercutting tool and everything matched up perfect. I wasn’t really sure how to do it, but I called you guys and you figured it out with me! We have some cool projects coming up which we are planning to rely on Helical tools for, but people will have to stay tuned for that one!

okluma

Photo Courtesy of: Okluma

What have been some of your keys to success for your growing sales?

Good customer service is key. We are one of the few companies that will offer a lifetime warranty. I know there are a lot of flashlight collectors, and we can make fun stuff for those guys, but I want people to really use our flashlights and scratch them and do ridiculous things with them. We have had people use a flashlights in crazy ways (like as a hammer) but we will still fix them under our lifetime warranty. I don’t really care what people do to our flashlights, I just want them to always work.

We can also overnight replacement flashlights for professionals who rely on them for work, so they never have to be without one. That is huge for our customers in the military or in law enforcement who rely on our flashlights as an essential tool in their day-to-day lives.

Do you have plans to expand into retailers, either online or brick and mortar stores?

We only sell direct to consumers right now through our website so that we can control our lifetime warranty. It has worked really well for us so far, so we have no plans to change that right now. I care more about our customers than any retailer is able to.

I’ve noticed that you have gathered a rather large social media following. How has social media helped shape your business?

A lot of our sales come through Instagram or Facebook, so I would recommend those platforms to anyone who is trying to start a business. We have also had a lot of success collaborating with others in the EDC (Every Day Carry) community where makers are creating knives, wallets, keychains; anything you would carry on you “every day”, hence the name. We have collaborated to make flashlights out of other people’s materials, let other shops refinish our flashlights, and things of that nature. Typically it is something we couldn’t do ourselves, or they couldn’t do themselves, so we share the labor and collaborate on some really cool items.

I think social media is especially great for manufacturing because a lot of younger people don’t even know all this crazy cool stuff that is going on in the industry. I was lucky enough to see it first hand at a young age, but so many others never get the chance. It is awesome to share our work and try to inspire some of the younger generation to make their own products and participate in the world of manufacturing.

okluma

Photo Courtesy of: Okluma


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