Henry Ford once said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” To explore that statement, let’s travel back to the early 2000s. We could barely keep up with the demand for parts. Machines were running 24/7. Then we faced tough economic times and had to reduce the workforce.
We are now starting to see rapid growth, and the people that we let go have found other occupations. We are back to the problem of not being able to fill open positions. Basically, we have to do more with less while staying competitive. How do we solve this dilemma? We have to accept that doing what we have always done is no longer a feasible solution. To Henry Ford’s point, we need to adapt and work smarter.
Recent developments in tooling design and tooling technology have allowed for drastically reduced cycle times. Traditionally, API grooves (critical features on many oil and gas components) are machined in a two-step process. First, we face mill the Inconel 625 overlay, typically on a steel base. Face milling the traditional way, this first step accounts for two to three hours of machining time. We then use a single-point turning tool for the actual API groove, which adds anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour to the machining time.
Switching from traditional carbide milling solutions to ceramic milling can drastically reduce the face milling time, commonly to just a few minutes. Using a Ring Max ring groove cutter from Greenleaf for the API groove has an even larger impact by reducing cycle time more than 90% compared to the traditional single-point turning method. The combination of using ceramics to mill and using the Ring Max for the groove can reduce the total cycle time from a few hours to just a few minutes. All of this is done while maintaining critical dimensional tolerances.
The application of ceramic cutting tools is not new, but how these tools are applied has changed significantly. The new ceramic grade XSYTIN-1, a phase-toughened ceramic from Greenleaf, allows for machining at traditional ceramic speeds, but at feed rates that far exceed the norm, typically by 50-100% compared to other ceramics. This results in significant increases in productivity, predictability and tool life.
All of this is achieved through materials science developments. By manipulating the grain growth, Greenleaf has managed to produce a ceramic that is almost twice as strong as other commercially available ceramic inserts. This means that traditional speeds are possible, but not necessary.
Historically, the Achilles heel of ceramics has been its inability to be applied at the low end of the speed spectrum. Without speed and plasticization of the material, ceramics could not work. For many parts, it was not practical to rotate at the RPM needed for ceramics. This could be due to size, weight or imbalance by design, eliminating traditional ceramic tools as a viable option. The inherent strength of XSYTIN-1 has changed the application range and can be used at much lower speeds, approaching that of the high end of carbide, while still gaining some of the productivity of ceramics.
However, the advantages of XSYTIN-1 do not end with productivity increases in traditional applications. It has also been applied to materials, such as soft steels and stainless steels, that have traditionally been off limits to ceramics.
Finishing is another new application area for ceramics. To produce desired surface finishes, we have traditionally relied on carbide or CBN. With Greenleaf’s patented coated whisker-reinforced ceramic grade WG-600, we can achieve surface finishes that rival other materials at speeds far exceeding that of carbide and at a value that outperforms CBN. By challenging the mentality of “it’s always been done this way,” we can realize significant productivity gains without compromising quality—and often improving it.
WG-600 can produce excellent surface finishes. In a recent application test in Super Duplex S32760, WG-600 outperformed the incumbent carbide tooling, using increased speeds and feeds to increase the metal removal rate by 320% while maintaining the same tool life.
By utilizing changes in technology and advances in materials science, we can circumvent some of the struggle to find additional human resources as well as stay competitive in an advanced global market. Constant improvements are what will lead us to success.