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How to Select a Spindle

When trying to develop efficient processes, many machinists and programmers turn to tool selection first. It is true that tooling can often make a big difference in machining time, and speeds and feeds, but did you know that your machine’s spindle can have an equally impactful effect? The legs of any CNC machine, spindles are comprised of a motor, a taper for holding tools, and a shaft that will hold all of the components together. Often powered by electricity, spindles rotate on an axis which receives its input from the machine’s CNC controller.

Why is Choosing the Right Spindle Important?

Choosing the right spindle to machine your workpiece with is of very high importance to a successful production run. As tooling options continue to grow, it is important to know what tooling your spindle can utilize. Large diameter tools such as large end mills or face mills typically require slower spindle speeds and take deeper cuts to remove vast amounts of material. These applications require supreme machine rigidity and require a spindle with high torque.

Contrastingly, smaller diameter tools will need a higher-speed spindle. Faster speeds and feeds deliver better surface finishes and are used in a variety of applications. A good rule of thumb is that an end mill that is a half inch or smaller will run well with lower torque.

Types of CNC Spindles

After finding out what you should look for in a spindle, it is time to learn about your different options. Spindles typically vary by the type, style of the taper, or its size. The taper is the conical portion of the tool holder that fits inside of the opening of the spindle. Every spindle is designed to mate with a certain taper style and size.

CAT and BT Holders

This is the most widely utilized holder for milling in the United States. Referred to as “V-flange holders,” both of these styles need a retention knob or pull stud to be secured within the machine spindle. The BT (metric style) is popular overseas.

HSK Holders

This type of holder is a German standard known as “hollow shank taper.” The tapered portion of the holder is much shorter than its counterparts. It also engages the spindle in a different way and does not require a pull stud or retention knob. The HSK holder is utilized to create repeatability and longer tool life – particularly in High Efficiency Milling (HEM) applications.

All of these holders have benefits and limitations including price, accuracy, and availability. The proper selection will depend largely on your application requirements.

Torque vs. Horsepower

Torque is defined as force perpendicular to the axis of rotation across a distance. It is important to have high torque capabilities when using an end mill larger than ½ inch, or when machining a difficult material such as Inconel. Torque will help put power behind the cutting action of the tool.

Horsepower refers to the amount of work being done. Horsepower is important for smaller diameter end mills and easy-to-machine materials like aluminum.

You can think of torque as a tractor: It can’t go very fast, but there is a lot of power behind it. Think of horsepower as a racecar: It can go very fast but cannot pull or push.

Torque-Horsepower Chart

Every machine and spindle should come with a torque horsepower chart. These charts will help you understand how to maximize your spindle for torque or horsepower, depending on what you need:

Image Source: HAAS Machine Manual

Proper Spindle Size

The size of the spindle and shank taper corresponds to the weight and length of the tools being used, as well as the material you are planning to machine. CAT40 is the most commonly used spindle in the United States. These spindles are great for utilizing tools that have a ½ inch diameter end mill or smaller in any material. If you are considering using a 1 inch end mill in a material like Inconel or Titanium, a CAT50 would be a more appropriate choice. The higher the taper angle is, the more torque the spindle is capable of.

While choosing the correct tool for your application is important, choosing a tool your spindle can utilize is paramount to machining success. Knowing the amount of torque required will help machinists save a lot of headaches.

How Boring Bar Geometries Impact Cutting Operations

Boring is a turning operation that allows a machinist to make a pre-existing hole bigger through multiple iterations of internal boring. It has a number of advantages over traditional drilling methods:

  • The ability to cost-effectively produce a hole outside standard drill sizes
  • The creation of more precise holes, and therefore tighter tolerances
  • A greater finish quality
  • The opportunity to create multiple dimensions within the bore itself

 

Solid carbide boring bars, such as those offered by Micro 100,  have a few standard dimensions that give the tool basic functionality in removing material from an internal bore. These include:

Minimum Bore Diameter (D1): The minimum diameter of a hole for the cutting end of the tool to completely fit inside without making contact at opposing sides

Maximum Bore Depth (L2): Maximum depth that the tool can reach inside a hole without contact from the shank portion

Shank Diameter (D2): Diameter of the portion of the tool in contact with the tool holder

Overall Length (L1): Total length of the tool

Centerline Offset (F): The distance between a tool’s tip and the shank’s centerline axis

Tool Selection

In order to minimize tool deflection and therefore risk of tool failure, it is important to choose a tool with a max bore depth that is only slightly larger than the length it is intended to cut. It is also beneficial to maximize the boring bar and shank diameter as this will increase the rigidity of the tool. This must be balanced with leaving enough room for chips to evacuate. This balance ultimately comes down to the material being bored. A harder material with a lower feed rate and depths of cut may not need as much space for chips to evacuate, but may require a larger and more rigid tool. Conversely, a softer material with more aggressive running parameters will need more room for chip evacuation, but may not require as rigid of a tool.

Geometries

In addition, they have a number of different geometric features in order to adequately handle the three types of forces acting upon the tool during this machining process. During a standard boring operation, the greatest of these forces is tangential, followed by feed (sometimes called axial), and finally radial. Tangential force acts perpendicular to the rake surface and pushes the tool away from the centerline. Feed force does not cause deflection, but pushes back on the tool and acts parallel to the centerline. Radial force pushes the tool towards the center of the bore.

 

Defining the Geometric Features of Boring Bars:

Nose Radius: the roundness of a tool’s cutting point

Side Clearance (Radial Clearance): The angle measuring the tilt of the nose relative to the axis parallel to the centerline of the tool

End Clearance (Axial Clearance): The angle measuring the tilt of the end face relative to the axis running perpendicular to the centerline of the tool

Side Rake Angle: The angle measuring the sideways tilt of the side face of the tool

Back Rake Angle: The angle measuring the degree to which the back face is tilted in relation to the centerline of the workpiece

Side Relief Angle: The angle measuring how far the bottom face is tilted away from the workpiece

End Relief Angle: The angle measuring the tilt of the end face relative to the line running perpendicular to the center axis of the tool

Effects of Geometric Features on Cutting Operations:

Nose Radius: A large nose radius makes more contact with the workpiece, extending the life of the tool and the cutting edge as well as leaving a better finish. However, too large of a radius will lead to chatter as the tool is more exposed to tangential and radial cutting forces.

Another way this feature affects the cutting action is in determining how much of the cutting edge is struck by tangential force. The magnitude of this effect is largely dependent on the feed and depth of cut. Different combinations of depth of cuts and nose angles will result in either shorter or longer lengths of the cutting edge being exposed to the tangential force. The overall effect being the degree of edge wear. If only a small portion of the cutting edge is exposed to a large force it would be worn down faster than if a longer portion of the edge is succumb to the same force. This phenomenon also occurs with the increase and decrease of the end cutting edge angle.

End Cutting Edge Angle: The main purpose of the end cutting angle is for clearance when cutting in the positive Z direction (moving into the hole). This clearance allows the nose radius to be the main point of contact between the tool and the workpiece. Increasing the end cutting edge angle in the positive direction decreases the strength of the tip, but also decreases feed force. This is another situation where balance of tip strength and cutting force reduction must be found. It is also important to note that the angle may need to be changed depending on the type of boring one is performing.

Side Rake Angle: The nose angle is one geometric dimension that determines how much of the cutting edge is hit by tangential force but the side rake angle determines how much that force is redistributed into radial force. A positive rake angle means a lower tangential cutting force as allows for a greater amount of shearing action. However, this angle cannot be too great as it compromises cutting edge integrity by leaving less material for the nose angle and side relief angle.

Back Rake Angle: Sometimes called the top rake angle, the back rake angle for solid carbide boring bars is ground to help control the flow of chips cut on the end portion of the tool. This feature cannot have too sharp of a positive angle as it decreases the tools strength.

Side and End Relief Angles: Like the end cutting edge angle, the main purpose of the side and end relief angles are to provide clearance so that the tools non-cutting portion doesn’t rub against the workpiece. If the angles are too small then there is a risk of abrasion between the tool and the workpiece. This friction leads to increased tool wear, vibration and poor surface finish. The angle measurements will generally be between 0° and 20°.

Boring Bar Geometries Summarized

Boring bars have a few overall dimensions that allow for the boring of a hole without running the tool holder into the workpiece, or breaking the tool instantly upon contact. Solid carbide boring bars have a variety of angles that are combined differently to distribute the 3 types of cutting forces in order to take full advantage of the tool. Maximizing tool performance requires the combination of choosing the right tool along with the appropriate feed rate, depth of cut and RPM. These factors are dependent on the size of the hole, amount of material that needs to be removed, and mechanical properties of the workpiece.

 

The Geometries and Purposes of a Slitting Saw

When a machinist needs to cut material significantly deeper than wide, a Slitting Saw is an ideal choice to get the job done. A Slitting Saw is unique due to its composition and rigidity, which allows it to hold up in a variety of both straightforward and tricky to machine materials.

What is a Slitting Saw?

A Slitting Saw is a flat (with or without a dish), circular-shaped saw that has a hole in the middle and teeth on the outer diameter. Used in conjunction with an arbor, a Slitting Saw is intended for machining purposes that require a large amount of material to be removed within a small diameter, such as slotting or cutoff applications.

Other names for Slitting Saws include (but are not limited to) Slitting Cutters, Slotting Cutters, Jewelers Saws, and Slitting Knives. Both Jewelers Saws and Slitting Knives are particular types of Slitting Saws. Jewelers Saws have a high tooth count enabling them to cut tiny, precise features, and Slitting Knives are Slitting Saws with no teeth at all. On Jewelers Saws, the tooth counts are generally much higher than other types of saws in order to make the cuts as accurate as possible.

Key Terminology

Why Use a Slitting Saw?

These saws are designed for cutting into both ferrous and non-ferrous materials, and by utilizing their unique shape and geometries, they can cut thin slot type features on parts more efficiently than any other machining tool.

Common Applications:

  1. Separating Two Pieces of Material
    1. If an application calls for cutting a piece of material, such as a rod, in half, then a slitting saw will work well to cut the pieces apart while increasing efficiency.
  2. Undercutting Applications
    1. Saws can perform undercutting applications if mounted correctly, which can eliminate the need to remount the workpiece completely.
  3. Slotting into Material
    1. Capable of creating thin slots with a significant depth of cut, Slitting Saws can be just the right tool for the job!

When Not to Use a Slitting Saw

While it may look similar to a stainless steel circular saw blade from a hardware store, a Slitting Saw should never be used with construction tools such as a table or circular saw.  Brittle saw blades such as slitting saws will shatter when used on manual machines, and can cause injury when not used on the proper set up.

In Conclusion

Slitting Saws can be beneficial to a wide variety of machining processes, and it is vital to understand their geometries and purpose before attempting to utilize them in the shop. They are a great tool to have in the shop and can assist with getting jobs done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

How To Maximize High Balance End Mills

High speed machining is becoming increasingly widespread in machine shops all over the world due to the proven benefits of greater efficiency and productivity through increased spindle speeds and metal removal rates.  However, at such high spindle speeds, otherwise negligible errors and imperfections can cause negative effects such as reduced tool life, poor surface finish, and wear on the machine itself. Many of these negative effects stem from an increase in total centrifugal forces leading to vibration, commonly referred to in the industry as chatter. A key contributor to vibrations and one of the more controllable factors, is tool unbalance.

Why Balance is Critical to Machining

Unbalance is the extent to which the tool’s center of mass diverges from its axis of rotation.  Small levels of unbalance may be indistinguishable at lower RPMs, but as centrifugal force increases, small variations in the tool’s center of mass can cause substantial detrimental effects on its performance. High Balance End Mills are often used to help solve the problem of vibrations at the increased spindle speeds. Balancing is used to make compensation for the intrinsic unsymmetrical distribution of mass, which is typically completed by removing mass of a calculated amount and orientation.

Image Source: Haimer; Fundamentals of Balancing

Helical Solutions offers High Balance End Mills in both 2 and 3 flute options (see Figure 2), square and corner radius, along with coolant-through on the 3 fluted tools. These end mills are balanced at the industry standard of G2.5 at 33,000 RPM: G stands for the potential damage due to unbalance, which can be expressed as “Balancing Quality Grade” or G and 2.5 is the vibration velocity in MM per second. These tools are designed specifically to increase performance in highly balanced machining centers that are capable of elevated RPMs and feed rates. With high balance tooling, improved surface finishes are also achieved due to reduced vibrations during the machining process. Additionally, these end mills have been designed around current high-end tool holding, and come in a variety of neck lengths at specific overall lengths. These dimensional combinations result in maximum rigidity and reduced excess stick out, allowing for optimal performance and the ability to push the tools to the limit.

High Balanced Tooling Cost Benefits

Machinists who choose to use High Balance End Mills will see certain benefits at the spindle, but also in their wallets. Cost benefits of opting to run this type of tool include:

Utilizing Tap Testers

What Tap Testers Do

Vibrations are your applications worst enemy, especially at elevated RPMs and feed rates. Using resources such as a Tap Tester can help decrease vibrations and allow you to get the most out of your High Balance End Mills by generating cutting performance predictions and chatter limits.

How Tap Testing Works

High balance

Image Source: Manufacturing Automation Laboratories Inc.

Tap Testing generates cutting performance predictions and chatter limits. In a tap test, the machine-tool structure is “excited,” or tested, by being hit with an impulse hammer. In milling, the machine-tool structure is usually flexible in all three directions: X, Y, and Z, but in milling applications where High Balance Tooling is used, the flexibility is commonly only considered in two planes – the X and Y directions. By hitting the X and Y directions with the impulse hammer, the impact will excite the structure over a certain frequency range that is dependent on the hammer’s size, the type of tool being used, and the structure itself. The frequencies generated from the initial hit will produce enough information that both the impact force measurement and the displacement/accelerometer measurement are available. Combining these two measurements will result in the Frequency Response Function, which is a plot of the dynamic stiffness of the structure in frequencies.

After the information from the Tap Test is gathered, it will then process the information into useful cutting parameters for all spindles speeds such as cut depths, speed rates, and feed rates. In knowing the optimum running parameters, vibrations can be minimized and the tool can be utilized to its full potential.

High Balanced Tooling Summarized

Keeping vibrations at bay during the machining process is extremely important to machining success. Because one cause of vibration is tool unbalance, utilizing a balanced tool will result in a smoother job, a cleaner final product, and a longer life of both the tool and spindle. Machinists who choose to use High Balance Tooling can utilize a Tap Tester, or a method for generating the perfect running parameters for your tool and machine setup to ensure that machining vibration is as minimal as possible.

Contouring Considerations

What is Contouring?

Contouring a part means creating a fine finish on an irregular or uneven surface. Dissimilar to finishing a flat or even part, contouring involves the finishing of a rounded, curved, or otherwise uniquely shaped part.

Contouring & 5-Axis Machining

5-axis machines are particularly suitable for contouring applications. Because contouring involves the finishing of an intricate or unique part, the multiple axes of movement in play with 5-axis Machining allow for the tool to access tough-to-reach areas, as well as follow intricate tool paths.

 Recent Contouring Advances

Advanced CAM software can now write the G-Code (the step-by-step program needed to create a finished part) for a machinists application, which has drastically simplified contouring applications. Simply, rather than spend several hours writing the code for an application, the software now handles this step. Despite these advances, most young machinists are still required to write their own G-Codes early on in their careers to gain valuable familiarity with the machines and their abilities. CAM software, for many, is a luxury earned with time.

Benefits of Advanced CAM Software

1. Increased Time Savings
Because contouring requires very specific tooling movements and rapidly changing cutting parameters, ridding machinists of the burden of writing their own complex code can save valuable prep time and reduce machining downtime.

2. Reduced Cycle Times
Generated G-Codes can cut several minutes off of a cycle time by removing redundancies within the application. Rather than contouring an area of the part that does not require it, or has been machined already, the CAM Software locates the very specific areas that require machining time and attention to maximize efficiency.

3. Improved Consistency
CAM Programs that are packaged with CAD Software such as SolidWorks are typically the best in terms of consistency and ability to handle complex designs. While the CAD Software helps a machinist generate the part, the CAM Program tells a machine how to make it.

Contouring Tips

Utilize Proper Cut Depths

Prior to running a contouring operation, an initial roughing cut is taken to remove material in steps on the Z-axis so to leave a limited amount of material for the final contouring pass. In this step, it’s pivotal to leave the right amount of material for contouring — too much material for the contouring pass can result in poor surface finish or a damaged part or tool, while too little material can lead to prolonged cycle time, decreased productivity and a sub par end result.

The contouring application should remove from .010″ to 25% of the tool’s cutter diameter. During contouring, it’s possible for the feeds to decrease while speeds increases, leading to a much smoother finish. It is also important to keep in mind that throughout the finishing cut, the amount of engagement between the tool’s cutting edge and the part will vary regularly – even within a single pass.

Use Best Suited Tooling

Ideal tool selection for contouring operations begins by choosing the proper profile of the tool. A large radius or ball profile is very often used for this operation because it does not leave as much evidence of a tool path. Rather, they effectively smooth the material along the face of the part. Undercutting End Mills, also known as lollipop cutters, have spherical ball profiles that make them excellent choices for contouring applications. Harvey Tool’s 300° Reduced Shank Undercutting End Mill, for example, features a high flute count to benefit part finish for light cut depths, while maintaining the ability to reach tough areas of the front or back side of a part.

Fact-Check G-Code

While advanced CAM Software will create the G-Code for an application, saving a machinist valuable time and money, accuracy of this code is still vitally important to the overall outcome of the final product. Machinists must look for issues such as wrong tool call out, rapids that come too close to the material, or even offsets that need correcting. Failure to look G-Code over prior to beginning machining can result in catastrophic machine failure and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

Inserting an M01 – or a notation to the machine in the G-Code to stop and await machinist approval before moving on to the next step – can help a machinist to ensure that everything is approved with a next phase of an operation, or if any redundancy is set to occur, prior to continuation.

Contouring Summarized

Contouring is most often used in 5-axis machines as a finishing operation for uniquely shaped or intricate parts. After an initial roughing pass, the contouring operation – done most often with Undercutting End Mills or Ball End Mills, removes anywhere from .010″ to 25% of the cutter diameter in material from the part to ensure proper part specifications are met and a fine finish is achieved. During contouring, cut only at recommended depths, ensure that G-Code is correct, and use tooling best suited for this operation.