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Gina Hong Learns Something About Custom Cutting Tools Every Day

Gina Hong has been a GWS Tool Group Machine Operator in our Springfield, Massachusetts plant for three and a half years. She’s a skilled maker of our custom cutting tools, and if you told her four years ago it’s where she would be, she probably would not have believed you.

Since she was undecided about going to college, Gina asked a tech instructor in her home town of Asnuntuck, Connecticut, about her next step. Recognizing her skills on the school’s old Bridgeport manual lathe, the teacher suggested she apply for a job with GWS while she made up her mind. It was an excellent piece of advice. Gina admits that she likes working here so much that college is still on the back burner.

“Can I Do This?”

Today, Gina runs a bank of four ANCA MX7 Linear CNC tool grinders. Taking dimensions from a paper print, she programs the machines via the control panel, loads a blank and monitors the run. While you wouldn’t know it today, Gina admits that during her first year, she was convinced she would never learn to do the job effectively. But for each error she made, she gained a piece of knowledge that could be used the next time to make a better product.

That education process continues to this day. “If I get a bad result, I can count on my experience to correct it,” she says. “But there’s always something new for me to learn.” For example, on a recent job, a 350 carbide end mill wasn’t matching spec after the run. Gina adjusted the wheel and checked the core and diameter. Finally, an engineer checked out the machine and found that a loose probe was causing the problem. “I filed that one away for the next time,” she said.

Mastering the Job

The variety of new challenges in each day is what keeps the job exciting for Gina. She may not know the exact nature of the next tooling puzzle to be solved, but she knows whatever it is, she will be ready to analyze the situation and come up with a viable solution.

Gina says her greatest accomplishment so far was mastering the job well enough to run independently. “I thought it was too hard at first, but I gave it a chance and found out I was much more capable than I had even imagined.”

Working for GWS

One of the things Gina likes about working for GWS is the constant flow of new technology into the shop. “The company isn’t afraid to spend money to keep us competitive and give our customers the best tools possible.”

Gina has a pretty full work schedule and says her job is enough of a challenge to satisfy her creative side. She doesn’t need to take on a hobby or participate in sports. “When I have the chance, I just like to relax with the television or hang out with my girlfriends.”

Looking for a Satisfying Career?

GWS Tool Group is on the cutting edge of custom cutting tools, and our facilities in Florida, Indiana, Michigan and Massachusetts are always looking for talented and driven individuals. If you’re curious about the perks and possibilities of a career here, read up on how you can join our team.

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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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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.

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Cutting Tool Breakage: The 3 Most Common Mistakes

Cutting tool breakage is a fact of life in this business. But you should be able to get your money’s worth out of them before it happens. There’s nothing like premature cutting tool breakage to get a machinist steamed. Not only is it slowing the operator down, it’s costing money. The problem is, there are a ton of variables that could be in play when a tool bites the dust before its time.

What’s to blame? Was it a bad tool? It’s not really like the old days when you could get a bad batch of carbide. It’s all reasonably good stuff today. So outside of that, what other reasons could be at fault for cutting tool breakage, chipping and inadequate performance? Let’s look at 3 of the more common mistakes.

ONE: Improper Tool Holder Assembly
In order to make good parts, run out and balance are fundamental. This leads to a discussion about whether you’ve chosen the correct type of toolholder for the application (collet chuck, end mill, hydraulic, milling and heat shrink types) the correct profile of the toolholder in regards to reach, and how far your tool is hanging out. The goal of course is to minimize runout and unbalance while gripping the tool adequately with maximum rigidity in the setup. These attributes become more or less significant depending on the application. For example, balance is more critical for high speed machining operations, while gripping torque is more crucial in roughing operations where pullout is more likely.

Stopping premature cutting tool breakage.
The GWS “Alumigator” End Mill

Correct Tool Holder: As a rule of thumb, we lean towards hydraulic chucks for hole making and maybe some light milling work; mill chucks for low speed milling and roughing. For high speed machining and/or high precision work, shrink fit tool holding.

Correct Length: More times than you might think, the selection of the toolholder is an afterthought. While many operators look to achieve short stick out lengths with the cutting tool, they often overlook the gage line of the holder itself. Marrying both the correct holder type with proper cutting tool stick out are both fundamental to optimum tool performance. Save the excessively long holders for only those applications that require the reach.

Stick Out Tip– For carbide tools, look to maintain an LDR (Length to Diameter Ratio) of 6:1 or less for optimum performance. When the applications require longer, you will need to reduce cutting parameters (speeds, feeds, depths of cut) to compensate for the increased tool deflection.

Correct Profile: The shape of the tool holder and construction has a lot to do with its inherent ability to provide rigidity or reach or balance in a given application over a long period of time. For example, mill chucks generally have greater centers of mass, that when coupled with internal needle bearings, create an extremely rigid holder that dampens vibration while achieving a high degree of gripping torque. However, the balance properties of these holders are often inconsistent, making them less ideal for long reach or finish operations. Slimmer profiles, like that of shrink fit holders, enable significantly more reach (hence shorter tool LDR) while possessing ideal balance and runout properties.

TWO: The Wrong Tool/Speed for the Material
When you call us with a tool life problem, probably the first things our technicians will ask is what material you are cutting followed by the speed, feed rate, radial and axial depth of cut.

Stopping premature cutting tool breakage.
Protip: Run your Alumigator at higher speeds for optimal performance.

If you’re running 303, 304 and 316L stainless steel, or Ti-6Al4V and other titanium alloys, you need a tool that can handle the excess heat generated at the contact edge. (See GWS Takes Aim at Gummy Materials for information about our PYSTL Series End Mills.)

A note about speed.What’s the first thing an operator does when a job doesn’t sound or look right? They turn the dial left and slow the machine down, right? It may seem counter-intuitive, but many of our tools are actually designed to run faster, not slower. This can be uncomfortable for operators who aren’t used to running at high speeds, especially if it’s a tool they are not familiar with. So, when we ask if you’re running at the right speed, we may mean you are not going fast enough to take advantage of the tool running in its sweet spot.

Machine tool and cutting tool technology have been leap-frogging for decades. A lot of operator habits developed back when cutting tools couldn’t match the total speed output of the CNC machine. Today, the learning curve has shifted back towards carbide tooling, where they are now fully capable of handling the speed and actually perform better at higher revs.

THREE: A Flawed Tool Path
Five to ten flute tools (and sometimes more) can be incredibly productive when properly applied. After all, more flutes equal greater feed rates. However, you have to marry it with the right type of tool path. While more flutes translate to higher feed rates, they also translate to less chip pocket space.  Therefore, to be successful with these tools requires a specific tool path that keeps percentage of total tool engagement (relative to its diameter) limited, so as not to bury it and cause breakage. The amount of tool engagement varies, but generally the more flutes you have, the more careful you need to be to ensure its not overloaded (put into a slot or sharp corner). With the right tool path, techniques like full radial trochoidal milling tool paths can be used to shred cycle times!

We have had great success with our 7-flute tool cutting titanium, but we’ve also had people break it right away because it’s very dependent on the amount of engagement (as previously stated). It’s got to be consistently light. Slotting or heavy pocketing with a 7-flute tool is not going to work. It just doesn’t have enough chip clearance within each flute. With the right tool path that keeps cutter tool engagement at around 20 percent, the tool is going to run smoothly and permit optimum metal removal rates.

If tool engagement cannot be adjusted, using 4 or 5-flute end mills may be the optimum solution, as the large chip pockets provide more forgiveness in potentially unforgiving scenarios like pockets or deep slots.

A Lot to Think About
Of course, the simplest way to avoid premature cutting tool breakage is to call in the pros. Contact Us and we’ll be happy to conduct a thorough investigation of your particular application and help you optimize your process.

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Max Out 5-Axis Value with the Right Cutting Tools

Demand for faster cycles times in industries such as aerospace, die and mold, automotive and medical continue to drive OEM’s and their manufacturing suppliers to find ways of reducing production costs. This has given rise to a parallel popularity in 5-axis machining. That’s why there are more and more machine builders offering 5-axis machine platforms in today’s market.

         C62U 5-axis machine courtesy of Hermle USA

Why 5?
Simple. 5-axis machines are the price of admission to the game. You might be able to get highly creative with the machines you currently have and use a combination of 3 and 4 axis machines to produce a given part. But this would involve multiple setups – cutting certain features on one machine, then switching machines to cut another feature to make the complete part.

Don’t forget the added setup time whenever you move the part or the challenge of maintaining tight tolerances between machines. And what if there is a bottleneck on one of the machining centers? You could wait half a day or more just for it to free up pending other work in your pipeline. With this scenario, it is highly doubtful you could win the bid, deliver on time and make money.

But all this hassle and delay is preventable (in many cases) thanks to 5-axis machines.

The Joys of 5

Convex Radius Cutter

The beauty of 5-axis machines lies in the simple fact that you can do more with less…more machining in one setup. Less downtime, fewer touch points and ultimately more money in your bank account and smiles on the faces of your customers for faces via improved deliveries.

This formula: [fewer setups + increased metal removal rate = reduced overall cycle time = more profit] is the reason many shops are going to 5-axis machines when they replace old equipment (or even sooner if they want to bid on new parts more competitively).

Issues with 5
Great. End of problem? Not exactly. With a couple more axes added to the typical XYZ, a couple more variables are often encountered. First, programming with 5 axes does become more complex, and will require some additional training and learning with programmers used to only 3-axis machines.  Another issue is the physical reach constraint that is often created where none was present in a 3-axis machining plane.  Entirely new tool holding and cutting tools are often needed to avoid collisions.

Something else to consider is that the work materials often machined in the industries most frequently using 5-axis machines tend to be more exotic and expensive by nature. From stainless steel and Titanium to Inconel and Cobalt-Chrome, these materials have higher price tags and consume more tooling.

Solution: The Right Tool
Not to worry. GWS can help you maximize the 5-axis positives by creating custom tooling that fits your specific application. GWS has the designs and capability to build tools that will maximize the enhanced capability of 5-axis machines.  Tools that include

Toroidal Cutter Before Coating
  • Barrel endmills
  • Tapered endmills
  • Spherical endmills
  • Bullnose high-feed endmills.

And remember that increased metal removal rate we mentioned? It won’t happen if you’re using a standard ball nose tool. There’s just not enough cutting edge surface area. These spherical type endmills, can take a greater length of cut with each pass as compared to tradition ball end mills. Pivoting the tool and workpiece (which the 5-axis makes possible) brings more of the cutting edge in contact with the part. Longer cutting edge engagement means a dramatic increase in metal removal rates.

Custom Carries the Day
With the variety of contours that 5-axis parts require, for example, turbine blades, you really need a custom tool that you can marry to the shape. Off the shelf won’t cut it (literally). We can deliver custom tools specifically designed for your application with the right length, taper, diameter, radius, geometry, substrate and coatings – to address the issues of reach, collision and tool life.

When you look to 5-axis, look to GWS for the optimum tools for your application. Contact Us today to see what we can do for you.