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Tools for Managing Tools

Bruce Morey
By Bruce Morey Senior Technical Editor, SME Media

Machinists today can create some of the most complex, efficient, and precise parts ever made. However, with precision comes complexity. This is especially true in the choice of cutting tools used in today’s five, six, and seven-axis CNC-driven machine tools. The old tried-and-true methods of engineers exploiting years of experience while searching paper catalogs, ordering a tooling package, and creating a CAM program using nominals and approximations are beginning to fade.

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Tooling management software that connects to the cloud, like Kennametal’s Novo, allows for access via tablets and smartphones.

For example, an individual cutting tool manufacturer might have 50,000 tools in its catalog, according to Chuck Mathews, managing director of MachiningCloud (Camarillo, CA). “You add all that up worldwide, and there is something like one million cutting tool items in the world one could choose from,” he stated. “The average professional on the shop floor only wants access to his 200 or so tools.” Not only is there too much choice, but manufacturers need more data about each cutting tool. “Today’s tolerances mean you really need an accurate, 3D CAD model of the tool for toolpath programming and validation,” explained Mathews, far more than the few dimensions available in a paper catalog. “Getting these CAD models can get very time consuming.” Recommended speeds and feeds are also important in creating the right program and selecting the right toolholder to meet tolerances, avoid chatter or optimize tool life.

The obvious answer is to put that data online and accessible. The problem is that each manufacturer could, or has, developed their own unique format for describing their tools. Using a language analogy, one speaks French while another speaks Spanish. A common language is needed. That is where international standards enter the picture, such as ISO 13399 and the Generic Tool Catalog.

Standards and Communication

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CoroPlus ToolLibrary from Sandvik Coromant guides a user through the selection process, ensure a tool selection consistent with proposed usage and material properties. It also helps with tool holder and adapter selections as well.

The ISO 13399 defines a data model for cutting tool information. “This is well recognized and many tool manufacturers are well down the road towards adopting it,” said Mathews. It standardizes common terms like length of tools, diameters, number of helixes, or flank angles. “It is pretty comprehensive, it might have 30 or 40 data points for one particular tooling item that might be important,” he said. By itself, ISO 13399 is not enough. “It does not do classifications, such as distinguishing end mills from tapered end mills or shell mills. We needed a supplemental standard in the Generic Tool Catalog, or GTC, for that,” he said. To transfer the full 3D CAD representation of the tool that is vital for today’s CAM programming, MachiningCloud stores and transfers files using the ISO and STEP standards, according to Mathews. To communicate feeds and speeds and other machine related data, they exploit the MTConnect standard.

The MachiningCloud makes use of those standards, and more besides, to create an online, comprehensive ordering system. Mathews emphasizes that knowing the intimate details of these standards is not important for the average shop floor professional. Mathews invites us to think of the MachiningCloud as a NetFlix or Spotify for cutting tools and assemblies. “We normalize the data available from the variety of vendors and present that data in a common way,” he said.

Tooling Manufacturers and Pragmatism

Two tooling manufacturers, Sandvik and Kennametal, also helped develop the ISO 13399 standard, with an eye towards enhancing tooling data management in an era of growing complexity.

“We recognized from the beginning, we would not be able to automate without standardization,” stated Mitch Benko, director of virtual machining for Kennametal Inc. (Pittsburgh). He cites two reasons why this was important. First, standards enable others to make use of Kennametal tooling data, including other software companies such as CAM programming. Second, it enables the ability to apply rules to the data. “You can now use that data and take that understanding to a new level, making use of engineering and manufacturing knowledge so that data is serving a better need,” explained Benko.

Towards that end, Kennametal developed its Novo software product, in partnership with MachiningCloud. Matching their existing data to the ISO 13399 standard for tooling classification was important, and a challenge. “Many of the characteristics we use to describe our data, such as length or diameter, are a simple mapping. However, other characteristics are not as simple and require a calculation to get that data into the ISO standard,” he explained. “Our customers use Novo to export the [tooling data] they selected so it can be used in a CAM, pre-setter, or simulation environment.” That is, as long as those software products can import the data in its ISO 13399 and GTC standard formats.

“The classification standard is especially important for applying rules, because if you do not have that standard, you are applying rules to chaos,” he remarked. Novo is a cloud-based software. The Novo app can be downloaded to a computer or tablet. “With Novo we wanted to cater to the vast number of customers. Some may want to track only drills, others want to machine a cylinder head, others want to create a feature. So we provided different ways to select tooling and machining strategies through advising and product hierarchies,” he explained. With a few clicks, Novo enables filters to get to the right tool. The Tool Adviser option steps through selecting a tool by specifying a machine, spindle, material, and parameters of the feature. “It will weed out all of the tools that cannot do the job, then rank-order the remaining tools from best to better,” said Benko.

Another tooling company contributing to ISO 13399 was Sandvik Coromant (Fair Lawn, NJ), which developed two extensive smart tooling data management software packages called CoroPlus ToolGuide and CoroPlus ToolLibrary. CoroPlus ToolGuide software evolved from earlier versions of its online tool selection software, according to Jeff Rizzie, senior manager, business development, for the company. Exploiting these standards, it provides an interactive experience for choosing tool assemblies by having a user step through a wizard-like interface. According to Rizzie, it is more than tool selection. “Think about tool information, cutting information, data management, tool monitoring across the whole value stream, connecting information, planning, machining and other operations,” he said.

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MachingCloud allows for searches for tools across many vendors. Standards for tool data descriptions is vital making an industry search possible.

The starting point, for example, in choosing a milling tool package from CoroPlus ToolGuide is a screen that allows selecting from an adapter, tool, or insert. Choosing an insert constrains the choice of tools available, which in turn constrains the adapter. This is quite a bit different than the “normal” way of relying on a company’s tribal knowledge and the individual engineer’s experience. “Many CAM programmers develop a program using [tooling data from] whatever information is at hand such as notebooks, paper catalogs, and past experience,” explained Rizzie. (Note: CoroPlus ToolGuide is easy enough for a trade journalist to operate.) CoroPlus ToolGuide also constrains the materials, ensuring tools are used correctly while advising on operating parameters, such a speeds and feeds.

One of the new features rolled out by Sandvik Coromant in 2016 is an Application Programmer’s Interface, or API, allowing any other software developer to import tooling information directly. “The most logical use of an API would be to connect CoroPlus ToolGuide directly to a CAM programming system,” remarked Rizzie. “It could be attached to a tooling vending machine, or an eCatalog.”

CoroPlus ToolLibrary is the other product available from Sandvik Coromant. CoroPlus ToolLibrary provides a quick and secure process for creating and exporting assemblies to CAM software, according to the company. Designed to be tool company agnostic, it will eventually include tools available from other vendors as well as Sandvik Coromant. “While a tool library, it manages the other information around the tooling, such as dimensioning, 3D solid models, and assemblies,” explained Rizzie. “It is also designed to be bolted right onto a CAM programming system, giving access to all of the tooling data right at the programming level.”

Playing Nice with Others

This new world of collaboration at the cutting tool data level might be the next generation of CAD/CAM simulation. That is the opinion of Jeff Voegele, Vericut product specialist of CGTech (Irvine, CA). CGTech’s flagship software, Vericut, is widely used in simulating, verifying, and optimizing CNC machine setup instructions. “Initially, when this kind of simulation was becoming more mainstream, one of the bigger challenges for users was to just get accurate data on cutting tools,” he explained.

Now, he believes, there is a need for other data as well. Cutting-tool parameter data, for example, that will show what material that tool is intended to cut, what coatings are on that tool, recommended speeds and feeds. “These are parameters a CAM programmer would use. You need to bring that along when you generate a toolpath,” he said. That ancillary data helps the CAM programmer go beyond avoiding collisions, provided by the tool geometry, to optimizing feeds and speeds for maximum throughput or tool life.

Voegele pointed out that Vericut stores these cutting parameters (feeds and speeds, materials, etc.) for each cutting tool. “In addition to its function, such as drilling or milling, we know from vendor provided data how much the tool can be pushed and if you exceed the cutting limits Vericut can issue warnings that the program is exceeding tool limits,” he said.

The next level beyond avoiding tool abuse is optimization, provided by the company’s Optipath and Force modules. OptiPath offers many modes of optimization and draws on user experience for input, or can use tool performance data from sources like MachiningCloud. Force, on the other hand, optimizes using first principle physics to determine the maximum reliable feed rate for any given cutting condition. Force calculates this based on such factors as forces on the cutter, spindle power, maximum chip thickness, and maximum allowable feed rate. “Force optimization can utilize even more tool parameters available from tool suppliers, such as material the tool is made from, helix or insert angles, and if the edges are straight or serrated,” he said.

There are surprises in optimization. “What we are finding is that people are finding problems identified in Force that the shop operators were not telling them—problems like unwanted spikes in cutting processes or overloads on the tool. Now they can see them,” he said. The key is getting a richer data set from tool vendors. As an example of developments in this field, Kennametal’s Novo is now accessible from within Vericut, making tool data easier to access.

Expanding the Utility

Gregg Bigleman, TMS Tool Management Solutions manager for Zoller (Ann Arbor, MI), has an expansive view on this new world of tooling data enabled by tooling data standards. “Some 40-plus years ago, [managers] would roam the manufacturing floor to identify bottleneck areas and fix ‘seen’ problems. Today, these managers are locked in their office digging through unsorted, unfiltered information in an attempt to find what is relevant in this mass of nonrelevant data,” he said. “The focus of Digital Manufacturing or Industry 4.0 is putting this data to work.”

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In the view of Zoller, digital tool management uses a single database and a central hub of information that connects all departments in a manufacturer with strong data output.

Well-known for tool presetting, Zoller recognized what Bigleman describes as the “desperate need in manufacturing for integrated hardware and software solutions for process control.” Tool management, enabled by standards like ISO 13399, GTC, and others, is a vital part of this larger capability. Cutting tools are only one part of the total process. “Components for the entire process—cutting tools, gages, fixtures, CNC program, preventive maintenance—all must be available, or your entire process breaks down,” he said. “Think of the manufacturing process control like an orchestra. Cutting tools could be like the woodwinds section, but you need the brass and percussion sections, plus a conductor, to make it all work.”

To illustrate, Zoller offers true digital tool management with a single database that serves the entire operation, according to Bigleman. “Multiple data storage, multiple data entry, and multiple capture points are a thing of the past. True digital tool management uses one database to manage data for the entire operation—a central hub of information that connects all departments with strong data output,” he said. Zoller’s TMS Tool Management Solutions is a modular solution starting with the Bronze Solutions package for organizing complete tools, individual components and machines. It includes modules for importing tooling data from MachiningCloud, Novo, CIMSource and EWS. “Standards enter the picture here. We can go to the cloud for suppliers’ data catalogs, or create a tool from scratch using those standards for interoperability,” said Bigleman.

Zoller also offers warehouse management with their Silver package, and the Gold package offers full cost control, transparency of the process chain, and complete organization-level management. Bigleman cites advantages that include monitoring tool performance with notifications to the toolcrib to build or service tools “just in time” and reduced inventory cost.

Data Transformation and the Organization

This move into a new world of open data sharing also points out some of the issues in today’s way of doing things. Undoubtedly more than a few shop-floor professionals today are comfortable with using their considerable expertise, or tribal knowledge, “the old way.”

“This is a paradigm shift, a cultural change from tribal knowledge and manual processes,” stated Dan Speidel, director of sales for TDM Systems (Schaumburg, IL). The company’s roots trace to a tooling manufacturer that needed a way of managing their tools more efficiently. Its solution was eventually spun out into a standalone company offering its manufacturing and tool lifecycle management software. It is scalable, from a small machine shop to a large multinational manufacturer, according to Speidel. He agrees that standards for tooling data exchange, such as ISO 13399, GTC and MTConnect, are vital.

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Ideally, tooling management includes process management as well, such as TDM’s software that keeps track of factors like workplans, presetting, materials and feeds and speeds.

“The manufacturers had to move away from proprietary formats because their customers were demanding it,” he said. As important as data exchange standards are, he also thinks it is only part of the solution. It is not just storing the data, but searching and finding the right data efficiently that is critical and providing that data to other systems, according to Speidel. Today, TDM offers a comprehensive tool lifecycle management system, with options that extend to managing the toolcrib as well as interfacing to other manufacturing systems, such as those for purchasing or CAM programming.

“We found that was the largest benefit in managing digital tooling data—providing our customers with CAM ready 3D digital data with 2D,” Speidel said. “Especially valuable was including feeds and speeds, cutting conditions, and collision data,” explained Speidel. He also noted the move to the cloud, with TDM software that runs on a computer, laptop, phone, tablet—anything with an Internet connection.

These solutions are now changing how companies organize their work. “Most companies still have different silos of information. Silos are bad. Purchasing has their own silo, CAM has their own silo, toolcribs have their own silo,” Speidel said. He believes a centralized system is the most efficient, effective way to spread the tooling information across the organization.

“Standards are great. ISO 13399, GTC, and MTConnect-compatible machines are great,” he stated. “But that is all technology that facilitates moving data somewhere. You have to go to a central point to see all of that transparent information.”

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