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Selecting the Right Plastic Cutting End Mill

Many challenges can arise when machining different types of plastics. In the ever changing plastics industry, considerations for workholding, the melting point of your material, and any burrs that may potentially be created on the piece need to be examined prior to selecting a tool. Choosing the correct tool for your job and material is pivotal to avoid wasting time and money. Harvey Tool offers One, Two, and Three Flute Plastic Cutting End Mills with Upcut and Downcut Geometries. The following guide is intended to aid in the tool selection process to avoid common plastic cutting mistakes.

Choose Workholding Method

When it comes to workholding, not all plastic parts can be secured by clamps or vices. Depending on the material’s properties, these workholding options may damage or deform the part. To circumnavigate this, vacuum tables or other weaker holding forces, such as double sided tape, are frequently used. Since these workholdings do not secure the part as tightly, lifting can become a problem if the wrong tool is used.

Downcut Plastic Cutting End Mills — tools with a left hand spiral, right hand cut — have downward axial forces that push chips down, preventing lifting and delamination. If an Upcut Plastic Cutting End Mill is required, then a tool with minimal upward forces should be chosen. The slower the cutter’s helix, the less upward forces it will generate on the workpiece.

plastic cutter selection

Determine Heat Tolerance

The amount of heat generated should always be considered prior to any machining processes, but this is especially the case while working in plastics. While machining plastics, heat must be removed from the contact area between the tool and the workpiece quickly and efficiently to avoid melting and chip welding.

If your plastic has a low melting point, a Single Flute Plastic Cutting End Mill is a good option. This tool has a larger flute valley than its two flute counterpart which allows for bigger chips. With a larger chip, more heat can be transferred away from the material without it melting.

For plastics with a higher heat tolerance, a Two or Three Flute Plastic Cutting End Mill can be utilized. Because it has more cutting edges and allows for higher removal rates, its tool life is extended.

plastic cutter selection

Consider Finish Quality & Deburring

The polymer arrangement in plastics can cause many burrs if the proper tool is not selected. Parts that require hand-deburring offline after the machining process can drain shop resources. A sharp cutting edge is needed to ensure that the plastic is sheared cleanly, reducing the occurrence of burrs. Three Flute Plastic Cutting End Mills can reduce or eliminate the need to hand-deburr a part. These tools employ an improved cutting action and rigidity due to the higher flute count. Their specialized end geometry reduces the circular end marks that are left behind from traditional metal cutting end mills, leaving a cleaner finish with minimal burrs.

Flute Count Case Study

2 FLUTE PLASTIC CUTTER: A facing operation was performed in acrylic with a standard 2 Flute Plastic Cutting End Mill. The high rake, high relief design of the 2 flute tool increased chip removal rate, but also left distinct swirling patterns on the top of the workpiece.

3 FLUTE PLASTIC FINISHER: A facing operation was performed on a separate acrylic piece with a specialized 3 Flute Plastic Finisher End Mill. The specialized cutting end left minimal swirling marks and resulted in a smoother finish.

plastic cutter selection

Identifying the potential problems of cutting a specific plastic is an important first step when choosing an appropriate plastic cutter. Deciding on the right tool can mean the difference between an excellent final product and a scrapped job. Harvey Tool’s team of technical engineers is available to help answer any questions you might have about selecting the appropriate Plastic Cutting End Mill.

plastic cutter selection

Your Guide to Thin Wall Milling

Milling part features with thin wall characteristics, while also maintaining dimensional accuracy and straightness, can be difficult at best. Although multiple factors contribute, some key components are discussed below and can help to increase your thin wall milling accuracy.

Use Proper Tooling

Long length tooling with a long length of cut can spell trouble in thin wall milling situations due to deflection, chatter and breakage. It is essential to keep your tool as strong as possible while maintaining the ability to reach to the desired depth. Necked-down tooling provides added tool strength while also helping you to reach greater than 3x Diameter depths.

Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC)

To support the thin wall during the machining process, keep a wide-cross section behind it. We recommend utilizing a “stepped down” approach, which divides the total wall height to manageable depths while working each side of the wall. The Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC) dimension will vary depending on the material (and its hardness) being cut.

thin wall milling

Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC)

A progressive Radial Depth Of Cut (RDOC) strategy is also important as the thin wall height is increasing. Reducing tool pressure while support stock is disappearing is equally important to keep the thin wall stable.

  • Detail A represents a 5-step progressive radial approach. The number of passes will depend upon your particular application, material hardness and final wall dimensions.
  • This approach helps to keep the pressure off the wall as you make your way towards it. Additionally, it is recommended to alternate sides when using this RDOC strategy.
  • The final RDOC passes should be very light to keep wall vibration to a minimum while maximizing your part finish.

thin wall milling

Additional Thin Wall Milling Accuracy Tips:

  • Climb milling will help to keep tool pressure to a minimum.
  • Manual vibration dampening and wall stabilization can be achieved by using thermoplastic compounds, or wax, which can be thermally removed.
  • The use of ultra-high performance tool paths can optimize tool performance.

How to Tackle Deep Cavity Milling the Right Way

Deep cavity milling is a common yet demanding milling operation. In this style, the tool has a large amount of overhang – or how far a cutting tool is sticking out from its tool holder. The most common challenges of deep cavity milling include tool deflection, chip evacuation, and tool reach.

Avoid Tool Deflection

Excess overhang is the leading cause of tool deflection, due to a lack of rigidity. Besides immediate tool breakage and potential part scrapping, excessive overhang can compromise dimensional accuracy and prevent a desirable finish.

Tool deflection causes wall taper to occur (Figure 1), resulting in unintended dimensions and, most likely, an unusable part. By using the largest possible diameter, necked tooling, and progressively stepping down with lighter Axial Depths Of Cut (ADOC), wall taper is greatly reduced (Figure 2).

deep cavity milling

deep cavity milling

Achieve Optimal Finish

Although increasing your step-downs and decreasing your ADOC are ideal for roughing in deep cavities, this process oftentimes leaves witness marks at each step down. In order to achieve a quality finish, Long Reach, Long Flute Finishing End Mills (coupled with a light Radial Depth of Cut) are required (Figure 3).

Deep Cavity Milling

Mill to the Required Depth

Avoiding tool deflection and achieving an acceptable finish are challenges that need to be acknowledged, but what if you can’t even reach your required depth? Inability to reach the required depth can be a result of the wrong tool holder or simply a problem of not having access to long enough tooling.

Fortunately, your tool holder’s effective reach can be easily increased with Harvey Tool’s Extended Reach Tool Holder, which allows you to reach up to 6 inches deeper.

Evacuate Chips Effectively

Many machining operations are challenged by chip evacuation, but none more so than Deep Cavity Milling. With a deep cavity, chips face more obstruction, making it more difficult to evacuate them. This frequently results in greater tool wear from chip cutting and halted production from clogged flute valleys.

High pressure coolant, especially through the spindle, aids in the chip evacuation process. However, air coolant is a better option if heat and lubricity are not concerns, since coolant-chip mixtures can form a “slurry” at the bottom of deep cavities (Figure 4). When machining hardened alloys, where smaller, powder-like chips are created, slurry’s are a commonality
that must be avoided.

Deep Cavity Milling

How To Combat Chip Thinning

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 Diving into Depth of Cut I How to Avoid 4 Major Types of Tool Wear I Intro to Trochoidal Milling


Defining Chip Thinning

Chip Thinning is a phenomenon that occurs with varying Radial Depths Of Cut (RDOC), and relates to chip thickness and feed per tooth. While these two values are often mistaken as the same, they are separate variables that have a direct impact on each other. Feed per tooth translates directly to your tool feed rate, and is commonly referred to as Inches Per Tooth (IPT) or chip load.

Chip Thickness

Chip thickness is often overlooked. It refers to the actual thickness of each chip cut by a tool, measured at its largest cross-section. Users should be careful not to confuse chip thickness and feed per tooth, as these are each directly related to the ideal cutting conditions.

How Chip Thinning Occurs

When using a 50% step over (left side of Figure 1), the chip thickness and feed per tooth are equal to each other. Each tooth will engage the workpiece at a right angle, allowing for the most effective cutting action, and avoiding rubbing as much as possible. Once the RDOC falls below 50% of the cutter diameter (right side of Figure 1), the maximum chip thickness decreases, in turn changing the ideal cutting conditions of the application. This can lead to poor part finish, inefficient cycle times, and premature tool wear. Properly adjusting the running parameters can greatly help reduce these issues.

radial chip thinning

The aim is to achieve a constant chip thickness by adjusting the feed rate when cutting at different RDOC. This can be done with the following equation using the Tool Diameter (D), RDOC, Chip Thickness (CT), and Feed Rate (IPT). For chip thickness, use the recommended value of IPT at 50% step over. Finding an adjusted feed rate is as simple as plugging in the desired values and solving for IPT. This keeps the chip thickness constant at different depths of cut. The adjustment is illustrated in Figure 2.

radial chip thinning

radial chip thinning

Lasting Benefits

In summary, the purpose of these chip thinning adjustments is to get the most out of your tool. Keeping the chip thickness constant ensures that a tool is doing as much work as it can within any given cut. Other benefits include: reduced rubbing, increased material removal rates, and improved tool life.

Spot Drilling: The First Step to Precision Drilling

Drilling an ultra-precise hole can be tough. Material behavior, surface irregularities, and drill point geometry can all be factors leading to inaccurate holes. A Spot Drill, if used properly, will eliminate the chance of drill walking and will help to ensure a more accurate final product.

Choosing a Spot Drill

Ideally, the center of a carbide drill should always be the first point to contact your part. Therefore, a spotting drill should have a slightly larger point angle than that of your drill. If a spotting drill with a smaller point angle than your drill is used, your drill may be damaged due to shock loading when the outer portion of its cutting surface contacts the workpiece before the center. Using a spot drill angle equal to the drill angle is also an acceptable situation. Figure 1 illustrates the desired effect. On the left, a drill is entering a previously drilled spot with a slightly larger angle than its point. On the right, a drill is approaching a spot with an angle that is far too small for its point.

Proper Spot Angle Diagram

Marking Your Spot

A Spotting Drill’s purpose is to create a small divot to correctly locate the center of a drill when initiating a plunge. However, some machinists choose to use Spotting Drills for a different reason – using it to chamfer the top of drilled holes. By leaving a chamfer, screw heads sit flush with the part once inserted.

Spot Drill

What Happens if I Use a Spot Drill with an Improper Angle?

Using a larger angle spot drill will allow the drill to find the correct location by guiding the tip of the drill to the center. If the outer diameter of a carbide drill were to contact the workpiece first, the tool could chip. This would damage the workpiece and result in a defective tool. If the two flutes of the drill were slightly different from one another, one could come into contact before the other. This could lead to an inaccurate hole, and even counteract the purpose of spot drilling in the first place.

When Won’t a Spot Drill Work for My Application?

When drilling into an extremely irregular surface, such as the side of a cylinder or an inclined plane, a spot drill may not be sufficient to keep holes in the correct position. For these applications, flat bottom drills or Flat Bottom Counterbores may be needed to creating accurate features.