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GWS Coatings 101 – AlTiN

Machining metal generates heat, and coatings are all about providing resistance to that heat while also providing some other tangible benefits as well. The make-up of the coating depends on the cutting application and the coating machine itself. Variables like work material, cutting fluid, cutting tool type and even part tolerances can all play roles in coating selection.

Cutting tool coatings are designed to improve wear properties via higher hardness, increased thermal stability and reduced coefficients of friction. In a new series of posts, we’ll review the different types of coatings we offer to make your cutting tools provide better performance. First up: AlTiN.

AlTiN. For when things heat up.

This chemical compound is named for the three elements that make up its composition: Aluminum, Titanium, and Nitride. It, along with most coatings we will discuss in this series, is applied to tools using the PVD (physical vapor deposition) method. While TiAIN is made up of the same basic components, the percentages of aluminum and titanium differ. Based upon the application, one may work slightly better than the other, but for our purposes here we will place them both in the same category.

See Boost Productivity with the Right Cutting Tool Coating

Once deemed a new innovation, AlTiN is now considered a general purpose coating with high aluminum content. Applied to the tool with a coating thickness between 2-4 microns, it provides excellent heat and oxidation resistance. This is partly due to its nano hardness of 36 gpa (gigapascal – a unit of pressure). AlTiN remains stable at operating temperatures up to 1,292F°. Uncoated tools get into trouble at around 572°F.

One note about AlTiN is its application in wet machining environments (which, obviously, is most of them). Simply put, AlTiN performs best in applications where temperatures are both elevated and stable, as consistently high temperatures essentially activate the aluminum in the coating, improving performance. When run wet, temperatures fluctuate up and down, somewhat reducing the coating’s maximum performance capabilities.

AlTiN Cutting Tool Coating
Convex Radius Cutter

What does all this mean for you? Higher feeds and speeds when machining ferrous materials, for starters. Better tool life, too. AlTiN is a good coating for dry machining and machining titanium alloys, Inconel, stainless alloys, and cast iron.

AlTiN coatings are available on the following GWS tool groups:

• 210 Series – 335 | 3FL | Radius
• 215 Series – 335BN | 3FL | Ball Nose
• 220 Series – 545 | 5FL | Square & Radius
• 240 Series – S94 | 2FL | Chamfer Mill
• 241 Series – S94 | 4FL | Chamfer Mill
• 243 Series – CM2 | 2FL | 90 deg. | Chamfer + End Mill
• 4005 Series – ECO | 2FL | 5xD | Solid | Inch & Metric

And of course, we can always add AlTiN to a custom tool designed specifically to your needs.

Contact us to see if AlTiN or any of our other coating options will help you achieve better results. But whatever you do, don’t run a bare tool. Put a coat on it!

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5 Signs You Need Custom Cutting Tools for a Better Bottom Line

Cutting tool catalogs are full of very good off-the-shelf options for a lot of machining applications. But not every situation has a standard answer. Is it possible that you may save time and even more money by going to a tool tailor-made to your needs? Here are 5 signs that you might be better off going with a customized product.

One: Unsatisfactory Performance

The most obvious sign that a custom tool may serve you better is when you pull a part out of the CNC machine and are not happy with the results. For example, if you feel your surface finish could have been better, or you’re routinely sending pieces off to another operation for polishing or deburring, you could be wasting time and money. Likewise, if you are getting the quality you want, but wish you got more tool life, custom may be the way to go. Constantly stopping the run to replace tools that break prematurely is also an obvious red flag.

Custom Carbide Twist Step Drill
Custom Carbide Twist Step Drill

Two: Bottlenecks in Production

Simple logic tells us that when you can make a part faster, you reduce the cost per unit and generate more revenue. Along with this, when big rush orders come through the door (and they always do), having the ability to increase throughput makes customers happy in the form of on-time deliveries. If you’re cutting profiles on a part that require multiple tools to complete, especially on turning centers where tool storage is limited, it might be worth investigating whether a custom form tool will do it in one operation. The custom tool, combined with a little tool path reprogramming support from GWS, has the potential to reduce hours into minutes and minutes down to seconds. And as we all know, in manufacturing, every second counts!

Three: Room for Improvement

The best tool out of the catalog may not be the best option for the application. How much in terms of operational performance is it leaving on the table? You probably experimented with different makes and models before you selected the standard tool you are using now. Why not keep that thought process going and really dial in the geometry, coating and substrate to wring out every ounce of performance possible? Custom could open up a whole new world for you.

Custom Top Notch Insert
Custom Top Notch Insert

Four: Slow or Late Delivery

Just because a part is in a catalog doesn’t mean it’s actually on the shelf. Lead time on out of stock tools can stretch from a few days to a few months, depending on the manufacturer and their production backlog. A custom tool means it’s unique to you with no one else to deplete inventory and leave you stranded. With over 150 grinding centers organized in cells to accommodate highly customized work with rapid turnaround times, GWS can fill large volume orders quickly, consistently and with the highest degree of quality. To ensure consistent and on-time-delivery, we even work with our distributors to keep inventory on their shelves dedicated exclusively to individual customers.

Five: Spending Too Much $$$

It may seem counterintuitive that custom tools can save you money. But if you’re a high-production manufacturer using hundreds or even thousands of tools over the course of the year, you could be ordering a hundred or two hundred tools at a time. However, the catalog price is the catalog price. You won’t get a concession for volume because the price has already been set. Custom tool pricing is based on quantity breaks, and as a consequence, often yield cost savings versus pre-defined “stocked standards.”

Getting out of the “stock” mindset and seeking optimum performance for your cutting tool dollar by going “custom” makes sense in today’s manufacturing environment. If you have noticed any of these signs in your operations, contact us and put our expertise to work for you.

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Cut Cost, Not Quality, with Reconditioned Inserts from GWS

 

If you’re a high-volume production type facility, getting as much value as possible out of your cutting tool inserts on long runs is essential.  So, what if you could find a source of high-quality cutting tool inserts at half the price?  That’s exactly what happens when you take advantage of our Tool Reconditioning services.  Beyond the initial cost savings of being able to use the inserts 2 to 3, or even more times, our regrinding operation offers value-added benefits you won’t find anywhere else. Reduced lead times, inventory management and cloud-based tracking are other ways to benefit from our regrinding process.  Most importantly, the service you get will be tailor-made to your needs.  Let’s take a closer look at how it all comes together.

Quality

Let’s set the record straight right up front.  Reconditioning inserts does not mean taking a step down in quality.  Quite the contrary.  The GWS Tool Recondition program regrinds your worn out, chipped and used inserts back to newly manufactured tool quality.  When you put one of the reconditioned inserts into your CNC, you can machine with confidence.

Reconditioning Tips

A PCD or CBN tipped insert can generally be re-sharpened 2 to 3 times.  After that the substrate (body) of the insert may start to be degraded from the heating and cooling cycle during the brazing process.  The most common styles that we recondition are ISO standard as well as most standard and special milling inserts, both carbide and steel bodied.  We can do multi-cornered inserts, but usually these are only for CBN inserts, and PCD inserts are normally only single tipped.

Choose a Process

Depending on your needs and the applications, there are three ways to add new life to your old inserts.  The first is to shim and regrind. With this method, the PCD/CBN tip is removed and then placed back into the original body with shim stock placed behind the tip.

reconditioned inserts - PCD-Tipped Carbide Inserts
PCD-Tipped Carbide Inserts
 

This will “push” the tip out from the body and the overhanging (damaged from use) material will be ground away, to re-establish  a new cutting edge by utilizing the un-used material for a brand new cutting edge that will be ground to the original dimensions of the new insert.

Another approach is to re-tip the inserts, by replacing the worn tip with a brand new PCD or CBN tip. This will allow the edge length of the tip to be the exact length of the original insert.  In some applications, the edge length is critical and must be maintained.  This is one of the reasons that a re-tipped insert may be needed as opposed to the Shim and Regrind. The re-tipping process is slightly more expensive due to the new material which is being introduced, but is still roughly 30% less expensive than a brand new insert.

If you use a variety of insert sizes in sequence in your shop, a succession technique may work for you.  This is most often used in conjunction with ceramic inserts, usually whisker-reinforced and other types of ceramic.  This can be used with PCD or CBN inserts that are solid or “full top” configurations.  With the succession, we start with the larger size (or feeder) insert and then will be ground to the next standard size.  For example, RNG-45 ground to a 4V to 3V to 2V.  If you do not utilize all the standard sizes, we can skip steps if needed, i.e. RNG-45 to a 3V, or 4V to a 2V and so on. These examples are for round inserts, but they can be utilized with grooving and some ISO standard inserts as well. Depending on the mix of inserts that you use, you may never have to buy a new smaller sized insert.  You can buy the large (feeder) insert, and use all down-sized/reground inserts for all of your smaller insert applications.

With each process, new coating and edge preparations (T-lands, or hones) are added as required. Whatever method works best for, our turnaround for reconditioned inserts is significantly less than for new tool manufacture.

Hidden Value

Besides seeing insert costs go down by half or more, our Tool Reconditioning program offers additional benefits that reduce inventory handling and carrying costs.

Our Tool Tracking System gives you a customized communication experience. We provide live to-the-minute information on your tool regrind process and keep everything accessible through the cloud. The GWS Portal, customized to your needs, allows you to track your current regrinds in real time and stay on top of your tool inventory.

Personalized service comes standard in the reconditioning process as our technicians have the expertise to visually analyze each of your unique inserts and decide which can be shimmed and reground, which can be re-tipped and which should “fallout” (be scrapped). They can accurately predict the number of times your tool can be reground, which reduces the need for new tool purchases and helps you avoid rush charges.

We also provide custom laser etching/labeling on your reconditioned inserts for traceability and inventory management programs provided certain minimums are met.

As you can see by this article, we are offering not only an insert reconditioning service, but a whole new way to administer the tool consumption process. To discover all the ways we can help you save money and time managing your tool insert program, please contact us for a consultation.

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New AlloyCat™ Whiskered Ceramic Inserts Ideal for Super Alloys

It’s a fact. Carbide inserts aren’t your best bet for finishing and roughing nickel and cobalt-based super alloys. By the time the temperature “sweet spot” is reached, the carbide is in meltdown (literally). Even traditional ceramics have a tough time due to the heat and stress generated during the machining process.

What’s the answer? By adding silicon-carbide crystals (whiskers) to a hard ceramic matrix, we can now offer inserts that provide excellent wear and shock resistance at high surface speeds. Our new AlloyCat premium whiskered ceramic inserts are also tougher and stronger than carbide (and even traditional ceramics) thanks to the interlaced fibers within the ceramic material. For example, our brand-new CG-88 grade is ideal for machining nickel and cobalt-based super alloys at metal removal rates 5-10 times higher than carbide.

Right Shape. Right Edge. Right Ceramic.

Our new AlloyCat line features a variety of shapes so it’s easy to find just the right insert for your application. These include round, round V-bottom, dog bone full nose and dog bone flat nose. And if there is a shape we are missing or a custom configuration you are looking for, our team can produce nearly any shape in as short as a few days. Whatever your choice, any number of standard or specialized edge preps are available to perfectly match your machining needs. Upgrades to the ceramic matrix, such as Silicone Nitride, Alumina TIC and Al203, are available upon request.

Whiskered Ceramic Inserts

Insert Reconditioning

The GWS Tool Group Reconditioning program adds even more value to the AlloyCat line. Be it our own inserts or a competitor’s, we offer a comprehensive downsizing program to maximize savings for our customers. Our regrinds aren’t just made to be as good as your brand-new tools; they’re reground to such exacting specifications that they are often better. Whether it’s improved edge preparation or coating enhancements, GWS can downsize your used ceramic inserts so they can be put back to work.

Our AS-9100 certification and vast knowledge of ceramic inserts ensures that you will get quality reground inserts every time. All of this comes with exceptional turnaround times.

A GWS regrind provides cost savings in material, manufacturing process time, volume shipping and inventory reduction. These cost savings are data-driven, not anecdotal. Our Regrind Portal tracks and provides real-time comparisons between regrinds and the purchase of new tools.

Whiskered Ceramic Inserts

Tool-Tracker

Tired of managing your inventory? We can do it for you. We take your worn-out tools, regrind them and release them to you as needed. Our Tool Tracking System gives you a customized communication experience. We provide live to-the-minute information on your tool’s regrind process and keep everything accessible through the cloud.

To discover all the AlloyCat configurations available, please contact us for a consultation.

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Milling Titanium is a Lot Easier with Specialty Tools from GWS

milling titanium

Here’s a true story for you. A Tier One supplier was fulfilling a defense contract for titanium components using conventional 40 taper vertical machining centers. The part had a simple turning operation and then was put into the VMC and machined to its final stage. Total cycle time: 5.5 hours.

Enter Mike Littlejohn, Senior Applications Specialist for GWS. Long story short – supplier reduces cycle time to 29 minutes and drops one whole setup. Owner’s jaw drops. He turns to the GM and says, “We’ve been doing this wrong the whole time!”

Just Another Day on the Shop Floor

These are the sort of things GWS specialists, like Mike, do every day. With their background in process analysis and cycle time reduction, they have the ability to re-approach a particular manufacturing process and achieve great results through the use of our custom tooling. When running production quantities, even a quarter of a second cycle time savings on a part could save hours annually and dramatically affect your bottom line. The experience and expertise of our specialists have led customers to hours and hours of cycle time reduction.

The Trouble with Titanium

milling Titanium

Titanium is used extensively in the aerospace and medical segments. The problem is it has a tendency to generate excessive heat at the contact area during the machining process. With titanium’s low thermal conductivity characteristics, that heat gets transferred mainly to the cutting tool. This results in long continuous chips that can weld on to the tool edge, giving you a poor finish, or worse yet, out of tolerance parts. And you can just imagine what that kind of heat does to tool life. Feeds and speeds need to be dialed in carefully in order to get any decent tool life at all. All of these characteristics must be taken into account if you want to mill titanium successfully.

Hold Up on Desperate Measures

To solve titanium issues, aerospace companies might be ready to invest in new machinery that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Here’s a tip. Consult with one of our specialists on the appropriate tooling on your current machine before breaking the budget for new capital assets.

To serve industries where titanium and other alloys are widely used, GWS has developed a standard cutting tool line that was created with these materials in mind. The PYSTL series comes in different multiple flute variations and coatings. Even more styles are currently in development.

Tailor-Made for Your Application

milling TitaniumWhen you need more than standard tooling, GWS can develop a custom design from a part print or reverse engineer a tool from a part sample. We can design a custom tool that potentially can machine more than one feature at a time.

To us, building a custom tool is like putting together a new recipe. In addition to geometry, we research combinations of substrates and coatings. Because we specialize in custom tools, our specialists have this process down cold. That’s why we’re known for our fast turnarounds for tailor-made products.

If titanium and other space-aged alloys are giving your operators fits and causing a dip in your bottom line, contact us and see if a standard or custom cutting tool from GWS will help give your jaw-dropping results.

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Custom Holemaking Tools Available from GWS Tool Group

To answer an increasing demand from customers, GWS has added a new line of precision tools to its existing lineup of holemaking products. Initial models include the 4005 Series ECO Premium High Performance Carbide Drills, the 4050 Series PAC Premium High Performance Carbide Reamers, and the 4105 Series ECO Premium High Performance Carbide Drills with coolant through.

These offerings are ideal for many applications right off the shelf. But that’s only part of the story. In addition to our standard items, we now offer quick turnaround on custom holemaking solutions like step drills, deep hole drills and step reamers. This is especially important to our customers in fast moving industries like automotive, aerospace and medical, where new special applications are routine occurrences.

Times Have Changed

holemaking

Responsibility for the new holemaking line falls to John Kiiffner, our Product Manager of Drills, Reamers and Micro-Drills. John’s background in tooling beganin 1988, and he’s been with GWS since 1997. During his career, John has seen cutting tools go from simple to complex. He says the level of sophistication seen in the GWS catalog has grown to match the advances in jet engines, medical implants and electric vehicles. “The geometries and options were pretty simple back when I started,” he said. “Not to mention there was a smaller range of raw materials. Now we have so many different grades of aluminum and steel, exotic metals like titanium and cobalt chrome, not to mention high temp, chemical resistant plastics that are machined for medical implants.”

There’s been a lot of changes on the tool side of manufacturing as well. “We have more variables to work with for our custom line, including new carbide substrates, drill point designs and custom coatings.” Innovations in offline programing and simulation software also play a huge part.

“We can leverage these advances to provide high levels of precision along with cost savings that come from long tool life and minimization of cycle times,” John remarked. “This is extremely vital in high volume production environments.”

Finding Out the Need

holemaking

As a Product Manager, John’s job is to analyze the customer’s application and give direction to the type of custom tooling needed for the job. His work requires a lot of road time to maintain relationships with his customer base, which is more high-volume production than your typical job shop. Quantities of parts produced in an automotive, aerospace or medical facility can easily reach 40-50K per day.

Along with volume, precision is extremely vital in custom applications. Automotive parts related to fuel injection such as diesel fuel rails, lifter bodies, etc. have holes that can be as small as 1 to 1.5mm in diameter. Some of our custom finishing reamers are within 5 microns tolerance in diameter and 10 microns in length. We have proven ourselves to be very successful with major automotive parts corporations and their 1st and 2nd tier suppliers due to our ability to make tools that are accurate to specifications like these time after time.

How It Comes Together

holemaking

Staying in front of the customer’s machine on a regular basis allows John to get the feedback necessary to continually improve the process. “We may start with nothing more than a standard CAD drawing or even a sample of the component to be machined,” he said. John then coordinates with our designers to reverse engineer the right combination of elements to make the perfect tool for the application.

“Not that we always hit the mark on the first try,” John remarked. “It may take 3 to 4 variations of a tool over a span of time, sending the customer anywhere from 6 to 12 pieces of each variation to test.

“But, as our long-term customers know, we are totally committed to the process. We never raise the success flag until the part is in production.”

Regrind for a Second (or More) Life

Adding to this value is our ability to regrind drills and reamers in-house. Some straight drills can be reground 3 to 4X depending on the wear condition. We take regrinding seriously because the customer has to get the same result in the hole regardless of whether it’s a new or a reground tool. In fact, we have gotten so good we are the preferred regrind source of many customers for their non-GWS drills.

If you have a unique holemaking application, contact us for a consultation. We think you’ll be please with the results.

 

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How GWS Cutting Tools Go from Custom to Standard

Many of the tailor-made cutting tools we engineer for customers are so innovative they are easily adaptable to a wider range of applications than originally anticipated. This doesn’t happen by accident. Our organization is full of highly experienced and talented people who have a knack for both listening to customer feedback and seeing the future potential for each tool they design. Because of this, every custom project we undertake has the potential to develop a new standard tool for our catalog, expanding and strengthening our overall product mix.

Tool Design 101

How does a custom tool become a standard? It’s not rocket science (actually, sometimes it is), but a careful thought process consisting of equal parts of experience, knowledge and communication.

custom cutting tool

For example, here’s a quick overview of the design process for an end mill. The first step is to marry the tool to the cutting material. There is still a lot of machining in nonferrous aluminum material, especially in the aerospace/aircraft sector. Machine tool builders are busy making machines for that area, which are usually outfitted with high rpm spindles (30k rpm and up) and can feed as fast as 1,000 IPM. It’s up to us to develop the right kind of cutting tool that works in these high-volume removal applications.

This involves calculating the chip load based on the tool diameter to get good chip thickness and generate the proper cutting angle to attain the preferred shearing action.

Communication with the end user during the development process is vital to improve the original design. We stand right by the machine, listen to the customer’s feedback and fine-tune the geometries of the tool until its performance and longevity match our high expectations.

When we have success with a particular design in a certain application, we document it in our master database. The library acts as a starting point when the next request arrives for a similar material and application. Having examples to work from puts us ahead of the game and speeds up delivery times for a new tool.

Rapid Prototyping

This is truly where GWS stands apart from the competition. We do not impose limits on ourselves simply because we already have an outstanding standard product portfolio. If a custom tool is required, we pride ourselves on delivering the very best design without prolonged wait times for the end customer.

A critical component of our “custom comes standard” model is our ability to pull resources, develop completely new tooling (be it custom inserts, a complex form tool or redesigned high-performance end mill) and deliver it to the customer in days. With other suppliers, the wait could be weeks or even months. Our capacity also allows us to deliver these tools with scale (a few hundred to a few thousand pieces), to support the largest of demands.

Constant Learning. Practical Applications.

The entire process is actually a little more sophisticated than our simple outline would suggest. Tooling design has gone beyond the typical 4 flute design that used to be the benchmark. Variations today include indexable tooling options, variable helix from flute to flute that eliminate vibration and chatter, eccentric reliefs ground in for better edge support, and edge preparation for better tool life.

The evolution of the best tool is always a moving target. Developments are always on the horizon, from manufacturing and inspection technologies to new carbide substrate compositions and advances in the area of PVD and CVD coatings. To keep pace, our own education process needs to be continuous.

Even understanding the varieties of software customers are using in their process is a must in developing the right cutting tool. A tool for light, high speed Z-level machining will be designed very differently from one for heavy, high-volume milling applications. Understanding the capabilities of a customer’s software enables us to not only design the right tool, but also helps our programmers determine if applying a more efficient toolpath for the customer is possible.

Whether you use a model right out of our catalog or need a custom approach, contact us for a consultation. Either way, we’ll always deliver the cutting tool you need.

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GWS Custom Inserts Last Longer by a Wide Margin

CBN custom inserts
Continually changing worn out cutting tools can be a real profit breaker. If you’re machining automotive and aerospace components made out of hardened steel or nickel-based alloys, you really know what we mean. How do you avoid the costly downtime and excessive tooling costs typically associated with these super-hard materials? Find yourself a tougher tool. We offer a full array of standard and custom turning inserts tipped with the hardest substances on Earth.

Cubic Boron Nitride

CBN comes in right behind diamonds on the hardness scale. Unlike other types of boron nitride, it exists as a cubic crystal lattice, like the crystalline structure of diamond. It’s the perfect choice for applications that require extreme wear resistance and toughness like hard turning, grooving and milling hardened steel and nickel alloys or roughing gray cast iron at high cutting speeds.

CBN custom inserts

We were once called in to consult with a large automotive manufacturer that was having difficulty machining clutch plates made out of powdered metal. The part was very intricate, with a lot of internal and external diameters that needed to be turned, with some grooving and interrupted cuts. Inserts from their current supplier lasted only 20 parts before they had to be replaced. Initial tests with our CBN product immediately bumped this up to 215 parts per insert.

Polycrystalline Diamond

Polycrystalline diamond (PCD) is diamond grit that has been bonded onto a carbide substrate under high-pressure, high-temperature conditions.

PCD custom inserts

It works best for abrasive non-ferrous composite material applications. Our PCD- tipped inserts (including intricate form tools), come in several extremely wear-resistant grades (so you don’t have to buy more PCD than you actually need.)

Expect a dramatic change in tool life when you switch to PCD. In our experience, the first tool life can yield savings of up to 30-50% when compared to carbide inserts.
Believe it or not, the savings don’t stop there. Frankly, PCD inserts are costly compared to their carbide relatives, so we purposefully design each of our tips so they can be brought back to life multiple times by re-grinding. This gives you hours more cutting time for your initial investment.

How the Inserts Are Made

After receiving the raw material from a supplier (usually in the form of a 63mm to 75mm diameter disc), we cut out the desired tip and shape it using an electrical discharge machine (EDM). Features and edges are ground into the tip, which is then braised onto a carbide insert body. Using this process, we can take any standard turning insert and make it the top of the line for hardness.

Edge Preparation

Edge preparation is a big part of the performance of a CBN insert. A T-Land (or chamfer)is a common edge preparation we use for CBN inserts. Prior to edge preparation, a too typically has a 90 degree corner. Edge preparation removes this sharp angle which gives the insert a beveled edge.

For example, a 20 degree chamfer results in a “strong negative” cutting angle, with a rake of 70 degrees. The advantage of a chamfered tool is that the tool lasts significantly longer than a tool with a square or “positive” edge. Most companies offer standard angles of 20, 25 and 30 degrees. If 25 isn’t right, you have to make the leap to 30. This jump would probably not give you the ideal balance between strength and accuracy required for your application. At GWS, we have proprietary equipment that allows us to go from 10-45 degree angles and everywhere in between. We are the only company that has the ability (and the will) to give our customers this level of optimal customization.

Just the Right Composition

There are only a handful of companies that sell raw CBN and PCD. While our competitors usually work with only one, we order from a group of suppliers. The reason for this is that each source has a slightly different formula that may be a better match for any one of our customers. This “pick and choose” approach gives us more flexibility to provide a superior product for different applications. If your cutting tool inserts wear out too fast, contact us for a consultation and see the difference custom can make. When it comes to our customers, we don’t make do, we make better.
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GWS Increases Tool Life 4000% for Semiconductor Parts Maker

Manufacturing valves, manifolds and fittings used for the delivery of ultra high purity gas for semiconductor production is a demanding job. Part of the problem is that the components are primarily made with heat resistant super alloys and stainless steel. One manufacturer came to us with a situation that is not unusual in the industry. They were experiencing poor tool life with one particular semiconductor part family. The bulk of the work was being done on either 3-axis vertical or 4-axis horizontal machining centers. Only 6-8 parts could be completed before their end mills failed or needed to be replaced. This was unacceptable.

High Standards vs. Tough Materials

The majority of projects in the semiconductor industry involve HASTELLOY® C-22® alloy (UNS N06022) and 316L stainless steel, along with some aluminum components. The problem-causing semiconductor application mentioned above involved HASTELLOY material.

This material is a well-known nickel-chromium-molybdenum blend, the chief attributes of which are resistance to both oxidizing and non-oxidizing chemicals, and protection from pitting, crevice attack, and stress corrosion cracking. Like other nickel alloys, HASTELLOY C-22 alloy is very ductile, exhibits excellent weldability, and is easily fabricated into industrial components.

On the down side, HASTELLOY C-22 alloy is generally very abrasive. It is also gummy and generates a lot of heat when machining. Ideal for semiconductor components, but not so ideal for cutting tools trying to machine it.

Setting the Bar

The situation was frustrating for a company that has a solid reputation for delivering the highest standards of quality and using the latest manufacturing technologies in order to meet strict demands for on-time delivery and value. It’s no surprise that they set about to find a partner who would meet their goal of increasing tool life.

It had already been decided to switch from a sharp corner tool to a radius corner to reduce corner edge break down. But the specifications called for a very small radius.

The search for an off-the-shelf tool that would provide longer tool life when machining their test piece led nowhere. No one seemed able to help. Then Kevin Corrigan, a representative of Deco Tool (a local distributor) suggested they bring GWS in for a consultation on a custom end mill. GWS’s ability to produce high performance purpose-built tooling quickly made getting the exact tool needed easy and virtually delay-free.

Tweaking a Standard

Semi-Conductor Board

Our engineers took a close look at the customer’s application and realized just a few subtle enhancements to one of our standard tools would make it an excellent fit for their requirements. The tool was a 1/2″ diameter, 8-flute carbide end mill that was originally intended for titanium. But since the material was HASTELLOY C-22, we adjusted the dish angle on the tool to add rigidity and went from a non-center to a center cutting tool for improved performance in plunging operations needed to machine the “elbow.” As specified, it has a 0.0015 corner radius, which provides better tool life when compared to a sharp corner tool which was more prone to chipping. We finished off the tool with a different hone on the cutting edge for optimum cutting in HASTELLOY C-22.

Unbelievable Test Results

The customer ran two different batch tests with the new GWS tool. The first test produced 384 parts with one end mill. The second test delivered 324 parts. That accounts for the huge % increase in our headline. It was estimated that the new tool will save them $30,000 per year based on tool life alone and an estimated cost per part savings of $5.83 per part.

Aside from increasing tool life dramatically, a productivity improvement was also realized. They went from 9.6 ipm (inches per minute) to 12.9 ipm, an increase of 33%.

Similar success in their stainless steel parts yielded an additional annual savings of $20,000 not including productivity gains via higher metal removal rates in these parts as well.

Customer Satisfaction

The lesson to be learned from this case study is to never give up until you find a solution that will give your customers the finest parts available. Because that’s what they deserve. We work hard to be the best provider of customized cutting tools on the market. Because that’s what you deserve.

If you have a cutting tool problem that no one else can solve, contact us. We’ll find a way to save you time and money as well as increased performance.

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Capital Expenditures: An Investment in Our Customers

Capital expenditures are often thought of in a negative light. After all, no organization likes to spend down their profits. But, in reality, the company that does not take the opportunity to enhance capability, create more throughput and/or to address an efficiency issue is not going to be in business for long.

One way to look at the CAPEX situation is like priming the pump. You pour money into the business to make more money in the end. To a certain extent, that is true. But at GWS, we are always on the lookout for ways to provide additional value to our customers. The purchasing of the latest manufacturing technologies is one way we accomplish this goal.

Whether it’s the purchase of a new machine tool to produce our cutting tools, or the acquisition of a whole company that is advanced in a competency we don’t currently have, all of our expenditures are executed with the intent to stay true to our “Custom Comes Standard” mission.

Scaling
We focus our CAPEX planning on scaling the organization to match the needs of our customers. “Scaling” is the important word in that sentence. Creating scale within our industry is not always a seamless exercise. Like many other skilled trades, there exists a shortage of skilled labor. That means there’s not always a clear equation that says 1 person + 2 machines = $X of growth

You can generally estimate what a machining center is capable of producing within a prescribed window of time, but the spindle utilization rate achieved plays a critical role in whether or not that potential is realized.

Utilization rate is driven by presence of skilled labor, but the ability to spread the talent you have across the production floor is only possible if you work to achieve machine standardization.

Standardization
Commonality of CNC equipment (both in construction and programming language), allows operators to be familiar with all the machines on the floor, not the just the ones they attend. The result is faster operations, from setup and programming, as well as maintenance and troubleshooting. This consistency allows for a flow of expertise across the workforce. The shared knowledge increases the quality of our custom-engineered tools and facilitates fast deliveries.

Inspection of our cutting tools is done the same way. Standardized inspection processes and equipment across multiple facilities gives each product the same quality signature from one shop to the next. You can be sure that the end mill you receive from Florida, the drills and reamers you get from Michigan and catalog products from Massachusetts all meet our high standards for quality.

FANUC LR Mate 200iD

The Automation Advantage
If you want to maximize utilization of your work force, investing in automation is essential. Let’s look at this concept in action, using cutting tool grinders as an example. First of all, automation is key in quality control and JIT deliveries. And of course, it’s impossible to run 24/7 without loading/unloading robots. Automated probing tools check measurements like diameter and flute depth and make adjustments on the fly to save time and keep tools within tolerance.It also decreases downtime via manual inspection processes and limits the use of physical contact gauges, like mircometers, which can damage cutting edges.

 

Tool Changer

Automatic grinding wheel changers house redundant or special tools so that a grinder can continue to run without additional setup time. This versatility, created by some judicious spending, gives us the flexibility to quickly change orders on the floor.

Meanwhile, while automation keeps the line moving, our master toolmakers can utilize their expertise in other areas more critical to our customers, like new tool design and turnkey application support.

 

Specialization
The exception to the standardization rule would be when we are tooling up for a new customer, or a new advanced technology.

GWS will always consider the purchase of special purpose machinery and equipment to fulfill a customer’s need, (after a thoughtful and thorough cost analysis process, of course). This could be a CNC machine tool that maintains a super high tolerance or a new coating vessel to apply a special treatment. The evaluation of specialized equipment is done carefully by our engineers so that they are able to choose equipment that meets the standards of GWS and ultimately those of the customer.

When the demand for the new application grows to a certain point, we purchase more machines of the same model to invoke the standardization rule once again.

Return on Our Investment
Careful investment in capital assets ensures that we put the finest technology available to work for our customers. That, in turn, means even faster turnarounds and higher levels of quality at a fair price.

But mechanics aside, our biggest investment is always in our relationship with you, our customers. We consider that to be priceless.

Contact us if you have a cutting tool problem that no one else can solve. We’ve invested in the people, hardware and software to come up with the answers.