Quality Scan: Machining from A to B--Maximizing Productivity
From A to B? At point A we have raw material. At point B we would like to achieve a quality finish-machined component. What should be the best path to take between these two points is a challenge that manufacturing engineers face every day.
The machining world is developing at a faster pace than ever before, and the rate at which people and organizations learn and apply new technologies lies far behind the actual pace of development, creating a "Technology Gap." But how can we turn the latest machine tools, cutting tools and ancillary equipment into productivity in our factories, and make the journey from A to B faster, trouble free, and of course at a lower cost?
The choice of machine tool will determine our vehicle for the journey. The choice of cutting tool will determine the level of performance from that vehicle. And, the CAM system will determine the route from A to B. Any shortcomings in these elements could result in the wrong route being taken, where performance is below the optimum and profitability has disappeared from the finished component.
Machining methods and the selection of machine tools and cutting tools are critical decisions that can make our journey trouble-free, particularly if we can begin to see them as a unified solution and not just as distinct pieces of a puzzle that are getting harder and harder to put together.
Process-engineering solutions provided by cutting-tool manufacturers collaborating with machine-tool builders help bridge the technology gap that often occurs in organizations that aren't able to keep pace with new tooling applications or the rapid development of machine tools. Some manufacturers are leveraging the expertise and resources of forward-thinking cutting tool manufacturers to help select, assess, and manage tooling and machining processes that are often not available on-site.
Whether it is to re-evaluate an existing process or to analyze the production of a brand new component, in-depth documentation and simulation are key to any successful component process. The early involvement of a tooling specialist in this analysis, for instance, can minimize the risk of investing in the wrong type of equipment. Finding the best machining methods can minimize floor-to-floor time for lower total production costs. And, the ability to prove suggested machining solutions in the early stages of production reduces the number of costly changes that often occur in later stages.
The power of CAM software tools within the realm of this analysis is not to be taken lightly. New developments on this front can help reduce cycle times, maximize machine utilization and significantly increase throughput. While simulation using advanced CNC modeling and other virtual tools provides the all-important, risk-reducing "what-if" scenario.
With today's cutting tool evaluation software, savings can be automatically calculated and precisely documented. Based on this detailed information, sound recommendations on new methods or new tooling can be made.
- Investing in more machines may not be necessary if existing capacity can be released.
- Milling hardened steel may no longer be a problem.
- Hard turning may be more effective than grinding.
- Multidirectional turning could help you do the job with two tools instead of six.
- Thread milling, in lieu of taps, can help get it right the first time.
As we move forward in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, the journey from A to B may not be defined, one thing is clear. If a better component can't be machined profitably, it is not a better component—making process quality more important than ever. Today we are at point A. How we get to point B is critical. Component-engineered tooling can help set the right course.
This article was first published in the March 2007 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.