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University of Michigan Formula SAE Racing Team – Featured Customer

Formula SAE is a student design competition that began in 1980. The competition was founded by the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) branch at the University of Texas. Each year, hundreds of universities across the world spend months designing and manufacturing their best Formula style car before putting them to the test in competitions.

Alex Marshalek is the Team Captain of the University of Michigan’s Formula SAE team, MRacing. The team was originally founded in 1986, and has been very successful over the years. In the 2017 season, they finished 5th at the Formula SAE Michigan event, and took home a 1st place finish at Formula North. They are hoping to continue riding that momentum into another successful season in 2018.

Mracing

Alex reached out to Harvey Tool and Helical earlier this year, and after some conversation, the decision was made to sponsor their team’s efforts by supplying cutting tools and providing technical support. With competitions on the horizon and a new build coming over the summer, Alex was kind enough to find some time to talk with us about his experiences as a student learning the ropes in engineering, manufacturing, and design, the importance of quality tooling and maintaining a superior part finish for competition, and challenges he has faced during this process.

Hi Alex. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. When you were looking into college degree programs, what initially interested you in manufacturing and engineering?

I have always had an interest in Aerospace Engineering, but it was nothing more than a personal interest until I started college. My high school unfortunately did not have any machine shop or manufacturing type classes, so a lot of what I knew, I learned from my dad. My dad worked as a Mechanical Engineer at an axle manufacturing company, and he used to always be doing things around the house and showing me the basics of engineering and design.

When it came time to choose a school, I knew that Michigan had an impressive Aerospace Engineering department, and I liked the feel of the campus and community better than other schools I had toured.

How did you first get involved with the Formula SAE team?

I knew going into school that I wanted to get involved in a design team and advance my learning in that way. We have about a dozen different design teams at Michigan, but the Formula SAE team really stood out to me as a really cool project to get involved in.

I started with the team in Fall of 2016, helping out with the design and manufacturing of the vehicle’s suspension. Now, for the upcoming 2018 season, I am taking over the role of Team Captain. There will be a little bit less hands-on design and manufacturing work for me as it is more of an administrative/outreach role.

michigan racing

How does a typical FSAE season run?

So FSAE seasons are constantly running, and nearly overlapping with each other. For example, we are currently finishing up competitions from the 2018 season, but at the same time we are beginning the design of the vehicle for the 2019 season. Typically, the design work is done over the summer, and finalized in October. After that, the major manufacturing begins and lasts until about March, with spare parts and additions being added as we go. Testing begins in March, where we fine tune the vehicle and optimize the design for performance. Then, the rest of the Spring and early Summer is competition time, and the process starts all over again!

What sort of machines do you have in the shop?

Right now, we have three manual Bridgeport mills, two retro-fit CNC Bridgeport mills, 2 manual lathes, 1 retro-fit CNC lathe, and a Haas VF-2SS and Haas SL-20. For the vast majority of what we are machining, we are using the Haas. We do most of our work in Aluminum, with some parts made out of steel or titanium, and the Haas has been great for everything.

We are also using AutoDesk’s Fusion 360 software for our CAD/CAM, and we love it.

What has been the most difficult part of the build?

Time is really the biggest challenge. We are all full-time students, so time is already hard to find, but we also don’t have an overabundance of machinists so the operators can get overburdened. It all works out in the end and our machinists are great, but time management is truly the biggest challenge.

michigan formula sae

The composite materials we work with are also very challenging to machine. We constructed the vehicle’s monocoque (the structural “skin”, often seen in Formula One cars) out of carbon fiber. While we cut a lot of it on the water jet machine, we needed more precise holes than a water jet could offer, so we went to the Haas for that. We were using HSS drills and only getting 10-12 holes at a time before they wore out. However, we had Don Grandt (Harvey Performance Company Application Engineer) stop in the shop and he sent us a few Harvey Tool diamond coated drills, which should make this a much faster and more precise process!

You mentioned Don stopped in to give you guys a visit. What were some of your biggest takeaways?

Don was great. He stopped by and we gave him a tour of the facility and showed off some of the parts we were designing. We talked shop for quite a bit, and he gave us a bunch of great tips and tricks we could use to really optimize our machining. As I mentioned, he also went through the catalogs with us and helped us find exactly what we need for tooling. The Harvey Tool diamond coated drills are going to be a life saver for carbon fiber. I guess the biggest takeaway was just all of the knowledge we received from Don and how helpful that was to have someone direct from the tooling manufacturer sharing everything we knew with us.

Now that you have the Harvey and Helical tools in the shop, how have they helped you complete this project and get a leg up on your competition?

One of the most impressive things for us have been the finishing end mills we received. The Helical finishers for Aluminum are giving us some of the best finishes we have ever seen. For us, that is a point of pride. We not only want to have the fastest and most well-designed vehicle, but we also want to have the best looking parts. Subpar finishes reflect poorly on the entire build, and first impressions mean a lot in these competitions.

We have also been blown away by the Chipbreaker roughers. We absolutely love those tools and push them to the limits with great results. In fact, the first time we ran them, we used Machining Advisor Pro to dial in our speeds and feeds, and the numbers seemed insane to us. We were nervous, but we pushed the button and let it run. It was amazing to see that we could push a tool that fast without tool failure.

How has your experience been using Machining Advisor Pro?

We use Machining Advisor Pro every time we picked up the Helical end mills. MAP was actually one of the main reasons we were looking for Helical to sponsor us. We had heard a lot about MAP and your level of technical support, which was important to us as we are learning more about manufacturing and machining. Machining Advisor Pro has quickly become one of our best learning tools in the shop.

The nice thing about MAP is that is takes a look at all of the parameters. A lot of applications only give you numbers on your speeds and feeds, but MAP takes a look at the depth of cut, chip thinning, engagement angle, and all of the other parameters that are so essential to a successful run. As a result, we have been able to get very aggressive with the end mills. We are not a huge production shop, so cycle times are not as important, but we still want to get the most out of our tools in the least amount of possible time.

So, let’s break down some specs. What are you all working with on this year’s build?

Right now our car features a 4 cylinder Honda 600 CBR engine, with a Turbo and 600cc displacement. We are one of the few teams that run a turbo in competition. As we mentioned, the monocoque is completely carbon fiber, and the car features a full aero package with an undertray. The max speed is around 80 MPH, and the car weighs 420 pounds without the driver.

Once the build is complete, how does a typical competition work?

Most of the Formula SAE competitions are multi-day events, with a few static events, and then dynamic events where the car is running. For static events, we first have a Design portion. We validate and argue for our design in front of judges who are engineers in the industry. Then, we get into a Cost presentation, as one of the goals is to build the cheapest possible car with a high level of performance. That balance of cost vs. performance is a critical part of the build. The last static event is a Business presentation, where we introduce a business/manufacturing plan on how to get this design to a production level of 100 units in a year.

For the dynamic events, we have 4 different tests. First, we have the Accel Run, which is a 75 meter sprint, and the fastest cars win. From there we go to the Skip Pad event, which is centered on turning radius and the stiffness of the chassis as we do tight figure eight turns with the car.

University of Michigan FSAE

Then we have the AutoCross, a one lap race, which determines our placement in the final event; Endurance. For the Endurance event, we drive the cars around a 22km track, and the goal is to finish the race without any mechanical or design failures in the quickest time possible. Only around 50% of participants actually complete this event. If a single part falls off, or breaks, you are disqualified. Many times we see things like the suspension, powertrain, or wings falling off. It is disappointing when it happens, but it allows us to easily identify any flaws and fix them for the next event.

What is next for you after school? Any future plans or goals?

I am currently majoring in Aerospace Engineering, and would like to stay within that industry. I am leaning towards working on aircraft. Designing either aircraft structures or the aerodynamics would be very cool. I really like the size and scale of working on commercial aircraft, but I could see myself doing something more specialty like working in Defense as well.


Alex and his team had a very successful 2018 season. They recently placed 9th overall in a competition at the Michigan International Speedway. In the dynamic events, they placed 4th in Skidpad, and 7th in Autocross. The high placement in the Autocross event allowed them to race head to head against top teams in the world, and they ended up placing 4th in Endurance out of 104 cars!

The MRacing team also competed at Formula North, a competition in Ontario, Canada, where they achieved a top ranking of 2nd place overall. They passed all of the technical inspections on the first try and placed 1st in Acceleration, 2nd in Skidpad and Endurance, 3rd in Autocross, and 4th in Efficiency.

michigan fsae

Harvey Tool: Behind The Scenes

Many of our end users have had great questions about our manufacturing process, how we keep all of our tools in stock, and more. Now for the first time, we decided to open our doors and show you how we manufacture and fulfill the Harvey Tool product. We partnered with John Saunders from NYC CNC to create a “Factory Tour” video, covering topics like our CNC grinding machines and setups, tool manufacturing, and our warehouse organization and fulfillment procedures.

In the video below, we first toured our Rowley, MA warehouse and fulfillment center with Fulfillment Manager Megan Townsley. After that, we head up to Maine to check out how the Harvey Tool product is manufactured and inspected with VP of Operations Brian McKahan.

 

 

7 Facts Revealed in Our Factory Tour (Plus 3 More That Didn’t Make the Cut)

We know you’re busy making amazing parts, and might not have time for the entire video. To save you time, here are some of the highlights and facts you should know about Harvey Tool.

When We Say Miniature, We Mean Miniature

Our miniature end mills are in stock in diameters down to .001″. In fact, our Stub and Standard end mills cover every diameter from .001″ to .120″, meaning we will always have you covered when it comes to micro-machining. Although it is hard to see with the naked eye, you can get an up-close look at the famed .001″ end mill by jumping to the 35 minute mark in the tour video.

Micro-Tools Require Precision Grinding

We utilize advanced CNC grinding technology to manufacture our miniature tools at our plant in Maine. Brian MacKahan, VP of Operations, does an excellent job of breaking down our manufacturing process beginning at the 21 minute mark of the tour video. If you just want to see some miniature CNC grinding in action, jump ahead to the 26 minute mark.

Our Inspection Process is Rigourous

All of our tools are sent through an extensive inspection process, both at our plant in Maine and at our headquarters in Massachusetts. To check out the Massachusetts inspection room, head to the 19 minute mark of the video. If you want to see some more in-depth inspection at our facility in Maine, you can jump to the 35 minute mark.

Yes, We Have It In Stock

If you need it, we have it. All 20,000+ tools from our catalog are kept stocked and ready to ship to you the same day. If you need more proof, jump to 15:30 in the tour video, where you will see John Saunders choose a randomly selected Undercutting End Mill from our catalog and find it in our warehouse, in stock and ready to head out to a shop.

We Maintain a 99.8% Order Accuracy Rate

Our fulfillment team handles all of your orders with precision and accuracy. We maintain a 99.8% order accuracy rate, with fulfillment team members checking every order multiple times to ensure you receive exactly what you need. You can learn more about our order fulfillment process and accuracy rates by moving to the 5 minute mark in the video.

We Sell More Than Miniature

Miniature end mills have always been our bread and butter, but did you know that we have many larger diameter tools in stock as well? At the 9 minute mark in the video, you can see John pull out a 3/4″ Long Reach Ball Nose End Mill from our shelves. If you are interested in larger diameter specialty tooling, jump to 12:15 in the video to check out one of our large diameter Corner Rounding End Mills.

When You Call, You’ll Always Talk to An Experienced Tech Expert

Though we didn’t catch it on tape, John Saunders was blown away by our tech team during his visit. He got a chance to pick their brains about a problem he was having and a few minutes later, he received a recommendation for the right compression cutter to tackle his unique operation. This tool was later showcased in one of his “Widget Wednesday” videos.

When you choose Harvey Tool, you will never get an automated system or countless steps before you are able to talk to a real person about your applications. Our industry-leading technical support team is available over the phones or via email every Monday-Friday from 8 AM EST to 7 PM EST. You can reach them by calling 800-645-5609, or by sending an email to [email protected].

We Value Our Distributor Network

We value our large distributor network, and we ask that all orders are placed with your local dealer. To find the closest distributor to you, use the “Find a Distributor” tool on our website.

We’re Hiring!

We are currently hiring for many different positions, including open CNC Machinists positions for all shifts at our manufacturing plant. If you want to be a part of the Harvey Performance Company team, check out our Opportunities page for more information.

Helical Solutions: Behind the Scenes

We have shown our end users bits and pieces of our manufacturing process on our website and via social media, but for the first time we decided to open our own doors to the public and show you every step behind how we manufacture and fulfill the Helical Solutions product. We partnered with John Saunders from NYC CNC to create a “Factory Tour” video, covering topics like our CNC grinding machines and setups, tool manufacturing, and our warehouse organization and fulfillment procedures.

In the video below, we first toured our Gorham, Maine manufacturing plan with Plant Manager Adam Martin. Then, we ran a few tests with the Helical tools on our Haas machine, before heading back to our warehouse in Massachusetts to talk about fulfillment and new products with Fulfillment Manager Megan Townsley.

 

 

7 Facts Revealed in Our Factory Tour (Plus 3 More That Didn’t Make the Cut)

We know you’re busy making amazing parts, and might not have time for the entire video. To save you time, here are some of the most important facts you should know about Helical.

We Take Quality Control Seriously

Our high performance end mills go through an extensive inspection and quality assurance process before they end up in your machine, with multiple inspection points along the manufacturing journey. At the 17 minute mark of the video, you can learn more about how we monitor the quality of the tools in batches as they are manufactured. If you skip ahead to the 29 minute mark, you can see some of our more advanced inspection machines in action.

We Stand Behind Our Tools with Our Renewal Services

Our Tool Renewal service is a great way to maximize your cost-savings and avoid having to re-purchase new tools without sacrificing any aspects of the original design. At Helical, we do not re-sharpen tools. Rather, we restore your tools to their original geometry. We will review the condition of your used tools and return the cutting edge to its original sharpness and strength, allowing the tool to retain its outstanding performance. The renewed tools go through the same rigorous inspection, edge prep, and coating process that we follow for all our of our new tools. To learn more about our Tool Renewal services, head to the 23:30 mark in the video.

Our Tool Coating Is Done In-House

We have multiple tool coating machines in-house which allow us to take the ground tools right off the line and transfer them to our coating room to have Aplus, Zplus, or Tplus coatings added. These machines also have the capability to create roughly 20 different coatings, which are reserved for specials and custom orders. If you want a close-up look at the coating room and learn how the PVD coating process actually works, head to the 35 minute mark.

Our Standard Catalog Items Are Stocked and Ready for Your Machine

We don’t make our standard catalog tools to order. All of our standard tools are stocked and ready to make some chips in your machine. We also introduce hundreds of new tools to our annual catalog to keep providing our customers with the latest in high performance tooling technology. You can check out our new tools for 2018, including our new High Balance Tools and Metric Tooling, by heading to 52:20, or take quick look at our rows of stocked tools in our warehouse by jumping to 56:55.

Diamond Wheels Grind Carbide Tools

Diamond grinding wheels are the essential tool (outside of the machine) when it comes to grinding carbide. We have a unique management system for our diamond wheels, and a redressing process which can see these wheels last up to a year or more before they need replacement. Adam goes through our “frozen wheel” room with John at the 32:45 mark in the video above.

We Track Every Batch of Tools With Laser Etching

Our tools are all laser etched on-site with our logo, phone number, and tool description, but also with a specific batch number. These batch numbers allow us full track-ability of every tool so we can quickly asses any questions or concerns a customer may have about a tool. With these numbers, we are able to track the tool’s journey all the way back to which machine it was made on, which grinding wheel was used, and who ran the program. We have a couple of these laser etching machines in Maine, which you can see in action at the 42 minute mark.

If You Can Dream It, We Have Probably Made It

We have had some crazy tool drawings come in to our custom tool program over the years, including oddly shaped form tools, tools with a crazy long length of cut, “paper cutters”, and more. You can see some cool examples of custom tools we have manufactured by jumping to the 20 minute mark. If you are more interested in how we actually make them, head to the 27 minute mark to see one of our large custom tools being ground on our Walter machines.

Our Technical Resources Are Second To None

We don’t leave you hanging after your purchase of Helical tools. We have a multitude of technical resources and How-Tos available here on our blog, and we also offer the HEM Guidebook, a complete guide to High Efficiency Milling techniques.

If you are looking for information on speeds and feeds, we suggest you try our Machining Advisor Pro application. This application is designed to increase metal removal rates and shop productivity by generating customizable running parameters optimized for your Helical Solutions end mills. You can click here to get started with Machining Advisor Pro today.

You Will Always Get a Real Person When You Call Helical

If you have technical questions about an upcoming job, a special application, or tooling selection, you can contact Helical by phone at 866-543-5422. Our technical experts are available over the phone Monday-Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM EST, and you will always get a real person to talk to with no automated systems to navigate through. You can also reach our team by email at [email protected].

Questions about where to buy Helical tools? You can give our team a call, or you can find your local distributor by using the “Find a Distributor” tool on our website. Simply choose your state to see a complete list of authorized distributors in your area.

We’re Hiring!

We have a current list of our open opportunities on our website! Open jobs include CNC Machinist, Quality Control Inspector, and Customer Service Representative.

Shining a Light on Diamond End Mills

Diamond tooling and diamond-coated end mills are a great option when machining highly abrasive materials, as the coating properties help to significantly increase tool life relative to uncoated carbide tools. Diamond tools and diamond-like coated tools are only recommended for non-ferrous applications, including highly abrasive materials ranging from graphite to green ceramics, as they have a tendency to break down in the presence of extreme heat.

Understanding the Properties of Diamond Coatings

To ensure proper diamond tooling selection, it’s critical to understand the unique properties and makeup of the coatings, as there are often several diamond coating variations to choose from. Harvey Tool, for example, stocks Amorphous Diamond, CVD Diamond, and PCD Diamond End Mills for customers looking to achieve significantly greater tool life when working in non-ferrous applications.

Diamond, the hardest known material on earth, obtains its strength from the structure of carbon molecules. Graphite, a relatively brittle material, can have the same chemical formula as diamond, but is a completely different material; while Graphite has a sp2 bonded hexagonal structure, diamond has a sp3 bonded cubic structure. The cubic structure is harder than the hexagonal structure as more single bonds can be formed to interweave the carbon into a stronger network of molecules.

diamond tool coatings

Amorphous Diamond Coating

Amorphous Diamond is transferred onto carbide tools through a process called physical vapor deposition (PVD). This process spreads a mono-layer of DLC coating about 0.5 – 2.5 microns thick onto any given tool by evaporating a source material and allowing it to condense onto that tool over the course of a few hours.

amorphous diamond coating

Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)

Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) is a coating process used to grow multiple layers of polycrystalline diamond onto carbide tooling. This procedure takes much longer than the standard PVD coating method. During the coating process, hydrogen molecules are dissociated from the carbon molecules deposited onto the tool, leaving a diamond matrix under the right temperature and pressure conditions. Under the wrong conditions, the tool may be simply coated in graphite. 6% cobalt carbide blanks allow for the best adhesion of diamond and a substrate. CVD diamond coated end mills have a typical thickness of coating that is between 8 and 10 microns thick.

CVD Diamond Coating

Polycrystalline Diamond (PCD)

Polycrystalline Diamond (PCD) is a synthetic diamond, meaning it is grown in a lab and contains mostly cubic structures. Diamond hardness ranges from about 80 GPa up to about 98 GPa. PCD end mills have the same diamond structure as CVD diamond tools but the binding technique is different. The diamond starts in a powdery form that is sintered onto a carbide plate using cobalt as a solvent metal substrate. This is done at an extreme temperature and pressure as the cobalt infiltrates the powder, causing the grains to grow together. This effectively creates a thick diamond wafer, between 010” and .030” in width, with a carbide base. This carbide base is then brazed onto the head an end mill and sharpened.

PCD Diamond CoatingHow Diamond Coatings Differ

Coating Hardness & Thickness

Polycrystalline tools (CVD or sintered) have a much higher hardness, thickness, and max working temperature than Amorphous Diamond oated tools. As mentioned previously, a PCD tool consists of a diamond wafer brazed to a carbide body while a CVD tool is a carbide end mill with a relatively thick layer of polycrystalline diamond grown into it. This grown layer causes the CVD tools to have a rounded cutting edge compared to PCD and Amorphous Diamond coated tools. PCD tools have the thickest diamond layer that is ground to a sharp edge for maximum performance and tool life. The difference between PCD tools and CVD coated tools lies in the thickness of this coat and the sharpness of the cutting edge. Amorphous Diamond tools maintain a sharper edge than CVD coated tools because of their thin coating.

Flute Styles

Harvey Tool’s line of PCD end mills are all straight fluted, CVD coated tools are all helically fluted, and Amorphous Diamond tools are offered in a variety of options. The contrast between straight fluted and helically fluted can be seen in the images below, PCD (top) and CVD (bottom). Electrical discharge machining, grinding or erosion are used cut the PCD wafer to the specifications. The size of this wafer limits the range of diameters that can be achieved during manufacturing. In most situations a helically fluted tool would be preferred over a straight fluted tool but with true diamond tooling that is not the case. The materials that PCD tools and CVD coated tools are typically used to cut produce a powdery chip that does not require the same evacuation that a metallic or plastic chip necessitates.

PCD Diamond end mill

PCD Ball End Mill

CVD Diamond end mill

CVD Ball End Mill

Proper Uses

CVD tools are ideally suited for abrasive material not requiring a sharp cutting edge – typically materials that produce a powdery chip such as composites and graphite. Amorphous Diamond tools have a broad range of non-ferrous applications spanning from carbon fiber to precious metals but ceramics are typically outside their range as they can be too abrasive and wear away the coating. PCD tools overlap their CVD and DLC coated counterparts as they can be used for any non-ferrous abrasive material.

Cut to the Point

Harvey Tool carries physical vapor deposition diamond-like carbon coated tools, chemical vapor deposition diamond tools and polycrystalline diamond tools. PCD tools are composed of the thickest diamond wafer brazed onto a carbide shank and are ground to a sharp edge. CVD coated tools have the diamond grown into a carbide end mill. Amorphous Diamond coated tools have the DLC coated onto them through the PVD process. For more information on the diamond coating best suited for your operation, contact a Harvey Tool Tech Team Member for immediate help.

Contouring Considerations

What is Contouring?

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

Contouring & 5-Axis Machining

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

 Recent Contouring Advances

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

Benefits of Advanced CAM Software

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

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

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

Contouring Tips

Utilize Proper Cut Depths

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

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

Use Best Suited Tooling

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

Fact-Check G-Code

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

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

Contouring Summarized

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

TL Technologies – Featured Customer

TL Technologies helps manufacturers reduce time to market and drive down per-piece cost with their unique “Intelligent Design and Planning” processes. Located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, TL Technologies serves manufacturers throughout the mid-Atlantic from their centrally located, 10,000 sq. ft. facility. Their unique manufacturing processes and services quickly made them stand out in the industry since their inception in 2012.

Jonathon Thompson is the Vice President of Engineering at TL Technologies. Jonathon talked with us about their rigorous manufacturing and inspection processes, the advantage of using high-quality tooling, their unique on-site assembly services, and much more in this Featured Customer interview.

Tell us a bit about your shop, how you got started, and what sort of products you manufacture.

TL Technologies got started in January 2012. Our first customers were firearms and defense based. Since then we have diversified our business through growth within customers and word of mouth. We started with the intent to be precise and accurate in a lights-out or nearly automated fashion.

What sort of machines do you use in your shop?

We use an array of modern equipment. 4 axis Kitamura HX400G Horizontal Mills. Nakamura Tome 9 axis Turn Mill, Star 6 axis, and two 5 axis vertical Hurco Machines. All our machines are optioned out with Renishaw probing and all the bells and whistles required to handle high accuracy runs for 24 hours a day with no process issues. Most of the machines have glass scales and thermal packages.

kitamura cnc machine

Which materials do you most often work with at your shop?

Mostly steels; the usual 4000 and 8000 series steels. Comparatively less 6061 and 7075 aluminum and other common stainless grades. We’ve been fortunate to have many of our materials within a reasonable range of Rockwell so that we may tool accordingly for most of the business.

How has your experience been with multi-axis machining?

Fantastic. Multi axis Machining has been excellent for us. It requires high-level understanding to fully maximize but the benefits are huge.

On your website, you mention that TL Technologies has never delivered a rejected part. What sets your quality apart from the competition?

From day one and job one, we worked with the customer to understand exactly how they were measuring the parts, exactly with what tools, processes, and methods to identically duplicate the process in our shop. After replicating key processes we performed many correlation studies to ensure that our measurements were within single-digit microns of what our customers were seeing on their end during inspection. This methodology was scaled up into our overall quality program and allows us to greater understand and manufacture our goods. Our ISO process coupled with this method truly does prevent bad work from getting out. We have never had a case where a part did not function or perform due to our oversight or bad specs. There have been failures on the customer side of things due to engineering, bad prints, and tolerance stackups, but we have not supplied parts that were flat out incorrect.

TL Technologies

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

Typically single or double-digit microns. .0002” to .003” total is common for a large percentage of specs. It is not unusual for +/-.0002” to run long-term over many fixture stations with no manual adjustment. Our machined products are from 1” to 8” cubed.

What are some of the coolest projects you have had come through the shop?

That’s a good question. TL Technologies sat on the United States Senate committee in 2013 for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. We were featured on the cover of New York Times business section in 2013 as well. Throughout our years we’ve been fortunate to meet many amazing people from high branches in the government, the US Military, top name manufacturers, lenders, and local municipalities. Some of the coolest contacts were folks that formerly operated with US Special Forces. Unfortunately, we cannot comment.

As for projects not covered by an NDA, one of my personal favorites was producing low impact physical therapy products for rehabilitating shoulders after surgery. Though simple in manufacturing, this project provided an array of fun challenges that required high performance tooling, 3D printing, and using our machines with custom cycles. This allowed us to use the equipment very unconventionally. In this way, we were able to provide a cost-effective product utilizing the maximum ability of our equipment with a very short lead-time and low up-front cost.

harvey tool catalog

You also offer assembly services on-site, which is fairly unique in the industry. Can you talk a little bit more about this?

Sure. Both my business partner and I have tremendous experience with assemblies in both hands-on and directorial roles. Whether it was a high precision multi-axis mechanism that ended up being a custom machine, on and off-road vehicles, or even things like child safety seats, we have had our hands in a lot of things over the years. At TL Technologies we’ve provided assistance to machine tool builders, special tooling designers, consumer goods of various types, and most frequently to firearms builders. Mostly we drive out cost, but as we age we’ve been called upon to troubleshoot high-end assemblies where the issues were not immediately apparent. This led to us creating sub-assemblies and even semi-finished OEM products. This includes hand fitting and assembling collectible pistols and precision bolt action rifles. This is usually offered as a temporary solution or process engineering service to larger companies developing new goods or revamping existing ones, and is offered as part of our comprehensive knowledge to attract clients. It has been very successful.

You service a variety of industries, including defense, automotive, agricultural equipment, and consumer products. Do you have a personal favorite?

I’d have to say the products we make that almost every soldier carries and relies on are my favorite. We take great pride in knowing that these parts have not failed due to machining error since we took over the production years ago on the core components.

TL Technologies

Why is American manufacturing important to you?

It’s everything. It’s the heart and soul of all products and by extension facilitates the means with which goods and services exist in our society. By bolstering the skills, knowledge, and experience, we can not only succeed economically but also further the craft and pride of making quality goods. We will always need to be able to make our own goods. The skill and craft to create is more than just economic. We absolutely must embrace and respect the skill and hard work it takes to create. We must pass that knowledge on for posterity so the next generation might find the satisfaction and pride of skilled work.

Why is high-quality tool performance important to you?

It’s everything. The old adage, “Garbage in, garbage out,” is accurate for us. 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.

Have Harvey Tools had an impact on your performance?

Oh man…frequently. Harvey Tools are a mainstay in our company. If I had to think of some key examples it would have to be your variety of Keyseat Cutters, 3 Flute Counterbores, Extended Reach Ball End Mills, and Miniature End Mills under .040”. The 270 degree Lollipop Cutters are excellent for deburring, and we also rely on the 140° spot drills, corner radius forming tools, and more. In short, not only are the tools good, but they provide exactly what we need and the specifications to handle major OEM jobs. We absolutely love metric and you’ve got that too. Your catalogs help us eliminate the need for customs. That is key to cost and lead time.

harvey tool

 

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

Embrace the old knowledge and techniques. The manual skills learned with files and hand ground tools translate critically into the concepts you will need to master if CNC becomes your career. Understand how and why materials cut or refuse to cut, what rake angle to use and when, and how to leverage machine physics to help you work smarter instead of harder. Don’t be afraid to jump down the rabbit hole of engineering concepts, materials, physics, elementary chemistry; these all help give you an edge. Machining is done best with comprehensive knowledge of the machines and machining environment. You never stop learning. All that said, keep a fresh perspective. Old knowledge can be great, but operationally each business will likely have its own methods and flow. Try to understand there is more to the overall business picture than you can often see.

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

Oh definitely! Buy our stuff!! Ha. We are a supplier of choice for OEM, and small batch bolt actions for rifles, pistol components, and pistol slides. We machine to spec and provide cost-competitive options as well as super-premium options.  We are working now to release our own line of aftermarket products in 2018, so keep an eye out for those!

TL Technologies


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5 Ways Your Shop is Inefficient

5 Ways Your Shop is Inefficient

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

1. Premature Tool Decay / Tool Failure

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

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

tool wear

An example of a tool with excessive wear

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

2. Subpar Part Finish

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

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

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

3. Inefficient Coolant Usage

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

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

4. Not Taking Advantage of Tool Versatility

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

chamfer mills

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

5. High Machine Downtime

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

Milling Machines vs. Lathe Machines

Most modern manufacturing centers have both milling machines and lathe machines. Each machine follows the same machining principle, known as subtractive machining, where you begin with a block of material and then shape that material into the desired specifications. How the part is actually shaped is the key difference between the two machines. Understanding the differences in more depth will help in putting the right part in the right machine to maximize their capabilities.

 

cnc lathe

An Example of a Lathe Machine

cnc milling machine

An Example of a Milling Machine

Operation

The major difference between a milling machine and a lathe machine is the relationship of the workpiece and the tool.

Lathe Machines

In a lathe, the workpiece that is being machined spins about it’s axis, while the cutting tool does not. This is referred to as “turning”, and is effective for creating cylindrical parts. Common operations done on a lathe include drilling, boring, threading, ID and OD grooving, and parting. When looking to create quick, repeatable, and symmetrical cylindrical parts, the lathe machine is the best choice.

cnc lathe

Milling Machines

The opposite is true for milling machines. The tool in a milling machine rotates about its axis, while the workpiece does not. This allows the tool to approach the workpiece in many different orientations that more intricate and complex parts demand. If you can program it, you can make it in a milling machine as long as you have the proper clearance and choose the proper tooling.

milling machines

Best Practice

The best reason to use a milling machine for an upcoming project is the versatility. The tooling options for a milling machine are endless, with hundreds of available specialty cutting tools and various styles of end mills which make sure you are covered from start to finish on each job. A mill can also cut more complex pieces than a lathe. For example, it would impossible to efficiently machine something like an intake manifold for an engine on a lathe. For intricate parts like that, a milling machine would be required for successful machining.

While lathe machines are more limited in use than a milling machine, they are superior for cylindrical parts. While a mill can make the same cuts that a lathe does, it may need multiple setups to create the same part. When continuous production of cylindrical parts is necessary, a lathe will outperform the mill and increase both performance and efficiency.

Aspex CNC – Featured Customer

Aspex CNC is a CNC machine shop based out of Poway, California. They offer prototype turning and milling, as well as production level machining. Their quick turnaround times and premium quality have garnered them some serious recognition in the manufacturing industry. Aspex CNC is just one of the four businesses that Gary Colle Jr. currently owns, but they are an essential part of his business ecosystem, creating parts for the other three product-based companies while also offering machining services to outside customers.

We talked to Gary about his unique experiences in the industry, his thoughts on 5 axis machining, his advice for trying High Efficiency Milling, and more!

Tell us a bit about how you got started in machining, your businesses, and how Aspex CNC was formed.

It is a bit of an interesting story. I got started in manufacturing because my father designed, developed, and manufactured one of the first lines of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle lifts, which allow people in wheelchairs to easily get in and out of their vehicles. The company was called GoldenBoy Mobility and is still one of the four business I currently own and operate today.

At a young age, I was working in my father’s shop, answering phones and doing odd jobs as young as the age of 10. When I got to high school, I worked after school and during the summers in a more hands-on position, welding parts, cutting up cars, and helping on the shop floor. This really inspired my love for metalworking at a young age.

goldenboy mobility

My dad used to let me mess around in the shop at night, so I started welding my own parts and trying to learn as much as I could. One day, someone came in and asked if I could create a “tuna tower” (an accessory for wakeboarding/water skiing) for their boat. I relented at first, but eventually gave in and welded all the parts together for him. After I made that one, word got around that I could create these at night. I started to advertise a little bit locally, and people started ordering more and more. That summer, I ended up making 50 of these towers and got noticed by a couple of big distributors. Scaling up like that made it necessary to outsource some of our parts to local machine shops, which is where I discovered machining. I had very little prior knowledge of machining, but once I stepped into my first machine shop, I was blown away.

As that business grew even larger (now known as DBG Concepts), I needed more parts and needed them faster. We outgrew the local shops and purchased our first machine, a Fadal 4020 CNC Mill, from a local machine salesman, who also helped teach me the ropes. I learned a lot in those first 6 months about machining.

Business kept ramping up, and my father eventually retired and I took over GoldenBoy Mobility. With all the extra parts we needed, we kept machining things in-house, and buying more mills. Eventually, machining became an even larger part of the business than either DBG Concepts or GoldenBoy Mobility, so we formed Aspex CNC to move our machining out of the product line and more into prototype work and production machining for other business. We still machine most of the parts for DBG and GoldenBoy in-house, but we are doing much more for outside sources than we used to.

What sort of machines do you use in your shop?

Right now, we are a Haas-only shop. We currently have eight Haas machines in our shop. Our lineup consists of a couple of lathes (ST10 and ST30), a Super Mini Mill, and five CNC Mills (VF2SS, VF2SSYT, VF4SS, VF5SS, and UMC750SS), with another UMC750 on the way!

aspex cnc

Which materials do you most often work with in your shop?

We work with a lot of the common materials, 6061/7075 Aluminum, 1018/1045 Steel, 303/304/17-4ph Stainless, as well as plastics like Acetal, UHMW, HDPE, and PVC.

How has your experience been with 5 axis machining?

If you don’t keep up with technology, you won’t be able to keep up with business, so learning multi-axis machining was a no-brainer for us. We first started with a Haas HRT210 4th axis rotary, and began to play with that. Over the next two years, we learned everything we could about multi-axis machining and made the decision to upgrade to a 5 axis machine. We actually went to IMTS that year to talk to manufacturers and find the perfect machine for us and ended up sticking with Haas because of their support platform and educational resources.

5 axis can be hard, but there are a lot of tools out there (HSM Works from Autodesk being one) that can help you learn. It does require a little more upfront work and discipline, but it eliminates a lot of setup time, creates new opportunities for our shop, and has been really good for us from a business standpoint. A big part of our business is machining one-off parts, so the 5 axis machine allows for a faster turnaround time for those odd shapes and sizes we come across.

5 axis machining

You are very active on social media promoting your business. How has the online machinist community helped your business?

Honestly, even though it can become a bit of a distraction at times, using social media to share our work and partner up with companies like Harvey Tool and Helical has been a lot of fun. We are still young in the social media space, so we haven’t seen a massive impact yet, but the best is yet to come. We have received a few bites here and there which has led to work, but as with everything, it takes some time. We expect a lot of growth this year as we work on more really neat projects and continue to get our name out there. As we grow, the opportunities are going to come.

aspex cnc

What are some of the coolest projects you have ever worked on?

Unfortunately, we can’t talk about most of the work we do, due to customer confidentiality, but we did just do a project for the State of California building a training vehicle for their driver’s education program. We designed and built a dual steering system that gave the driver’s trainer a second steering wheel on the passenger side of the car to be used during training. Another job we just finished up was some parts for the new Raiders football stadium in Las Vegas. They contacted us in a pinch and needed them in two days, and we made it happen. It is pretty cool to know you played a part in a huge project like that.

Aspex CNC also does a lot of work with racing/off-road vehicle companies, often machining parts for the chassis and suspension components. We have worked on projects for companies like Scarbo Performance, ID Designs, TSCO Racing and a whole list of others.

You can only use one machine for the rest of your life. Do you go with a CNC Milling machine or the Lathe?

I would hate to have to choose between them, but it is 100% the CNC Mill. I love ripping around with end mills and working with the 5 axis machines. It is mind blowing what these things are capable of.

Why is manufacturing products in America important to you?

Growing up in the industry which I did while working under my father (building wheelchair accessible vehicles), we had a lot of customers who were veterans coming back from Vietnam or Desert Storm who had been injured overseas and needed extra accommodations, which we could provide for them. The veterans I have worked with made me so patriotic with their stories and courage. We also get to work on a lot of projects with the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, which is putting money back into the American economy by supporting companies like ours and contracting us to make these vehicles. It only makes sense that we employ more people here and avoid sending things overseas to support those who have supported us.

aspex cnc

Do you utilize High Efficiency Milling (HEM) techniques in your shop? What advice do you have for those who are getting started with HEM?

Absolutely, all the time!

The biggest thing is listening to your tool manufacturer for recommendations and then cut those in half to start. From there, work your way up until you are comfortable. Just because the tool can handle it doesn’t necessarily mean your machine, work holding and or set up can, so I would advise people to walk before you run when it comes to HEM.

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

Be conservative and establish good habits from the start. You can get more aggressive as your career starts to take off, but don’t run out and try to run the biggest and baddest machines on day one and try to cut corners. You need to learn what is behind machining; you can get easily lost in all the technology that is available, but you need to understand the core science behind it first. Take it slow, because if you go too fast, you might miss something important along the way.

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

The best thing is building relationships with companies like Haas, Harvey Tool, and Helical. Not only do they provide great service and support for you, but it quickly becomes a mutually beneficial relationship. As we give feedback to the tool and machine manufacturers, and even our metal supplier, it helps them improve their products, which in turn allows our shop to increase our production and efficiency.

Also, having a good team with good people makes all the difference. No matter how many machines you have and how automated you get, you still need good people on your side. I would put my guys up against any other machine shop out there in terms of skill, and it is a big part of what has made our business so successful.

aspex cnc


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Zootility – Featured Customer

Zootility prides themselves on designing products that blend art and function for everyday use. Everything from design to manufacturing to distribution is done at their custom shop in Portland, Maine. Utilizing laser-cutters, laser-etchers, and CNC Machines, their skilled team works 15 hours a day to carry out their mission to get their incredibly thin, extremely useful “zootilitarian” tools into pockets everywhere. Zootility was founded by Nate Barr and was launched on the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign for their first tool, the PocketMonkey. Nate has now expanded Zootility and grown into several more products and brands, including the “WildCard” Wallet (Pocket) Knife, “Open Beer Season” bottle openers, the popular “Headgehog” Wallet Comb, and their new line of “Tülry” multi-tools that disguise as fashionable jewelry.

We visited Zootility at their shop in Maine and talked to Nate and Chris, one of their CNC Machinists, about using Kickstarter campaigns to launch new products, the state of the Manufacturing Industry, machining in very tight tolerances, and more in this latest Featured Customer blog.

Thanks for having us, Nate! Tell us a little bit about your shop and how you got started with Zootility.

Nate: Zootility really started as a maker shop for our first product, PocketMonkey. The goal was always to take the idea behind the PocketMonkey and grow it from just a Kickstarter project so that I could expand the business. I also wanted to make sure that I was learning something new myself every step of the way; I wanted to understand how to make our products, so we could keep production in-house and use our knowledge to expand the business in the future. When we started, I was re-investing all of our proceeds back into the business, allowing us to buy more equipment and really build out the shop. Our shop is fairly unique, where we now have nearly total vertical integration across the board. The only thing we need to do now is buy an iron mine and get our own materials!

How did you come up with the idea for the original Pocket Monkey?

Nate: I came up with the idea for the Pocket Monkey one day while I was locked out of my apartment. I was living in Boston at the time, and I would run out every night to the stores around the corner to buy food for dinner, typically only taking my wallet with me. One night, the door locked behind me, and I was locked out, sitting on my front steps and wishing I had some sort of a shim to slip the lock. I started thinking what that would look like and how it could fit in a wallet for easy carrying and realized that I could add on more tools like bottle openers and screwdrivers while still keeping it slim enough to fit in my wallet. I had studied Mechanical Engineering in college, so I had the background to create what I was envisioning.

Pocket Monkey

You have used Kickstarter campaigns very successfully, not only to launch Zootility, but also to further your product line and expand the business. How was the Kickstarter experience, and would you recommend it to other entrepreneurs looking to launch a new business?

Nate: Our Kickstarter experience was great. We have raised up to $90,000 in a single campaign, and we have figured out a strategy that works for us. We found that if you set a reasonable goal that will allow you to cover start-up costs, say $25,000 rather than $100,000, people are more willing to take the time to invest. A reasonable goal gives people more confidence that the project will be funded, and that it will be successful, leading to more backers and more exposure; it is a great Marketing tool in that regard.

Kickstarter also levels the playing field for smaller companies like Zootility – I consider it to be “The Great Equalizer”. There is no longer a need to have tens of thousands of dollars for upfront costs when starting a business. You can spend a little bit of time creating the campaign and invest a small amount of money into that without taking the huge risk of throwing your life savings into an unproven idea. When I started Zootility, I was still working my day job and did not have the money to put up front, so Kickstarter was a natural fit. We have continued to use Kickstarter for new product lines because we are committed to manufacturing our products in the US, so Kickstarter campaigns allow us to validate new ideas and collect funds up front as we continue to grow the business. I do recommend it for all the entrepreneurs out there, and it has been a great tool that has contributed to our success.

You mentioned your commitment to manufacturing Zootility products in the US. What makes this ideal so important to you?

Nate: Let me start by saying that I think that Globalization is a good thing; it has pulled huge numbers of people across the world out of poverty. However, American policies have essentially allowed large corporations to gut the middle class by moving jobs overseas, especially in more rural areas. This has created unbalanced manufacturing and retail sectors. Personally, I believe things have gone too far, and standing behind our belief in American-made goods allows us to contribute to a more balanced approach to manufacturing. As with all things in life, a balanced approach is the best option. There will never be a time when 100% of goods can be feasibly made in America, so overseas manufacturing will continue, but bringing back more jobs to the middle class here in America is a good thing for the entire industry.

zootility

We have definitely made an effort to re-invest in our local community and the people who live here by manufacturing our products right here in Maine. Offshoring has resulted in a loss of knowledge and a real disconnect from the products that we use every day. Products that were previously considered to be of a high quality are now losing their shine, as less care is put into them and there is less appreciation and understanding of how these things are made. By investing in our local community and ourselves by learning something new every day, we believe we are doing our part to bring this knowledge back and instill more of a sense of pride in our employees and the products that they help to create.

You are originally from the Boston area. What made you decide to move the company and shop to Maine?

Nate: I had originally looked at a few places in the Boston-area, but it just didn’t make sense financially. There is a lot of great technology being developed in Boston by the innovative companies in the area, but to set up a manufacturing business in Boston was cost-prohibitive. By moving our shop to Portland, Maine we were able to save a lot on the space, which helped us in the early stages of the business.

The other thing was the lifestyle change. Portland has a great downtown area with lots of small businesses. There are restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, and plenty of locally-owned shops. It is also easy to get around, either by car or bike, and there is very little traffic throughout the city. I also wanted to locate our shop so that it felt like part of a community. We were able to find a great spot in downtown Portland surrounded by other manufacturers and small businesses. It makes for a great place to come to work every day.

What does the future hold for Zootility?

Nate: Right now, we do as much business in Q4 around the holidays as we do the entire rest of the year, so we have been exploring ways to make better use of the machines during the slower months. As we have completed installing and setting up our new machines, we have begun to do contract manufacturing to fill out the rest of the year. We have the unique ability to create small parts with extremely tight tolerances, and we are willing to do small volume, small batch manufacturing that other shops may turn down. We have been getting business from companies in Boston, who are looking for the “just in time” manufacturing which we can provide. The extra revenue from these projects will allow us to take off the Kickstarter training wheels and expand the business faster on our own.

tulry

From a product standpoint, we are looking to launch more “serious” tools for the outdoor enthusiast. Right now we are in the process of launching our new RNGR brand, which will be a line of minimalist every day carry products, without the whimsical nature of the Zootility Tools products. We also are on the verge of shipping our new TÜLRY brand, which is a series of jewelry infused with every day carry tools.

Chris, you create a lot of very thin products. How does that affect your workholding when working in materials that thin?

Chris: Our workholding has been built entirely custom for our CNC machine, due to the nature of the products. For example, we are currently working on our WildCard knives, which are only .040″ thick. There really isn’t much on the workholding market that will work well for something that small, so our team actually machined our own metal strips on the CNC, held the knives down with small bolts, added some rubber bumpers so we do not have metal on metal contact, and it has worked really well for us so far. We also created custom workholding for the new TÜLRY line tools, which are also extremely thin.

helical solutions

The biggest challenge with our custom workholding is the additional time it adds to each job. Right now, we can run batches of 72 knives per cycle, with a cycle time of 28 minutes. Then, we need 20-25 minutes to unscrew each of the bolts, remove the finished knives, and then insert the new knives and screw the bolts back in. However, it is the only way we can machine products this thin with our tight tolerances, and we can still finish around 600 knives per day.

You mentioned your tight tolerances. What are some of the tolerances you are working in every day?

Chris: Right now, all of our tolerances are in the thousandths. For example, the WildCard knives have a tolerance of just +/- .003″, and the screwdriver tools on the TÜLRY necklace, while one of our highest tolerances, stick to just +/- .005″. The tightest tolerance we are currently working in is on the hex wrench tools for the TÜLRY necklace. The hex wrench tools have to be spot on, or they will be too loose when they go to be used on a hex nut. Right now, we like to keep those tools to a tolerance of +/- .001″.

How has your experience been using Harvey and Helical tools on these projects?

Chris: The Harvey and Helical tools have been great for us. When I started, we had another brand of end mills in stock, and they simply weren’t cutting it (no pun intended) in the types of heat-treated stainless steel which we were working in. We switched over to the Helical 7 flute end mills for roughing and finishing of the knives. Each knife has a very small shelf on it, which allows it to be a removable piece of the WildCard tool. We use a 3/8″ 7 flute Helical end mill with a .020″ corner radius for this cut, with a 3/8″ 7 flute square end mill for finishing. One interesting part of this job is that it requires a very low ADOC because the tools are already so thin, that the roughing we do removes only a very small amount of material.

harvey tool

We also use both Harvey and Helical chamfer mills to create all of the box cutter and hex wrench TÜLRY tools. With the hex wrenches, we have found that the 60° tipped off chamfer mill has been great for creating those intricate cuts. With the box cutters, we needed an edge sharp enough to cut through tape and cardboard, but not sharp enough to cut through the skin. We have found that the 2 flute 120° chamfer mills work best for those cuts.

What is the biggest challenge you face at the CNC machine?

Chris: Right now, we laser cut all of the outlines for the knives from a thin sheet of steel. Then the knives come to us right off the laser cutter for machining. The laser cutting does create a rough finish on some of the knives, which can make them hard to lock down when machining. This can result in some movement, which can lead to the occasional scrapped part. The laser cutter can also leave burrs at the start and stop points, or leave a scorch mark or some slag on the knives, which can make them tougher to machine.

The Zootility shop uses a lot of different equipment. How has the CNC machine in particular impacted the shop as a whole?

Chris: Our CNC machine comes in handy for a lot of different things around the shop. As I previously mentioned, we used it to create our own custom workholding, which has worked very well for us. We also used the CNC machine to create all of our forming dies, which are used to create all of our tools from scratch. As we move into more contract manufacturing for other companies, these machines will get even more use when we are working on the small batch jobs we will (hopefully) be getting.

cnc machinist


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