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Okluma – Featured Customer

Okluma is a small manufacturing business located in Oklahoma City focused primarily on creating high-quality flashlights that can stand up to the most extreme conditions. The company was founded in early 2015 out of owner Jeff Sapp’s garage, and has quickly gained a solid reputation as one of the best-built and most reliable flashlights on the market today.

We were able to steal a few moments of Jeff’s time to interview him for this Featured Customer post, where he shared his thoughts on topics like the importance of customer service, the reason to use higher quality tooling, and his transition into the world of CNC machining.

To get started, how did you first get involved in manufacturing?

In high school I actually worked in a machine shop. This is where I got my first exposure to big machines and manufacturing. I worked at the shop until I graduated, doing simple things like sweeping the floor and running errands. The work wasn’t very exciting, but it did give me some really good exposure to the world of machining. Every now and then one of the machinists would let me help out with a part, but that would be rare. I did manage to save up enough money to buy a small mill and lathe, which I took with me when I went off to college.

During college and after graduation, I made a living by writing software, which I did successfully for 15 years. Eventually I got tired of writing software after I had spent more than a decade in that space, and I wanted to try something new. I had picked up small jobs and worked on personal projects over the years, so I decided to enroll in a machine shop school in Oklahoma City to learn more about manufacturing and becoming a machinist, and graduated from there with a renewed sense of what I wanted to do. Technical schools are a great way to pick up new skills and advance your career. The manufacturing technology program at the Francis Tuttle Technology Center here in Oklahoma City was great and the instructors there, Dean and Julia, are talented and very patient people.

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Did your background in writing software help you transition into CNC programming?

Absolutely. It was a tremendous help to understand some very strange programming concepts that came with writing software, and it all translated very well into CNC programming. These days, CNC machinists and programmers need to be as knowledgeable about the software and programs as they do the tools and parts, so having a background in software programming or development certainly translates well to the world of CNC machines.

Where did the idea to start Okluma stem from?

After graduation from the machine shop program, I took a few weeks off and went on a long, off-road motorcycle trip across the country. I had purchased what I thought was a nice flashlight for $50 to carry with me on the trip. However, two days in to the trip the flashlight broke. Of course, it was dark and I was in the middle of nowhere trying to work on my bike. I’m happy to pay for good tools, but that wasn’t what happened. Not only there was no warranty for replacement, there was no way to fix it. It was just made to be thrown away. That whole attitude makes me angry.

When I got home, I decided I was going to put my new skills to work and design and build my own flashlight, with the goal of never running into an issue like I had on my trip ever again. I started by making one for myself, then 4, then 20. That was 4 years ago. Now I have my own business with one employee and two dogs, and we stay very busy.

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What does your current product offering look like?

For our products, I currently have two flashlights models (the DC1 and DC2) and we are working on some cool new projects for 2019. With battery and LED technology advancing like it has, there are some interesting applications, way beyond just flashlights, that haven’t been possible until recently. Stay tuned for more information on those by following us on Instagram.

What do you think separates an Okluma flashlight from the competition?

The basic values behind Okluma all stem from me simply wanting a nice tool that won’t break easily and will be supported by the manufacturer. I offer a lifetime warranty and stand firmly behind that. I want an Okluma flashlight to last forever so you will never have to buy another flashlight.

The quality and hardiness of a flashlight is important to many outdoors types, homeowners, and collectors, but we also sell lots of our flashlights to the military and police. If their light goes out in a tough situation it could be really bad, so we have to make sure our flashlights can be dependable above all else. Like they always say, you get what you pay for. Our flashlights aren’t going to be the cheapest, but we stand behind them with our warranty and pride ourselves on the quality and reliability.

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

Right now I have the old standards like a Bridgeport mill and an old LeBlond lathe, as well as my CNC machines – a Daewoo Lynx 220LC CNC Lathe and a Doosan DNM 4500 CNC Mill.

For software, I use Autodesk Fusion 360 for the mill, and I write the G-code by hand for the lathe. I was more familiar with the lathe, so I had an easier time writing my own code for it. Getting Fusion 360 for my milling has been a huge help.

Have you been using the Harvey Tool and Helical Solutions tool libraries in Fusion 360?

Yes! The tool library in Fusion 360 was a huge help for me. To be able to get the right tool and not model things incorrectly probably saved me a lot of broken tools. That was a big reason why I came to Harvey Tool and Helical for support in the first place.

It was cool to come from the software community, where we collaborated on a lot of open-source projects, and see companies like Autodesk opening up their software to manufacturers like Harvey Tool and Helical for these great partnerships.

What sort of operations/parts do you create on the lathe versus the mills?

As you can imagine (being a cylindrical shaped part) most of the flashlight manufacturing is done on the lathe. For a while I had been making them all by hand, until we got the CNC lathe. While most of the work is done on the lathe, for the more intense pieces we have to drill and tap and do some different slotting operations. We also drill and tap the clip holes for all of the flashlights, so the CNC mill is huge for those operations.

As Okluma started to grow, we realized that we had a huge bottleneck doing our secondary operations by hand on the manual milling machine. We solved that problem by buying the Doosan mill to help with secondary operations, but you still have to know how to use it to make it worth the purchase!

I was completely in the dark on the CNC milling side of things at that time, as I was much more familiar with the lathe. I actually called Harvey Tool with a few questions, and the Harvey Tech team really held my hand and walked me through all of the things I needed to know, which was huge. I also used the Machining Advisor Pro application to generate speeds and feeds for my Helical end mills. MAP helped save me a lot of broken end mills and increased my production times.

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You are using almost exclusively Harvey Tool and Helical for milling operations on your Doosan VMC. Why is purchasing quality tooling important to you?

I can try to do things on my own and eventually get it, but it costs me money on broken tools and it costs me my time, which is even more valuable. I could go that route with any number of different tooling manufacturers, but the fact that I can call Harvey or Helical and get an answer to my questions the first time, usually in a few minutes, and know it will work is hugely helpful. I don’t really look at the cost of the tools so much, because I just know they work and I know I will get the support I need to make my milling operations a success.

Can you remember a crucial moment when Harvey Tool or Helical technical support helped you to be more productive?

As we try to get more creative with our designs, we plan to rely heavily on Harvey and Helical to explore some of these new applications. We actually build our own tool to work on the flashlights, and we are using Harvey and Helical exclusively to machine that. At first, I was making the tools in two operations; I was doing a radius on top and then flipping the part over to create a radius on the bottom. I was having a hard time lining it up. We moved the second radius on the first operation, and used an undercutting tool and everything matched up perfect. I wasn’t really sure how to do it, but I called you guys and you figured it out with me! We have some cool projects coming up which we are planning to rely on Helical tools for, but people will have to stay tuned for that one!

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What have been some of your keys to success for your growing sales?

Good customer service is key. We are one of the few companies that will offer a lifetime warranty. I know there are a lot of flashlight collectors, and we can make fun stuff for those guys, but I want people to really use our flashlights and scratch them and do ridiculous things with them. We have had people use a flashlights in crazy ways (like as a hammer) but we will still fix them under our lifetime warranty. I don’t really care what people do to our flashlights, I just want them to always work.

We can also overnight replacement flashlights for professionals who rely on them for work, so they never have to be without one. That is huge for our customers in the military or in law enforcement who rely on our flashlights as an essential tool in their day-to-day lives.

Do you have plans to expand into retailers, either online or brick and mortar stores?

We only sell direct to consumers right now through our website so that we can control our lifetime warranty. It has worked really well for us so far, so we have no plans to change that right now. I care more about our customers than any retailer is able to.

I’ve noticed that you have gathered a rather large social media following. How has social media helped shape your business?

A lot of our sales come through Instagram or Facebook, so I would recommend those platforms to anyone who is trying to start a business. We have also had a lot of success collaborating with others in the EDC (Every Day Carry) community where makers are creating knives, wallets, keychains; anything you would carry on you “every day”, hence the name. We have collaborated to make flashlights out of other people’s materials, let other shops refinish our flashlights, and things of that nature. Typically it is something we couldn’t do ourselves, or they couldn’t do themselves, so we share the labor and collaborate on some really cool items.

I think social media is especially great for manufacturing because a lot of younger people don’t even know all this crazy cool stuff that is going on in the industry. I was lucky enough to see it first hand at a young age, but so many others never get the chance. It is awesome to share our work and try to inspire some of the younger generation to make their own products and participate in the world of manufacturing.

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Multi-Functional Tools Every Shop Should Have

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

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

Drill/End Mills

drill mills

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

drill mill operations

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

Undercutting End Mills

undercutting end mills

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

undercutting end mill operations

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

Double Angle Shank Cutters

double angle shank cutters

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

multi-functional tools

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

Flat Bottom Tools

flat bottom tools

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

Flat bottom drills are designed for the following operations:

multi-functional tools

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

flat bottom tools

Adjustable Chamfer Cutters

adjustable chamfer cutters

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

chamfer cutter inserts

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

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

Why You Should Stop Deburring By Hand

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

High Precision Tools

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

hand deburring

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

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

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

cnc deburring

Reduce Production Costs and Increase Profits

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

cnc deburring

Stop Deburring By Hand and Increase Your Profits

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

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

The Advances of Multiaxis Machining

CNC Machine Growth

As the manufacturing industry has developed, so too have the capabilities of machining centers. CNC Machines are constantly being improved and optimized to better handle the requirements of new applications. Perhaps the most important way these machines have improved over time is in the multiple axes of direction they can move, as well as orientation. For instance, a traditional 3-axis machine allows for movement and cutting in three directions, while a 2.5-axis machine can move in three directions but only cut in two. The possible number of axes for a multiaxis machine varies from 4 to 9, depending on the situation. This is assuming that no additional sub-systems are installed to the setup that would provide additional movement. The configuration of a multiaxis machine is dependent on the customer’s operation and the machine manufacturer.

Multiaxis Machining

With this continuous innovation has come the popularity of multiaxis machines – or CNC machines that can perform more than three axes of movement (greater than just the three linear axes X, Y, and Z). Additional axes usually include three rotary axes, as well as movement abilities of the table holding the part or spindle in place. Machines today can move up to 9 axes of direction.

Multiaxis machines provide several major improvements over CNC machines that only support 3 axes of movement. These benefits include:

  • Increasing part accuracy/consistency by decreasing the number of manual adjustments that need to be made.
  • Reducing the amount of human labor needed as there are fewer manual operations to perform.
  • Improving surface finish as the tool can be moved tangentially across the part surface.
  • Allowing for highly complex parts to be made in a single setup, saving time and cost.

9-Axis Machine Centers

The basic 9-axis naming convention consists of three sets of three axes.

Set One

The first set is the X, Y, and Z linear axes, where the Z axis is in line with the machine’s spindle, and the X and Y axes are parallel to the surface of the table. This is based on a vertical machining center. For a horizontal machining center, the Z axis would be aligned with the spindle.

Set Two

The second set of axes is the A, B, and C rotary axes, which rotate around the X, Y, and Z axes, respectively. These axes allow for the spindle to be oriented at different angles and in different positions, which enables tools to create more features, thereby decreasing the number of tool changes and maximizing efficiency.

Set Three

The third set of axes is the U, V, and W axes, which are secondary linear axes that are parallel to the X, Y, and Z axes, respectively. While these axes are parallel to the X, Y, and Z axes, they are managed by separate commands. The U axis is common in a lathe machine. This axis allows the cutting tool to move perpendicular to the machine’s spindle, enabling the machined diameter to be adjusted during the machining process.

A Growing Industry

In summary, as the manufacturing industry has grown, so too have the abilities of CNC Machines. Today, tooling can move across nine different axes, allowing for the machining of more intricate, precise, and delicate parts. Additionally, this development has worked to improve shop efficiency by minimizing manual labor and creating a more perfect final product.

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

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

Undercutting

undercutting machining

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

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

Deburring & Edgebreaking

deburring

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

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

Slotting

slotting

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

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

Contouring & Profiling

contouring

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

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

Choosing An Undercutting End Mill

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

undercutting end mills