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Hardenability of Steel

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

Steel At Microscopic Scale:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardening at Microscopic Scale:

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

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

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

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

1. The size and shape of the specimen

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

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

2.  The composition of the steel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The method of quenching

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

Figure 6: Metalworker quenching casts in an oil bath

Machining Hardened Steels:

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

Summary:

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

Axis CNC Inc. – Featured Customer

Axis CNC Inc was founded in 2012 in Ware, Massachusetts, when Dan and Glenn Larzus, a father and son duo, decided to venture into the manufacturing industry. Axis CNC Inc has provided customers with the highest quality manufacturing, machining, and programming services since they’ve opened. They specialize in manufacturing medical equipment and have a passion for making snowmobile parts.

We sat down with Axis CNC Inc to discuss how they got started and what they have learned over there years in the manufacturing world. Watch our video below to see our full interview.

Liberty Machine – Featured Customer

Liberty Machine, Inc. is a small Aerospace and Defense-focused machine shop located out of owner Seth Madore’s garage in Gray, Maine. In just a few years, Liberty Machine has transformed from a side hustle into a full-fledged machine shop with customers all over the world.

We were given the chance to visit Seth at his shop in Maine and interview him for this post. We picked Seth’s mind about entrepreneurship, the online manufacturing community, some interesting home construction choices made to accommodate a machine shop, and more.

Thanks for having us come out and visit the shop for this Featured Customer post. To get started, tell us a little bit about Liberty Machine’s history, and what sort of products you typically manufacture.

I founded Liberty Machine, Inc. out of my garage about 6 years ago while I was still working full-time at one of Maine’s largest (and best) Aerospace and Defense shops. I was working close to around 80-100 hours a week, maintaining my full-time job as well as coming home and making chips in the evenings and weekends. At first, I was doing a lot of smaller pieces and one-off parts, such as fixtures and prototype work to help build up a customer base and make enough money to eventually upgrade my machine.

In the early years, I was using an old 1982 Matsuura MC-500 Mill that I picked up for around $6,000. I used that machine to generate enough cash flow and eventually pull the trigger on a 2015 DMG Mori Duravertical 5100 with a 4th axis, probing and high-pressure coolant which really allowed me to take on the type of aerospace and defense work I had been doing at my day job and make the leap into full time entrepreneurship in my own shop. Now, we have the capabilities to focus on aerospace and defense work for major clients all over the country.

We are still working out of my garage, with myself and one other employee, but there are hopes for further expansion in the future as we acquire more work and expand our customer base. If you want to keep up with our shop, follow us on Instagram @liberty_machine!

Liberty Machine

You have a great shop here and are definitely maximizing the space. How much square footage are you working with?

Currently, we are working out of a 940 sq/ft shop. We “technically” have room for one more CNC mill if we really squeezed things together. I don’t think that is in the cards though; it is more likely that we will move to a larger space if and when the time comes for expansion. Heat management and air quality are real issues when working in small spaces with low ceilings, which is something we deal with currently.

What sort of machines and software do you have here in the shop?

For now, we have two VMC’s and a decent amount of inspection equipment. We have the DMG Mori machine I previously mentioned, as well as a 2016 Kitamura-3XD. Both machines have 12k spindles, Renishaw probes, and feature coolant through spindles.

For inspection equipment, we have a 2014 Mitutoyo QM-Height 350 Digital Height Gage, a 2003 Brown & Sharpe Gage 2000 CMM with Renishaw MIP Articulating Probe Head, and a 2003 Mitutoyo PH-A14 Optical Comparator. We also recently acquired a Scienscope Stereo/Digital microscope. This allows us to perform visual inspection of our parts at an extreme amount of detail.

Liberty Machine

There are still holes in our inspection lineup, so we are always looking at adding onto what we do to provide our customers with quality machined products.

For CAD/CAM software, we use Autodesk’s Fusion 360 as well as Inventor HSM.

You mentioned using Fusion 360 for CAD/CAM. Some of our readers may know you from the Autodesk CAM forums as an “Autodesk Expert Elite.” How did that come together?

About 4-5 years ago, I knew I needed a legal, supported, capable CAM solution. After several “30-day trials” of the more affordable packages, I stumbled upon Fusion 360. Having a fair amount of experience with Esprit and MasterCAM, I taught myself Fusion 360 in between running my shop and trying to spend what little time I had with my wife and children. Even though I had prior experience in other CAM packages, I still had lots of questions. I turned to the Fusion CAM Forums for assistance. The employees and other users were excellent to work with and got me sorted out quickly.

Liberty Machine

After I became more comfortable with the Fusion 360 software, I decided to spend some of my free time helping others by answering their questions on the forums. I wanted to give back to the community that had helped me learn. Autodesk eventually took notice of my constant presence on the forums and granted me the title of “Autodesk Expert Elite,” an honor given to some of their most prolific community members and advocates. Now I work with them to help test new features, provide insight from a user’s point of view, and participate in events like Autodesk University.

How did you first get involved in manufacturing?

I will be honest – I never meant to end up working in manufacturing. When I was a teen, I had glamorous ideas about law enforcement, federal work and so forth. But, life doesn’t always work out that way (I met a wonderful girl and goals shifted, so I started looking for alternate career paths).

My friend (future brother-in-law) was a machinist, so I started asking about his work and what it involved. He was working in a “job shop” using all sorts of cool machines and technology I had never really heard about. I was very excited about this career shift and I pursued it with fervor. 19 years later and I still LOVE this trade. The thing that intrigued me most about manufacturing, and the real reason I became so fixated on the trade, was the integral role the machinist plays in every aspect of manufactured society. I believe it is the most fundamental profession there is, and I take great pride in it. The evolution of the trade from manual machining to skilled programmers running CNC machines has always fascinated me as well and has kept pushing me to learn more and continue growing as a machinist.

Liberty Machine

Is it true that you built an addition to your garage specifically for the DMG Mori machine?

That is true! Before I bought the machine, I knew it was going to be too tall for my existing space, and was also going to need a solid foundation to sit on (it weighs 7 tons). Before the machine arrived, I had a concrete slab poured right against the side wall of the existing garage, and placed the DMG Mori on that slab.

After a couple days of unfortunate rain and multiple layers of tarps covering the machine, I had several family members (carpenters by trade) help me build the addition. Ok…I helped them. They were able to get it all framed and covered in just one day, breaking down the side wall of the garage and literally building the new space around the dimensions of the machine. Like they say, if there is a will, there is a way!

Running a shop out of your garage must have been a challenge to startup. What were some of the growing pains you experienced as this shop was built out?

On a professional level, the struggle was real. Two jobs, huge payments on the horizon, wondering where all the work (and money) is going to come from… As I mentioned, at that point, I was working 100 hours a week between the two jobs, and really feeling wiped out at the end of each week. However, the hard work did eventually pay off. Once I was able to get the DMG Mori and prove to customers that I had the capabilities to go full-time on my own, it was all worth it.

Liberty Machine

Outside of that, there were the literal growing pains, like cutting holes in my garage ceiling to fit the column on the Kitamura machine, and of course, building an addition to house the DMG. But like I said, it was all worth it in the end to own my own shop.

What is the best thing about working for yourself?

I’d say the best thing about working out of my shop (and for myself) is seeing my family on a daily basis. Yes, I still work 60-70 hours a week, but to have breakfast with them each morning before our day starts and have the flexibility to shift schedules around for doctor visits and other “life stuff” is worth its weight in gold. We are all so busy in life and I think we suffer as a society because of it. I want my children to know what it’s like to have a parent that is around. Busy, yes. But still present.

You mentioned that you had used a lot of Harvey and Helical tools at your last job. However, once you were on your own, you could choose any tooling you wanted to use. What made you stick with the Harvey Performance Company brands as your go-to tools?

The thing with Harvey Tool and Helical products that keep me coming back is the consistency of quality. I know that when I buy one of these tools, I am going to get a high-performing tool that has gone through multiple levels of inspection and is consistently ground within the tight tolerances that were promised. I honestly cannot remember a single time I have had to send any Harvey or Helical tools back for quality issues.

Liberty Machine

I tell friends and others in the manufacturing community about the tools, and the hurdle is always getting them to look past the slightly higher cost. That additional cost is always worth the payoff in the end knowing that you have a tool that will produce quality parts and shave valuable minutes off your cycle times. The slightly higher cost of the Harvey/Helical product is small change compared to the long term cost savings associated with their performance.

Can you remember a key moment where Harvey Tool/Helical products really saved the day?

Truthfully, Harvey and Helical are my first thought when I’m looking at a challenging feature on a new part. If they offer something that looks like it will work, I don’t even look for an alternative. Order it, get it in house. I’d say where Harvey helps the most is their awesome selection of long reach/stub flute end mills for stainless steel. I cut so much of that, so it’s great to have a vendor stock what is truly needed.

Liberty Machine

Would you recommend entrepreneurship to other young machinists hoping to open their own shop some day?

Yes! But like all things in life, “It depends.” Entrepreneurship is certainly not for everyone. The amount of work required to get a shop rolling and out of “crisis-mode” is insane. There is no other term for it. If you have a significant other in your life, MAKE SURE they are on the same page as you. I am blessed to have a wife by my side who sees the end goal and is understanding of the sacrifice needed in the short-term for the long-term benefit of our family.

What advice might you want to give to someone starting in this trade?

Don’t stop learning. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut. That old guy in the shop has likely forgotten more than you will ever learn. The amount of tools in your Kennedy box doesn’t mean you’re a good machinist. Some of the best toolmakers I knew had small boxes with only the common tools. Learn how to excel with limited resources. Ask questions, and own up to your mistakes.

Workholding Styles & Considerations

Machinists have a number of variables to consider when setting up workholding devices for a machining operation. When it comes to workholding, there are some major differences between holding a loosely toleranced duplicate part with a 10-minute cycle time and holding a tightly toleranced specialized part with a 10-hour cycle time. Determining which method works best for your machining job is essential to maintaining an efficient operation.

Workholding Devices

Ideal workholding devices have easily repeatable setups. For this reason, some machines have standard workholding devices. Vises are generally used with milling machines while chucks or collets are used when running a lathe machine. Sometimes, a part may need a customized workholding setup in order to secure the piece properly during machining. Fixtures and jigs are examples of customized workholding devices.

Fixtures and Jigs

A jig is a work holding device that holds, supports and locates a workpiece and guides the cutting tool into a specific operation (usually through the use of one or more bushings). A fixture is essentially the same type of device, but the main difference is that it does not guide the cutting tool into a specified operation. Fixtures are typically used in milling operations while jigs are generally used in drilling, reaming, tapping and boring. Jigs and fixtures are more precise relative to standard workholding devices, which leads to tighter tolerances. They can also be indexable, allowing them to control the cutting tool movement as well as workpiece movement. Both jigs and fixtures are made up of the same basic components: fixture bodies, locators, supports, and clamps.

The 4 Fixture Bodies

There are 4 basic types of fixture bodies: faceplates, baseplates, angle plates, and tombstones.

Faceplates: Typically used in lathe operations, where components are secured to the faceplate and then mounted onto the spindle.

Baseplates: Common in milling and drilling operations and are mounted to the worktable.

Angle plates: Two plates perpendicular to each other but some are adjustable or customized to change the angle of the workpiece.

Tombstones: Large vertically oriented rectangular fixtures that orients a workpiece perpendicular to the worktable. Tombstones also have two sides to accommodate multiple parts.

workholding

Locators

Locators are characterized by four criteria: assembled, integral, fixed, and adjustable. Assembled locators, can be attached and removed from the fixture, which is contrary to integral locators that are built into the fixture. Fixed locators allow for no moving components, while adjustable locators permit movement through the use of threads and/or springs, and can adjust to a workpiece’s size. These can be combined to provide the appropriate rigidity-assembly convenience ratio. For example, a V-locator fixture is the combination of assembled and fixed locators. It can be secured to a fixture but has no moving components.

workholding

Supports

Supports do exactly what their name suggests, they support the workpiece during the machining process to avoid workpiece deformation. These components can double as locators and also come fixed, adjustable and integral, or assembled. Generally, supports are placed under the workpiece during manufacturing but this also depends on the geometry of the workpiece, the machine being operated and where the cutting tool will make contact. Supports can come in different shapes and sizes. For example, rest buttons are smaller support components used in series either from underneath the workpiece or from the sides. Concurrently, parallel supports are placed on either side of the part to provide general support.

workholding

Clamps

Clamps are devices used for strengthening or holding things together, and come in different shapes, sizes and strengths. Vises and chucks have movable jaws and are considered standard clamps. One atypical example is the toggle clamp, which has a pivot pin that acts as a fulcrum for a lever system. One of the more convenient types is a power clamping system. There are two type of power clamping methods: hydraulic and pneumatic.

workholding

Example of a standard fixture setup.

Hydraulic Systems

Hydraulic Systems create a gripping force by attaining power from compressing a liquid. This type of power clamp is generally used with larger workpieces as it usually takes up less space relative to pneumatic clamps.

Pneumatic clamps

Pneumatic clamps attain their gripping force from the power created by a compressed gas (usually air). These systems are generally bulkier and are used for smaller workpieces that require less room on the worktable. Power clamping offers a few advantages over conventional clamping. First, these systems can be activated and deactivated quickly to save on changeover time. Second, they place uniform pressure on the part, which help prevent errors and deformation. A significant disadvantage they pose is the cost of a system but this can be quickly offset by production time saved.

Key Guidelines to Follow

Lastly, there are a few guidelines to follow when choosing the appropriate fixture or jig setup.

Ensure Proper Tolerancing

The tolerances of the workholding device being used should be 20%-50% tighter than those of the workpiece.

Utilize Acceptable Locating & Supporting Pieces

Locating and supporting pieces should be made of a hardened material to prevent wear and allow for several uses without the workpieces they support falling out of tolerance. Supports and locators should also be standardized so that they can be easily replaced.

Place Clamps in Correct Locations

Clamps should be placed above the locations of supports to allow the force of the clamp to pass into the support without deforming the workpiece. Clamps, locators and supports should also be placed to distribute cutting forces as evenly as possible throughout the part. The setup should allow for easy clamping and not require much change over time

Maximize Machining Flexibility

The design of the fixture or jigs should maximize the amount of operations that can be performed in one orientation. During the machining operation, the setup should be rigid and stable.

Bottom Line

Workholding can be accomplished in a number of different ways and accomplish the same task of successfully gripping a part during a machining operation with the end result being in tolerance. The quality of this workholding may differ greatly as some setups will be more efficient than others. For example, there is no reason to create an elaborate jig for creating a small slot down the center of a rectangular brick of aluminum; a vise grip would work just fine. Maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of an operators’ workholding setup will boost productivity by saving on changeover, time as well as cost of scrapped, out of tolerance parts.

5 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an End Mill

Few steps in the machining process are as important as selecting the best tooling option for your job. Complicating the process is the fact that each individual tool has its own unique geometries, each pivotal to the eventual outcome of your part. We recommend asking yourself 5 key questions before beginning the tool selection process. In doing so, you can ensure that you are doing your due diligence in selecting the best tool for your application. Taking the extra time to ensure that you’re selecting the optimal tool will reduce cycle time, increase tool life, and produce a higher quality product.

Question 1: What Material am I Cutting?

Knowing the material you are working with and its properties will help narrow down your end mill selection considerably. Each material has a distinct set of mechanical properties that give it unique characteristics when machining. For instance, plastic materials require a different machining strategy – and different tooling geometries – than steels do. Choosing a tool with geometries tailored towards those unique characteristics will help to improve tool performance and longevity.

Harvey Tool stocks a wide variety of High Performance Miniature End Mills. Its offering includes tooling optimized for hardened steels, exotic alloys, medium alloy steels, free machining steels, aluminum alloys, highly abrasive materials, plastics, and composites. If the tool you’re selecting will only be used in a single material type, opting for a material specific end mill is likely your best bet. These material specific tools provide tailored geometries and coatings best suited to your specific material’s characteristics. But if you’re aiming for machining flexibility across a wide array of materials, Harvey Tool’s miniature end mill section is a great place to start.

Helical Solutions also provides a diverse product offering tailored to specific materials, including Aluminum Alloys & Non-Ferrous Materials; and Steels, High-Temp Alloys, & Titanium. Each section includes a wide variety of flute counts – from 2 flute end mills to Multi-Flute Finishers, and with many different profiles, coating options, and geometries.

Question 2: Which Operations Will I Be Performing?

An application can require one or many operations. Common machining operations include:

  • Traditional Roughing
  • Slotting
  • Finishing
  • Contouring
  • Plunging
  • High Efficiency Milling

By understanding the operations(s) needed for a job, a machinist will have a better understanding of the tooling that will be needed. For instance, if the job includes traditional roughing and slotting, selecting a Helical Solutions Chipbreaker Rougher to hog out a greater deal of material would be a better choice than a Finisher with many flutes.

Question 3: How Many Flutes Do I Need?

One of the most significant considerations when selecting an end mill is determining proper flute count. Both the material and application play an important role in this decision.

Material:

When working in Non-Ferrous Materials, the most common options are the 2 or 3-flute tools. Traditionally, the 2-flute option has been the desired choice because it allows for excellent chip clearance. However, the 3-flute option has proven success in finishing and High Efficiency Milling applications, because the higher flute count will have more contact points with the material.

Ferrous Materials can be machined using anywhere from 3 to 14-flutes, depending on the operation being performed.

Application:

Traditional Roughing: When roughing, a large amount of material must pass through the tool’s flute valleys en route to being evacuated. Because of this, a low number of flutes – and larger flute valleys – are recommend. Tools with 3, 4, or 5 flutes are commonly used for traditional roughing.

Slotting: A 4-flute option is the best choice, as the lower flute count results in larger flute valleys and more efficient chip evacuation.

Finishing: When finishing in a ferrous material, a high flute count is recommended for best results. Finishing End Mills include anywhere from 5-to-14 flutes. The proper tool depends on how much material remains to be removed from a part.

High Efficiency Milling: HEM is a style of roughing that can be very effective and result in significant time savings for machine shops. When machining an HEM toolpath, opt for 5 to 7-flutes.

end mill selection

Question 4: What Specific Tool Dimensions are Needed?

After specifying the material you are working in, the operation(s) that are going to be performed, and the number of flutes required, the next step is making sure that your end mill selection has the correct dimensions for the job. Examples of key considerations include cutter diameter, length of cut, reach, and profile.

Cutter Diameter

The cutter diameter is the dimension that will define the width of a slot, formed by the cutting edges of the tool as it rotates. Selecting a cutter diameter that is the wrong size – either too large or small – can lead to the job not being completed successfully or a final part not being to specifications.  For example, smaller cutter diameters offer more clearance within tight pockets, while larger tools provide increased rigidity in high volume jobs.

Length of Cut & Reach

The length of cut needed for any end mill should be dictated by the longest contact length during an operation. This should be only as long as needed, and no longer. Selecting the shortest tool possible will result in minimized overhang, a more rigid setup, and reduced chatter. As a rule of thumb, if an application calls for cutting at a depth greater than 5x the tool diameter, it may be optimal to explore necked reach options as a substitute to a long length of cut.

Tool Profile

The most common profile styles for end mills are square, corner radius, and ball. The square profile on an end mill has flutes with sharp corners that are squared off at 90°. A corner radius profile replaces the fragile sharp corner with a radius, adding strength and helping to prevent chipping while prolonging tool life. Finally, a ball profile features flutes with no flat bottom, and is rounded off at the end creating a “ball nose” at the tip of the tool. This is the strongest end mill style.  A fully rounded cutting edge has no corner, removing the mostly likely failure point from the tool, contrary to a sharp edge on a square profile end mill. An end mill profile is often chosen by part requirements, such as square corners within a pocket, requiring a square end mill.  When possible, opt for a tool with the largest corner radius allowable by your part requirements. We recommend a corner radii whenever your application allows for it. If square corners are absolutely required, consider roughing with a corner radius tool and finishing with the square profile tool.

Question 5: Should I use a Coated Tool?

When used in the correct application, a coated tool will help to boost performance by providing the following benefits:

  • More Aggressive Running Parameters
  • Prolonged Tool life
  • Improved Chip Evacuation

Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions offer many different coatings, each with their own set of benefits. Coatings for ferrous materials, such as AlTiN Nano or TPlus, typically have a high max working temperature, making them suitable for materials with a low thermal conductivity. Coatings for non-ferrous applications, such as TiB2 or ZPlus, have a low coefficient of friction, allowing for easier machining operations. Other coatings, such as Amorphous Diamond or CVD Diamond Coatings, are best used in abrasive materials because of their high hardness rating.

Ready to Decide on an End Mill

There are many factors that should be considered while looking for the optimal tooling for the job, but asking the aforementioned five key question during the process will help you to make the right decision. As always, The Harvey Performance Company Technical Service Department is always available to provide recommendations and walk you through the tool selection process, if need be.

Harvey Tool Technical Support: 800-645-5609

Helical Solutions Technical Support: 866-543-5422

Experience the Benefits of Staggered Tooth Keyseats

Keyseat Cutters, also known as Woodruff Cutters, Keyway Cutters, and T-Slot Cutters, are commonly used in machine shops. Many machinists opt to use this tool to put a slot on the side of a part in an efficient manner, rather than rotating the workpiece and using a traditional end mill. A Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter has alternating right-hand and left hand shear flutes and is right-hand cut, whereas a traditional keyseat cutter has all straight flutes and is right-hand cut. Simply, the unique geometry of a Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter gives the tool its own set of advantages including the ability to index within the slot, increase feed rates, and achieve better part finish.

staggered tooth keyseat cutter

Three Key Benefits

Indexing

The alternating right-and-left-hand flutes of a Harvey Tool Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutters are relieved on both sides of its head, meaning that it allows for both end cutting and back cutting. This adds to the versatility of the staggered tooth keyseat cutter, where one singular tool can be indexed axially within a slot to expand the slot to a specific uncommon dimension. This can save space in a machinist’s magazine and reduce machine time by eliminating the need to swap to a new tool.

Increased Feed Rates

Due to the unique geometry of a Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter, chips evacuate efficiently and at a faster rate than that of a Straight Flute Keyseat Cutter. The unique flutes of Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutters are a combination of right-and-left-hand shear flutes, but both types are right-hand cutting. This results in the tool’s teeth alternating between upcut and downcut. Chip packing and chip recutting is less of a concern with running this tool, and results in increased chip loads compared to that of a standard keyseat with the same number of flutes. Because of this, the tool can account for chiploads of about 10% higher than the norm, resulting in heightened feed rates and shorter cycle times overall.

Better Part Finish

Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutters have “teeth”, or flutes, that are ground at an angle creating a shear flute geometry. This geometry minimizes chip recutting, chip dragging and reduces the force needed to cut into the material. Chip recutting and dragging are minimized because chips are evacuated out of the top and bottom of the head on the side of the cutter that is not engaged in the material. Shear flutes also reduce vibrations that can lead to chatter and poor finish. By minimizing cutting forces, vibration, and chatter, a machinist can expect a better part finish.

staggered tooth keyseat cutter

Image courtesy of @edc_machining

Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter Diverse Product Offering

On top of the higher performance one will experience when using the Stagger Tooth Keyseats, there are also multiple options available with various combinations to suit multiple machining needs. This style is offered in a square and corner radius profile which helps if a fillet or sharp corner is needed. There are also multiple cutter diameters ranging from 1/8” to 5/8”. The increased diameter comes with an increase of radial depth of cut, allowing deeper slots to be achievable. Within the most popular cutter diameters, ¼”, 3/8”, and ½” there are also deep slotting options with even greater radial depth of cuts for increased slot depths. On top of the diameters and radii, there are also multiple cutter widths to choose from to create different slots in one go. Finally, an uncoated and AlTiN coatings are available to further increase tool life and performance depending on the material that is being cut.

Opt for a Smoother Operation

A Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutter adds versatility to a tool magazine. It can be indexed axially to expand slots to make multiple widths, allowing machinists to progress operations in a more efficient manner where tool changes are not required. Further, this tool will help to reduce harmonics and chatter, as well as minimize recutting. This works to create a smoother operation with less force on the cutter, resulting in a better finish compared to a Standard Keyseat Cutter.

For more information on Harvey Tool Staggered Tooth Keyseat Cutters and its applications, visit Harvey Tool’s Keyseat Cutter page.

Get to Know Machining Advisor Pro

Machining Advisor Pro (MAP) is a tool to quickly, seamlessly, and accurately deliver recommended running parameters to machinists using Helical Solutions end mills. This download-free and mobile-friendly application takes into account a user’s machine, tool path, set-up, and material to offer tailored, specific speeds and feed parameters to the tools they are using.

How to Begin with Machining Advisor Pro

This section will provide a detailed breakdown of Machining Advisor Pro, moving along step-by-step throughout the entire process of determining your tailored running parameters.

Register Quickly on Desktop or Mobile

To begin with Machining Advisor Pro, start by accessing its web page on the Harvey Performance Company website, or use the mobile version by downloading the application from the App Store or Google Play.

Whether you are using Machining Advisor Pro from the web or your mobile device, machinists must first create an account. The registration process will only need to be done once before you will be able to log into Machining Advisor Pro on both the mobile and web applications immediately.

machining advisor pro

Simply Activate Your Account

The final step in the registration process is to activate your account. To do this, simply click the activation link in the email that was sent to the email address used when registering. If you do not see the email in your inbox, we recommend checking your spam folders or company email filters. From here, you’re able to begin using MAP.

Using MAP

A user’s experience will be different depending on whether they’re using the web or mobile application. For instance, after logging in, users on the web application will view a single page that contains the Tool, Material, Operation, Machine, Parameter, and Recommendation sections.

 

 

On the mobile application, however, the “Input Specs” section is immediately visible. This is a summary of the Tool, Material, Operation, and Machine sections that allow a user to review and access any section. Return to this screen at any point by clicking on the gear icon in the bottom left of the screen.

machining advisor pro

Identify Your Helical Tool

To get started generating your running parameters, specify the Helical Solutions tool that you are using. This can be done by entering the tool number into the “Tool #” input field (highlighted in red below). As you type the tool number, MAP will filter through Helical’s 4,800-plus tools to begin identifying the specific tool you are looking for.

 

Once the tool is selected, the “Tool Details” section will populate the information that is specific to the chosen tool. This information will include the type of tool chosen, its unit of measure, profile, and other key dimensional attributes.

 

Select the Material You’re Working In

Once your tool information is imported, the material you’re working in will need to be specified. To access this screen on the mobile application, either swipe your screen to the left or click on the “Material” tab seen at the bottom of the screen. You will move from screen to screen across each step in the mobile application by using the same method.

In this section, there are more than 300 specific material grades and conditions available to users. The first dropdown menu will allow you to specify the material you are working in. Then, you can choose the subgroup of that material that is most applicable to your application. In some cases, you will also need to choose a material condition. For example, you can select from “T4” or “T6” condition for 6061 Aluminum.

 

Machining Advisor Pro provides optimized feeds and speeds that are specific to your application, so it is important that the condition of your material is selected.

Pick an Operation

The next section of MAP allows the user to define their specific operation. In this section, you will define the tool path strategy that will be used in this application. This can be done by either selecting the tool path from the dropdown menu or clicking on “Tool Path Info” for a visual breakdown and more information on each available toolpath.

 

Tailor Parameters to Your Machine’s Capabilities

The final section on mobile, and the fourth web section, is the machine section. This is where a user can define the attributes of the machine that you are using. This will include the Max RPM, Max IPM, Spindle, Holder, and work holding security. Running Parameters will adjust based on your responses.

 

Access Machining Advisor Pro Parameters

Once the Tool, Material, Operation, and Machine sections are populated there will be enough information to generate the initial parameters, speed, and feed. To access these on the mobile app, either swipe left when on the machine tab or tap on the “Output” tab on the bottom menu.

 

Please note that these are only initial values. Machining Advisor Pro gives you the ability to alter the stick out, axial depth of cut, and radial depth of cut to match the specific application. These changes can either be made by entering the exact numeric value, the % of cutter diameter, or by altering the slider bars. You are now able to lock RDOC or ADOC while adjusting the other depth of cut, allowing for more customization when developing parameters.

The parameters section also offers a visual representation of the portion of the tool that will be engaged with the materials as well as the Tool Engagement Angle.

MAP’s Recommendations

At this point, you can now review the recommended feeds and speeds that Machining Advisor Pro suggests based on the information you have input. These optimized running parameters can then be further refined by altering the speed and feed percentages.

 

Machining Advisor Pro recommendations can be saved by clicking on the PDF button that is found in the recommendation section on both the web and mobile platforms. This will automatically generate a PDF of the recommendations, allowing you to print, email, or share with others.

Machining Advisor Pro Summarized

The final section, exclusive to the mobile application, is the “Summary” section. To access this section, first tap on the checkmark icon in the bottom menu. This will open a section that is similar to the “Input Specs” section, which will give you a summary of the total parameter outputs. If anything needs to change, you can easily jump to each output item by tapping on the section you need to adjust.

 

 

This is also where you would go to reset the application to clear all of the inputs and start a new setup. On the web version, this button is found in the upper right-hand corner and looks like a “refresh” icon on a web browser.

Contact Us

For the mobile application, we have implemented an in-app messaging service. This was done to give the user a tool to easily communicate any question they have about the application from within the app. It allows the user to not only send messages, but to also include screenshots of what they are seeing! This can be accessed by clicking on the “Contact Us” option in the same hamburger menu that the Logout and Help & Tips are found.

Click this link to sign up today!

Slaying Stainless Steel: Machining Guide

Stainless steel can be as common as Aluminum in many shops, especially when manufacturing parts for the aerospace and automotive industries. It is a fairly versatile material with many different alloys and grades which can accommodate a wide variety of applications. However, it is also one of the most difficult to machine. Stainless steels are notorious end mill assassins, so dialing in your speeds and feeds and selecting the proper tool is essential for machining success.

Material Properties

Stainless steels are high-alloy steels with superior corrosion resistance to carbon and low-alloy steels. This is largely due to their high chromium content, with most grades of stainless steel alloys containing at least 10% of the element.

Stainless steel can be broken out into one of five categories: Austenitic, Ferritic, Martensitic, Precipitation Hardened (PH), and Duplex. In each category, there is one basic, general purpose alloy. From there, small changes in composition are made to the base in order to create specific properties for various applications.

For reference, here are the properties of each of these groupings, as well as a few examples of the popular grades and their common uses.

Category Properties Popular Grades Common Uses
Austenitic Non-magnetic, outstanding corrosion and heat resistance. 304, 316 Food processing equipment, gutters, bolts, nuts, and other fasteners.
Ferritic Magnetic, lower corrosion and heat resistance than Austenitic. 430, 446 Automotive parts and kitchen appliances.
Martensitic Magnetic, moderate corrosion resistance – not for severe corrosion. 416, 420, 440 Knives, firearms, surgical instruments, and hand tools.
Precipitation Hardened (PH) Strongest grade, heat treatable, severe corrosion resistance. 17-4 PH, 15-5 PH Aerospace components.
Duplex Stronger mixture of both Austenitic and Ferritic. 244, 2304, 2507 Water treatment plants, pressure vessels.

Tool Selection

Choosing the correct tooling for your application is crucial when machining stainless steel. Roughing, finishing, slotting, and high efficiency milling toolpaths can all be optimized for stainless steel by choosing the correct style of end mill.

Traditional Roughing

For traditional roughing, a 4 or 5 flute end mill is recommended. 5 flute end mills will allow for higher feed rates than their 4 flute counterparts, but either style would work well for roughing applications. Below is an excellent example of traditional roughing in 17-4 Stainless Steel.

 

 

Slotting

For slotting in stainless steel, chip evacuation is going to be key. For this reason, 4 flute tools are the best choice because the lower flute count allows for more efficient chip evacuation. Tools with chipbreaker geometry also make for effective slotting in stainless steel, as the smaller chips are easier to evacuate from the cut.

stainless steel machining

Finishing

When finishing stainless steel parts, a high flute count and/or high helix is required for the best results. Finishing end mills for stainless steel will have a helix angle over 40 degrees, and a flute count of 5 or more. For more aggressive finishing toolpaths, flute count can range from 7 flutes to as high as 14. Below is a great example of a finishing run in 17-4 Stainless Steel.

 

High Efficiency Milling

High Efficiency Milling can be a very effective machining technique in stainless steels if the correct tools are selected. Chipbreaker roughers would make an excellent choice, in either 5 or 7 flute styles, while standard 5-7 flute, variable pitch end mills can also perform well in HEM toolpaths.

stainless steel

HEV-5

Helical Solutions offers the HEV-5 end mill, which is an extremely versatile tool for a variety of applications. The HEV-5 excels in finishing and HEM toolpaths, and also performs well above average in slotting and traditional roughing. Available in square, corner radius, and long reach styles, this well-rounded tool is an excellent choice to kickstart your tool crib and optimize it for stainless steel machining.

stainless steel machining

Running Parameters

While tool selection is a critical step to more effective machining, dialing in the proper running parameters is equally important. There are many factors that go into determining the running parameters for stainless steel machining, but there are some general guidelines to follow as a starting point.

Generally speaking, when machining stainless steels a SFM of between 100-350 is recommended, with a chip load ranging between .0005” for a 1/8” end mill up to .006” for a 1” end mill. A full breakdown of these general guidelines is available here.

Machining Advisor Pro

Machining Advisor Pro is a cutting edge resource designed to precisely calculate running parameters for high performance Helical Solutions end mills in materials like stainless steel, aluminum, and much more. Simply input your tool, your exact material grade, and machine setup and Machining Advisor Pro will generate fully customizable running parameters. This free resource allows you to push your tools harder, faster, and smarter to truly dominate the competition.

In Conclusion

Stainless steel machining doesn’t have to be hard. By identifying the proper material grade for each part, selecting the perfect cutting tool, and optimizing running parameters, stainless steel machining headaches can be a thing of the past.