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IMCO Carbide Tool: Optical 3D System Delivers End Mill Accuracy, Ease of Use

By Alicona
IMCO Carbide Tool offers milling cutters with up to 13 flutes that achieve above-average surface finish even with materials that are difficult to machine. (All images provided by Alicona)

Reliable verification of milling cutter micro geometry is one of the top priorities of research and development work for carbide tool manufacturer IMCO Carbide Tool Inc., Perrysburg Township, Ohio. “Four features determine the service life and machining results of modern cutting tools—ubstrate materials, coating, macro geometry and micro geometry,” said Matthew Osburn, vice president and technical director.

IMCO, which specializes in the development of milling cutters with multiple flutes, views micro geometry as being so critical that they desired a measuring technology tailored for only those types of measurements. “We are well known for our high level of research and development activities,” said Osburn. “Reliable verification of edge preparation is of major importance, and the most important criteria for the evaluation of suitable measuring systems for us are accuracy and repeatability of the measurements.”

IMCO has replaced its existing, outdated measuring device with the EdgeMaster optical 3D measuring system from Alicona Corp., Itasca, Illinois. “In the end, the decision to invest in an Alicona measuring system for prototype development was an easy one,” said Osburn. “I have the utmost confidence in the measurement values the EdgeMaster delivers,” he said.

Accuracy, however, is only one of the advantages that he sees in the Alicona system. “We primarily measured edge hone radius sizes with our old system,” said Osburn. “With the EdgeMaster, and its ease of use, we now routinely measure many more attributes than before, and we do it quicker and with more confidence in the measurement results.”

Alicona’s EdgeMaster is an optical 3D measurement system that features Focus-Variation technology to automatically measure form and roughness of complex miniaturized geometries by combining the functionalities of a micro CMM with those of a surface measurement system. Edges of inserts, drills, mills and other round tools can be measured regardless of type, size, material or surface finish. Users measure radii >2 µm/m as well as rake, wedge and clearance angle of tools. Traceable and repeatable results are delivered in high vertical resolution even with vibrations and variations in temperature and ambient light.

Alicona’s EdgeMaster optical 3D measuring system being used by Matt Bollman at IMCO Carbide Tool.

IMCO offers milling cutters with up to 13 flutes that achieve above-average surface finish, even with difficult-to-machine materials. Development and testing take place in the company’s internal R&D center, where IMCO can grind, hone, inspect and machine with prototype cutting tools. IMCO seeks higher productivity for its tools through increased chip flow and elimination of chip packing.

The EdgeMaster is also used to measure surface finish of the flute at various grinding parameters to optimize surface integrity. Osburn further explained: “All tools in prototype development are measured and documented with Alicona. We then machine with these tools, meticulously logging our machining results. This process enables us to quickly correct the tool geometry if required.”

Prototyping also requires a flexible system that enables highly accurate measurements on different tool shapes, types and sizes. IMCO has to measure a variety of sizes and helix angles. Osburn said it is “easy to cover this wide variety of tools with the EdgeMaster.”

IMCO was so impressed by the easy operation and robustness of the optical measuring system in its R&D center that a second EdgeMaster was purchased and is now being used in production operations. The measurement accuracy, repeatability and robustness of the Focus-Variation technology, along with its ease of handling, were key reasons for the purchase. “Our R&D center develops exact specifications for edge treatment on our high-performance cutting tools. Once newly developed tools are released for production, using the same measurement technology as applied in research makes perfect sense,” Osburn explained.

With a second EdgeMaster in use, IMCO’s intensive research is now carried through to the production environment. “In production, the EdgeMaster is used to verify that the precise edge treatment developed in R&D is applied to the tools going to our customers,” Osburn said. He is particularly enthusiastic about its ease of use. “The system worked so well and was so easy to learn that we started training staff on the shop floor. The operators love the new EdgeMaster; it is so easy to learn and use,” he said.

Osburn is convinced that on the shop floor, simple handling is just as important as measuring accuracy. A series of clamping tools for easy fixturing, user friendly controls and single-button solutions to perform measurements on the EdgeMaster create this simple user guidance, he said.

3D measurement of a cutting tool at IMCO using the Alicona EdgeMaster optical 3D system.

According to Osburn, IMCO also gains an advantage for R&D through measurements in production. “It is an additional benefit for our research that we can store all measurements for future reference,” he explained. In his view, the EdgeMaster ensures that IMCO customers consistently get end mills with optimal micro geometry.

Commenting on the return on investment that has been achieved so far, Osburn said: “The Alicona technology is unique. We have seen a 75% reduction in the time necessary to take readings on the factory floor. Most of this time savings is attributed to the ease of use of the measurement system.”

For more information from Alicona Corp., go to or phone 630-372-9965; for IMCO Carbide Tool, go to, or phone 855-768-3936.

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