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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.

Multi-Functional Tools Every Shop Should Have

If there is one thing that all machinists and shop managers can agree on, it’s that time is money. Tool and material costs, employee wages, and keeping the lights on all add up, but most would agree that saving time is one of the best ways to make a shop more efficient.

Tool changes mid-job quickly add up when it comes to cycle times (not to mention tool costs), so using a tool capable of multiple operations whenever possible is an excellent first step. The following multi-functional tools are designed to save time and money at the spindle.

Drill/End Mills

drill mills

One look at Drill/End Mills or “Drill Mills” and it’s obvious that these tools are capable of more than a standard end mill. Two of the intended operations are right in the name (drilling and milling). Besides the obvious, though, drill mills are intended for grooving, spotting, and chamfering, bringing the total to five separate operations.

drill mill operations

Considering the amount of tools normally required to perform all of these common operations, keeping a few drill mills in your tool crib ensures you’re always ready to tackle them, not to mention the potential extra spots in your tool magazine.

Undercutting End Mills

undercutting end mills

Undercutting End Mills, also known as lollipop cutters or spherical ball end mills are surprisingly “well-rounded” tools. Besides milling an undercut feature on a part, which is typically very difficult with a standard end mill, these tools are capable of a few other operations.

undercutting end mill operations

Using an undercutting end mill to deburr in your machine is an excellent way to save time and effort. Some slotting and contouring operations, especially when 5-axis milling, are made far easier with an undercutting end mill, and in some situations, clearance challenges make them necessary.

Double Angle Shank Cutters

double angle shank cutters

Often referred to the “Swiss Army Knife of Machining” due to their versatility, Double Angle Shank Cutters are 6-in1 tools worth keeping on hand in any machine shop. Since these tools cut on all sides of their head, they are useful in a variety of situations.

multi-functional tools

With the ability to thread mill and countersink, Double Angle Shank cutters are perfect for holemaking operations. On top of that, their clearance advantage over standard end mills makes them extremely well suited to a variety of finishing operations in difficult to reach places.

Flat Bottom Tools

flat bottom tools

Flat Bottom Drills and Flat Bottom Counterbores are better suited to holemaking, but they are capable of a large variety of operations. They belong in a category together since their flat bottom geometry is what sets them apart from other tools in the same category. Flat bottom geometry keeps the tool from walking on irregular or angle surfaces and help to correct, straighten, or flatten features created by non-flat bottom tools.

Flat bottom drills are designed for the following operations:

multi-functional tools

While similar in some aspects, flat bottom counterbores are particularly well-suited for these uses:

flat bottom tools

Adjustable Chamfer Cutters

adjustable chamfer cutters

As discussed in a previous post, chamfer mills are capable of more than just chamfering – they are also well-suited for beveling, deburring, spotting, and countersinking. However, these adjustable chamfer cutters aren’t limited to a single angle per side – with a quick adjustment to the carbide insert you can mill any angle from 10° to 80°.

chamfer cutter inserts

When you account for the replaceable insert and the range of angles, this tool has a very high potential for time and tool cost savings.

Tools that are capable of a variety of operations are useful to just about any machine shop. Keeping your tool crib stocked with some or all of these multi-functional tools greatly increases your shop’s flexibility and decreases the chances of being unprepared for a job.

Why You Should Stop Deburring By Hand

Deburring is a process in which sharp edges and burrs are removed from a part to create a more aesthetically pleasing final product. After milling, parts are typically taken off the machine and sent off to the Deburring Department. Here, the burrs and sharp points are removed, traditionally by hand. However, an operation that takes an hour by hand can be reduced to mere minutes by deburring parts right in the machine with high precision CNC deburring tools, making hand deburring a thing of the past.

High Precision Tools

Hand deburring tools often have a sharp hook-shaped blade on the end, which is used to scrape/slice off the burrs as it passes along the edge of the part. These tools are fairly simple and easy to use, but much less efficient and precise than CNC deburring tools.

hand deburring

Image Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Deburring_tool.jpg

CNC deburring tools are also held to much tighter tolerances than traditional hand-deburring tools. Traditional cylindrical deburring tools typically have a diameter-tolerance window of +/- .008 versus a CNC deburring end mill which has a diameter tolerance of +/-.0005. The tighter tolerance design eliminates the location issues found in traditional deburring tools with loose tolerances, allowing them to be programmed like a traditional end mill.

While hand deburring tools often have just a single blade, CNC deburring tools feature double cut patterns and a high number of flutes. The double cut pattern contains both right hand and left hand teeth, which results in an improved finish. These tools leave completed parts looking far superior to their hand-deburred counterparts, with more consistent and controlled edge breaks. Additionally, there is a large variety of CNC deburring tools available today which can take full advantage of multi-axis machines and the most complex tool paths. For example, Harvey Tool’s 270° Undercutting End Mill is a great choice for multi-axis and more complex deburring options. Further, Deburring Chamfer Cutters are multi-use tools that can perform both chamfering and deburring accurately with no need for a tool change.

cnc deburring

Reduce Production Costs and Increase Profits

Having an entire department dedicated to deburring can be costly, and many smaller businesses may have pulled employees off other jobs to help with deburring, which hampers production. Taking employees off the deburring station and asking them to run more parts or man another department can help keep labor costs low while still increasing production rates.

cnc deburring

Stop Deburring By Hand and Increase Your Profits

By deburring right in the CNC machine, parts can be completed in one machining operation. The double-cut pattern found on many deburring tools also allows for increased speeds and feeds. This helps to reduce cycle times even further, saving hours of work and increasing production efficiency. Deburring in the machine is a highly repeatable process that reduces overall cycle times and allows for more efficient finishing of a part. In addition, CNC machines are going to be more accurate than manual operations, leading to fewer scrapped parts due to human error and inconsistencies.

Simply put, the precision and accuracy of the CNC machine, along with the cost and time savings associated with keeping the part in the machine from start to finish, makes deburring in the CNC machine one of the easiest way to increase your shop’s efficiency.

Undercutting End Mills: Well-Rounded Tools That Offer Maximum Versatility

Undercutting end mills, also known as lollipop cutters or spherical ball end mills, are a common choice for machining undercuts. An undercut is a common part feature characterized by one part of a workpiece “hanging” over another. Undercuts are typically difficult, or even impossible, to machine with a standard end mill, especially on 3-axis machines. In many cases, a specialty tool is needed to tackle this feature. Although they are frequently associated with a singular use, undercutting end mills are actually very versatile tools that are worth keeping on hand for a variety of operations.

Undercutting

undercutting machining

Unsurprisingly, undercutting end mills are very well suited to undercutting operations. Creating an undercut on a part can be tricky and time consuming, especially when forced to rotate the workpiece. Fortunately, this can be greatly simplified with an undercutting end mill.

Exactly what tool to use depends on the geometry of the feature and the part. Undercutting end mills are available with a range of wrap angles like 220°, 270°, and 300°. Greater wrap angles are the result of a thinner neck and create a more spherical cutting end. This style offers more clearance at the cost of rigidity. Likewise, undercutting end mills with lower wrap angles sacrifice clearance for greater rigidity.

Deburring & Edgebreaking

deburring

Since undercuts have a wrap angle that is greater than 180°, they are very well-suited to deburring or edgebreaking anywhere on your workpiece, including the underside. Deburring your parts by hand can be inefficient for your shop – using an undercutting end mill instead will save you time and money. Edgebreaking operations are often a critical final step to create a part that looks and feels like a finished product and that is safe to handle.

All undercutting end mills can be used to deburr and edgebreak, which makes them a useful tool to have on hand in any shop. Some manufacturers also offer specialized deburring undercutting end mills that are designed with a right and left hand flute orientation, giving them “teeth” that make them particularly useful for deburring complex shapes. Using a deburring undercutting end mill in a 5-axis machine often makes it possible to deburr or edgebreak an entire workpiece in one shot.

Slotting

slotting

Most machinists might not think of undercutting end mills for slotting, but they are fully capable of this operation. An equivalent slot can be machined with a regular ball end mill, but doing so might not be feasible due to clearance issues – an undercutting end mill has a reduced neck, unlike a standard ball end mill. Additionally, using an undercutter to slot can save time switching to an equivalent ball end mill.

Since only 180° of the cutting end can be used to slot, undercutting end mills with lower wrap angles and thicker necks are best suited to slotting. However, high helix undercutting end mills may be ideal if improved finish and increased chip removal are important to the operation.

Contouring & Profiling

contouring

With their wrap angle and increased clearance, undercutting end mills are very useful for both simple and complicated contouring and profiling operations. Their versatility means that it is sometimes possible to accomplish the entire operation with a single tool, rather than several, especially when 5-axis milling.

Reduced shank undercutting end mills offer the most versatility in complex contouring and profiling operations. The ability to chuck these tools at any depth means that they are capable of maximum clearance.

Choosing An Undercutting End Mill

While most undercutting end mills are conceptually similar, there are a few key differences that must be considered when picking the right tool for your job. Harvey Tool offers the following undercutting end mill styles as stock standard tools.

undercutting end mills