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Schon DSGN – Featured Customer

In 2012, engineer Ian Schon wanted to put his skill for design to the test. He decided to challenge himself by designing a normal, everyday item: a pen. His goal was to take the pen from the design concept to manufacturing it within his own shop. Ian designed his pen how he thought a pen should be: durable, reliable, compact, leak-proof, and easy to use. Most of all, though, he wanted the pen to be of a superior quality, not something easily lost or thrown away.

With the design concept in place, Ian started his work on engineering and manufacturing his new pen. He made many prototypes, and with each discovered new features and additions to better his design. Today, Ian manufacturers his pens through local fabrications in Massachusetts, using local supplies. He makes them from 6061 Aluminum, unique in that it molds to its users’ hand, over time. His pens are designed to outlast its user and be passed on through generations.

Ian was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about his manufacturing success.

What sets Schon DSGN apart from competition?

I think I have a unique approach to designing and manufacturing. I design things that I like, and make them the way that I want to.  I don’t rush things out the door. I’m not thinking about scale, growth, making a big shop, etc. I just want to live a simple life where I make cool objects, sell them, and have enough time in the week to sneak out into the woods and ride my bike. This ethos takes the pressure off a lot, and that makes the workflow freer without as much stress as I had in my past career as a product development engineer.

This workflow isn’t for everyone. it’s not a winning combo for massive business success, per se, and if you audited me you would tell me I’m holding back by not scaling and hiring, but I like it. I see myself as a hybrid between artist and entrepreneur. I love doing things start to finish, blank paper to finished part on the machine. Owning that entire workflow allows for harmony of engineering, machining, tooling, finishing, R+D, marketing, etc. Further, it ensures that I don’t miss critical inflection points in the process that are ripe for process evolution and innovation, resulting in a better product in the end.

I’m sure the way I do things will change over time, but for now I’m still figuring things out and since I work largely alone (I have one amazing helper right now assisting with assembly, finishing, and shipping) I have lots of flexibility to change things and not get stuck in my ways.

Also, by working alone, I control the music. Key!

Where did your passion for pens come from?

My friend Mike had a cool pen he got from a local shop and I was like “man I like that,” so I made one with some “improvements.” At the time, in my mind, they were improvements, but I have learned now that they were preferences, really. I made a crappy pen on a lathe at the MIT MITERS shop back in 2010, and that summer I bought a Clausing lathe on craigslist for $300 and some tooling and started figuring it all out. I made a bunch of pens, wrote with them, kept evolving them, and eventually people asked me to make pens for them.  I didn’t really intend to start a business or anything, I just wanted to make cool stuff and use it. Bottle openers, knives, bike frames, etc. I made lots of stuff. Pens just stuck with me and I kept pushing on it as a project for my design portfolio. Eventually it became something bigger. Turns out my pen preferences were shared with other people.

What is the most difficult product you have had to make and why?

Making watch cases – wow. What an awful part to try and make on a desktop Taig 3 axis mill and a Hardinge lathe in my apartment! I started working on machining watch cases in 2012, and I finished my first one in my apartment in 2015 (to be fair, I was working on lots of other stuff during that time! But yeah, years…). What a journey. Taught me a lot. Biting off more than you can chew is a great way to learn something. 

What is the most interesting product you’ve made?

When I worked at Essential Design in Boston I worked on the front end of a Mass Spectrometer. The requirements on the device were wild. We had high voltage, chemical resistance, crazy tolerances, mechanism design, machining, injection molding – truly a little bit of everything! It was a fun challenge that I was fortunate to be a part of. Biomolecule nanoscale analysis device. Try saying that ten times fast.

I have something fountain pen related in the works now that I find more interesting, and very, very complex, but it’s under wraps a bit longer. Stay tuned. 

Who is the most famous contact that you have worked on a project with?

I have made watches for some incredible customers, but I unfortunately cannot talk about who they are. Most of my watch work outside of my own parts is also under NDA which is a bummer, but hey it was great work regardless.

Same thing with the pens. I know that some of my pen are in the touring cases of a few musicians, one of which is in the rock and roll hall of fame. But I have to keep it tight!

Before leaving to work for myself, I was part of a design team at IDEO in Cambridge that designed the new Simplisafe Home Security System. As an engineer and designer, I got listed on the patents. That wasn’t machining and was more design and engineering of injection molded plastic assemblies,  but it was still cool, though! Cutting my teeth in the design industry before machining helps me a lot with the creative process in the workshop. Lots of overlap.

What capabilities does your shop have?

I utilize Citizen L series sliding headstock machines to run my company. These are Swiss Machines (though made in Japan) with twin spindles and have live tooling for milling operations. I got into this type of machining after getting advice from friends in the industry and subcontracting my work to shops with these style of machines for 7 years.

Beyond the Swiss Machines, I have a new Precision Matthews Manual Mill, a Southbend Model A, a Hardinge Cataract Lathe, and a bunch of smaller Derbyshire lathes and mills. Most of these are for maintenance related tasks – quick mods and fixtures and my watchmaking/R&D stuff. I also have a Bantam Tools Desktop CNC machine on the way, a nice machine for quick milled fixtures in aluminum and nonferrous materials. I tested this machine during their development phases and was really impressed.

What CAM/CAD software are you using?

I use Fusion 360 for quick milled stuff, but most of my parts are programmed by hand since the lathe programming for Swiss work can be done without much CAM. I’m sure I could be doing things better on the programming side, but hey, every day I learn something new. Who knows what I’ll be doing a year or two from now?

What is your favorite material to work with and why?

Brass and Copper. The chips aren’t stringy, it’s easy to cut quickly and the parts have this nice hefty feel to them. Since I make pens, the weight is a big piece of the feeling of a pen. The only downside is I’m constantly figuring out ways to not dent the parts as they are coming off the machines! My brass parts are like tiny brass mallets and they LOVE to get dinged up in the ejection cycles. I ended up making custom parts catchers and modifying the chutes on the machines to navigate this. I might have some conveyors in my future….yeah. Too many projects!

Why is high quality tool performance important to you?

It’s not just important, it’s SUPER important. As a solo machinist running my own machines, being able to call a tooling company and get answers on how I should run a tool, adjust its RPM, feed, DOC, or cutting strategy to get a better result is invaluable. I find that as much as I’m paying for tool performance, I’m also paying for expertise, wisdom and answers. Knowing everything is cool and all (and I know some of you out there know everything under the sun), but since I don’t know everything, it’s so nice to be able to pick up a phone and have someone in my corner. These tech support people are so crucial. Being humble and letting support guide me through my tooling challenges has helped me grow a lot. It’s like having a staff of experienced machinists working at my company, for free! Can’t beat that. Micro 100 and Helical have helped me tons with their great support.

When was a time that Harvey, Helical or Micro product really came through and helped your business?

The Helical team (shout out to Dalton) helped me nail some machining on some very wild faceted pens I was working on this month. When I switched to Helical, my finishes got crazy good. I just listened to recommendations, bought a bunch of stuff, and kept trying what Dalton told me to. Eventually, that led to a good recipe and manageable tool wear. It was great!

I also like how representatives from the Harvey/Helical/Micro family often cross reference each other and help me find the right solution, regardless of which company I’m getting it from. Nice system.

The quiet hero in my shop is my Micro 100 quick change system. It just works great. Fast to swap tools, easy to setup, cannot argue with it! Too good. 

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist ready to take the #PlungeIntoMachining, what would it be?

Find a mentor who supports you and challenges you. Find a good tooling company, or good tooling companies, and make good relationships with their tech support so you can get answers. Make good relationships with service technicians who can help you fix your machines. Be a good person. Don’t let yourself become a hot head under the pressure of this industry (since it can be hard at times!), cooler heads prevail, always. Be open to seeing things from other viewpoints (in life and in machining), don’t be afraid to flip a part around and start over from square one.

To learn more about Ian and Schon DSGN, follow them @schon_dsgn and @the_schon on Instagram and check out his website. And, to learn more about how Ian got his start in the manufacturing industry, check out this video.

Understanding Wood Properties for CNC Woodworking Projects

Machinists oftentimes confuse wood for being an “easy to machine material” because of how much softer the material is than metal. In some sense this is true, as you can program wood cutting parameters with much higher feed rates compared to that of most metals. On the other hand, however, wood has many unique properties that need to be accounted for in order to optimize the cutting process for maximum efficiency.

Types of Wood

There are 3 main categories of wood: hardwood, softwood and engineered wood.

Hardwood

The textbook definition of a hardwood tree is an angiosperm, more commonly referred to as a broadleaf tree. A few examples would be oak, birch, and maple trees. These types of trees are often used for making high quality furniture, decks, flooring, and construction components.

Softwood

A softwood is a coniferous tree, sometimes known as a gymnosperm. These are typically less dense than hardwoods and are therefore associated with being easier to machine. Do not let the name fool you: some soft woods are harder than some hardwoods. Harvey Tool’s Speeds and Feeds Charts for its offering of Material Specific End Mills for Wood are categorized by Janka hardness for this exact reason. Janka hardness is a modified hardness scale with a test specifically designed for classifying types of wood.

Softwood is used to make furniture, but can also be used for doors, window panes, and paper products. A couple of examples are pine and cedar trees. Table 1 lists 20 common woods with their Janka hardness.

Common Name:Janka Imperial Hardness:
Balsa90
Buckeye, Yellow350
Willow, Black360
Pine, Sugar380
Cottonwood, Eastern430
Chesnut, American540
Pine, Red560
Douglas-Fir, Interior North600
Birch, Gray760
Ash, Black850
Cedar, Eastern Red900
Cherry, American Black950
Walnut, Black1010
Beech, American1300
Oak, White1360
Maple, Sugar1450
Apple1730
Cherry, Brazilian2350
Olive2700
Rosewood, Indian3170
Table 1: Janka Hardness of Common Woods

Engineered Woods

Engineered wood, or composite wood, is any type of wood fiber, particle, or strand material held together with an adhesive or binding agent. Although some of these materials are easier to machine than solid woods, the adhesive holding the material together can be extremely abrasive. This can cause premature tool wear and create difficulties when machining. It’s important to note that some types of engineered woods are more difficult to machine than others, specifically those with a higher amount of binding material. These types should be programmed with less aggressive speeds and feeds. For example, medium density fiberboard (MDF) if more difficult to machine than plywood, but much easier to machine than phenolic.

Figure 1: Example of Medium Density Fiberboard

Properties of Wood

Grain Size

Technically speaking, wood can be considered a natural composite material as it consists of strong and flexible cellulose fibers held together by a stiffer glue-like matrix composed of lignin and hemicellulose. If you think in terms of construction, the cellulose fibers would be the steel rebar, and the concrete would be the lignin and hemicellulose. Wood with large cellulose fibers are considered to be coarse-grained (oak and ash). Woods that have smaller and fewer fibers are considered fine-grained (pine and maple). Softwoods tend to be fine-grained and are therefore stereotyped as being easier to machine since they do not have as many strong fibers to shear. It’s important to note that not all hardwood trees are coarse grained and not all softwood trees are fine-grained.

Figure 2: Simplified diagram of fibers that constitute natural wood. The cellulose fibers run vertically in this depiction.

Moisture Content (MC)

Moisture content (MC) is one of the most important variables to consider when machining wood. An extremely common problem with building anything with wood is its tendency to warp. Moisture variability in the air inevitably affects the moisture content within the wood. Any change in moisture content (whether an increase or a decrease) will disturb the shape of the workpiece. This is why one must take into account what type of moisture a product will be exposed to in its final resting place.

Equilibrium Moisture Content (EMC)

Equilibrium moisture content (EMC) occurs when wood has reached a balance point in its moisture content. Interior EMC values across the United States average at about 8%, with exterior values averaging around 12%. These values vary around the country due to the differences in temperature and humidity. For example, the southeastern United States have an average interior EMC of 11% while the southwest averages about 6% (excluding the coastal region). It’s important to consider what region and application the final product is going to encounter so that the wood with the correct moisture content can be selected before machining. Most species of flat-grain wood will change size 1% for every 4% change in MC. The direction of warping depends on the grain orientation.

Figure 4: Average regional indoor EMC

Generally, power requirements for an operation rise with increasing moisture content, mainly because of the surge in density. Density of wood increases with rising MC. The additional power may be necessary to push a heavier chip out of the cutting zone. It’s worth noting that, like synthetic polymers, wood is a viscoelastic material that absorbs energy as it becomes wetter. The proportional limit of its mechanical properties intensifies as MC increases.

When machining some types of wood, cutting region temperature will surge with increasing MC, but in other species it will decline. Be safe and avoid rapid tool wear by decreasing SFM when machining a wood with a moisture content above 10%. Harvey Tool Speeds and Feeds Charts suggest a decrease of 30 per MC percentage point. As always, though, it depends on the type of wood being machined and the type of operation being performed.

Temperature change is not the only reason higher moisture content is associated with rapid tool wear. Moisture within wood isn’t just associated with water, but also with resins, sugars, oils, starches, alkaloids, and tannin present within the water. These substances react particularly well with high speed steel, and to a lesser degree with carbide.

Knots

A knot is a portion of a branch or limb that has become incorporated in the trunk of a tree. The influence of knots on the mechanical properties of wood is due to the interruption of continuity and change in direction of wood fibers associated with it. These properties are lower in this portion of the wood because the fibers around the knot are distorted and lead to stress concentrations. “Checking” (cracking due to shrinking) often occurs around knots during drying. Hardness and strength perpendicular to the grain are exceptions to generally lower mechanical properties. Because of these last two exceptions, machining parameters should be reduced when encountering a knotted portion of the workpiece to avoid shock loading.

Figure 5: Photo of a typical knot

Rennscot LLC – Featured Customer

David Bamforth is the founder and CEO of Rennscot LLC, a manufacturing company based out of Woburn, Massachusetts, which was created to meet product design demands of both individual and commercial clients. From idea to prototype, and eventually to final product, Rennscot LLC prides itself on its ability to make part ideas come to life. David took some time to talk with us about Rennscot LLC, his company’s machining capabilities, and much more.

What capabilities does your shop have?

We are mostly a mill shop with two verticals and one 5-axis machine. We also have a small bar fed lathe, a larger sub-spindle live-tooling lathe, and some design tools like a Faro Design Scan Arm. We work predominantly with aluminum, but sometimes see brass, stainless, titanium, and steel alloy jobs come through. We use Fusion 360 for everything and currently all 4 of our machines are Haas.

What sets Rennscot LLC apart from the competition?

We are a bit different from most shops because, in addition to machining services, we also offer design services. A lot of our jobs are won because we are a one-stop-shop from idea to producing the final product. Recently we have been making a lot of parts for vehicle restoration. Typically, we are just handed a part and asked to reproduce it.

David, what is your favorite part of your job?

Problem solving and learning new skills. We are a pretty young team and love being challenged by new projects. We also pride ourselves on being pretty innovative with our machining strategies to help reduce lead times and cost for our customers.

Where did your passion for automobiles come from?

Like many, I have always been passionate about cars. I have some great memories of going to car shows with my dad and watching any TV show with a car in it as a kid. Nowadays, I spend my personal time taking our shop development car, a Porsche Cayman, to the track.

What is the coolest product you have made?

We have had some pretty unusual characters bring us some really cool projects. Currently, we are working with a guy from Connecticut on laser scanning a model Mercedes C10 Le Mans car that we will CAD model, so a full-sized car body can be reproduced. It’s a really interesting project, trying to take a 1:43 car and blow it up to full size. Eventually, we will help design and manufacture many of the machined components on this car. Also, we once made a custom billet alternator mount in just 5 days for a 996 Porsche GT3 with a Chevy LS engine in it. We really enjoyed being part of that project and the V8 sounded amazing on track!

What is the most difficult product you have made?

We once worked on an enclosure for a handheld x-ray machine. The part was only about 1”x 1.25” x4” and only had .040” walls all around. The main pocket was machined with our go-to Helical ¼” reduced shank end mill. It also had #0-80 taps all along the top edge of the enclosure, making for a few broken taps! It was a pain to get dialed in but once the process was proved out it was really rewarding to get consistent good parts off the will.

Why is high quality tool performance important to you?

Once we started using high quality end mills, we immediately saw an improvement in tool life and surface finish. We also really enjoy using tools that are backed by a company that puts out so much information and resources to help its customers out.

When was a time that Harvey Tool or Helical products really came through and helped your business?

We have had several moments when we hit a wall while building a process for a new part, and Helical’s phone support helped us find the perfect tool for the process. The combination of great phone support, having such a vast array of product offerings, and all of the tools always being in stock has helped my business tremendously.

Are you guys using High Efficiency Milling (HEM) techniques to improve cycle times?

Always! All our mills are spec’ed with HSM and 12k RPM spindles, and we take full advantage of this with chip breaking roughers. Honestly, we are so young that we have only ever used HEM techniques, so I’m honestly just confused by companies that don’t use it. Not using HEM is like not driving a car on the highway because it’s too fast.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist ready to take the #PlungeIntoMachining, what would it be?

Machining is probably the most in demand and most satisfying industries that someone can get into now-a-days. There are a lot of companies that are in demand for green machinists who are just eager to learn. I would recommend putting together and sending out a resume to local shops that shows that you have the ability to take on projects and complete them.

If anyone is interested in learning more about what we do our manufacturing website, rennscotmfg.com is a great resource. Also, check us our on Instagram at @rennscot.

How to Optimize Results While Machining with Miniature End Mills

 The machining industry generally considers miniature end mills to be any end mill with a diameter under 1/8 of an inch. This is also often the point where tolerances must be held to a tighter window. Because the diameter of a tool is directly related to the strength of a tool, miniature end mills are considerably weaker than their larger counterparts, and therefore, lack of strength must be accounted for when machining with them. If you are using these tools in a repetitive application, then optimization of this process is key.

Key Cutting Differences between Conventional and Miniature End Mills

Runout

Runout during an operation has a much greater effect on miniature tools, as even a very small amount can have a large impact on the tool engagement and cutting forces. Runout causes the cutting forces to increase due to the uneven engagement of the flutes, prompting some flutes to wear faster than others in conventional tools, and breakage in miniature tools. Tool vibration also impacts the tool life, as the intermittent impacts can cause the tool to chip or, in the case of miniature tools, break. It is extremely important to check the runout of a setup before starting an operation. The example below demonstrates how much of a difference .001” of runout is between a .500” diameter tool and a .031” diameter tool.

The runout of an operation should not exceed 2% of the tool diameter. Excess runout will lead to a poor surface finish.

Chip Thickness

The ratio between the chip thickness and the edge radius (the edge prep) is much smaller for miniature tools. This phenomena is sometimes called “the size effect” and often leads to an error in the prediction of cutting forces. When the chip thickness-to-edge radius ratio is smaller, the cutter will be more or less ploughing the material rather than shearing it. This ploughing effect is essentially due to the negative rake angle created by the edge radius when cutting a chip with a small thickness.

If this thickness is less than a certain value (this value depends of the tool being used), the material will squeeze underneath the tool. Once the tool passes and there is no chip formation, part of the plowed material recovers elastically. This elastic recovery causes there to be higher cutting forces and friction due to the increased contact area between the tool and the workpiece. These two factors ultimately lead to a greater amount of tool wear and surface roughness.

Figure 1: (A) Miniature tool operation where the edge radius is greater than the chip thickness (B) Conventional operation where the edge radius is small than the chip thickness

Tool Deflection

Tool deflection has a much greater impact on the formation of chips and accuracy of the operation in miniature operations, when compared to conventional operations. Cutting forces concentrated on the side of the tool cause it to bend in the direction opposite the feed. The magnitude of this deflection depends upon the rigidity of the tool and its distance extended from the spindle. Small diameter tools are inherently less stiff compared to larger diameter tools because they have much less material holding them in place during the operation. In theory, doubling the length sticking out of the holder will result in 8 times more deflection. Doubling the diameter of an end mill it will result in 16 times less deflection. If a miniature cutting tool breaks on the first pass, it is most likely due to the deflection force overcoming the strength of the carbide. Here are some ways you can minimize tool deflection.

Workpiece Homogeny

Workpiece homogeny becomes a questionable factor with decreasing tool diameter. This means that a material may not have uniform properties at an exceptionally small scale due to a number of factors, such as container surfaces, insoluble impurities, grain boundaries, and dislocations. This assumption is generally saved for tools that have a cutter diameter below .020”, as the cutting system needs to be extremely small in order for the homogeny of the microstructure of the material to be called into question.

Surface Finish

Micromachining may result in an increased amount of burrs and surface roughness when compared to conventional machining. In milling, burring increases as feed increases, and decreases as speed increases. During a machining operation, chips are created by the compression and shearing of the workpiece material along the primary shear zone. This shear zone can be seen in Figure 2 below. As stated before, the chip thickness-to-edge radius ratio is much higher in miniature applications. Therefore, plastic and elastic deformation zones are created during cutting and are located adjacent to the primary shear zone (Figure 2a). Consequently, when the cutting edge is close to the border of the workpiece, the elastic zone also reaches this border (Figure 2b). Plastic deformation spreads into this area as the cutting edge advances, and more plastic deformation forms at the border due to the connecting elastic deformation zones (Figure 2c). A permanent burr begins to form when the plastic deformation zones connect (Figure 2d) and are expanded once a chip cracks along the slip line (Figure 2e). When the chips finally break off from the edge of the workpiece, a burr is left behind (Figure 2f).

Tool Path Best Practices for Miniature End Mills

Because of the fragility of miniature tools, the tool path must be programmed in such a way as to avoid a sudden amount of cutting force, as well as permit the distribution of cutting forces along multiple axes. For these reasons, the following practices should be considered when writing a program for a miniature tool path:

Ramping Into a Part

Circular ramping is the best practice for moving down axially into a part, as it evenly distributes cutting forces along the x, y, and z planes. If you have to move into a part radially at a certain depth of cut, consider an arching tool path as this gradually loads cutting forces onto the tool instead of all at once.

Machining in Circular Paths

You should not use the same speeds and feed for a circular path as you would for a linear path. This is because of an effect called compounded angular velocity. Each tooth on a cutting tool has its own angular velocity when it is active in the spindle. When a circular tool path is used, another angular velocity component is added to the system and, therefore, the teeth on the outer portion of tool path are traveling at a substantially different speed than expected. The feed of the tool must be adjusted depending on whether it is an internal or external circular operation. To find out how to adjust your feed, check out this article on running in circles.

Slotting with a Miniature Tool

Do not approach a miniature slot the same way as you would a larger slot. With a miniature slot, you want as many flutes on the tool as possible, as this increases the rigidity of the tool through a larger core. This decreases the possibility of the tool breaking due to deflection. Because there is less room for chips to evacuate with a higher number of flutes, the axial engagement must be decreased. With larger diameter tools you may be stepping down 50% – 100% of the tool diameter. But when using miniatures with a higher flute count, only step down between 5% – 15%, depending on the size of the diameter and risk of deflection. The feed rate should be increased to compensate for the decreased axial engagement. The feed can be increased even high when using a ball nose end mill as chip thinning occurs at these light depths of cut and begins to act like a high feed mill.

Slowing Down Your Feed Around Corners

Corners of a part create an additional amount of cutting forces as more of the tool becomes engaged with the part. For this reason it is beneficial to slow down your feed when machining around corners to gradually introduce the tool to these forces.

Climb Milling vs. Conventional Milling

This is somewhat of a tricky question to answer when it comes to micromachining. Climb milling should be utilized whenever a quality surface finish is called for on the part print. This type of tool path ultimately leads to more predictable/lower cutting forces and therefore higher quality surface finish. In climb milling, the cutter engages the maximum chip thickness at the beginning of the cut, giving it a tendency to push away from the workpiece. This can potentially cause chatter issues if the setup does not have enough rigidity.  In conventional milling, as the cutter rotates back into the cut it pulls itself into the material and increases cutting forces. Conventional milling should be utilized for parts with long thin walls as well as delicate operations.

Combined Roughing and Finishing Operations

These operations should be considered when micromachining tall thin walled parts as in some cases there is not sufficient support for the part for a finishing pass.

Helpful Tips for Achieving Successful Micromachining Operations

Try to minimize runout and deflection as much as possible.This can be achieved by using a shrink-fit or press-fit tool holder. Maximize the amount of shank contact with the collet while minimizing the amount of stick-out during an operation. Double check your print and make sure that you have the largest possible end mill because bigger tools mean less deflection.

  • Choose an appropriate depth of cut so that the chip thickness to edge radius ratio is not too small as this will cause a ploughing effect.
  • If possible, test the hardness of the workpiece before machining to confirm the mechanical properties of the material advertised by the vender. This gives the operator an idea of the quality of the material.
  • Use a coated tool if possible when working in ferrous materials due to the excess amount of heat that is generated when machining these types of metals. Tool coatings can increase tool life between 30%-200% and allows for higher speeds, which is key in micro-machining.
  • Consider using a support material to control the advent of burrs during a micro milling application. The support material is deposited on the workpiece surface to provide auxiliary support force as well as increase the stiffness of the original edge of the workpiece. During the operation, the support material burrs and is plastically deformed rather than the workpiece.
  • Use flood coolant to lower cutting forces and a greater surface finish.
  • Scrutinize the tool path that is to be applied as a few adjustments can go a long way in extending the life of a miniature tool.
  • Double-check tool geometry to make sure it is appropriate for the material you are machining. When available, use variable pitch and variable helix tools as this will reduce harmonics at the exceptionally high RPMs that miniature tools are typically run at.
Figure 3: Variable pitch tool (yellow) vs. a non-variable pitch tool (black)

TOMI Engineering INC – Featured Customer

Since its beginning in 1977, brothers Tony and Mike Falbo have made the focal point of TOMI Engineering to deliver quality, competitively-priced parts on time. TOMI Engineering has earned a reputation through the years as being a world-class manufacturer of precision machined components and assemblies for aerospace, defense, commercial and other advanced technology industries. They are fortunate to have the highest level of engineering, quality and programming personnel on staff, and, with over 40 years in the industry, there isn’t a problem TOMI hasn’t experienced.

With all the years of experience, TOMI Engineering has a lot of knowledge to share. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Tony and Mike Falbo to ask them about their experiences, techniques, tooling and a lot more.

How was TOMI Engineering INC started?

TOMI Engineering, Inc. began in 1977 when we (Tony and Mike) teamed up and got a loan from our father to purchase our first machine.  The machine was used in the garage of our parents’ home, which still resides in Tustin, California.  Forty years, 20 current machines, and countless parts later, TOMI Engineering proudly serves the defense, airline, medical and commercial industries.  We machine just about any type of product thrown our way.  Over the years, we have made wing tips for the F16 fighter jet, enclosures for GPS housings, manifolds that help transport fluids, support frames for Gulfstream, cabin brackets for Airbus, ammunition feeders for tanks, and many, many others.

At TOMI Engineering, we aim to be a one-stop shop for our customers.  Once we receive blueprints, we can program, machine, deburr, inspect, process and assemble most parts.  We utilize a mixture of 3-and-4-axis machines in order to increase efficiency, which helps us to cut down costs to our customer.  In our temperature-controlled assembly room, we can assemble bearings, bushings, rivets, nut plates, gaskets and sealants.  We also hope to add additive machining to our repertoire soon.

What machines are you currently using in your shop?

Our 21,250 square foot facility houses 20 CNC machines.  Most of our machines are Kitamura, OKK and Okuma.  The purchase dates of these machines range from 1987 to December of 2019.  With our large machine diversity, we can machine parts smaller than a penny, and as large as 30 x 60 inches. Most of the material that makes its way through our shop is aluminum.  Whether it is 6061 or aircraft grade 7000 series, we aim to have most of our parts be aluminum.  However, we do see a large amount of 6AL-4V titanium, along with 17-4 and 15-5 steel. We are currently utilizing Mastercam 2020 for most of our programming needs and are staying up to date with software upgrades and progression.

What sets TOMI Engineering apart from the rest of the competition?

We believe our greatest asset is our experience.  Here at TOMI, we have been machining parts since 1977.  In those 40-plus years, a lot of parts have come and gone through our doors and we have helped our customers solve a large array of problems.  Most of our machinists have been with us for over 10 years, while some are approaching 20 years!  Our programmers easily boast over 60 years of experience! With so many of our employees working together for so many years, it has really helped everyone to understand what helps us quickly machine our products, while being held accountable to the high standards of AS9100. 

Where did your passion for machining start?

We grew up with machines in our garage and it wasn’t until we needed money to pay for college that our dad realized he could show us the basics of operating a milling machine, which allowed us to pay our tuition while working at home in the evenings and weekends. Machining was more of a necessity than a passion at the time. However, after nearly 40 years in the business, it has been amazing to see the strides in technology from a Bridgeport Mill to the multi-axis lights-out machining that is available today.

My favorite part of the job has always been the flexibility it has allowed me. I had the opportunity to watch my kids grow up and be a part of their lives by going to their school plays, coaching them, and being home at night to help them with anything they needed. Most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to work with my brother, my business partner, who also shares the same ideals about being with family, so we could always cover for each while the other was gone and spending time with their family. The business would not have worked without both of us understanding the importance of each other’s input. The challenge of running a business keeps me going, and working with all of the different personalities was an added bonus.

Who is the most famous contact that you have worked on a project with? What is the most interesting product youve made?

At TOMI, we do not work with specific individuals, so we can’t really name drop.  However, a vast majority of our work is for Airbus, Boeing, or the military. So it’s pretty gratifying to say that we supply parts to some of the biggest companies in the world and that our work helps to defend this country.

The most interesting product we have made here at TOMI is a GPS housing for a defense contractor.  This part encompasses everything that we can do at TOMI: precision machining, complex/multi detail assemblies, gasket assembly, and pressure testing fluid transportation components. 

Why is high quality tool performance important to you?

High quality tool performance is important to us in many ways.  Purchasing high quality tools allow us to constantly achieve premium surface finishes, push our machines to the high speeds and feeds that they are capable of, and enjoy noticeably longer tool life.

Every part, day-in and day-out, is different.   Because of our vast array of products, our tools are always changing.  But when we are picking out Helical End Mills for Aluminum, we always go with their 3-flute variable helix cutters, and we have always been happy with them.

What sort of tolerances do you work in on a daily basis?

The tolerances we typically work with are ± tenths of an inch, as well as very tight true position cal louts. We can hold and achieve these close tolerance dimensions through our very experienced Mastercam programmers, as well as our superior quality department.  Our quality inspectors have over 30 years of experience in the industry and utilize two Zeiss Contura G2 coordinate measuring machines (CMMs).  While in their temperature controlled environment, the CMMs are capable of measuring close tolerance dimensions and are used to generate data for inspection reports.

Are you guys using High Efficiency Milling (HEM) techniques to improve cycle times? What advice do you have for others who want to try HEM?

Yes, we are using HEM techniques to improve cycle times while roughing to increase our MRR while increasing tool life. If you have CAM/CAD software that supports HEM, then go for it!  Machine Advisor Pro (MAP) is VERY helpful with the suggested speeds and feeds as a starting point.  Over time though, and through experience, we have learned that every single machine is a bit different and often needs a different approach with speeds and feeds.  Start with a smaller than suggested RDOC and physically go out to your machine and see how it sounds and what is going on.  Then, start increasing and find that sweet spot that your particular machine runs well on.  Many programmers in the industry will not take the time to go out and watch how their part is sounding and cutting on the machine and going out and doing that is the best way to really find out what you and the machine are capable of achieving.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist ready to take the #PlungeIntoMachining, what would it be?

Ask questions!  Don’t be afraid to talk to programmers and fellow coworkers about what is trying to be achieved and WHY the programmer is holding tolerances a certain way.  Learn from them and watch what every cutter is doing during your cycles.  The more you learn, the more you can contribute to the machining process and move up in your business.  Sometimes it takes just one good suggestion about the machining approach that can change the set-up process from aggravating to very easy.  Lastly, be open minded to new ideas and approaches.  As we said earlier, there are a ton of ways to make good parts in a constantly evolving industry.

Please take the time to check out the TOMI Engineering INC website or follow them on social media!

Titan Ring Design – Featured Customer

Officially started in 2015, Titan Ring Design is a high quality machine shop that designs rings, as well as mechanical tie clips, art based designs, and freelance custom designs. While working at a machine shop that produced top notch parts for just about every type of field you can imagine, now owner of Titan Ring Design, Trevor Hirschi, noticed that the machining industry is mostly about cranking out a mass quantity of the highest quality parts as quickly as possible. This often resulted in compromised tolerances and part finishes, something Trevor aimed to change. Quality always comes first in his projects.

Whether you are looking for a band for an upcoming wedding, looking to replace or upgrade your current wedding ring, or just want something unique and beautiful, Trevor’s designs are different than anything else. Trevor was able to take the time and answer some questions for us about his business, machining techniques, tooling, and a lot more.

How was Titan Ring Design started?

Titan Ring Designs is a part time, passion/hobby business of mine that I sort of started at the time I was ring shopping for a wedding ring back in 2013. I didn’t like what was available on the market and was inspired by a former Oakley designer to machine my own. I had been introduced to machining in High School at a technical college and had been working as a machinist since graduating in 2007, so I decided to make my own wedding ring. It sort of snowballed into my business in 2015, after finally deciding to make it official with a business license and some sales. Some further work experience in California for McWhinney Designs brought me greater motivation and encouragement to keep going and helped me get to where I am today. I now offer several different CNC Milled [wedding] rings, as well as a mechanical tie clip, some occasional art based designs, and freelance custom design and mill work. I also teach machining full time  at the same tech college I graduated from in my own education and enjoy sharing my knowledge and love for machining with those interested in the career.

What capabilities does your shop have?

Custom Design in CAD/CAM, 3axis CNC Mill work, Small Scale Lathe Work, Tumbling, Finishing, Assembling, 3D Printing/Rapid Prototyping. I cut 6-4 Titanium primarily, but also work with Stainless Steel for fasteners, Aluminum and some Steel for fixtures, and Polycarbonate for prototyping ideas. I teach machining technology full time, so I have access to SolidWorks, MasterCam, Fusion360, and NC Simul. We currently have a Haas OfficeMill 3axis, Levin High Precision Instrument Maker’s Lathe, Prusa i3 MK2S 3D Printer in the shop.

What sets Titan Ring Design apart from the competition?

There are lots of people making interesting rings today, but most are done on lathes. Anyone can make a round part on a lathe. Very few of them make rings on a mill, and I feel that gives the opportunity to be creative and allows you to think outside the box more. I try to stand out in that field by offering something that makes you think about the value of the design process more by interrupting and challenging the norm. I also like to take on work that is outside of jewelry, but still highly design related. Most other ring makers stick with just rings.

What is your favorite part of the job and what other passions do you have?

Making cool stuff! Most machinists only end up making whatever comes through the shop, which can be cool, but most of the time you have no idea what you’re making, just some part for Customer X, Y, or Z. Being a small, design centered business, I get to come up with ideas for what to make next, and most of the time I start out making something that wasn’t ever intended to be marketed, it was simply something I wanted for myself that I found others were interested in too. I discovered machining in high school and fell in love with it when I started making parts for my dirt bikes and truck. I’ve been hooked ever since but I do have other passions. I’ve always had a big interest in LED lighting and flashlights. I’m perpetually working on different ideas for making one of my own, which will happen eventually. I’m also a bit of a health-nut and enjoy being outdoors and spending time with my family.

Who is the most famous contact that you have worked on a project with?

I made a ring for an NFL player once, but I don’t follow football and his name didn’t stick out to me so I’ve forgotten who he was. I also had the privilege of working for McWhinney Designs and made some truly remarkable products in the openable wedding ring niche market. I gained more skill in design, machining, craftsmanship, and engineering while working for Jeff McWhinney. We’re good friends and often work together to help each other when one of us gets stumped on something.

What is the most difficult project you have worked on?

I was commissioned to design from the ground up and machine was a custom set of all-titanium cabinet door handle pulls for a very high end wine cabinet. Each handle was an assembly of 32 pieces, all machined from billet 6-4 Titanium. They required over 400 individual CAM toolpath operations, 35 unique machine setups, and well over 300 hours to complete, including finishing and assembly. More than anything, it was extremely time intensive in programming, set up, and machine time. The design was a fair bit challenging in my mind and initial modeling, but didn’t compete with what it took to actually produce them. I grossly underestimated and underbid the job. But in the end, I really enjoyed making a truly one of a kind, Tour-De-Force product, even if it was completely overkill for its purpose. I enjoy making that kind of stuff, and the lessons you learn from it.

What is your favorite project you have worked on?

It’s really simple and was initially designed just because I wanted it for myself, but I have a mechanical titanium tie clip that I really enjoy making. It’s quite unique in that, as far as I know, to this day, it is the only CNC machined mechanical titanium tie clip you’ll find anywhere in the world. It puts a little bling in your formal attire, for those times you have to go full suit and tie.

Why is high quality tool performance important to you?

Because I cut mostly titanium, tools wear out quickly if you don’t have a rigid set up, the right coolant, proper feeds & speeds, and of course, high quality tooling. Harvey Tool makes such a wide variety of micro tooling that works so well in the industry of making small titanium parts, where I like to fit into. I’ve used a fair spread across Harvey’s offering and have always been impressed with performance and the feeds and speeds guides are top notch too. I had an application that required a .0035” internal corner radius which landed me with a .007” end mill. It’s still hard to comprehend tooling in this league. My machine actually recommends only tooling under 1/4” shank size, so I don’t get into Helical’s range too often. But I’ve used Helical 1/2” end mills extensively at other job shops and they are definitely made for eating metal. I was using another tool brand’s key cutters for some undercut hinges and would wear through them much more often than I thought was reasonable. When I finally decided to try Harvey’s key cutters, I was blown away with how much longer they have lasted me. Truly a game changer!

If you could give one piece of advice to a new machinist ready to take the #PlungeIntoMachining, what would it be?

Be creative. Machining is such a rewarding career that has limitless possibilities of what you can achieve. Follow your passion and have fun with it! If you end up in a dead end shop doing something you don’t like, go somewhere else. There are so many shops that need help right now and chances are good that you can find a better shop that suits your style.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the In The Loupe community?

To those machine shops out in industry, do whatever you can to be supportive of your local trade schools that are teaching the upcoming machinist workforce. They really need your support and in turn will bring you the employees you depend on.

Please take the time to check out Titan Ring Designs website or follow them on Instagram @titanringdesigns

Titanium Machining Cost Savings with Helical Solutions

When the manufacturing team at Geospace Technologies was looking for better tool life and improved performance on a Titanium CNC milling job, they turned to Harvey Performance Company and local Application Engineer Mike Kanigowski to dial in some Helical Solutions End Mills. With Mike’s help, Geospace Technologies, led by Lead Mill Programmer Tranquilino Sosa, achieved massive success and cost-savings, which led them to completely shift their tooling repertoire to Helical’s high-performance end mills in their shop.

Struggling with Tool Life

Prior to switching to Helical, Geospace Technologies was experiencing trouble with tool life on a job that required both roughing and finishing toolpaths on a Titanium (Ti-6AL-4V) part. For their roughing pass, Geospace was using a competitor’s 4 flute, 3/8” diameter end mill with a 30° helix angle and TiALN coating. In traditional roughing toolpaths, this tool was running at 1,750 RPM with a 10 IPM feed rate. The tool would take four step downs, three with an axial depth of cut of .200”, and a final pass at .100” for a total depth of .700”.

When finishing, the team used a 1/2” version of the same competitor tool, running at 900 RPM with an 8 IPM feed rate. This would take two passes, one at .400” deep and the last down to the bottom of the part at .700”.

geospace technologies

With this strategy and tooling, the team was creating high-quality parts at a cycle time of 15 minutes and 22 seconds per part, but were only seeing the roughing tool last for 60 parts on average, and the finishing tool for around 120 parts. This was causing tool costs to be higher than they would like, and costing the team precious time with frequent tool changes.

Sosa had seen some of the success that other shops were having with Titanium milling using Helical Solutions end mills, and so they reached out to Kanigowski to see how Helical could help them lower their cost per part while achieving an even better finish.

Dialing in Tool Selection

When Mike got in touch with the team at Geospace, he knew there were some immediate benefits to changing the toolpaths used in this job. Using their ESPRIT software, the team was able to dial in a new program using high efficiency milling (HEM) toolpaths through ESPRIT’s “Profit Milling” technology.

With HEM toolpaths in place, Geospace was going to need new high performance tools to take full advantage of the programming adjustments. After much testing and evaluating several options from Helical’s extensive line of end mills for Titanium, Geospace settled on two solid tools.

Helical offers many different options for Titanium milling in HEM toolpaths. During testing, the team at Geospace decided on Helical EDP 59424, a 3/8” diameter, 7 flute, corner radius end mill. This tool features variable pitch geometry and offset chipbreakers for optimal chip evacuation, reduced harmonics, and minimized tool pressure, as well as Helical’s Aplus coating for high temperature resistance, decreased wear, and improved tool life.

7 flute chipbreaker
7 Flute Chipbeaker Tools Fresh Off the Grinder

When looking at the finishing toolpath, Geospace decided on Helical EDP 82566, a 3/8”, 6 flute, square end mill from Helical’s well known HEV-6 product line. This tool featured a variable pitch design to help mitigate chatter and leave a superior finish. While Helical also offers several tools for finishing toolpaths in Titanium, during testing this tool provided Geospace with the best finish for their specific part geometry.

HEV-6
Example of a Tool from Helical Solutions HEV-6 Tooling Line

Experiencing the “Helical Difference”

With the new tools in place, Sosa’s team reached out to Helical for help dialing in speeds and feeds. The Helical tech team was able to get them set up on Machining Advisor Pro, an advanced speeds and feeds calculator developed by the experts behind Helical Solutions tooling. With this “miracle worker” application in their arsenal, the team was able to easily dial in their new tools for their specific material grade, depth of cut, and machine setup.  

The team saw immediate positive results and cost-savings on this job. They were able to increase their roughing toolpaths to 4,500 RPM and 157 IPM. The finishing path remained largely the same, but resulted in a much improved final part. In total, cycle time dropped from 15 minutes and 22 seconds per part to 12 minutes and 17 seconds per part, which was great, but the improvement in tool life was where Sosa was most impressed.

titanium end mills

With the new Helical end mill in the shop, Geospace was able to run both tools for 580 parts with very minimal wear on the tool. This was a nearly 1000% improvement in tool life for their roughing passes and a 483% improvement in tool life for the finishing operation. In total, one roughing tool was able to last more than 42 hours in the cut before needing to be replaced.

Eliminating the need for a tool change every 60 parts was also a significant time-saver. Constant tool changes were causing serious machine downtime, which was eliminated with the longer tool life experienced with the Helical end mills. What seems like a minor inconvenience will truly add up to dozens of hours in saved time over the course of a few months for Sosa’s team.

titanium machining tool wear
A Closeup of the 7 Flute Chipbreaker After 42 Hours In The Cut

Geospace was thrilled with the results they saw on this Titanium job, as they had never experienced long tool life in Titanium with any other competitor brand. Sosa and his team are excited to continue using Helical Solutions product across all of their other jobs going forward and to continue working with Kanigowski and the Helical tech team on dialing in tool selection and speeds and feeds on future projects.

Please see below for a head-to-head breakdown of the Helical end mills’ performance in terms of total costs and productivity gained versus that of the competitor. These numbers are measured per 1,000 parts, taking into account tooling costs, tool change time, labor costs, running parameters, and cycle times.


titanium machining cost savings

Chipbreaker Tooling: Not Just for Roughing

When many people think about solid carbide tools with chip breakers, they are usually tooling up for a roughing application. While the chip breaker tool is a great choice for such applications, it can be utilized in a number of other areas too. In this post, we’ll examine many other benefits of the chip breaker style of tooling.

High Efficiency Milling (HEM)

High Efficiency Milling (HEM) uses CAM software to program advanced toolpaths that reduce cutting forces. These tool paths employ smaller end mills with a higher number of flutes (for a stronger core) running at higher speeds and feeds. This strategy includes a light radial depth of cut (RDOC), high axial depth of cut (ADOC), and a controlled angle of engagement.

Helical’s chipbreaking tools include serrated indents along the edge of flute for the entire length of cut. Because HEM utilizes heavy axial depths of cuts, these tools are able to break long chips into smaller ones. In addition to improving chip control and reducing cutting resistance, chipbreaker tools also help in decreasing heat load within the chips. This delays tool wear along the cutting edge and improves cutting performance. 

Check out this testimony from a Helical Solutions customer:

“We were able to get going with the 7 flute tools with the chipbreaker. I have to say the difference was INCREDIBLE! We can now rough the entire part with one tool. Also, the operator doesn’t have to open the door to clear chips hardly at all. We were able to rough and finish a 4.15 dia. bore 2 inches deep through the part without having to clear chips at all. Before we had to clear the chips out at least 15-20 times. Many thanks for your support.”

Slotting

When slotting, a major concern is chip control. A large buildup of chips can cause the recutting of chips, which adds a lot of heat back into the tool. Chip buildup can also cause a heavy amount of chattering. Both of these conditions are detrimental to tool life. A chip breaking tool can help reduce chip build-up when slotting which will extend tool life. Remember when slotting that 4 flute tools should be utilized in steel. For aluminum and other non- ferrous materials, a 3 flute tool is best.

Trochoidal Slotting

Trochoidal slotting is a form of slotting that uses HEM techniques to form a slot. Trochoidal milling implements a series of circular cuts to create a slot wider than the cutting tool’s cutting diameter. Using the logic listed in the earlier paragraphs of this article, a chipbreaker should be used when performing this operation.

Advantages of Trochoidal Slotting:

Decreased cutting forces

Reduced heat

Greater machining accuracy

Improved tool life

Faster cycle times

One tool for multiple slot sizes

Finishing

A little known fact about Helical’s chipbreaker style tool is that the chip breakers are offset flute to flute, which allows for a quality finish on the walls of the part. When utilizing light depths of cuts, high-quality finishes can be achieved.

Hardenability of Steel

Many types of steel have a beneficial response to a method of heat treatment known as quenching. One of the most important criteria in the selection process of a workpiece material is hardenability. Hardenability describes how deep a metal can be hardened upon quenching from high temperature, and can also be referred to as the depth of hardening.

Steel At Microscopic Scale:

The first level of classification of steels at a microscopic level is their crystal structure, the way in which atoms are arranged in space. Body-Centered Cubic (BCC) and Face Centered Cubic (FCC) configurations are examples of metallic crystal structures. Examples of BCC and FCC crystal structures can be seen below in Figure 1. Keep in mind that the images in Figure 1 are meant to display atomic position and that the distance between the atoms is exaggerated.

Figure 1: Example of a BCC crystal structure (left) and FCC crystal structure (right)

The next level of classification is a phase. A phase is a uniform portion of a material that has the same physical and chemical properties. Steel has 3 different phases:

  1. Austenite: Face-Centered cubic iron; also iron and steel alloys that have the FCC crystal structure.
  2. Ferrite: Body-centered cubic iron and steel alloys that have a BCC crystal structure.
  3. Cementite: Iron carbide (Fe3C)

The final level of classification discussed in this article is the microstructure. The three phases seen above can be combined to form different microstructures of steel. Examples of these microstructures and their general mechanical properties are shown below:

  • Martensite: the hardest and strongest microstructure, yet the most brittle
  • Pearlite: Hard, strong, and ductile but not particularly tough
  • Bainite: has desirable strength-ductility combination, harder than pearlite but not as hard as martensite

Hardening at Microscopic Scale:

The hardenability of steel is a function of the carbon content of the material, other alloying elements, and the grain size of the austenite. Austenite is a gamma phase iron and at high temperatures its atomic structure undergoes a transition from a BCC configuration to an FCC configuration.

High hardenability refers to the ability of the alloy to produce a high martensite percentage throughout the body of the material upon quenching. Hardened steels are created by rapidly quenching the material from a high temperature. This involves a rapid transition from a state of 100% austenite to a high percentage of martensite. If the steel is more than 0.15% carbon, the martensite becomes a highly strained body-centered cubic form and is supersaturated with carbon. The carbon effectively shuts down most slip planes within the microstructure, creating a very hard and brittle material. If the quenching rate is not fast enough, carbon will diffuse out of the austenitic phase. The steel then becomes pearlite, bainite, or if kept hot long enough, ferrite. None of the microstructures just stated have the same strength as martensite after tempering and are generally seen as unfavorable for most applications.

The successful heat treatment of a steel depends on three factors:

  1. The size and shape of the specimen
  2. The composition of the steel
  3. The method of quenching

1. The size and shape of the specimen

During the quenching process, heat must be transferred to the surface of the specimen before it can be dissipated into the quenching medium. Consequently, the rate at which the interior of the specimen cools is dependent on its surface area to volume ratio. The larger the ratio, the more rapid the specimen will cool and therefore the deeper the hardening effect. For example, a 3-inch cylindrical bar with a 1-inch diameter will have a higher hardenability than a 3-inch bar with a 1.5-inch diameter. Because of this effect, parts with more corners and edges are more amendable to hardening by quenching than regular and rounded shapes. Figure 2 is a sample time-temperature transformation (TTT) diagram of the cooling curves of an oil-quenched 95 mm bar. The surface will transform into 100% martensite while the core will contain some bainite and thus have a lower hardness.

Figure 2: Sample time temperature transformation (TTT) diagram also known as an isothermal transformation diagram

2.  The composition of the steel

It’s important to remember that different alloys of steel contain different elemental compositions. The ratio of these elements relative to the amount of iron within the steel yield a wide variety of mechanical properties. Increasing the carbon content makes steel harder and stronger but less ductile. The predominant alloying element of stainless steels in chromium, which gives the metal its strong resistance to corrosion. Since humans have been tinkering with the composition of steel for over a millennium, the number of combinations is endless.

Because there are so many combinations that yield so many different mechanical properties, standardized tests are used to help categorize different types of steel. A common test for hardenability is the Jominy Test, shown in Figure 3 below. During this test a standard block of material is heated until it is 100% austenite. The block is then quickly moved to an apparatus where it is water quenched. The surface, or the area in contact with the water, is immediately cooled and the rate of cooling drops as a function of distance from the surface. A flat is then ground onto the block along the length of the sample. The hardness at various points is measured along this flat. This data is then plotted in a hardenability chart with hardness as the y-axis and distance as the x-axis.

Figure 3: Diagram of a Jominy end quench specimen mounted during quenching (left) and post hardness testing (right)

Hardenability curves are constructed from the results of Jominy Tests. Examples of a few steel alloy curves are shown in Figure 4. With a diminishing cooling rate (steeper drop in hardness over a short distance), more time is allowed for carbon diffusion and the formation of a greater proportion of softer pearlite. This means less martensite and a lower hardenability. A material that retains higher hardness values over relatively long distances is considered highly hardenable. Also, the greater the difference in hardness between the two ends, the lower the hardenability. It is typical of hardenability curves that as the distance from the quenched end increases, the cooling rate decreases. 1040 steel initially has the same hardness as both 4140 and 4340 but cools extremely quickly over the length of the sample. 4140 and 4340 steel cool at a more gradual rate and therefore have a higher hardenability. 4340 has a less extreme rate of coolness relative to 4140 and thus has the highest hardenability of the trio.

Figure 4: Hardenability charts for 4140, 1040 and 4340 steels

Hardenability curves are dependent on carbon content. A greater percentage of carbon present in steel will increase its hardness. It should be noted that all three alloys in Figure 4 contain the same amount of carbon (0.40% C).  Carbon is not the only alloying element that can have an effect on hardenability. The disparity in hardenability behavior between these three steels can be explained in terms of their alloying elements. Table 1 below shows a comparison of the alloying content in each of the steels. 1040 is a plain carbon steel and therefore has the lowest hardenability as there are no other elements besides iron to block the carbon atoms from escaping the matrix. The nickel added to 4340 allows for a slightly greater amount of martensite to form compared to 4140, giving it the highest hardenability of these three alloys. Most metallic alloying elements slow down the formation of pearlite, ferrite and bainite, therefore they increase a steel’s hardenability.

Table 1: Shows the alloying contents of 4340, 4140, and 1040 steel

Type of Steel: Nickel (wt %): Molybdenum (wt %): Chromium (wt %):
4340 1.85% 0.25% 0.80%
4140 0.00% 0.20% 1.00%
1040 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%

There can be a variation in hardenability within one material group. During the industrial production of steel, there are always slight unavoidable variations in the elemental composition and average grain size from one batch to another. Most of the time a material’s hardenability is represented by maximum and minimum curves set as limits.

Hardenability also increases with increasing austenitic grain size. A grain is an individual crystal in a polycrystalline metal. Think of a stained glass window (like the one seen below), the colored glass would be the grains while the soldering material holding it altogether would be the grain boundaries. Austenite, ferrite, and cementite are all different types of grains that make up the different microstructures of steel. It is at the grain boundaries that the pearlite and bainite will form. This is detrimental to the hardening process as martensite is the desired microstructure, the other types get in the way of its growth. Martensite forms from the rapid cooling of austenite grains and its transformation process is still not well understood. With increasing grain size, there are more austenite grains and fewer grain boundaries. Therefore, there are fewer opportunities for microstructures like pearlite and bainite to form and more opportunities for martensite to form.

Figure 5: The colorful glass pieces represent grains of austenite which transforms into the desirable martensite upon quenching. The black portions in between the color portions represent grain boundaries. Sites where pearlite or bainite will form upon quenching.

3. The method of quenching

As previously stated, the type of quench affects the cooling rate. Using oil, water, aqueous polymer quenchants, or air will yield a different hardness through the interior of the workpiece. This also shifts the hardenability curves. Water produces the most severe quench followed by oil and then air. Aqueous polymer quenchants provide quenching rates between those of water and oil and can be tailored to specific applications by changing the polymer concentration and temperature. The degree of agitation also affects the rate of heat removal. The faster the quenching medium moves across the specimen, the greater the quenching effectiveness. Oil quenches are generally used when a water quench may be too severe for a type of steel as it may crack or warp upon treatment.

Figure 6: Metalworker quenching casts in an oil bath

Machining Hardened Steels:

The type of cutter that should be chosen for processing tools chosen for machining a workpiece after hardening depends on a few different variables. Not counting the geometric requirements specific to the application, two of the most important variables are the material hardness and its hardenability. Some relatively high-stress applications require a minimum of 80% martensite to be produced throughout the interior of the workpiece. Usually, moderately stressed parts only require about 50% martensite throughout the workpiece. When machining a quenched metal with very low hardenability a standard coated solid carbide tool may work without a problem. This is because the hardest portion of the workpiece is limited to its surface. When machining a steel with a high hardenability it is recommended that you use a cutter with specialized geometry that is for that specific application. High hardenability will result in a workpiece that is hard throughout its entire volume. Harvey Tool has a number of different cutters for hardened steel throughout the catalog, including drills, end mills, keyseat cutters, and engravers.

Summary:

Hardenability is a measure of the depth to which a ferrous alloy may be hardened by the formation of martensite throughout its entire volume, surface to core. It is an important material property you must consider when choosing a steel as well as cutting tools for a particular application. The hardening of any steel depends on the size and shape of the part, the molecular composition of the steel, and the type of quenching method used.

Save Time With Quick Change Tooling

Making a manual tool change on any CNC machine is never a timely or rewarding process. Typically, a tool change in a standard holder can take up to 5 minutes. Add that up a few times, and suddenly you have added significant minutes to your production time.

As CNC machine tool and cutting tool technology has advanced, there are more multi-functional tools available to help you avoid tool changes. However, sometimes it just isn’t feasible, and multiple tool changes are needed. Luckily, Micro 100 has developed a revolutionary new method to speed up tool changes significantly.

What is the Micro-Quik™ Tooling System?

Developed in Micro 100’s world-class grinding facility in Meridian, Idaho, the Micro 100 Micro-Quik™ tooling system is held to the same standards and tight tolerances as all of the Micro 100 carbide tooling.

The quick change tooling system allows for highly repeatable tool changes that save countless hours without sacrificing performance. This system combines a unique tool holder with a unique tool design to deliver highly repeatable and accurate results.

Each quick change tool holder features a locating/locking set screw to secure the tool and a locating pin which helps align the tool for repeatability. Removing a tool is as simple as loosening the set screw and inserting its replacement.

During tool changes, the precision ground bevel on the rear of the tool aligns with a locating pin inside the tool holder. The distance from this locational point to the tip of the tool is highly controlled under tight tolerances, meaning that the Micro-Quik™ tooling system ensures a very high degree of tool length and centerline repeatability. The “L4” dimension on all of our quick change tools, as seen in the image above, remains consistent across the entire product line. Check out the video below for a demonstration of the Micro 100 Micro-Quik™ system in action!

Quick Change Tooling Benefits

The most obvious benefit to using Micro 100’s Micro-Quik™ system is the time savings that come with easier tool changes. By using the quick change holders in combination with quick change tooling, it is easy to reduce tool changes from 5 minutes to under 30 seconds, resulting in a 90% decrease in time spent swapping out tools. This is a significant benefit to the system, but there are benefits once the tool is in the machine as well.

As mentioned above, the distance from the locational point on each tool shank to the tip of the tool is highly controlled, meaning that regardless of which type of tool you insert into the holder, your stick out will remain the same. This allows you to have confidence in the tooling and does not require additional touch offs, which is another major time saver.

By removing additional touch-offs and tool changes from your workflow, you also reduce the chances for human or machine error. Improper touch-offs or tool change errors can cause costly machine crashes and result in serious repairs and downtime. With the Micro 100 Micro-Quik™ system, initial setups become much easier, allowing you to hit the cycle start button with total confidence for each run.

By making a few simple changes to your tool holding configurations and adopting the Micro-Quik™ system, your shop can save thousands in time saved, with less machine downtime and increased part production. To learn more about the Micro 100 Micro-Quik™ cutting tools and tool holders, please visit (URL here to quick change page).