Necessity is often the mother of invention. That’s never been truer than in the case of American Torch Tip Company (Bradenton, Florida). Dan Walters has been the CNC manager at American Torch Tip Company for the past 17 years, and 5 years ago his shop came up with an in-house quick-change tool system for ER collets. Since then, he has made and used these holders on all of his 30 CNC machines, including 17 Swiss-types.
Downtime, long setup times and hiring skilled employees for night shifts are some of the problems every shop has. In its shop, American Torch Tip has completely integrated the quick-change tool system and drastically reduced those problems by developing a system that will go in any ER-style holder. Tools can now be preset off the machine, during the first shift and while the machines are running.
“We have solved our night-shift employee problem. We now hire non-machinists for night shifts and weekends. They can change tools in the machines,” Mr. Walters says. “The new tools eliminate the need for jogging the machine around, touching off the tool tip and entering the tool’s offset position into the computer. Instead, the tool change entails simply unscrewing a nut, taking the toolholder out and replacing it with one that has been preset off-line.”
The key feature to this system is the ER-to-ER adapter that has a male back end that is shaped exactly like an ER collet. The front of this adapter has a female end for holding ER collets, one or two sizes smaller than the back end. Like the fit of a V-flange toolholder in a machining center spindle, this adapter eliminates collet pullback and thus eliminates the need for touching up the cutter for its final size offset. Once the tool is preset, it doesn’t move during a tool change.
For the last 5 years, this new system has worked so well in his shop that Mr. Walters has decided to take his quick-change system to market. After recently applying for a patent, Mr. Walters started American QC Systems, which is marketing his tooling system as Q-Switch. He’s a shop guy making quick-change tools for other shops and with an eye for the needs of manufacturing. Because of the inexpensive cost, he believes this system can revolutionize the way tools are changed. Time saved in tool changes is only one of the benefits.
Setup times and cycle times have become a premium of importance to a machine shop. Tool changes should be no different. Traditionally, when a tool breaks or gets dull, some shops seem to go into slow motion. Some employees walk to the tool crib, some to the grinding wheel and others walk over to the manager to get the tool changed—all while the machine is down.
With this new system, a drill change takes approximately 20 to 30 seconds from the time the door is opened until the cycle start button is pushed. When added up over an entire year, the time saved is substantial. Not only is there payback for the tool system in the downtime saved, but the cost of personnel and setup times will undoubtedly go down, speeding ROI.
There are several different levels of the “Q-Switch” System, from presetting a couple of standard tools to presetting tools for the job that is running and the upcoming job, to leaving tools preset forever.
Mr. Walters, with his 17 Swiss-type CNC machines, presets tools once and keeps them that way. For the initial setup, the X and Z numbers for each tool are written on the tool layout sheet. Using those numbers on the off-line presetter, the tools are kept preset forever. “We have completely eliminated touching off, except for the initial machine setup,” he says. “The highly skilled setup person is no longer needed for repeat setups and can be used for more productive tasks. The setup now consists of installing the tools, typing in the X and Z numbers and pushing the start button. Now our machine setups take less than 2 hours, down from the old way, which took almost 4 hours.”
American QC Systems has developed other additions to the Q-Switch line such as floating holders for the turret machines and boring bar holders that also fit in an ER-style holder. The boring bar holder perfectly centers any boring or threading tool by using a notch and a locating pin on the ER taper. “The days of centering small boring bars at the machine are over,” Mr. Walters explains. “With this new technology a drill can be used for a job and a boring bar can be used for the next job without changing holders. Combined with practical tooling, the quick-change mentality can have a large influence in a shop and result in significant savings for almost anyone.”
Quick-change tooling is not new, but Mr. Walters’ idea is to provide an affordable quick-change toolholder system that allows shops to change their philosophy about switching tools. “I like to see shops take advantage of quick-change tooling throughout the enterprise instead of on selected machines,” Mr. Walters says. “In the past, the cost of some toolholders that require special tool blocks to receive them was an option only on a limited basis. I’ve priced the new system so machine shops are more likely to completely change their entire shops to the Q-Switch system.”