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What You Need to Know About Coolant for CNC Machining

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

Coolant or Lubricant Purpose

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

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

Types of Coolant Delivery

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

Introduction to High Efficiency Milling

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

High Speed Machining vs. HEM I How to Combat Chip Thinning I Diving into Depth of Cut I How to Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear I Intro to Trochoidal Milling


High Efficiency Milling (HEM) is a strategy that is rapidly gaining popularity in the metalworking industry. Most CAM packages now offer modules to generate HEM toolpaths, each with their own proprietary name. In these packages, HEM can also be known as Dynamic Milling or High Efficiency Machining, among others. HEM can result in profound shop efficiency, extended tool life, greater performance, and cost savings. High performance end mills designed to achieve higher speeds and feeds will help machinists to reap the full benefits of this popular machining method.

High Efficiency Milling Defined

HEM is a milling technique for roughing that utilizes a lower Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC) and a higher Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC). This spreads wear evenly across the cutting edge, dissipates heat, and reduces the chance of tool failure.

This strategy differs from traditional or conventional milling, which typically calls for a higher RDOC and lower ADOC. Traditional milling causes heat concentrations in one small portion of the cutting tool, expediting the tool wear process. Further, while Traditional Milling call for more axial passes, HEM toolpaths use more passes radially.

For more information on optimizing Depth of Cut in relation to HEM, see Diving into Depth of Cut: Peripheral, Slotting & HEM Approaches.

High Efficiency Milling

Built-In CAM Applications

Machining technology has been advancing with the development of faster, more powerful machines. In order to keep up, many CAM applications have developed built-in features for HEM toolpaths, including Trochoidal Milling, a method of machining used to create a slot wider than the cutting tool’s cutting diameter.

HEM is largely based on the theory surrounding Radial Chip Thinning, or the phenomenon that occurs with varying RDOC, and relates to the chip thickness and feed per tooth. HEM adjusts parameters to maintain a constant load on the tool through the entire roughing operation, resulting in more aggressive material removal rates (MRR). In this way, HEM differs from other high performance toolpaths, which involve different methods for achieving significant MRR.

Virtually any CNC machine can perform HEM – the key is a fast CNC controller. When converting from a regular program to HEM, about 20 lines of HEM code will be written for every line of regular code. A fast processor is needed to look ahead for the code, and keep up with the operation. In addition, advanced CAM software that intelligently manages tool load by adjusting the IPT and RDOC is also needed.

HEM Case Studies

The following example shows the result a machinist had when using a Helical Solutions HEV-5 tool to perform an HEM operation in 17-4PH stainless steel. While performing HEM, this ½” diameter, 5-flute end mill engaged the part just 12% radially, but 100% axially. This machinist was able to reduce tool wear and was able to complete 40 parts with a single tool, versus only 15 with a traditional roughing toolpath.

The effect of HEM on a roughing application can also be seen in the case study below. While machining 6061 aluminum with Helical’s H45AL-C-3, a 1/2″, 3-flute rougher, this machinist was able to finish a part in 3 minutes, versus 11 minutes with a traditional roughing toolpath. One tool was able to make 900 parts with HEM, a boost of more than 150% over the traditional method.

Importance of Tooling to HEM

Generally speaking, HEM is a matter of running the tool – not the tool itself. Virtually every tool can perform HEM, but using tooling built to withstand the rigors of HEM will result in greater success. While you can run a marathon in any type of shoes, you’d likely get the best results and performance from running shoes.

HEM is often regarded as a machining method for larger diameter tooling because of the aggressive MRR of the operation and the fragility of tooling under 1/8” in size. However, miniature tooling can be used to achieve HEM, too.

Using miniature tooling for HEM can create additional challenges that must be understood prior to beginning your operation.

Best Tools for HEM:

  • High flute count for increased MRR.
  • Large core diameter for added strength.
  • Tool coating optimized for the workpiece material for increased lubricity.
  • Variable Pitch/Variable Helix design for reduced harmonics.

Key Takeaways

HEM is a machining operation which continues to grow in popularity in shops worldwide. A milling technique for roughing that utilizes a lower RDOC and higher ADOC than traditional milling, HEM distributes wear evenly across the cutting edge of a tool, reducing heat concentrations and slowing the rate of tool wear. This is especially true in tooling best suited to promote the benefits of HEM.

How To Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear

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

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


Defining Tool Wear

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

tool wear

An example of a tool with no wear

tool wear

An example of a tool with excessive wear

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


Abrasive Wear

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

tool wear

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


Chipping

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

tool wear

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


Thermal Cracking

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

tool wear

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


Fracture

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

tool wear

Photo courtesy of @cubanana___ on Instagram

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


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

Diving Into Depth of Cut: Peripheral, Slotting, & HEM Approaches

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

Introduction to High Efficiency Milling I High Speed Machining vs. HEM I How to Combat Chip Thinning I How to Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear I Intro to Trochoidal Milling


Every machining operation entails a radial and axial depth of cut strategy. Radial depth of cut (RDOC), the distance a tool is stepping over into a workpiece; and Axial depth of cut (ADOC), the distance a tool engages a workpiece along its centerline, are the backbones of machining. Machining to appropriate depths – whether slotting or peripheral milling (profiling, roughing, and finishing), is vital to your machining success (Figure 1).

Below, you will be introduced to the traditional methods for both peripheral milling and slotting. Additionally, High Efficiency Milling (HEM) strategies – and appropriate cutting depths for this method – will be explained.

Quick Definitions:

Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC): The distance a tool is stepping over into a workpiece. Also referred to as Stepover, Cut Width, or XY.

Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC): The distance a tool engages a workpiece along its centerline. Also referred to as Stepdown, or Cut Depth.

Peripheral Milling: An application in which only a percentage of the tool’s cutter diameter is engaging a part.

Slotting: An application in which the tool’s entire cutter diameter is engaging a part.

High Efficiency Milling (HEM): A newer machining strategy in which a light RDOC and heavy ADOC is paired with increased feed rates to achieve higher material removal rates and decreased tool wear.

depth of cut


Peripheral Milling Styles and Appropriate RDOC

The amount a tool engages a workpiece radially during peripheral milling is dependent upon the operation being performed (Figure 2). In finishing applications, smaller amounts of material are removed from a wall, equating to about 3-5% of the cutter diameter per radial pass. In heavy roughing applications, 30-50% of the tool’s cutter diameter is engaged with the part. Although heavy roughing involves a higher RDOC than finishing, the ADOC is most often smaller than for finishing due to load on the tool.

roughing depth of cut


Slotting Styles and Appropriate ADOC Engagement

The amount a tool engages a part axially during a slotting operation must be appropriate for the tool being used (Figure 3). Using an inappropriate approach could lead to tool deflection and damage, and poor part quality.

End mills come in various length of cut options, as well as numerous reached options. Choosing the tool that allows the completion of a project with the least deflection, and highest productivity, is critical. As the ADOC needed to slot can be lower, a stub length of cut is often the strongest and most appropriate tool choice. As slot depths increase, longer lengths of cut become necessary, but reached tooling should be used where allowable.

slotting depth of cut


Depth of Cut Strategy for High Efficiency Milling (HEM)

Pairing a light RDOC and heavy ADOC with high performance toolpaths is a machining strategy known as High Efficiency Milling or HEM. With this machining style, feed rates can be increased and cuts are kept uniform to evenly distribute stresses across the cutting portion of the tool, prolonging tool life.

Traditional Strategy

  • Heavy RDOC
  • Light ADOC
  • Conservative Feed Rate

Newer Strategy – High Efficiency Milling (HEM)

  • Light RDOC
  • Heavy ADOC
  • Increased Feed Rate

HEM involves using 7-30% of the tool diameter radially and up to twice the cutter diameter axially, paired with increased feed rates (Figure 4).  Accounting for chip thinning, this combination of running parameters can result in noticeably higher metal removal rates (MRR). Modern CAM software often offers a complete high performance solution with built-in features for HEM toolpaths.  These principals can also be applied to trochoidal toolpaths for slotting applications.

depth of cut