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Grappling with Graphite: A Machining Guide

Despite being a softer material, graphite is actually one of the most difficult materials to machine. There are many considerations machinists need to make in terms of tooling, coolant use, and personal safety when it comes to machining graphite parts. This “In The Loupe” post will examine graphite’s material properties, the key machining techniques to consider, and tips for properly selecting cutting tools to achieve success in this tricky material.

What is Graphite?

While graphite is an allotrope of carbon, the two terms are not simply interchangeable. Carbon is an element that can form into several different allotropes including graphite, diamond, and fullerite. Graphite happens to be the most stable form of carbon, and is the most common, as carbon naturally occurs as graphite under standard conditions.

Graphite is most recognized for its superior conductivity and resistance to high heat and corrosion. This makes it a common material in high heat, high-pressure situations in the aerospace, electrode, nuclear, energy, and military industries.

graphite cnc material

Even though graphite can handle intense high-pressure situations with ease, it is actually a very soft, abrasive, and brittle material. This can cause serious challenges when machining, as graphite can eat up cutting tools, and severely minimize a tool’s usable life. However, with the proper tooling and techniques, there are ways to optimize graphite machining to be more cost-effective than the competition.

Graphite Machining Techniques

Since graphite is such a soft and brittle material, special consideration needs to be made when machining to avoid chipping it. To get a good cut, it is recommended that you take light chip loads and use lower feed rates in graphite. If you were to take a heavy cut at a fast feed rate, you would start chipping the graphite and could cause it to fracture completely. To give a comparison point, chip loads for graphite are similar to those for Aluminum materials, but with less than half the feed rate.

To give you an idea of speeds and feeds for graphite, here is an example using a 1/4″ Harvey Tool CVD Diamond Coated, 4 flute Square End Mill. If that tool was running at a standard RPM of 12,000 at 780 SFM, the recommended chip load would be .00292 for a feed rate of 140 IPM.

graphite electrode machining

In terms of machine setup, the one major tip to remember is to always avoid using coolant. Graphite is a fairly porous material, and so it can absorb coolant and act as a “coolant sponge,” which will cause problems with finished parts. Inside the machine and on the tooling, the coolant can actually react with the graphite dust and create an abrasive slurry, which will cause problems while machining. A vacuum system is recommended for clearing material while machining graphite. Otherwise, coated tools should be able to run dry.

Another thing to note when machining graphite is that because graphite does not produce chips, but rather a cloud of very abrasive dust, it can be harmful to operators and machines without proper care. Operators should be wearing a protective mask to avoid inhaling the graphite dust. Proper ventilation and maintaining air quality in the shop is also key for the protection of machinists when working in graphite.

Since the graphite dust is also extremely conductive, it can easily damage non-protective circuits inside your CNC machine, which can cause major electrical issues. While coolant is not recommended, a vacuum system can help to remove the dust, keeping it from accumulating too much inside the machine and preventing serious problems.

Cutting Tools for Graphite Machining

As previously mentioned, graphite is a notorious cutting tool-killer due to its extremely abrasive nature. Even the highest quality carbide end mills, if left uncoated, will wear quickly on most graphite jobs. This extreme wear may force a tool change during an operation, which could lead to an imperfection in the part when trying to restart the operation where the worn tool left off.

graphite cutting tools

When selecting a cutting tool for graphite machining, the coating and cutting edge is the most important consideration. Flute count, helix angles, and other key features of the tool geometry ultimately come second to the coating when purchasing tooling for graphite.

For graphite machining, a CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) diamond coating is recommended whenever possible to maximize tool life and tool performance. These coatings are grown directly into the carbide end mill, improving the hardness and leaving the tool with a coating layer that is 5 times thicker than a PVD Diamond Coating. While not the sharpest edge, the CVD diamond coating provides much longer tool life than other diamond coatings due to the thicker diamond layer.

Even though initial tooling costs may be higher with CVD coated tools versus uncoated tools, since CVD coated tools see considerably longer tool life than uncoated tools, this makes the cost per part shrink significantly. In difficult, abrasive materials like graphite, the uncoated carbide tool will last a short time before the abrasiveness of the graphite completely wears down the cutting edge. Having a CVD coated tool will give you a leg up over the competition, keep your machine running with less downtime for tool changes, and ultimately deliver substantial cost savings.

end mills for graphite
CVD Diamond Coated End Mill from Harvey Tool

Overall, graphite can be a difficult material to machine, but with the right cutting tools and proper speeds and feeds you will be making quality parts in no time. Harvey Tool offers a wide selection of CVD coated end mills in various diameters, reaches, and lengths of cut to ensure you have what you need for any job that comes your way.

5 Things to Know About Helical’s High Feed End Mills

Helical Solutions‘ High Feed End Mills provide many opportunities for machinists, and feature a special end profile to increase machining efficiencies. A High Feed End Mill is a High Efficiency Milling (HEM) style tool with specialized end geometry that utilizes chip thinning, allowing for drastically increased feed rates in certain applications. While standard end mills have square, corner radius, or ball profiles, this Helical tool has a specialized, very specific design that takes advantage of chip thinning, resulting in a tool that can be pushed harder than a traditional end mill.

Below are 5 things that all machinists should know about this exciting Helical Solutions product offering.

1. They excel in applications with light axial depths of cut

A High Feed End Mill is designed to take a large radial depth of cut (65% to 100% of the cutter diameter) with a small axial depth of cut (2.5% to 5% diameter) depending on the application. This makes High Feed End Mills perfect for face milling, roughing, slotting, deep pocketing, and 3D milling. Where HEM toolpaths involve light radial depths of cut and heavy axial depths of cut, High Feed End Mills utilize high radial depths of cut and smaller axial depths of cut.

2. This tool reduces radial cutting forces

The end profile of a High Feed End Mill is designed to direct cutting forces upward along the axis of the tool and into the spindle. This reduces radial cutting forces which cause deflection, allowing for longer reach tools while reducing chatter and other issues that may otherwise lead to tool failure. The reduction of radial cutting forces makes this tool excellent for use in machines with lower horsepower, and in thin wall machining applications.

3. High Feed End Mills are rigid tools

The design and short length of cut of High Feed End Mills work in tandem with the end geometry to produce a tool with a strong core, further limiting deflection and allowing for tools with greater reach lengths.

4. They can reduce cycle times

In high RDOC, low ADOC applications, High Feed End Mills can be pushed significantly faster than traditional end mills, saving time and money over the life of the tool.

5. High Feed End Mills are well suited for hard materials

The rigidity and strength of High Feed End Mills make them excellent in challenging to machine materials. Helical’s High Feed End Mills come coated with Tplus coating, which offers high hardness and extended tool life in high temp alloys and ferrous materials up to 45Rc.

In summary, High Feed End Mill tools with specialized end geometry that utilizes chip thinning and light axial depths of cut to allow for significantly increased feed rates in face milling, slotting, roughing, deep pocket milling, and 3D milling applications. The end profile of a High Feed End Mill applies cutting forces back up into the spindle, reducing radial forces that lead to deflection in long reach applications. Combining this end geometry with a stubby length of cut results in a tool that is incredibly rigid and well suited for harder, difficult to machine materials.

High Efficiency Milling for Titanium Made Easy With Helical’s New HVTI Cutter

Titanium is a notoriously difficult material to machine, especially in aggressive toolpaths, such as those associated with High Efficiency Milling (HEM). Helical Solutions’ new line of tooling, the HVTI-6 series of end mills, is optimized specifically for this purpose, and proven to provide 20% more tool life than a competitor’s similar tool.

At face level, these new Helical end mills feature corner radius geometry, 6 flutes, and are Aplus coated for optimal tool life and increased cutting performance. But there is much more to these end mills than the typical geometry of standard 6 flute tools. The HVTI-6 was designed with a combination of a unique rake, core, and edge design that give it a leg up over standard 6 flute tools for Titanium while cutting HEM toolpaths. Click here to watch the HVTI-6 in action!

End Mills for Titanium

The design of the HVTI-6 was the result of significant testing by the Harvey Performance Company Innovation and New Product Development teams. These teams spent many months testing tools, doing in-depth analysis on materials and tool geometry, and pushing these tools through dozens of hours in the cut at testing sites across the country.

The new HVTI-6 cutter experienced higher metal removal rates (MRR) and 20% longer tool life while performing HEM in Titanium when compared to a standard 6 flute tool offered by a Helical Solutions competitor. This type of tool life improvement will produce huge cost savings on tooling, as well as shortened cycle times and lower cost per part.

Helical HVTI Titanium

The Harvey Performance Innovation team targeted Titanium grade Ti6Al4V for their testing, which accounts for the vast majority of the Titanium being machined in North America. The test part was designed and programmed to allow for a more defined agility test of the tool, taking the tool into key geometry cutting exercises like tight corners, long straight line cuts, and rapid movement.

Many hours were spent with Lyndex-Nikken, manufacturers of high-quality rotary tables, tool holders, and machining accessories, at their Chicago headquarters. By working with the team at Lyndex-Nikken, the Harvey Performance Company team was able to test under optimal conditions with top-of-the-line tool holders, work holding, and machining centers. Lyndex was also available to provide their expert support on tool holding techniques and were an integral part of the testing process for these tools. Video of the impressive test cuts taken at the Lyndex facility can be seen below.

WATCH THE HVTI IN ACTION

In these tests, the HVTI was able to run HEM toolpaths at 400 SFM and 120 IPM in Ti6Al4V, which served as the baseline for most of the testing.

While the standard 6 flute tools offered by Helical will still perform to high standards in Titanium and other hard materials (steels, exotic metals, cast iron), the HVTI-6 is a specialized, material-specific tool designed specifically for HEM toolpaths in Titanium. Advanced speeds and feeds for these new tools are already available in Machining Advisor Pro, and the complete offering is now available in the Helical CAM tool libraries for easy programming.

To learn more about the HVTI 6 Flute End Mills for Titanium, please visit the Helical Solutions website. To learn more about HEM techniques, download the HEM Guidebook for a complete guide on this advanced toolpath.

What To Know About Helical Solution’s Zplus Coating

Non-ferrous and non-metallic materials are not usually considered difficult to machine, and therefore, machinists often overlook the use of tool coatings. But while these materials may not present the same machining difficulties as hardened steels and other ferrous materials, a coating can still vastly improve performance in non-ferrous applications. For instance, materials such as aluminum and graphite can cause machinists headaches because of the difficulty they often create from abrasion. To alleviate these issues in non-ferrous machining applications, a popular coating choice is Helical Solution’s Zplus coating.

zplus coating

What is Helical Solutions’ Zplus Coating?

Helical’s Zplus is a Zirconium Nitride-based coating, applied by a Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) process. This method of coating takes place in a vacuum and forms layers only microns thick onto the properly prepared tool. Zirconium Nitride does not chemically react to a variety of non-ferrous metals, increasing the lubricity of the tool and aiding in chip evacuation.

zplus coating

When Should a Machinist Use Helical Solution’s Zplus?

Working with Abrasive Materials

While Zplus was created initially for working in aluminum, its hardness level and maximum working temperature of 1,110°F enables it to work well in abrasive forms of other non-ferrous materials, as well. This coating decreases the coefficient of friction between the tool and the part, allowing it to move easier through more abrasive materials. This abrasion resistance decreases the rate of tool wear, prolonging tool life.

Concerns with Efficient Chip Evacuation

One of the primary functions of this coating is to increase the smoothness of the flutes of the tool, which allows for more efficient chip removal. By decreasing the amount of friction between the tool and the material, chips will not stick to the tool, helping to prevent chip packing. The increased lubricity and smoothness provided by the coating allows for a higher level of performance from the cutting tool. Zplus is also recommended for use in softer, gummy alloys, as the smooth surface encourages maximum lubricity within the material – this decreases the likelihood of those gummier chips sticking to the tool while machining.

Large Production Runs

Uncoated tools can work well in many forms of non-ferrous applications. However, to get a genuinely cost-effective tool for your job, the proper coating is highly recommended. Large production runs are known for putting a lot of wear and tear on tools due to their increased use, and by utilizing an appropriate coating, there can be a significant improvement in the tools working life.

When is Zplus Coating Not Beneficial to My Application?

Finishing Applications

When your parts finish is vital to its final application, a machinist may want to consider going with an uncoated tool. As with any coating, ZrN will leave a very minor rounded edge on the tip of the cutting edge. The best finish often requires an extremely sharp tool, and an uncoated tool will have a sharper cutting edge than its coated version.

 

What to Know About Harvey Tool’s TiB2 Coating

Aluminum and magnesium alloys are common materials found in machine shops worldwide, and are known as an “easier” material to machine. However, machinists can still experience hiccups while machining this material if they are not prepared with the proper tooling.. When working with aluminum and magnesium alloys, it is important to choose a coating that will work to extend your tool’s life and aid in the removal of chips. A popular choice for this material bucket is Harvey Tool’s TiB2 coating.

What is Harvey Tool’s TiB2 Coating?

Harvey Tool’s TiB2 coating is a Titanium Diboride, ceramic-based coating that provides superb erosion resistance during machining. TiB2 is added to a tool by a method called Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD), which is conducted in a vacuum where particles are vaporized and applied onto a surface, forming thin layers of material onto the properly-prepped tool. This method enables the coating to be corrosion and tarnish resistant.

TiB2 Specifications

TiB2 is identified in Harvey Tool’s product catalog with a “-C8” following the sku number. It can be found offered in Harvey Tool’s lines of Variable Helix End Mills for Aluminum Alloys, Double Angle Shank Cutters, and Miniature High Performance Drills for Aluminum Alloys.

When Should a Machinist Use TiB2?

Chip Evacuation Concerns

TiB2 has an extremely low affinity to aluminum, which helps with the chip evacuation process. Simply, chips of a material are able to evacuate through chip valleys easier if they don’t have a high affinity to the coating being used. TiB2 coating does not chemically react with aluminum and magnesium, which allows for smoother chip evacuation, as the chips do not stick to the coating and create issues such as chip packing. This is a common machining mishap that can cause both part and tool damage, quickly derailing a machining operation. By using a coating that increases the lubricity of the tool, chips will not have a surface to stick to and will more smoothly evacuate from the flutes of the tool.

Large Production Runs

While an uncoated tool may work fine in some applications, not all applications can succeed without a tool coating. When working with large production runs where the tools need to hold up through the process of machining large numbers of parts, using a coating is always recommended because they extend the life of your tool.

When is TiB2 Coating Not Beneficial to My Application?

Extremely Abrasive Materials

During the PVD coating process, tools can reach a temperature in excess of 500° F, which can cause the toughness of the carbide to drop slightly. This process does not normally compromise the performance of the tool due to the coating being placed over the carbide. The coating then protects the slightly weakened edge and increases tool performance in recommended materials. Micro-fractures only start appearing when the tool is being run incredibly fast through highly abrasive materials, leading to a decrease in the life of the tool.

Extremely Soft Materials

The coating, while only a few microns thick at most, still provides an ever-so-slight rounded edge to the cutting edge of the tools it is placed on. It is important to take this into consideration, as using the sharpest tools possible when working with materials such as soft plastics is recommended. The sharpest edge possible decreases the likelihood of any “pushing” that might occur on the material and increases the likelihood of proper “shearing” when machining.

When Finish Is Vital

If your part’s finish is imperative to the final product, an uncoated tool may work better for your application. A coating, like stated above, creates a microscopic rounded surface to the cutting edge of the tool. When running tools at finishing speeds and feeds in materials like aluminum, a sharp edge can create the difference between a finished part that does – or does not – pass final inspection.

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

Helical Solutions: Behind the Scenes

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

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

 

 

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

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

We Take Quality Control Seriously

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

We Stand Behind Our Tools with Our Renewal Services

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

Our Tool Coating Is Done In-House

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

Our Standard Catalog Items Are Stocked and Ready for Your Machine

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

Diamond Wheels Grind Carbide Tools

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

We Track Every Batch of Tools With Laser Etching

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

If You Can Dream It, We Have Probably Made It

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

Our Technical Resources Are Second To None

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

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

You Will Always Get a Real Person When You Call Helical

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

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

We’re Hiring!

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

Shining a Light on Diamond End Mills

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

Understanding the Properties of Diamond Coatings

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

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

diamond tool coatings

Amorphous Diamond Coating

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

amorphous diamond coating

Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD)

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

CVD Diamond Coating

Polycrystalline Diamond (PCD)

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

PCD Diamond CoatingHow Diamond Coatings Differ

Coating Hardness & Thickness

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

Flute Styles

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

PCD Diamond end mill

PCD Ball End Mill

CVD Diamond end mill

CVD Ball End Mill

Proper Uses

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

Cut to the Point

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

Attacking Aluminum: A Machining Guide

Aluminum is one of the most commonly machined materials, as most forms of the material feature excellent machinability, and is thus a commonly used material in manufacturing. Because of this, the competition for aluminum machining can be intense. Understanding the basics behind tool selection, running parameters, and advanced milling techniques for aluminum can help machinists earn a competitive advantage.

Material Properties

Aluminum is a highly formable, workable, lightweight material. Parts made from this material can be found in nearly every industry. Additionally, Aluminum has become a popular choice for prototypes due to its low-cost and flexibility.

Aluminum is available in two basic forms: Cast and Wrought. Wrought Aluminum is typically stronger, more expensive, and contains a lower percentage of outside elements in its alloys. Wrought Aluminum is also more heat-resistant than Cast and has a higher level of machinability.

Cast Aluminum has less tensile strength but with a higher flexibility. It costs less, and has higher percentages of outside elements (silicon, magnesium, etc.) in its alloys, making it more abrasive than Wrought.

Tool Geometry

There are a few coating options available for Aluminum tooling, including the popular gold-colored ZrN (Zirconium Nitride) and the lesser known but highly effective TiB2 (Titanium Diboride). Uncoated tooling can also provide solid machining performance. However, the real key to high performance machining in Aluminum is knowing the proper flute count and helix angle required for your operation.

Flute Count

End mills for aluminum are often available in either 2 flute or 3 flute styles. With higher flute counts, it would become difficult to evacuate chips effectively at the high speeds at which you can run in aluminum. This is because aluminum alloys leave a large chip, and chip valleys become smaller with each additional flute on an end mill.

flute count for aluminum

Traditionally, 2 flute end mills have been the preferred choice for Aluminum. However, 3 flute end mills have proven to be more successful in many finishing operations, and with the right parameters they can also work successfully as roughers. While much of the debate between 2 and 3 flute end mills for Aluminum boils down to personal preference, the operation, rigidity, and desired material removal rates can also have an effect on tool selection.

Helix Angles

The helix angle of a tool is measured by the angle formed between the centerline of the tool and a straight line tangent along the cutting edge. Cutting tools for aluminum typically feature higher helix angles than standard end mills. Specialized helix angles for Aluminum are typically either 35°, 40°, or 45°. Variable helix tools are also available and make a great choice for reducing chatter and harmonics while also increasing material removal rates.

Aluminum Machining

A helix angle of 35° or 40° is a good choice for traditional roughing and slotting applications. A 45° helix angle is the preferred choice for finishing, but also for High Efficiency Milling toolpaths as the high helix angle wraps around the tool faster and makes for a more aggressive cut.

Tooling Options

When machining aluminum, standard 2 or 3 flute tools will often get the job done. However, for certain applications and machine setups there are some more tooling options to consider for even better performance.

Chipbreaker Tooling

One of the most important things to consider when machining aluminum (and many other materials) is effective chip evacuation. Standard 2-3 flute end mills running at recommended speeds and feeds and proper chip loads can evacuate chips fairly well. However, 3 flute chipbreaker tooling can run at increased speed and feed rates for even better performance. The unique offset chip breaker geometry creates smaller chips for optimal evacuation while still leaving a semi-finished surface.

Chipbreaker Aluminum

These tools are excellent for more advanced toolpaths like High Efficiency Milling, which is another important tool for a successful aluminum machining experience.

High Balance End Mills

High balance end mills are designed to significantly increase performance in highly balanced machining centers capable of elevated RPMs and feed rates. These tools are precision balanced specifically for high velocity machining in aluminum (up to 33,000 RPM).

High Balance Tools for Aluminum

Helical Solutions offers high balance tooling in standard 2 flute styles, as well as coolant-through 3 flute styles for reduced heat, enhanced chip evacuation, and increased material removal rates. These tools, like the chipbreakers, are also an excellent choice for High Efficiency Milling toolpaths.

Running Parameters

Setting the right parameters for aluminum applications is vital to optimizing productivity and achieving better machining results. Since aluminum is an easier material to machine, pushing your machine to its limits and getting the most out of your tool is vital to stay ahead of the competition and keep winning business.

While there are many factors that go into the parameters for every job, there are some general guidelines to follow when machining aluminum. For cast aluminum alloys (i.e. 308, 356, 380), a surface footage of 500-1000 SFM is recommended, with RPMs varying based on cutter diameter. The basic calculation to find a starting point for RPMs would be (3.82 x SFM) / Diameter.

In wrought aluminum alloys (i.e. 2024, 6061, 7075), a surface footage of 800-1500 SFM is recommended, with the same calculation being used to find a starting point for RPMs.

High Efficiency Milling

High Efficiency Milling, commonly known as HEM, is a strategy that is rapidly gaining popularity in the manufacturing industry. Many CAM programs are now including HEM toolpaths, and while virtually any machine can perform HEM, the CNC controller must feature a fast processor to keep up with the additional lines of code. A great example of High Efficiency Milling toolpaths in Aluminum can be seen below.

At its core, HEM is a roughing technique that utilizes a low Radial Depth of Cut (RDOC) and a high Axial Depth of Cut (ADOC) to take full advantage of the cutting edge of the tool. To learn more about how High Efficiency Milling can increase your efficiency, extend your tool life to keep costs down, and get greater performance for aluminum (and other materials), click here to download the HEM Guidebook.

In Summary

Aluminum is a versatile material with a high level of machinability, but it should not be overlooked. Understanding the best ways to tackle it is important for achieving the desired results. Optimizing your tool crib, machine setups, and toolpaths for aluminum is essential to stay ahead of the competition and make your shop more efficient.

Selecting the Right Harvey Tool Miniature Drill

Among Harvey Tool’s expansive holemaking solutions product offering are several different types of miniature tooling options and their complements. Options range from Miniature Spotting Drills to Miniature High Performance Drills – Deep Hole – Coolant Through. But which tools are appropriate for the hole you aim to leave in your part? Which tool might your current carousel be missing, leaving efficiency and performance behind? Understanding how to properly fill your tool repertoire for your desired holemaking result is the first step toward achieving success.

Pre-Drilling Considerations

Miniature Spotting Drills

Depending on the depth of your desired machined hole and its tolerance mandates, as well as the surface of the machine you will be drilling, opting first for a Miniature Spotting Drill might be beneficial. This tool pinpoints the exact location of a hole to prevent common deep-hole drilling mishaps such as walking, or straying from a desired path. It can also help to promote accuracy in instances where there is an uneven part surface for first contact. Some machinists even use Spotting Drills to leave a chamfer on the top of a pre-drilled hole. For extremely irregular surfaces, however, such as the side of a cylinder or an inclined plane, a Flat Bottom Drill or Flat Bottom Counterbore may be needed to lessen these irregularities prior to the drilling process.

spotting drill

Tech Tip: When spotting a hole, the spot angle should be equal to or wider than the angle of your chosen miniature drill. Simply, the miniature drill tip should contact the part before its flute face does.

spotting drill correct angle

Selecting the Right Miniature Drill

Harvey Tool stocks several different types of miniature drills, but which option is right for you, and how does each drill differ in geometry?

Miniature Drills

Harvey Tool Miniature Drills are popular for machinists seeking flexibility and versatility with their holemaking operation. Because this line of tooling is offered uncoated in sizes as small as .002” in diameter, machinists no longer need to compromise on precision to reach very micro sizes. Also, this line of tooling is designed for use in several different materials where specificity is not required.

miniature drill

Miniature High Performance Drills – Deep Hole – Coolant Through

For situations in which chip evacuation may be difficult due to the drill depth, Harvey Tool’s Deep Hole – Coolant Through Miniature Drills might be your best option. The coolant delivery from the drill tip will help to flush chips from within a hole, and prevent heeling on the hole’s sides, even at depths up to 20 multiples of the drill diameter.

miniature drill coolant through

Miniature High Performance Drills – Flat Bottom

Choose Miniature High Performance Flat Bottom Drills when drilling on inclined and rounded surfaces, or when aiming to leave a flat bottom on your hole. Also, when drilling intersecting holes, half holes, shoulders, or thin plates, its flat bottom tool geometry helps to promote accuracy and a clean finish.

flat bottom drill

Miniature High Performance Drills – Aluminum Alloys

The line of High Performance Drills for Aluminum Alloys feature TiB2 coating, which has an extremely low affinity to Aluminum and thus will fend off built-up edge. Its special 3 flute design allows for maximum chip flow, hole accuracy, finish, and elevated speeds and feeds parameters in this easy-to-machine material.

drill for aluminum

 

Miniature High Performance Drills – Hardened Steels

Miniature High Performance Drills – Hardened Steels features a specialized flute shape for improved chip evacuation and maximum rigidity. Additionally, each drill is coated in AlTiN Nano coating for hardness, and heat resistance in materials 48 Rc to 68 Rc.

drill for hardened steel

Miniature High Performance Drills – Prehardened Steels

As temperatures rise during machining, the AlTiN coating featured on Harvey Tool’s Miniature High Performance Drills – Prehardened Steels creates an aluminum oxide layer which helps to reduce thermal conductivity of the tool and helps to promote heat transfer to the chip, as well as improve lubricity and heat resistance in ferrous materials.

drill for prehardened steel

Post-Drilling Considerations

Miniature Reamers

For many operations, drilling the actual hole is only the beginning of the job. Some parts may require an ultra-tight tolerance, for which a Miniature Reamer (tolerances of +.0000″/-.0002″ for uncoated and +.0002″/-.0000″ for AlTiN Coated) can be used to bring a hole to size. miniature reamer

Tech Tip: In order to maintain appropriate stock removal amounts based on the reamer size, a hole should be pre-drilled at a diameter that is 90-94 percent of the finished reamed hole diameter.

Flat Bottom Counterbores

Other operations may require a hole with a flat bottom to allow for a superior connection with another part. Flat Bottom Counterbores leave a flat profile and straighten misaligned holes. For more information on why to use a Flat Bottom Counterbore, read 10 Reasons to Use Flat Bottom Tools.

flat bottom counterbores

Key Next Steps

Now that you’re familiar with miniature drills and complementary holemaking tooling, you must now learn key ways to go about the job. Understanding the importance of pecking cycles, and using the correct approach, is vital for both the life of your tool and the end result on your part. Read this post’s complement “Choosing the Right Pecking Cycle Approach,” for more information on the approach that’s best for your application.