Industry veterans often say the makers of machine tools, cutting tools, CAD/CAM software, and other components push each other in an endless feedback loop to deliver ever faster cutting speeds in ever harder materials. Lately it’s the cutting tool manufacturers who seem to be leading the charge. See what they’re up to.
Specialized holding investment ups machine tool efficiency. If you’ve ever seen industrial wind turbine components on the back of a flatbed truck rolling down the highway, you have a good idea of what a large, heavy, difficult-to-handle workpiece is. For example, with a single blade on the GE 1.5 mW turbine being almost as long as a football field, the entire blade assembly weighs about the same as 36 small cars.
Advanced toolholder systems deliver security, increase tool performance. As machining has evolved, toolholders have advanced to include rigid, secure systems with anti-pullout protection. These advanced systems are needed to take on difficult-to-machine materials, such as titanium and heat-resistant superalloys (HRSA), and accommodate ambitious removal rates and long tool overhangs. Think of them as insurance against tool pullout and breakage—a situation nobody wants.
Shrink-fit toolholding is a simple concept—an induction coil is adjusted and fits over the top of the toolholder. The induction coil heats the toolholder end of the shrinker, expanding the inside diameter, which opens the engagement bore (IDs of shrink-fit toolholders are smaller than the shank diameter of the cutting tool). Then the tool shank slips into the heated toolholder. Once the tool cools, the toolholder shrinks around the actual tool and there is uniform pressure and concentric gripping strength around the surface of the tool shank.
A focus on fixtures and workholding pays off. At the Nirvana Machine Shop on planet Perfection, every workpiece is clamped to a custom-built fixture mounted on a dedicated machine tool. Each workpiece is dimensionally identical to the one before and the one after. All the fixtures are totally automatic—instantly positioning, clamping, machining, inspecting, and releasing the part with the ultimate precision.
New chip geometries, coatings rival performance of solid carbide drills. Since their introduction about 20 years ago, replaceable-tip drills have become increasingly accurate and cost-effective alternatives to solid carbide units. New tip geometries, coatings and other modifications are enhancing their useful range, particularly when processing new alloys. And, as familiarity with these tools has grown, expert users are refining their methods of getting more than a single cycle of use out of their tips.
Digital tool libraries emerge as a key part of advanced manufacturing. It’s said you don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. For Industry 4.0 and advanced manufacturing, digital libraries provide that map.
The oil patch customer specified the need for fast changeover to produce the part from various metal materials and was trying to decide between a single block of steel or a near net shape casting. Both high-speed roughing and then five-axis machining were required in this small-footprint machine, which had been selected by the customer due to plant capacity utilization concerns, plus its desire for a flexible, cost-effective machine tool.
On race day, everybody sees the race on TV, but behind the scenes there’s a competition going on between shops where time is everything, according to Matt Gimbel, Team Penske’s production manager. Fifteen little things could add up to the half a second we need on the track to hit our goal. Whoever can implement changes the fastest will typically have the advantage, but precision tooling can make the difference between winning and losing.
Despite the addition of more than 750,000 CNC mills in the past 15 years in the US, CNC machining job shops often hover at the bottom of the totem pole, where there’s little room for error as most bids are won by a 1–2% price variance. Plus, most low-to-mid volume run production machine shops struggle in achieving their share of the 5–10% maximum profit margins typically realized on most jobs, according to JM Performance Products (JMPP: Fairport Harbor, (OH).
Manufacturers are always looking for signs of what the economy and the business outlook have in store for them. Since the election of President Trump and, more recently, passage of the tax reform law in December, confidence among businesses of all sizes has been overwhelmingly positive.
ADVANCED MANUFACTURING NOW
Philip Allen, CEO & founder of Grace Engineered Products, ponders the reasons companies use Permanent Electrical Safety Devices (PESDs) in their electrical safety programs, and comes up with an analogy for electrical safety principles—both electrical energy and freight trains yield to no one.
Live tooling, as the name implies, is specifically driven by the CNC control and the turret of various spindle and powered sub-spindle configurations on CNC lathes to perform various operations while the workpiece remains in orientation to the main spindle. These devices, whether BMT or VDI, are also called driven tools, as opposed to the static tools used during turning operations. Live tools are usually customized for the particular machine tool builder’s turret assembly.
Ongoing exchange between CAD/CAM software technology developers and cutting tool manufacturers is an excellent illustration of how technology collaborations can create productivity gains in manufacturing. Several examples in this article involve CNC Software Inc. and cutting tool manufacturers.
Spend enough time on shop floors and you’ll learn about the two different groups of skilled workers that reside there. On one side are the old-school machinists—skilled craftspeople who use their hands, eyes and ears to guide machine tools. On the other side are the programmers and engineers. They bring deep knowledge of CAD and CAM and can turn a shop full of CNC machines into a manufacturing orchestra, conducting it all with a keyboard and a mouse.