TIC, TAC, PEG – The soup to nuts of indexable carbide inserts

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Machine shops make tooling every day. Fixtures are built, chuck jaws bored, vise jaws milled. Why not add indexable carbide inserts to that repertoire? Contrary to popular opinion, inserts aren’t made by Santa’s elves in the off-season. If you’re feeling adventurous, just follow these easy step-by-step directions and your shop will soon be shaving big bucks off its cutting tool budget.

First, you’ll need some tungsten. China or Russia’s a good place to shop for it, but Canada’s no slouch either, ranking third in the world’s tungsten production. Bring warm clothes, though: most Canadian tungsten is found in the Yukon. Once there, you might be lucky enough to mine some tungsten in its pure metallic form, but most is extracted from tungsten oxide, and requires additional processing.

Once you have a big pile of tungsten ore, you’ll need a ball mill to process it, a heavy-duty machine capable of grinding those rocks into dust finer than flour. That’s an important point, because the tungsten powder used in carbide inserts is made of particles just a few microns across.

Now that you have a suitable quantity of ground tungsten, it’s time to carburize it. Tungsten carbide is nearly as hard as diamond, but pure tungsten—that whitish rock you just dug out of the ground—is malleable enough to be drawn into filaments for incandescent light bulbs. It’s only through carburization that tungsten “mans up” into tungsten carbide.

The carburizing process begins by mixing tungsten powder with graphite. If you have a few thousand old pencils lying about, you might sacrifice them for their leads, otherwise you can buy graphite powder online for several hundred dollars a kilo. Don’t get any on your hands though, and be careful not to breathe it in. It’s nasty stuff.

You’ll also need a furnace, one capable of 1,600° C. Place the tungsten/carbon mixture on a ceramic pizza stone, stick it in the furnace, pump in some hydrogen and take a long lunch break. By the time you return, the graphite—which is really just a form of carbon—will have been “taken up” by the tungsten, atomically binding it to the tungsten particles. Tungsten carbide is born.

Read the rest: http://shopmetaltech.com/cutting-tools/tic-tac-peg.html

Taking Control – CNC builders bring new technology to bear in the battle for increased productivity

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For those too young to remember, mechanical cams were once used to control automated machine tools. Cams gradually gave way to electronics though, and by the mid-70s, toolmakers were learning how to program, giving up their shapers and bastard cut files in favor of Teletype machines.

These crude devices turned hand-typed instructions into a series of Morse code-like holes running down the length of a 1″ wide spool of paper, one frequently long enough to traverse the length of the shop and out the shipping door. Machine controllers with all the intelligence of a vintage Pac-Man game would then interpret these holes—or their absence—as the 1s and 0s needed to communicate with any digital device. Numerical Control (NC) was born.

Answer the question
The next generation of machine controls made its debut on the manufacturing floor around the time Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was contemplating his retirement plan, and by the late 80s, paper tape had largely gone the way of the slide rule. NC had evolved into CNC, the primary differences being onboard program storage, a CRT display and canned cycles designed to make machine programming simpler.

Like all things electronic, CNCs grew faster and more capable as the decades passed, and today’s machine controls are super-smart multitaskers that resemble those old tape machines like a smart phone compares to a rotary dialer. Modern controls boast data processing times best measured in nanoseconds, on-board program storage sufficient to handle the largest of files, and the ability to manage more simultaneous axes than players on a football pitch.

Machine builders have capitalized on this advanced control capability by adding their own proprietary software to otherwise standard controls—DMG MORI has its CELOS system, Mazak offers Matrix and Mazatrol SmoothX technology which debuted at IMTS, and Okuma has THINC-OSP. All are intended to make part programming easier, increase integration to third party systems and extend machine capabilities.

Read the rest: http://shopmetaltech.com/machining-technology/taking-control.html

Avoiding the Hurt – Staying safe and sane on the shop floor

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Manufacturing can be hazardous. Stamping presses slam, cutting tools slice, machine tools and forklifts show no respect for human flesh. Yet the risk of smashed fingers or a few stitches at the emergency room is nothing compared to the dangers of stress, depression and the constant worry of life as a worker bee. Simply put, a healthy workplace needs more than steel-toed boots and safety signs.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), the Canadian economy loses over $50 billion annually due to mental illness. Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, are just some of the health conditions that keep 500,000 Canadians home from work each week, and cause more than 30 per cent of all disability claims.

Standards and Mandates
The Canadian government agrees. Funded by Health Canada, the MHCC has worked with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group) and the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ) to deliver the standard CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013, or National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the National Standard).

As its name implies, the standard defines guidelines for employers wishing to create a workplace that promotes psychological wellness. Nitika Rewari, program manager, workplace, at the MHCC, explains the Commission’s recommendation “We were brought into existence to develop the first ever mental health strategy for Canada. Among other things, the strategy calls for creating mentally healthy workplaces and broad-based adoption of Standards to address the issue. The National Standard focuses on psychological health and safety in the workplace with a goal to prevent harm and promote psychosocial wellbeing in the workplace.”

Read the rest: http://shopmetaltech.com/quality-plant-management/avoiding-the-hurt.html

Ream Team – Cutting tool manufacturers weigh in on the benefits of reaming

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It was 1981 and I was setting up a Hardinge screw machine to turn some stainless steel fuel nozzles. The drawing called for a 1/4 in. (6 mm) blind hole nearly 2 in. (50 mm) in depth, with a +/-.0005 in. (.0012 mm) tolerance on the diameter. There was no chance of boring that deep, so I mounted a reamer into a Brookfield holder, floated it on centre, set the length and pushed cycle start. So far, so good.

Imagine my surprise when smoke came pouring out of the machine several minutes later, followed by an awful squealing as the reamer caught in the hole and spun. The workpiece was glowing orange like a tangerine by the time I hit the panic button. Apparently I’d drilled the starter hole a bit too small and the chips packed up in front of the reamer, causing it to seize. My boss was none too happy about the overnight delivery charge for new reamers, never mind the melted holder.

Despite this memorable experience, I’ve reamed thousands of holes since then, with satisfactory results. Much has changed over the years, however. Double-margin, coolant fed carbide drills offer such excellent hole quality that reaming is often unnecessary. And ultra-precise modular boring heads are a flexible option for the hole finishing needs of many job shops, eliminating the need for reamers of every size imaginable. Some might say these multi-fluted senior citizens are going the way of disco music and floppy disks

Reamers revival?
Far from it. Mike Smith, product manager for reaming, boring and tooling systems at Seco Tools Inc. says reaming is on the upswing. “We’ve seen double-digit growth in our reaming business over the last few years. Especially with larger work, where reamers are more cost effective than boring, it’s becoming increasingly prevalent.”

Read the rest: http://shopmetaltech.com/cutting-tools/ream-team.html

Workholder modeling

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The goal of any machine shop should be reducing setup times close to zero—load the fixture, switch programs and push cycle start. Granted, this requires lots of organization and investment, but with quick-change fixtures and toolholders, tool management systems, and off-line presetters and simulations, huge decreases in setup time are achievable.

This last part—offline simulation—is probably the most time-consuming. Simulating CNC toolpaths to check for interference and potential crashes means every part of the machine setup must be modeled, from vises and chucks to cutting tools, toolholders and machine tools. Without online or offline simulation, program verification becomes uncertain and error-prone.

Acquiring a complete library of these models is a daunting task, however. Machine shops make hundreds, even thousands of different parts, each with its own unique combination of workholding and cutting tools. Searching through paper catalogs for tooling dimensions is extremely time-consuming.

The good news is that a number of tooling manufacturers offer CAD files of their products online. Programmers can log into the manufacturer’s Web site, enter a product code and download the file. Not every manufacturer is onboard yet, and it’s possible those CAD models will need some tweaking. And once you have electronic versions of every jaw, clamp, vise, chuck, knob, insert and holder used in the shop, someone in the company has to manage that data. Is all this work really necessary?

Bill Hasenjaeger, product marketing manager for simulation software developer CGTech Inc., Irvine, Calif., thinks it is. “Accurate modeling requires a complete representation of the machine setup,” he said. “Shops with this information catch collisions and tool interference in the programming office. Those who don’t have it discover these problems on the shop floor.”

Despite this, Hasenjaeger indicated that many shops don’t bother with complete modeling until the cost of failure becomes unbearable. When you’ve scrapped a $30,000 workpiece or spent weeks waiting on replacement parts for a crashed machine, a few hours of modeling seems worthwhile. “Those who accurately model toolholders and fixtures as part of program simulation definitely realize a benefit in machine uptime,” Hasenjaeger said.

Read the rest: http://www.ctemag.com/aa_pages/2014/141011-Workholding.html

Head in the cloud

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I love the cloud. My Word files and Excel spreadsheets are stored there, and my wife uploads cute pictures of the grandkids to the cloud. No more worries about backing up the computer or about what will happen to our life’s data should it burst into flames. Best of all, I can access all my information from my smartphone, laptop or tablet whether I’m waiting in line for a cappuccino or sitting in a conference room.

Software developers love the cloud too. Microsoft, for example, offers subscriptions to its Office suite, making version upgrades and security patches as necessary as floppy disks. And the company’s Azure hosting platform could very well revolutionize the way businesses manage their information technology services. Starting at around $15 per month per machine, you can log on to Microsoft’s Web site, order a virtual server and deploy software to your company’s user community within minutes.

The software giant isn’t the only one. NetSuite, salesforce.com, Jive Software, Dropbox, Evernote—these are just a handful of the cloud-based software companies transforming the way we live and work. Borrowing from the late Steve Jobs, the cloud changes everything.

One of the functions of the cloud is to provide software programs to users without the hassle of actually installing it. Instead, a Web browser or small bit of software known as a client is used to share information with a group of computers or servers. These servers are housed in one of thousands of data centers around the world, facilities with security measures in place and tended by IT acolytes dedicated to the care and feeding of huge mainframes.

Granted, cloud computing isn’t quite that simple. It requires a new way of thinking about software development and deployment. This might explain why CAD/CAM developers have been slow to embrace the cloud—but that attitude appears to be changing. One example is the release of San Francisco-based Autodesk Inc.’s first cloud-based design tool, Fusion 360.

For $40 per month or $300 annually, Fusion 360 subscribers have access to a 3D design tool with solid modeling and integrated CAM. Product Manager Anthony Graves said: “Fusion 360 is oriented toward manufacturing and product development. You get many of the same capabilities as AutoCAD, but users can also collaborate on product designs in the cloud, share drawings and photos, generate toolpaths and post-process to a CNC.”

Read the rest: http://www.ctemag.com/aa_pages/2014/141003-PartDesign.html

Machine-integrated inspection systems can improve quality, profitability

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Stopping a machine to measure a workpiece is a waste of time. Not only is a high-priced piece of CNC equipment being taken out of production, but the measurements obtained when a machinist leans into a machine with a micrometer or bore gage can’t compare in accuracy to those generated by a coordinate measuring machine or inline probe. Yet shops do just that every day, increasing downtime and jeopardizing part quality. Fortunately, there’s a better way.

Metrology equipment providers have been busier than hummingbirds on a warm spring day, rapidly developing in- situ gaging systems that may eliminate the inspection status quo, common in many shops, of taking it to QC and waiting for someone to check it. Not only do these new systems reduce the cost of inspection and improve machine uptime, they also open the door to unattended machining.

There’s more to this than uptime, however. As part tolerances grow tighter and geometries become increasingly complex, pulling a part out of the machine for measurement makes about as much sense as giving U.S. politicians more paid vacation. When the CMM indicates a bore is undersize by a few tenths, what are the chances of positioning that part in the machine accurately enough to rework it? It’s far better to have this information before the first clamp is ever loosened.

Machine-mounted probing has been around since the early 1980s. Aimed primarily at setup time reduction and broken tool detection, these devices have evolved into systems as accurate and repeatable as top-caliber machine tools, making it possible to measure a large percentage of part features and all but the tightest part tolerances without ever setting foot in the inspection room.

Intelligence is just as important as accuracy. Adrian Johnson, in-process business manager for Hexagon Metrology Inc., North Kingstown, R.I., said the key development in today’s probing systems is the ability to do in-situ measurement of complex parts.

“In the past, the primary limitation with machine probes was the CNC software driving them,” he said. “Probes could measure basic things like diameter or length, but they weren’t smart enough to do any sort of detailed dimensional analyses.”

Read the rest: http://www.ctemag.com/aa_pages/2014/141005-Test.html

Industrial-grade scanning for microparts

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Doctors have used X-rays to peer into the human body since the late 1890s. After World War I, the U.S. Army started using it to inspect welds in armor plate, followed by manufacturers using it to inspect parts and machinery. Since then, industrial radiography has evolved to the point that few secrets about the internal structure of manufactured parts can remain undiscovered.

Kevin Legacy, business manager of metrology and programming services at Maple Grove, Minn.-based Carl Zeiss Industrial Metrology LLC, said X-ray technology has been used for decades to inspect for voids and cracks in castings, weldments and mission-critical aerospace and defense components. Recently, a newer, more capable technology has begun to grow in popularity.

“X-ray computer tomography (CT) is the growing younger brother of X-ray technology,” he said. “With conventional X-ray, such as that used for diagnosing a broken arm, a 2D image is superimposed onto a flat screen. It’s not always very clear. The doctor may point at the screen and you have no idea what she’s looking at because all the internal details are sitting on top of one another.”

A CT scan takes thousands of X-ray images of an object. “For instance, if you want to look inside a ballpoint pen, you can stand it up inside a CT machine and (virtually) slice it horizontally, taking an X-ray image of each layer,” Legacy said. “These images are stitched together into a 3D representation.” This allows technicians to look inside the pen, examine it from end to end and verify that all the components are functioning as the designer intended.

CT provides a high degree of accuracy and repeatability. One example is the Zeiss Metrotom, a CT-based coordinate measuring machine that produces images—with resolution down to 2µm—that are compared to CAD files.

CT scanning can measure parts as large as a V-6 engine block, but it is well-suited to microparts. “Our service unit does a good deal of micromolded-component inspection,” Legacy said. “Quite often, a test tube arrives at the door, filled with a batch of components only a millimeter or two across.”

Read the rest: http://www.micromanufacturing.com/content/industrial-grade-scanning-microparts

Biocompatible injection-molded microcomponents change lives

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Parkinson’s patients and chronic pain sufferers are often treated with implantable pulse generators to stimulate the brain and central nervous system. Those with heart conditions may have a defibrillator placed inside their chest. The deaf are fitted with cochlear implants, while some people with eye conditions find relief through implanted intraocular lenses. These are but a few of the medical devices that would be nearly impossible to manufacture without micromolding technology and biocompatible materials.

While the materials themselves may not be household names, many of the products made from them are, and some may even be found in your recycling bin. Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) is used in hammer handles and urinary catheters alike. Polyglycolide (PGA) is biodegradable, making it an excellent choice for disposable water bottles as well as for reconstructive surgery components.

Spark-plug boots, hydrocephalus shunts and the weather seal around your front door are largely made from high-consistency silicone rubber (HCR). Because of its high expense, you won’t be hauling any polyetheretherketone (PEEK) to the curb on recycling day, but it’s a favorite in the operating room, and is used for everything from bone screws to spinal cages, dental implants to repairing skulls.

Molded parts are everywhere, but there’s a world of difference between molding a motorcycle helmet and micromolding the brain shunt you’ll need when you don’t wear one. Aaron Johnson, vice president of marketing for micromolding specialist Accumold, Ankeny, Iowa, referred to the manufacture of these ultrasmall parts as “extreme molding.”

“We define micromolding in terms of size, obviously, but the process also accommodates components with feature-rich designs and difficult-to-meet tolerances. These are usually in the ±5µm range, but often go much tighter than that.”

Some of Accumold’s parts measure less than 1mm in length. Aside from their small size, these components often have thin walls, microholes and complex fluid channels. “Parts like these push the limit of what is possible with molding and plastics,” Johnson said.

Read the rest: http://www.micromanufacturing.com/content/biocompatible-injection-molded-microcomponents-change-lives

Titanium Tough – Machining superalloys calls for super tools and more

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Everyone agrees: titanium use is on the rise. With much of the world’s airliner fleet showing its first touch of grey, aircraft manufacturers are fielding orders for new planes to replace their aging fleets. To meet competitive pressure and an unspoken mandate for greener air travel, these planes must be fast and fuel-efficient. This makes titanium the material of choice for many aircraft parts and an increasing number of structural components.

Titanium shares many of the same attributes as other heat resistant superalloys (HRSA). But where most of these are strong and heavy like an Olympic weightlifter, titanium is a gymnast, lightweight and flexible. They all have one thing in common, though—they’re a real bear to machine. Because of this, cutting tool manufacturers are stepping up with super tough carbide grades and high-tech coatings designed to slice through this arduous alloy with relative ease.

Into the shredder
Tom Hagan, milling product manager for cutting tool manufacturer Iscar Tools Inc., Oakville, ON, recommends tools with a sharp edge and tough substrate for titanium machining. Because of the high heat generated during machining, he explains, thermal cracking and edge chipping are two of the primary failure modes with this material, making good coolant flow essential. Also, a positive rake insert with light edge preparation and a TiAln or TiCn coating is your best bet for success.

One challenge with titanium machining is chip control. Iscar has developed a series of specialty inserts, of which the roughing version carries a serrated cutting edge that makes workpiece penetration easier. “The P290 cutter looks like a high speed steel roughing tool,” says Hagan. “It generates very short, manageable chips, making it ideal for machining very deep cavities. Also, the cutter itself tends to dampen vibrations, making it effective at reducing chatter even at very long overhang positions.”

Read the rest: http://shopmetaltech.com/cutting-tools/titanium-tough.html