The addition of a new machine can be exciting for a metalworking business. It signals progress and growth while giving the team something new and exciting to work and experiment with. In order to make the most of this investment, however, don’t overlook the tools used in the new machine tool.
When someone buys a machine tool, they’re usually thinking about things like speed, axis movement or the speed of the toolchanger. It’s understandable. These upgrades can take seconds or minutes out of cycle time. But in order to take full advantage of its capabilities, the right tooling is needed to unlock a machine’s full capability and satisfy customer needs. Here is some of our best advice for making the most of a new machine tool with the right tooling.
- Communicate early with your machine tool salesman. We often see the following scenario: a shop wants the size and power of a 50-taper machine, but there isn’t quite the budget for it. So, the shop opts for a 40-taper machine and eventually finds out it doesn’t have the needed horsepower or torque. There’s no going back now, so they try to compensate with tooling and variable-cut milling programs to limit the torque and horsepower requirements. This not only slows things down, but also creates a mismatch of tooling for the machine and/or work.
Communication upfront with your machine salesman is key. Make sure they understand your needs regarding capacity and what you’re looking to manufacture, all the way to the one percent of work that could come across the machine that might cause a problem.
- Consider your spindle. Each spindle style comes with unique standards, whether it’s a more conventional CAT or BIG-PLUS, or something a bit more specialized like HSK or Capto. If a facility is already heavy on one type of spindle or another, you’ll want to consider the costs of adding an entirely new type of tooling as opposed to using the equipment and knowledge already on the floor. The higher speeds at which you plan to work, the more you’ll want to consider BIG-PLUS or HSK because of their proven track record.
- Get to know your tooling supplier. When investing in a new machine tool, it’s important to take the time to look into the tooling suppliers under consideration as well. For example, many tooling companies do not manufacture from H13 or tool steel. Those tools are not going to have the life expected to pay for themselves. There’s a good chance that a cheaper toolholder will run for about six months before runout problems pop up—even on a brand-new machine.
In addition to material consistency and quality, understand how a tool manufacturer qualifies its standards. For instance, where do they measure runout? If it’s measured in the taper, it doesn’t tell you all that much. But if its measured at some multiple of the tool’s diameter in front of the nut, it’s a much better indicator of what a shop can expect from that tool.
If you take the time to understand how tools are made, what the tool manufacturer guarantees and why, you can make a one-time investment, likely for the life of that machine (assuming the tools are properly cared for). That’s a real cost savings.
- Don’t overlook retention knobs. These devices may be inexpensive, but retention knobs may be the last thing between you and a catastrophic collision or break. This is not an area to skimp. Don’t pull an old one out of the coffee can from under the bench. We can’t tell you how often we see piles of retention knobs that are either damaged or have been deformed due being used in another machine over and over. This is especially risky in a new, precision-ground machine. Retention knobs should be treated as perishable and should not be repurposed for a new machine or tooling.
- Understand the difference between licensed vs. unlicensed tools. For those buying a machine with a BIG-PLUS spindle, many don’t realize the damage they can do when they use a non-licensed holder on a licensed spindle. It’s kind of like Russian roulette. You might have seven of 10 tools that work pretty well, but three tools that are taken in and out can ruin the face or taper of a machine. When that happens, none of the other tools are going to perform as they should. It’s just not worth the risk after investing so much in a new machine.
- Understand your tooling certificate options. Ready-to-run packages appear to make things easy on the tooling front, but the truth is you’re likely only getting a handful of tools that even apply to the work you do. The rest will burn a hole in your shelves. Tooling certificates available from distributors or machine tool companies act like a debit card. Not only do they allow for building a custom shopping list that’s already paid for, they also provide direct and ongoing access to tooling engineers who can help find exactly what’s needed today and as work evolves. In the end, having a resource who knows your shop, machinery and work history can pay big dividends.
Investing in Tooling
Would you put discount tires on a Ferrari? Probably not. So why invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a machine and then dedicate a tiny percentage of that expenditure to tools? Your existing toolholders may appear to be in good condition to the naked eye, but nearly any imperfection will find its way to the spindle of a machine that’s fresh off the truck.
During a recent shop visit, we saw a highly reputable machine known for its best-in-class accuracy that had been installed just weeks before. The shop had 60 tools in a 300-capacity magazine and wanted to fill in some of the empty spots. The tools already in the machine were inexpensive and unlicensed. The customer thought these were the right choice because they were about a third of the price of the licensed BIG-PLUS tools the OEM recommended.
One look revealed that the toolholders were fretted on the side because of improper grinding. When the machine was run, the spindle was damaged. The shop had to buy a whole new spindle for a million-dollar machine that was only weeks old.
In other words, do your homework, communicate openly and ask questions of those you’re working with during the machine purchase. If you do, you’ll get what you expect out of your capital investment, avoid unnecessary expenditures and realize significant cost savings over the life of the machine tool.