A Capital Question
Earlier involvement leads to better answers for machine-tool buyers
By Jim Lorincz
It's always a benefit to the end users of metal-removal processes when the sources of technology—machine tool suppliers, cutting tool manufacturers, and automation suppliers—cooperate to design and engineer the best possible integrated technology solutions.
It's all about increasing cubic inches of metal removed, reducing cost per hole, and taking greater depths of cut. In a word, it's about throughput; parts out the door. It doesn't matter if they are discrete parts counted in the hundreds of thousands or millions with process improvements measured in reduced cycle times, or whether they are complex workpieces, such as molds that require value-added machining that takes hours or days, and demand critical surface finish and accuracy.
End users in every industry segment are affected. Automotive projects formerly dominated by high-production, dedicated manufacturing systems are being populated with cells anchored by banks of CNC machines. In contract manufacturing shops, standalone CNC machines require their own tooling and machining strategies, as do special machines, such as high-production turning and cut-off machines, multitasking machines, and Swiss turning centers.
More than ever, tooling decisions that lead to adopting the latest technologies in machines, tooling, and automation recognize the differences among end users. Requirements range from the near-net-shape machining of automotive Tier suppliers, to the high-volume metal removal of aerospace manufacturers, to the multiaxis contour machining of mold-and-die makers, and the highly diverse machining of general engineering.
Cutting tool manufacturers interviewed for this article agree that the earlier they are involved in a project, the better for the end user, the machine tool company (builder and distributor), and themselves.
They regard themselves as essential participants in the triad of metalworking manufacturing processing interests, and agree that there are critical points throughout the decision-making process when they must be involved—through direct sales, application engineering, service support, test cuts, and installation, however formal the approach taken.
Early entry to the capital decision-making process has been formalized by Sandvik Coromant (Fair Lawn, NJ) through its Original Tooling Services (OTS) program to address what it feels is a weakness in the traditional capital purchasing scenario.
"Cutting tool selection often comes as the last step when purchasing a new machine. Unfortunately, this approach can frequently result in not reaching the full potential of the machine's performance or, even worse, investing in the wrong machine altogether," explains Ignacio Telleria, Sandvik Coromant OTS manager.
The challenge is how to produce as many components as possible, at the lowest cost, with the required quality. "Typically, a manufacturer would first look at a machine to answer this question, sometimes ignoring the equally important issues of cutting tools, raw materials, and machining processes," says Telleria. "Only when these four aspects are considered jointly can the best solution be discovered."
There is general agreement that the key to accomplishing a more thorough approach is more cooperation among suppliers. "Representatives from the cutting tool, machine, and raw-material suppliers should work as a team to help a customer determine the best possible solution. Each party brings a unique knowledge base that contributes to the overall effectiveness of the machining processes," says Telleria.
He contends that this approach will demand that more time be taken when considering the machine tool purchase decision than shops are normally accustomed to take, but the time spent will be valuable.
"It is important to realize and remember that each hour of time spent planning can result in savings that will last throughout the life of the investment. Comprehensive planning also shortens the transitional phase of adapting to having a new machine in the shop, and eliminates many of the problems that can accompany such a significant change in operations," Telleria believes.
The benefits of applying the expertise of cutting tool manufacturers like Sandvik Coromant can impact the whole project by optimizing cutting data and minimizing cycle time.
"Analysis of job specifics allows the specialist to determine the needed power and spindle velocity, ensuring that a machine is neither over- nor undersized. Furthermore, the interface between the spindle and the tool can be optimized to allow for quick-tool changes, maximizing the amount of time that the machine is making chips," Telleria explains.
Cutting tool manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure that they are considered as part of the mix of solutions in new equipment projects. Preferred lists of suppliers and reputation for expertise in particular cutting tool technologies go a long way, but nothing is left to chance.
Every machine tool project has a lifecycle with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and proposals must be supported every step of the way. Richard Sullivan, national OEM manager for machine tool builders, Iscar Metals Inc. (Arlington, TX), explains: "You can lose out at any point in the project. Proposals must be done in a timely manner and support must be delivered at the proposal and the test cut stages, as well as when the project is handed off to the end user. Failing to deliver at any point can result in missing out on the project."
Kennametal Inc. (Latrobe, PA) emphasizes its presence and reach in the global manufacturing market. "We absolutely want to get involved in the process earlier," says John G. Hale, director of Kennametal Inc.'s Global Advanced Engineering. "That's what the 'advanced' in advanced engineering means. We want to be in at the inception stages of projects, and we go to great lengths to understand what technologies lie ahead. Members of our team call on the forward-planning departments of major manufacturers whether in Europe, Asia, or North America to learn what's coming down the pike, in six months, two years, or five years out."
As an example, Hale cites the emergence of minimum quantity lubrication (MQL) as an advanced technology that is being implemented in Europe and that is likely to have an impact in the US in the near future, especially with the Tier automotive suppliers.
"Most machine tool companies are asking for one major tooling supplier to manage their projects, a one-stop shopping approach," says Hale. "Some of the operations may include tools that are not even our own, but we are being asked to integrate them into the complete initial tooling package," he says.
Kennametal gets involved in decision-making, principally in two ways. Hale explains: "We get involved through our top-gun-type guys, engineers who can sell, application engineers who can design and apply a tool and optimize the process. Secondly, our direct sales force interfaces with the end user through the machine tool builder."
The approach fits in with Kennametal's strategic approach to its meeting the needs of its customers. "We depend upon three key considerations: relationship at the plant level for service and support, relationship with machine tool companies for service quality and applications engineering, and the end user's knowledge of our products."
"On a day-to-day basis, there is a wide range of customers for our products," says Frank Battaglia, Kennametal lathe tooling product manager, "from the very large plants with dedicated engineers who tool up their jobs down to the job shop where one person may have to select tools, program machines, and run the parts. The dedicated tooling engineer knows what he needs day in and day out, and he's probably looking for subtle improvements and optimization for a given area or operations. They need to always look for newer and better cutting tools to help remove cost from the part."
The automotive industry provides its own very special challenges for cutting tool companies and their development plans for cutting tools. According to William Jodway, OEM manager, Valenite LLC (Madison Heights, MI), there is a big transition from dedicated transfer lines to flexible CNC machines throughout the industry—and the world, for that matter.
"Machine tool builders are counting on their vendors to help them process the jobs by getting the number of spindles down. They know that the number of spindles dictates the cost to the end users," Jodway explains.
One way to reduce the number of spindles is to reduce the number of tools required to perform machining operations. "Combination tools running on CNC machines may use the same milling cutter to rough the surface and then finish it, creating the opportunity for redundancy in tooling and reducing the number of tools needed for the operation," Jodway says.
A critical consideration in the supply chain is that Tier suppliers are pretty much dictating what they'll pay for a part, which determines what they will pay for capital equipment and what they expect from their tooling. The resulting competition is driving technological developments. Jodway cites the transfer line with a dedicated spindle with a drawbar.
"CNC machines don't have the advantage of a drawbar through the spindle, so we have developed some tools that enable us to get the required motion without pulling the tool from behind with the drawbar." One such tool is the Kam-Set automatic size control tool that enables automakers to rough, finish bore, and chamfer engine blocks in one machine cycle.
The advantages of CNC machines compared with traditional transfer line machining include the flexibility to meet design changes and process families of parts. A cylinder block and cylinder head machining line in China, for example, will have 105 CNC machines and not one traditional transfer machine. From the cutting tool manufacturer's point of view that may not be all bad. The transition to CNC machines involves a tradeoff: fewer spindles but greater need for redundant sets of tooling per machine spindle.
Knowing the supplier is a good first step. Iscar's Sullivan says that there are two main approaches. In the first, the end user is familiar with Iscar's products and has already selected the machine. Iscar participates with a proposal addressing key considerations such as cycle times, chip control, etc., and works with the end user on test cuts. In the proposal stage, Iscar will give a full process layout of what will cut how fast and best, develop a full process proposal, and put it in front of the machine-tool people.
"They'll tweak it and make it their own, and present it to the end user with the assurance that cycle times can be achieved. It's the easiest route to go because they already know us and are comfortable with the support, distribution, application engineering, and service we provide," says Sullivan.
The machine-tool supplier approach involves the trend toward "one-stop shopping" by the large OEMs. In this scenario, the end user's preference for a particular brand tool for an operation is incorporated into the project. It allows end users to benefit from a wide selection of tooling solutions, and yet depend on one tooling supplier to handle the entire project.
"It is common today to be called in at the test cut. It's an opportunity to get involved even if it is for one or two tools, or a special," says Sullivan. "More and more end users are leaning on their machine tool and cutting tool suppliers to prove out tooling proposals and do the necessary engineering at the machine-tool level where test cutting is taking place.
"End users want all the bugs worked out before the machines hit the production floor. They expect machine tool people to be experts at robotics, coolants, and chip systems, and that's where cutting tool manufacturers like us can help," Sullivan concludes.
"Not your typical metalworking company" is how President Brian Nowicki describes LMT (Cleveland) and its approach to markets that include automotive, mold and die, steel processing, and general machining.
"We give cradle-to-grave support to our products. We don't just sell them. We can support them by resharpening, recoating, and being able to modify tools in a very short timeframe whether to support a runoff or to improve production capability," says Nowicki.
LMT products range from thread rolling and tapping to crankshaft milling and gear cutting, as well as products for bar peeling in the steel industry, and milling tools for 3-D machining. "We provide a complete tool assembly from the spindle out to the cutting tool."
Following an internal study, LMT began a more focused penetration of the US automotive market. It was aided by the experience of the LMT Group with machine tool builders and automotive customers globally.
"The auto market in the US is changing," says Nowicki. "The industry is moving toward companies that can supply GM, Ford, and Daimler-Chrysler around the globe where projects are being done simultaneously in Europe, Asia, and here."
LMT will open an automotive technical center near Detroit by mid-2006. "When you're dealing with the automotive industry, 90% of the tools are specials and tools such as drills, reamers, and PCD cutting tools that need intensive technical support that the tech center will deliver," states Nowicki.
His company is taking its role as "the Process Analysis Productivity Improvement Company" to current manufacturing processes of its customers. "We are in the final stages of developing an analytic tool that can document current process practices by tool and operation down to cost per cubic inch of milling, and cost per hole on drilling, tapping, and reaming." Once the program is complete, LMT will be able to take a CAD file of the workpiece, reprocess the part using its tooling concepts, and come in with the analysis and proposal for process improvement.
"What this amounts to is a reverse time study," says Nowicki. We'll analyze and document current processes already in place, and show how we have a better solution."
This article was first published in the December 2005 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.