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Automation Redefines Tool Presetting

By Frank Burke Contributing Writer, SME Media

New features allow shop owners to customize tool presetters to their operations

If you are presetting tools on a $120,000 machining center, you have just turned your machining center into a very expensive tool presetter, according to Steve Baier, vice president of sales at Haimer USA LLC, Villa Park, Illinois. “The fact is that even with a relatively inexpensive, entry-level presetter—one that measures only height, diameter, and runout—the device will quickly pay for itself by reducing setup time as much as 70 percent, avoiding scrap, eliminating accidents, and lengthening tool life. With a more advanced system that includes automated features, you can do much more.”

The term “automation” as applied to tool presetters references a variety of operational and communications features that can be incorporated in a machine or system customized for the special needs of an individual shop or a major manufacturing facility.

Said Baier, “Automation usually calls to mind the robotic cell using smart carts or similar delivery systems. While this is something we have done, it is currently only needed in special applications. The majority of customers don’t require the initial expense in terms of equipment and the continuing need for, and cost of, programming. A simplified, automated presetting system can be much more efficient and, over the long term, offers greater flexibility.”

The Haimer Microset VIO linear is a fully automatic, high-end tool presetting system with customizable options. (Provided by Haimer)

Andreas Diel, territory manager, Zoller Pacific Operations for Zoller Inc., Ann Arbor, Mich., explained the crucial first steps in determining a customer’s requirements. “We look at the entirety of the customer’s application—both evaluating the current tool pre-staging process but also discussing future needs. We concentrate on eliminating CNC machine setup redundancies and focus on the efficiency of the entire infrastructure around the machine.”

Zoller’s core product line includes a variety of manual, semi-automatic, and full CNC-controlled tool presetters and dedicated cutting tool inspection machines, according to Diel. “We work closely with the customer to determine the best suited tool presetter configuration,” he said. “Is the customer’s vision a single toolroom for centralized distribution, or possibly installing presetters in individual machining cells? What are the characteristics of the tooling types being used? Is it mainly standard tooling and/or are specific custom tools being inspected?

“Based on the answers to these and other questions, we are able to understand the individual customer’s manufacturing strategy and recommend the appropriate equipment features,” he continued. “In some cases, a single unit with advanced capabilities will suffice for the entire shop, but we have also seen how, in a manufacturing cell, a presetter can serve even just one machine and deliver an outstanding ROI.”

High-Mix, Low-Volume Shops

When it comes to whether automated tool presetting is applicable for high-mix, low-volume shops, there is a broad consensus that it is a real necessity for any shop working with CNC equipment. “If a machining center is doing presetting, it isn’t making chips and that’s costing money,” said Douglas Sumner, technical specialist, TMS at BIG Kaiser Precision Tooling Inc., Hoffman Estates, Illinois, suppliers of Speroni tool presetting devices. “Low-volume, high-mix shops can derive immediate benefits from automated tool presetting because as parts become more complex, on-machine or even manual presetting consumes too much time. This is especially true given the increasing number of shops purchasing or creating special tooling or more complex tools, such as step tools or tooling equipped with multiple inserts.”

SPI from BIG Kaiser measures the tool, prints a label, and scans the data directly to the machine tool control. (Provided by BIG Kaiser Precision Tooling)

Shops engaged in the machining of high-precision parts from titanium or other hard materials or that require fine surface finishes can also require shrink-fitting the tool into the holder for accuracies in the 1 μm range—something that can be incorporated in more advanced presetters, Sumner said.

Haimer’s Baier agreed: “Automated tool presetting can be even more critical for high-mix, low-volume operators than high-production operations. The variety of parts that they make can require a great many tool types. As new materials come on board, this is only going to increase. We’ve seen an increasing market presence for multiple-insert tooling such as multi-flute cutters that would require an extensive amount of time to preset on a machining center—even one equipped with a laser. Further, to require that every machining center be laser equipped necessitates a large financial outlay and still wastes time compared to a tool presetter.

“For complex cutting tools and applications, the only reasonable and cost-effective solution is a tool presetter that will automatically index to every insert, ensure that it is properly seated, and provide a complete and thorough record,” he continued. “Our VIO linear series offers customers fully automated measuring, giving the operator the ability to measure features required today and connectivity options that can be added in the future.”

According to Zoller’s Diel, automated tool presetting is basically applicable for any size company. “Certainly, an automated tool presetter offers the highest level of operator independence,” he said. “Our customer base includes many industry sectors with both low-volume, high-mix applications and high-production operations. The goal is to provide the customer the perfect combination of tool data management, hardware and application software.

“Our product line is designed to be user-friendly so that minimal training is required,” he continued. “From an application software aspect, the Zoller platform ‘Pilot’ features extended default functionality, as well as packages that accommodate a large variety of tool measuring challenges.”

A Zoller venturion tool presetting station. (Provided by Zoller)

Increasingly, Zoller is seeing demand for presetter solutions that also support crossover applications for cutting tool inspection. “As tool configurations evolve and new challenges present themselves, our tool presetters feature a modular configuration approach offering flexibility and future upgrade options,” said Diel.

Data Collection and Management

One of the greatest benefits of automated tool processing is the streamlining of tool data management. “Here, we recommend that our customers incorporate a Zoller TMS tool management database with the tool presetter,” said Diel. “Higher level presetting benefits from a comprehensive database that can be an effective and profitable management tool. Even if the machine parts don’t change in an operation, the cutting tools have to be changed, and our systems can provide the data to eliminate redundancy through a centralized, company-wide database.”

Data Connectivity is Vital

One of the most important benefits that automated tool presetting can provide to a high-mix shop is data connectivity. BIG Kaiser’s Sumner noted the necessity of communicating preset data to the machining center’s offset tables and then verifying and simulating the process. “The tool presetter is not a stand-alone operation,” he said. “With software such as our Edge 2.0 Pro, the customer can use image processing in creating a complete tool management system that includes inspection and CAM interfacing. Through modeling and simulation, it becomes possible to optimize tooling strategies.”

A further extension of communications technology is the ability to provide individual tool identification through barcode/QR code labels or RFID microchips. “In instances where the machine is capable of reading the tool identification, it becomes impossible to place the tool in the wrong pocket on the tool changer,” said Haimer's Baier. “Also, it opens up a new dimension in tool management and can allow full or partial toolroom automation.”

Future Refinements

The future of tool presetting will extend the uses of automated machines through enhanced capabilities and ever-evolving application software. “The addition of robots such as the Zoller ‘Cora’ (a collaborative assistant robot for daily tool handling tasks) and automated tool crib cells will become a significant part of future smart factory implementations," said Diel. "Furthermore, such integrations will also include automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) delivering pre-staged cutting tool assemblies directly to the CNC machine. Although right now there may be a perception that this is more relevant to larger operations, we find even small and mid-sized operations are implementing select levels of automation.”

Sumner predicts that many of the advances will be communications based. "Tool identification, whether through labels or RFID, will result in more refined tool management systems," he said. "Software advances, coupled with camera control, will measure more geometries and provide for a comprehensive database to improve the tool selection process. This will be especially true for multi-national corporations making extensive use of automated procedures in remote plants.”

Haimer’s Baier projects increasing use of heat-shrink technology across the board and its extension into ER shrink collets for lathes and multi-purpose machines. “The proliferation of complex, high-precision parts necessitates using heat-shrink, which has an accuracy of 3 μm or less,” he said. “This requires high quality toolholders such as shrink-fit to ensure consistent performance. The many benefits of tool presetting, even at the entry level, are spurring its increasing use throughout manufacturing to the point where today our rough estimate is that tool presetting is used in 20 percent of shops and other facilities.”

And the demand is rapidly growing, he noted. “The Haimer team can provide potential customers an ROI study to show how quickly a tool presetter can pay for itself,” said Baier. “On average, we’ve found that even an entry-level tool presetter can pay for itself in roughly three months.”

The tool presetter has evolved from a basic measurement device to a semi- or fully automated network with such additional functions as data collection and management and tool inspection. This has led to versatile systems critical to the economic benefits derived from comprehensive tool management. As new materials and manufacturing methods are introduced, tool presetter use will continue to expand as an indispensable part of manufacturing. Augmenting basic operations with more advanced modules offering short-term ROI make them both functional and economic necessities.

Commenting on any possible downside to the incorporation of automated tool presetting, Sumner of BIG Kaiser said, “The only one I’ve ever heard is that occasionally ‘legacy’ employees seem resistant to change. But the new machines are so user friendly that people can be rapidly educated and they quickly get on board and support the transition.”

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