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Running Circles Around Ball-Nose End Milling Times

By Burnex

What does five-axis machining have to do with metal stamping and wire form manufacturing? Not much, unless you work at Rapid WaterJet Design (RWD), a division of Burnex Corp., Ringwood, Ill. It’s there that you’ll find Jim Walslager, RWD’s lead programmer, who has been tackling a variety of “complex, precision, one-off stuff” lately for the on-demand industrial parts marketplace Xometry. It is his primary customer outside of the parent company.

Jim Walslager (upper right, in front of right-hand machine door) and the team at Rapid WaterJet Design, a division of Burnex Corp. (All images provided by Burnex)

“We’ve had a Hurco (machine tool) for almost a year now,” he said. “When we acquired it, I ordered a bunch of Emuge-Franken Circle Segment Cutters at the same time. I implemented them right out of the gate because I knew what they could do.”

Burnex Corp. is a family-owned and operated manufacturer specializing in precision metal stamping. The company has been in business since 1972 and prides itself on its planetary geared high-speed stamping and bending technology, which it refers to as the “Burnex Advantage.” The company has an average employee tenure of 18 years. Its punch press capabilities and systems range from 20 tons up to a servo-controlled 110 press, and it offers customers a collaborative in-house engineering and design approach.

In 2012, the company’s owners decided to purchase a waterjet to assist in near-net-shape cutting for their in-house precision die making. This was followed shortly thereafter by a second machine. With growing requests for outside work, they chose to start Rapid Waterjet Design as a secondary company. RWD has strategically positioned its waterjets, CNC mills and wire EDMs within the same manufacturing workspace. Each work center is capable of working independently, but they all also complement each other by reducing material waste, CNC mill and EDM run times, resulting in significant component cost savings. RWD has evolved through the years by acquiring additional CNC capabilities, among them the five-axis Hurco unit.

It is estimated that milling of the conical surface with a ball-nose end mill would have taken roughly five hours per part. The Emuge-Franken Circle Segment cutter finished the job in 38 minutes.

RWD still makes stamping and forming dies, but also produces fixtures for medical manufacturer Hill-Rom, machine components for GF Machining Solutions, and a lot of “crazy stuff” for Xometry. “It works out really well having the waterjets, since we can blank out parts to near-net shape from plate stock and then finish machine them on the Hurco or one of our three-axis verticals,” Walslager said.

The Hurco is a VMX SRTi 60 five-axis machining center. With X- and Y-axis travels of 60 × 26" (1,524 × 660 mm), up to 60 tools and a maximum spindle speed of 16,000 rpm, the swivel-head rotary table machine is capable of various complex milling jobs.

Walslager was challenged with one such job earlier this year. At first glance, the part looked like a perfect CNC turning candidate, except for the fact that it contained numerous flats, holes and interior pockets that required extensive milling.

Walslager was glad that he’d invested in Circle Segment cutters from high-performance cutting tool manufacturer Emuge-Franken N.A., West Boylston, Mass. “Prior to this, my only alternative was to finish the conical surface with a ball-nose end mill. I didn’t even bother trying, because the CAM system said it would have required close to five hours per part. The Emuge cutter did it in 38 minutes,” he said. “The thing started out as a 100-pound block of 6061-T6 and ended up weighing just 6 pounds (2.72 kg).”

At that time, he was a relative newcomer to both five-axis and Circle Segment milling and needed a little programming help. He called Dan Doiron, milling product manager at Emuge-Franken N.A. “It turned out to be a lot easier than I expected,” said Walslager. “All I needed for the toolpaths was to use Mastercam’s morph and parallel functions with a surface tilt option. It’s really easy.”

Lead programmer Jim Walslager walks through RWD’s facility in Ringwood, Ill. He has been tackling a lot of “complex, precision, one-off stuff” lately.

It was made even easier thanks to Doiron’s offer to supply RWD with drawings of the tools, which he then imported directly into Mastercam. The part’s geometry was critical, Walslager noted, as CAM software can get “a little finicky” when working with the relatively large arcs found on all Circle Segment cutters, and having dimensionally accurate CAD files saved him hours of work.

In fact, the project was so successful that RWD took on another conical part, this one made of C101 copper. Here again, the Emuge’s cutters made the difference between hours of profiling with a ball-nose cutter vs. far more efficient Circle Segment machining.

“Before we got the Hurco, I’d seen how Circle Segment cutters worked on YouTube, but it wasn’t until I actually used them that I realized how effective they can be,” Walslager said. “And for anyone who might be nervous about programming one, or not sure what toolpath to use, I tell them to call Dan. He’s always very helpful and responsive and is happy to jump on a Zoom call. The other day, he showed me how to break up this intricate part feature and use a lens form cutter to mill it from two directions. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really great. Thanks, Dan.’ ”

For information on Rapid Waterjet Design, visit rapid or call 815-728-1929. For information on Burnex Corp., visit or call 815-728-1317. For information on Emuge-Franken N.A., visit or call 800-323-3013.

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