PM Blog

Speed Matters in Microtooling Applications

Smaller. Faster. Accurate. The demand for micromanufacturing is increasing worldwide, driven largely by the requirement for smaller products, tools and lead times. Industries such as medical, aerospace and even automotive are using smaller round tools. Virtually every major carbide round tool manufacturer stocks standard products as small as 0.003” diameter.

As the demand for these tools has grown, press coverage, advertising and demonstrations of these remarkably engineered and manufactured products have become widespread. What is oftentimes overlooked, though, is how to apply these tools properly. While the features and benefits of microtools are clearly explained, the running parameters are almost always omitted.

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At some point, every precision machine shop is approached by a customer with a “hot job,” one that needs to be turned ASAP. In March, many shops began making accommodations for what might have been the most important hot jobs they’ll ever take on: machining much-needed components for ventilators and other medical devices to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

As impressive as their fast response was, so, too, was the coming together as a machining community to immediately react to the needs of their customers. And how they were similarly sensitive to the needs of their employees in the process.

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It’s Meant to Make People Quit

“About the midway mark, Wednesday night is the ugliest. As the sun goes down and you’re linked arm-to-arm with your whole class, sitting in the surf zone in 18 inches of cold water. Waves crashing over you and rolling back into the surf. Your energy is at the lowest. Your morale is at the lowest. Instructors are taunting the class, pulling up in a four-door pickup truck— heated inside, full of hot coffee and donuts. Anyone that quits, hot coffee and donuts right there. Those are the temptations. But I told myself, I’m going to finish this evolution without quitting. I’m going to get through this.”

So my friend Bill Berrien describes the toughest point of “Hell Week” during his Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Training. BUD/S is the initial training to become a Navy SEAL. During Hell Week, the SEAL candidate is basically awake from Sunday to Saturday with the exception of two hours of sleep permitted in the middle of the week. “There’s cold water, sandy, it’s dark at night, you’re carrying a boat over your head, it’s meant to make people quit.”

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CAM programmers are constantly looking for ways to optimize tool paths and increase tool life. One school of thought for doing that is to maintain constant chip thickness throughout a cut, instead of a constant feed rate. That way, cutters engage with the same amount of material and encounter consistent cutting forces. “Force,” a new module within CGTech’s Vericut suite of toolpath simulation, verification and optimization software products, offers a way to automatically do that.

Pete Haas, Vericut product specialist, says Force achieves what feed rate calculators cannot and what manufacturers have been trying to implement for many years. That is, true constant-chip-thickness machining. “Instead of maintaining a constant feed rate throughout the cut in which chip thickness changes as the tool encounters varying amounts of material, Force speeds up or slows down to keep cutting forces steady,” he explains. “It’s very similar to how a machinist might dial the feed rate override up or down based on the sounds coming out of the machine, except that Force does it proactively and more effectively, rather than reacting to cutting noise levels.”

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Strong Leaders of CNC Machine Shops will Create the New Normal

As we navigate through this disruptive period, it’s natural to ask: “when will we return to normal? And what adjustments are needed to accommodate this ‘new normal’?” With these questions, comes the uncertainty of what this new normal will look like and what actions we will need to take. While the extent and permanency of these changes are unclear, change is coming without doubt in both our work and personal lives.

But change presents opportunity. And, retrospectively, strong leaders don’t just accommodate change, they embrace it. Strong leaders also don’t merely adjust to the new normal, they create it.

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