Jeff Foregard, general manager, Anca Asia,
believes that staying on top of new
technology trends helps companies
get a competitive edge.
The tool grinding industry is constantly evolving. Cutting tools date back thousands of years where humans flaked rocks to create an edge that could be used for cutting meat. Taking a historical perspective makes you realise just how dynamic the tool grinding market can be, introducing new technologies and applications to realise new and better ways.
Throughout my career, I have seen that companies who pay attention to emerging trends and continue investing in innovation to become the most successful.
Increasing Tool Complexity
Thinking back to the origins of cutting tools, our modern applications are radically different. Customers are demanding increased tool complexity, controlled micro geometry and higher accuracy.
One more recent driver of this change is consumer demand. The current and next generation of consumer electronics have better cosmetics with smoother finishes, and on smart phones the blend between the glass and the body of the phone is now almost perfect. When Steve Jobs stood on the stage to launch the latest Apple product, he wasn’t just pitching a new product; he was showcasing a work of art!
To meet these consumer needs, the industry is demanding ever-higher performance of their cutting tools. Cutting tool manufacturers no longer operate single machines; they work in ecosystems where data is shared freely.
Machines are directly linked to enterprise resource planning systems to receive production schedules. In return, all production and quality management data is collected from the tool grinders. From automating tool designs, to unmanned operations, to very complex geometries — it is an exciting time to be in the tool grinding industry.
Introduction Of CNC
When tools were manufactured manually, it was not a perfect science. Then computer numerical controls took over the process which meant tools could be ground to near perfect geometry tolerances. This threw up an unexpected problem in the milling process, as tools started to create vibrations which created chatter, bad surface finish and less life on cutting tools.
To fix this problem, we went back to basics and tried to mimic the old process and found that introducing controlled errors reduced vibrations and allowed for a better end-product and longer tool life.
The solution was to introduce a variable helix and index. At the time, this was an industry first for Anca, but these days most other companies have introduced the same technology.
Another development for extending the life of a tool was the introduction of K-land and C-land edge preparation on drills and endmills. This controlled microgeometry made a dramatic impact on tool performance and lifespan.
However, these features came with complexity as they are notoriously difficult to manufacture as basic changes, in for example a flute shape, ruined the tool. A variety of solutions were developed, ranging from using a brush to grinding after measuring the edge geometry with a probe to deal with these complexities.
Taking The Next Leap Through Automation
Another development has been combining multiple tool capabilities into one tool. This saves setup times and eliminates tool changes. The software capability of current CNC tool grinders allows cutting tools of much higher complexity to be efficiently designed and programmed.
It sounds amazing, but the simulation of the manufacturing process is near perfect. So good are the CAM capabilities of modern CNC tool grinders that drawing packages have been added. Anca’s Tooldraft package for example, allows fully dimensioned tool drawing to be output from its simulation package. This helps the documentation process and revision control on cutting tools, and instead of CAD/CAM, we have CAM/CAD.
Having a CNC grinder that has simulation software is very important for increasing productivity and verification of the tool geometry, and reducing time on machines. Another addition to tool manufacturing is scripting which eliminates the need for repetitive programming. You can spend a long time specifying and perfecting the geometry of a 10 mm drill, and with scripting we can apply the same geometry or a scaled version to other diameters or a family of the same tools.
The (Automated) Future Is Here
Management suites have been developed for machine
monitoring and data collection.
The future for the industry is the smart factory or Industry 4.0. It is about data collection and analytics and most of the industry is already developing solutions on how to harness this information.
Manufacturers are also interested in productivity through time spent on set up and documentation to unmanned operations and programing. Management suites have been developed for machine monitoring and data collection which allows customers to manage their grinding files, wheel files and production schedule simultaneously.
The use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) has enabled unmanned operations of tool manufacturing or resharpening. It also helps offline programming as the grinding files can be freely shared between multiple machines and tools can be placed randomly since the RFID chip in the pocket has the correct grinding files associated with the tool.
Sophisticated regrinders are using this technology combined with collet changers and wheel changers to permit unmanned nightshift grinding of a random sequence of cutting tools. This type of capacity used to be a nightmare to try and create, but is now a realistic goal.
Another development is that the milling machines and machining centres have very rigid spindles which can run and operate at higher RPMs and faster feedrates. To accommodate this, we had to start manufacturing cutting tools to higher and ever increasing accuracies and surface finish. Great success has been had with integrating high accuracy tool measurement using laser metrology in cycle.
This technology allows setup times to be greatly reduced. It also reduces the effect of wheel wear and thermal deformation as it is measured and compensated during long unmanned production cycles.
Taking Advantage Of Technology
With all these advances in technology, it is important for customers to remember that investment in their capabilities could deliver much more than they realise. From the software to the machine capability, staying on top of new technology trends helps companies gain a competitive edge.
This does not mean going out and buying entire new machines each month; many CNC grinding businesses will offer trade-in deals for old machines or retrofitting with new capabilities to rebirth a grinder. The future for tool grinding is exciting—who knows what we can accomplish in the next thousand years as we continue to innovate as a market to find new and even better solutions.