Creating a cutting tool – concept to spindle

New cutting tools are continuously being introduced to the market, but what is the process to get a product from concept through to the spindle?
Tooling manufacturer Dormer Pramet tasks its product management and development department with creating new tools every year.

A member of the team is product and development engineer Jan Bittner. In January 2015, Bittner joined Dormer Pramet and became part of the company’s project to develop an assortment of high-feed milling tools. Almost three years later, a new range of SBN10 cutters and BNGX inserts was launched into the global market.
The time taken to introduce a cutting tool is an indication of the investment a manufacturer makes to create a new product which will add value to customers for many years.
At Dormer Pramet, the process of creating a new tool begins with its product management department, which identifies the market needs and gaps in the company’s current assortment. Karel Tiefenbach is the company’s product manager for indexable milling and he created a concept brief and clear objective for the development team.
Dormer Pramet’s aim was to create an assortment of tools for its double-negative cutters, which allow high feed rates for increased productivity. The design needed to be for double-sided inserts to maximise the economic value (four edges) and provide good chip control, allowing for a higher ramping angle. At the same time, the tools needed to offer process security and a versatile range for mould and die operations, covering roughing to finishing.
Bittner began the process with Jan Vlcek from the company’s product design and information department, which is responsible for all aspects of tool development. This includes creating high quality data on every tool produced, the design of products and supporting manufacture.
The department’s first task in designing a new high-feed milling tool – later known as SBN10 – was to research what products were already available in the market from competitors and how Dormer Pramet could be different, while still meeting the needs of customers.
“We started with a series of preliminary studies and initial prototype designs, putting a number of ideas forward before we could start to produce samples,” explains Bittner. “There are always difficulties and challenges to overcome, but some small changes at this stage can have a big impact.

“For example, with one of the first samples created, we realised there was a conflict with an existing patent from a competitor,” continues Bittner. “With many companies creating new inserts all the time, it is a very crowded market. However, we worked with the designer to modify our concept and make it unique, while still fulfilling the original brief. This led us to liaise closely with colleagues in Sweden and North America to make sure our designs did not conflict with any patents.”
Bittner discussed with colleagues in IP how the company could make its design unique. He needed to confirm the company was within patent pending at every point and not conflicting with others already submitted. Eventually he was given the all-clear to proceed.
“At the start of the process in 2015, we had a schedule to follow and aimed to launch the BNGX inserts by November 2017,” says Bittner. “We had pressure from our sales teams who wanted it earlier. Our aim was to keep the process going as fast as possible and we kept to schedule. By the second quarter of 2016, we were able to start the testing stage. This included several on-site tests with customers as this is the best way to check how good a product really is.
“We were confident it was a good product, but no amount of in-house testing can match trying it out in the real world,” he adds. “We learned so much from these tests, which allowed us to identify areas of further improvement.
Dormer Pramet conducted more than 20 tests with customers in France, Brazil, Poland, China, Italy, Czech Republic and Germany. Although 15 of the tests showed highly impressive results, five did not match expectations, which prompted the team to go back and look at what needed improving. This is an important process and can only help enhance product performance and reduce limitations.
“The crucial part is to react quickly during the testing process; speed is crucial,” says Bittner. “Any issues need to be eliminated and the design of the tool improved as soon as possible, before putting it back in for more tests.
“In July 2017, we returned to Germany, to a customer where one of the tests did not go as well as the others. Going back to the same location meant we could perform the exact same trial in the same conditions as before. This was important to verify if the improvements we made had worked. The application ran very successfully and it was great to show the customer the new and improved version.”
Bittner realised at this stage that the company was ready to launch the product into the market. He had further discussions with IP to make sure the patent was in place and everything was prepared.
“This led to meetings with production to ensure enough inserts were manufactured for the time of launch and liaising with marketing and communications department on creation of all the support material, such as brochures, images, videos, press releases and online content.”
Dormer Pramet launched its range of BNGX inserts and SBN10 cutters in November 2017, almost three years after the initial design brief was prepared.
During 2018, the company will manufacture more than 30,000 BNGX inserts, comprising of different sizes and chip breakers, alongside 450 cutters, in three different variants: end mills with threaded shank, end mills with parallel shank and shell mills.

“Product development is very much a team effort,” states Bittner. “There are many people from around the world involved in the creation of new cutting tools. From product management to design, to the technology team, production, testing, through to sales and marketing. Each department is not independent from the rest; we are all connected and one area cannot be successful without the support of the others. They all must work together to get a product to market.
“Also, any new product created will become the future work for our production department. Sometimes we can be focused on today and what is new now, but it is our job to look at the future and what will be important in five to 10 years’ time.”
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Edgecam boosts business and turnover at STDU

“Edgecam means shorter machining cycle times. And shorter machining cycles increase our productivity.” Those are the words of Cyril Gloriant, technical director at a company producing complex components for a variety of industry sectors, including agriculture, medical, aerospace and gas.

As Société Toulousaine d’Etude et d’Usinage (STDU) manufactures parts with tolerances down to 0.01 mm, Gloriant says the company needs “a perfect working combination of operator, machine tool and software”.
Around 80% of components at STDU are machined using Edgecam CAM software to drive a number of CNC lathes and mill-turn machining centres, including those manufactured by Mori Seiki, Haas, Manurhin and Hardinge. “It’s important for Edgecam to be able to pilot all our machines; we can’t accept a two-tier production system,” says Gloriant. “As all the necessary machining information is contained within the post-processors, all our operators can use it, while only a few are now capable of manually programming the machines.”
He adds that Edgecam offers real flexibility to the company’s pool of CNC machinery. “If we suddenly need to move a job from one machine to another, production can be switched rapidly with the same kinematic characteristics and a different post-processor.”
Operating from 1000 sq m premises in Pinsaguel, France, with 10 employees, STDU purchased Edgecam in 2017, and progressed to using it daily in the workshop early this year, as part of a planned development. Gloriant, who will take over as CEO in September, says that the company currently uses both Edgecam’s milling and turning modules, incorporating all of the software’s machining strategies, including Waveform turning and milling.

STDU currently finds Edgecam’s feature recognition capability to be particularly valuable. “With a single click Edgecam analyses the part and determines the operations to be carried out, along with recognised function properties such as depth, minimum radius and angles. The feature prepares machining sequences which can easily be modified according to our specific requirements. Once Edgecam has defined the functions according to part topology, machining runs smoothly every time, and we no longer have to worry about aspects such as tool depth and drills. Edgecam automatically machines the features.”

He says reduced programming and cycle times, as well as acquiring new skills and knowledge from Edgecam, has opened up new markets for STDU in serial production and more complex parts. “As customers know we can now produce parts that previously we didn’t have the skills or capacity for, they’re designing more innovative and complex components, and we’ve risen to the challenge every time. We’re saving up to three hours by programming the machines offline, while they’re running with other jobs.
“When we receive the CAD model from our customer, we determine which production method we’re using – either turning or milling – along with the appropriate machine tool,” continues Gloriant. “We then open the 3D CAD model in Edgecam and run the feature recognition module, which analyses the part and prepares the machining sequence.” When parts are to be milled, with a long machining cycle time, the company also uses Edgecam to establish a quote, as it provides STDU with accurate timings.
Gloriant says the company has already seen turnover rise from €1.2m in 2016, to €1.35m last year – a rise of 12.5% – thanks to winning contracts that the business couldn’t have undertaken without Edgecam. “Between 20 and 30% of our machining is on new products, for customers.”
And plans are underway to take state-of-the-art CNC programming to the next step. Operatives are currently training on the software’s Strategy Manager feature-based automated machining system, which will reduce certain aspects of repeat programming to mere seconds.
“We’ll soon be able to rely on Strategy Manager’s predefined functions based on part topology to save us even more time on preparation, programming and machining cycle time,” says Gloriant. “We’re intending to define a strategy for each type of part that can be replicated, such as the number of tools, dressing operations, pre-drilling, drilling and cutting, which will be applied each time.”
While the company works mainly as a subcontractor, it also provides a reverse engineering service, offering advice concerning the feasibility of a part, and examining and evaluating the topology to ensure it functions correctly, at the lowest cost.

In conclusion, Gloriant says although the company originally invested in Edgecam so it could work directly on customer 3D files without the need to redraw plans, and easily configure it for STDU’s own requirements, as well as creating macros, the business quickly realised how it could save time and money throughout the whole manufacturing process. “For example, thanks to the Waveform turning strategy we’ve reduced machining time by up to 30% on some parts, and up to 40% on milling in association with rest-material machining.
“As quality and service are STDU’s priority, Edgecam’s dynamic roughing strategy allows us to concentrate all our attention on those targets.”
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30-taper machine is 40% quicker than predecessor

At the Barnoldswick factory of bicycle aftermarket component manufacturer Hope Technology, nearly all parts are machined from aluminium. Due to the relatively light metal cutting involved, it is not surprising that nimble, 30-taper machining centres are found on the shop floor alongside more powerful but relatively ponderous machines having a 40-taper tool interface.

Indeed, works and production manager Lindley Pate has started to replace some 40-taper machines with 30-taper technology, although there is no conscious policy to do so. Each machine is purchased on its merits for the intended applications.
A case in point occurred earlier this year when a Japanese-built Brother R650X1 30-taper, three-axis vertical machining centre (VMC) with 650 x 400 x 305 mm travels and twin-pallet changer was delivered by Whitehouse Machine Tools. The machine replaced an ageing, 40-taper twin-pallet VMC with a similar working envelope, and the benefits have been far-reaching.
First, the Brother machine is much more productive. For example, Op 2 on three twin-piston brake calipers fixtured side-by-side now takes 19 minutes, whereas it previously took 32 minutes, representing a 40% reduction. Time savings of this order are typical across the expanding range of parts being transferred to the more agile machine.
Secondly, the footprint occupied by the R650X1 is 20% smaller, which is helpful in a busy factory requiring more and more machine tools to service a business where recent annual percentage turnover growth is well into double digits.
A third advantage is that, as any 30-taper machining centre draws less power than a 40-taper machine with equivalent working envelope, there is an ongoing reduction in energy consumption that not only saves money but is also appropriate in a company that makes equipment for carbon-free transportation. The R650X1 additionally provides power regeneration from spindle deceleration, while the Brother CNC-C00 control minimises the power consumed by motors, pumps and lights by putting them into standby when not in use.
Works and production manager Lindley Pate says: “We use ten 30-taper machining centres on our production floor and 15 prismatic metal-cutting machines with 40-taper spindles, a mix of VMCs and horizontal-spindle machines. Half of the 40-taper machines are in multi-pallet cells and that will not change; in fact at MACH 2018 I ordered another five-axis model equipped with a 32-pallet pool.

“Where there is scope for swapping to 30-taper is in respect of our single-table and twin-pallet 40-taper machines,” he adds. “The benefits are compelling due to the higher output that is possible using the smaller tool interface, while accuracy and repeatability are just as good. In fact they are fantastic on the Brother machine. We hold down to 5 µm total tolerance on some components such as cassettes, which have to mate with another sprocket set produced on a different machine to provide the higher gear ratios.”
He points to the use of a Big Plus spindle on the latest R650X1, which provides face-and-taper contact with the tool’s back end, leading to extra rigidity. The spindle allows, for instance, a 32 mm diameter face mill to skim components and achieve a fine finish on some surfaces; cosmetic features which are much appreciated by customers in more than 40 countries that use Hope’s high-end bicycle parts.
The manufacturer’s first encounter with Brother agent Whitehouse Machine Tools was five years ago when two 30-taper TC-2RB three-axis machining centres were purchased to cope with increased workload. At the time Hope used, and still does, six 30-taper machining centres of a different make; some equipped with manual pallet change.
Brother TC-2RB machines were selected owing to their superior speed and productivity, and due to the compact design of the automatic pallet changer. Brother calls this a QT (quick turn) table, which is essentially one large pallet rotating around its centre, so no time is lost by having to temporarily disengage pallets for 180° indexing into and out of the machine’s working area.
Two years ago, the first R650X1 arrived on the shop floor at Barnoldswick, again to cope with steeply increasing demand for Hope’s bicycle accessories. The machine was considerably faster in-cut than the TC-R2Bs, as well as offering similarly short idle times. Brother’s R650X1 also provided a larger table, 800 x 600 mm, instead of 600 x 300 mm, and at a competitive price. The extra table area enables more parts to be fixtured for longer run times, which is especially useful for lights-out machining during 24-hour operation, currently from Monday through to Thursday. A single shift is operated on Friday, while weekend working is according to demand.
Further benefits of the R650X1 are the option of 22-tool storage capacity rather than 14 positions on the TC-R2B, 15-bar coolant delivery through the 16,000 rpm spindle and, notably, 30 m/min cutting feed rate in all axes instead of 10 m/min in X and Y, and 20 m/min in Z on the TC-R2B. The inherent speed
of all Brother machining centres derives from fast tool changes and APC time, as well as 50 m/min rapids, all of which happen at the same time so that the tool is in position to cut the next part instantaneously after pallet changeover.

Larger memory capacity in the Brother control is useful, as two dissimilar Hope parts can be fixtured and machined on the R650X1’s pallets. In contrast, on the old 40-taper machine, a relatively complex part had to be machined two at a time due to lack of control memory. The ability to produce different parts on one machine is appreciated by Pate, who sees part numbers for machining new component derivatives arriving all the time from the design office, but very few being deleted.
In conclusion, Pate says: “There is a greater variety of 30-taper milling centres around now, and more tooling is available to use on them. They are extremely compact, helped by the carousel style of tool magazine. We use two major makes of 30-taper machine here. Brother machines have the edge in terms of speed, compactness, value for money and reliability, and they provide good access for loading and unloading parts, so are popular with our operators. Whitehouse also provides excellent after-sales backup and service.”
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Automotive supplier places trust in Tornos

With more than 4000 employees in 10 countries, Bontaz-Centre has fully placed its trust in Tornos, accrediting much of its success to the machine-tool brand. In fact, the French firm has recently expanded its fleet of Tornos NC multi-spindle lathes and Swiss-type machines significantly.

Bontaz-Centre is a global success story on how to transform a bar-turning workshop into a worldwide automotive supplier. The history of the company is closely linked to that of its founder, Yves Bontaz, a man that formed the company with the aim of developing an innovative, dynamic and fully future-driven enterprise.
As a born entrepreneur from the Arve Valley, Yves Bontaz decided, together with his twin brother Florent, to join the National Clock-making School in Cluses. In 1958, the brothers were conscripted to maintain aircraft for the French army. After 30 months of military service, Yves realised that he wanted to go into business for himself. However, to purchase his first machine, his parents ended up selling their horse. He canvassed his first customers and soon began expanding his machine inventory, which rapidly increased from 5 to 30 machines.
For 10 years, the subcontractor manufactured for the big names of the Arve valley. However, this kind of bar turning was poorly paid, so productivity and quality became a keynote issue for Bontaz. Even today, these two aspects still form the basis of the company. After 10 years of contract manufacture, Bontaz bought his first three multi-spindle lathes and became a supplier to Peugeot and Renault. The margins were higher and the two customers ordered large volumes.
One day, the purchasing agent of a major car manufacturer gave him a part no other bar-turning company wanted to produce. The component was a cooling nozzle, entirely made of aluminum, and it was the main part of the engine cooling system. This contract marked the beginning of sustained growth for Bontaz.
Environmental protection became a central issue in the 1990s. The better the engine cooling system; the less polluting the engine. The result was a 20-fold increase in the demand for cooling nozzles, which was the start of globalisation for the Bontaz Group. In response to the constant pressure on pricing exerted by the purchasers, Bontaz established its first subsidiary in Eastern Europe, which was soon followed by a subsidiary in Shanghai. Today, over 400,000 new cars comprising a component manufactured by Bontaz will roll off a production line each month.

After China, Bontaz also gained foothold in the US, South America and then in North America. Today, the company has almost 4000 employees and branches in nine countries, with four sites in Tunisia and China respectively, plus manufacturing plants in Morocco, the Czech Republic, India, Brazil, the US, Japan and South Korea, and of course the company’s headquarters in Marnaz, France.
In short, Bontaz has become a major tier-one supplier to the automotive industry. Apart from the famous cooling nozzle, the company specialises in the assembly of various sub-assemblies, such as electro-magnetic handbrakes and all types of fluid control systems.
In Bontaz machine shops around the world, a large number of Tornos cam-type multi-spindle lathes can be seen. Just recently, various Tornos machines of different types have found their way into the workshops and this includes Tornos Swiss DT 13 machines.
“The Swiss DT 13 was chosen due to its competitive price, its productivity and its quality,” says Yannick Bontaz, nephew of Yves. Swiss DT 13 machines are a valuable alternative to cam-type lathes as they boast the flexibility of numerical control while being ultra-productive. Thanks to their L-type kinematic system, the machines can achieve highly competitive cycle times.
Additionally, the company has installed a series of Tornos Swiss GT 32 machines.
“With its B-axis facility, rigid structure, high performance and driven tools that can reach speeds of up to 9,000 rpm, the Swiss GT 32 machines are able to tackle machining tasks of high complexity,” says Yannick.
The company also reports that it now has four MultiSwiss 6×16 machines, although it was never a foregone conclusion that the machines would be Tornos models.
“Even if we trusted Tornos and their cam-type multi-spindle lathes for a great many years, we still decided to contact another manufacturer for NC multi-spindle machines,” Yannick reveals. “However, over time we realised that the MultiSwiss would offer a very high performance. We decided to take the plunge and purchase our first Tornos NC multi-spindle lathe.
“The machine is very easy to operate and set up,” he adds. “Set-up changes can be realised in no time and this is a major advantage. Furthermore, the MultiSwiss provides us with exceptional responsiveness. The quality of the parts and of the series produced is also excellent. That’s why we have already installed four machines and ordered a fifth.

“Given the success of the MultiSwiss 6×16, we did not hesitate when Tornos presented us with the MultiSwiss 8×26. And we have to admit that the machine has already fulfilled its promises in terms of dimensional accuracy, thermal stability and surface finish. We owe the success of our company to Tornos’ expertise and their sophisticated machines. So, we are looking forward to the two new machines that will complement our MultiSwiss 8×26 fleet.”
The entrepreneur from the Savoy region, a colorful personality, concludes: “Tornos displays the same conscientiousness in everyday work as I do.”
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Platform for growth at composites subcontractor

In 1979, Harlow-based TK Fabrications opened its garage door for business. Today, almost 40 years after the father and son company was conceived, the third-generation family business is filling its impressive new factory with high-end machine tools, the latest addition to which is a Fanuc RoboDrill D21MiA5 five-axis machining centre.

As a manufacturer that exclusively machines plastic and composite materials, TK Fabrications has a machine shop packed with high-end turning centres, machining centres and routing machines. These machines are tasked with manufacturing anything from prototype to 1000+ batch runs that are supplied to customers around the UK, Europe, China, Malaysia and the US. Fanuc has been supporting the growth of the subcontract company since 2002.
Recalling the introduction to Fanuc machine tools, company director Sam Howlett says:
“The first RoboDrill, a T14iB arrived in 2002 with a 4th-axis Nikken rotary unit, which was fantastic. We then bought a used Fanuc and had Fanuc engineers to do some work on the machine to keep it up to the required specifications. We kept that machine for five years. Now, we’ve invested in the new five-axis RoboDrill D21MiA5 and it’s outstanding.”
The reason that TK Fabrications has continually invested in Fanuc technology is two-fold: performance and reliability. Referring to the reliability of the Fanuc brand over the 16-year duration, Howlett says: “Throughout our ongoing growth period, Fanuc has helped our small business to save money, telling us we didn’t need a service contract because the machines don’t breakdown. They were 100% right. After all these years, the machines have never broken down. We’ve had Fanuc come in and do some work, such as lowering a machine after integrating a Microloc work-holding unit. They have also done some other retrofit work, but never attended a breakdown.”
This reliability is a critical aspect to any subcontract manufacturer, as Howlett confirms: “The ability to get finished parts out of the door to meet customer deadlines is a business-critical factor. Failure to meet deadlines has consequences; luckily we buy Fanuc machines so this isn’t an issue. Over the last year, we manufactured over 155,000 components with 98% on-time delivery and the remaining 2% delivered early. Fanuc machines played a considerable role in achieving these statistics by never failing us. Any machine tool failure would be detrimental to these statistics.”
From a productivity perspective, Howlett says that the Fanuc machines have always been streets ahead: “Even the older Fanuc machines have a 15,000 rpm spindle with 54 m/min rapid traverse rate.”

Despite the glowing productivity endorsement of the RoboDrill series, the latest five-axis RoboDrill D21MiA5 has taken TK Fabrications to the next level.
“The D21MiA5 is swallowing work from the other machines on our shop floor,” states Howlett. “It’s giving us more capacity throughout the factory and this is because the new RoboDrill is so much faster than our existing plant list.”
This factor is demonstrated with a plastic component that has a total machining time of 2 minutes 53 seconds, which includes drilling a 170 mm deep hole and then rotating the part to a secondary set-up for machining all faces. The component was previously machined in 6 minutes on an alternate machine, thus cycle times have been cut by over 50%.
Another rectangular plastic part machined on the new D21MiA5 is clamped with two Lang vices and drilled to a depth of 300 mm. This component is being machined in less than 5 minutes, whereas the previous total machining time was over 20 minutes.
The 3+2 configuration of the RoboDrill D21MiA5 is ideal for TK Fabrications as it has no specific requirement for full simultaneous five-axis machining.
“The process to configure the machine from 3+2 to full simultaneous five-axis is simple for Fanuc, and we thought we would have requested it by now,” says Howlett. “However, almost all our jobs only require 3+2 machining, and with the capability of the new Fanuc, it is increasingly close to capacity with no simultaneous five-axis work going through it. This is because it is drawing more work from less productive machines.”
The latest RoboDrill incorporates a Big Plus BBT spindle configuration and more than sufficient capacity in the X, Y and Z axes. In fact, TK Fabrications specified the new addition with a riser block at the rear of the machine to lift the five-axis unit by 50 mm. The purpose of this request was to give the company greater swing capacity, which facilitates the machining of larger components.
Primarily machining plastics and composite materials, TK Fabrications runs every machine without coolant. With the Fanuc RoboDrill, this concept has seen a central dust-extraction system fitted to remove airborne dust.

“The airborne particles are collected via the extraction unit and the machine base is cleaned every 30-40 parts to remove chips,” explains Howlett. “Swarf is automatically blown from the work area as we have a through-tool air blast. This capability keeps the cutting tools at an optimal temperature, clears the work envelope and improves processes such as tapping and deep-hole drilling. The air blast works at 6.2 bar and has been a revelation for us. It stops the tapping process from binding-up, is more productive and delivers extended tool life.”
In conclusion, Howlett says: “Fanuc have been an outstanding machine tool partner. The reliability and machine uptime is amazing, while the service and applications team are extremely helpful and supportive. In short, the technology, speed and capability of the RoboDrill series is perfect for our business.”
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