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Rebalancing act

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Machine Tools/CNC

Ask the experts before you invest in a new machine tool. The right kind of tool will go a long way.

It is a common sight at manufacturing plants to see machine tools lying idle, and sometimes going rusty. On probing further, you will realise that most often than not, these tools were purchased because the company did not delve deeper into understanding the specific job function or department for which the machine was being purchased. Yes, there is a dire need to understand the intricacies of a purchase of machine tools as daily machine usage must consider lot sizes to be run, requirements for fixtures and tooling, types of coolant, and tank capacity.

Most often than not, machine tools are typically used in a shop environment where components that need machining could be in a variety of shapes and sizes with lot sizes ranging from one to 50 pieces. And the machines being purchased for a production environment, however, may be dedicated to machining one specific part or a family of parts. Production lot sizes may range from 100 to 1 million or more parts. Production runs generally have more stringent, dedicated work-holding and fixture requirements. And while production heads realise this, there are times when tools are purchased for just one particular job or a particular contract.

Realising the issues that buyers of machine tools (grinding and milling, mainly) could face, sometimes due to lack of clarity, manufacturers of tools are helping customers to purchase the right tool and also increase the life-span of their tools. According to Brajesh Kumar, MD, Walter Tools, “For customers, process reliability, precision and productivity are more important than ever – because cost pressure is continuously rising and the competition is keen. Walter has, for decades now, been providing its customers with intelligent tool solutions. Using this experience, we are driving forward total solution concepts in our customers’ value creation chain.”

Machines consume a major part of capital investment for any of the manufacturing setup. It becomes very essential to consider various techno-commercial aspects while doing the evaluation. Lack of systematic approach for machine purchase may result in opting for wrong solution for given application.

Rohit Tupkari, manager, marketing & business development, Grind Master Machines, has a few suggestions for customers. 1) Buyers should understand the application and the objective of the machine purchase has to be very clearly defined. 2) Many a times, there are multiple options available for achieving an objective. In depth research and evaluation of various options is must before zeroing down on a specific machine. More often than not, a buyer ends up buying world-class expensive machines which is of very little use for his specific requirement. 3) On completion of above preliminary tasks, it is time to settle down on a specific type of machine. The machine specifications have to be picked based on various requirements such as productivity, process input & output quality, ease of operations, cost per component, etc. 4) Various techno-commercials factors have to be taken into account while evaluating the proposals. Machine life-cycle cost determines the most cost-effective option among the different competitive alternatives. Simply opting for cheapest machine may result in paying higher cost operating & maintaining the machine. Also it is very important to have local service support from the supplier. Interaction with the existing users may give many insights about service support and reputation of the supplier. And, lastly, 5) In case of special purpose machine or non-standard application, it’s always recommended to do detailed pre-dispatch inspection with sufficient number of trials. Detailed checklist with quantitative parameters should be made for such inspection.

Strong selection
A survey—jointly conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology and the Laboratory for Machine Tools at Aachen University—outlines requirements for improving cutting technologies. Manufacturers using cutting technologies are confronted every day with demands for shorter lead times and lower production costs while also maintaining or surpassing existing quality standards. This issue is of immense importance, especially with respect to materials that are difficult to machine, as these are often key to the development of high-performance product innovations. Cutting tools for drilling, turning and milling are exposed to high thermal and mechanical loads when used to machine high-temperature-resistant and extremely hard materials such as nickel-based and titanium alloys, titanium aluminides and powder-metallurgical steel. This results in short tool lifetimes, long processing times and poor-quality work-piece surfaces.

While most manufacturers are aware of the basic rules of buying machine tools, most companies still need to create an approach, as the current one is quite unsystematic. The selection process is rarely conducted methodically, and employee expertise is not always utilised or even documented. This can delay process design and result in substantial costs. Very often, when senior and experienced people retire or leave an organisation, their expertise too is not taken into consideration. According to the report, most companies felt that the need for standardisation of process- and tool-design methods and for information regarding optimised tool geometries and coatings was enormous.

It is for this reason that technology leaders like Walter feel the need to be present for its manufacturing clients and provide them this much-needed competitive advantage through innovative cutting tool technologies, product quality and expert engineering services. Walter being known for its milling innovations has a wide range of machining solutions available. The design, geometry, tool performance on various machining components and material, efficiency, precision and productivity are the offerings bundled with reliability powered by its Tiger▪tec silver performance is a great combination for the milling solutions. Under milling, it has a well proven product family range such as Walter BLAXX, Walter Xtra∙tec, M4000, etc.

The smart revolution
Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution is the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. It uses cyber-physical systems and cloud computing. Machines are meant to improve quality productivity and cost efficiency. With Industry 4.0, machines are becoming smarter and users are able to interact with these smart machines in similar way we interact with smart phones. There machines communicate and cooperate with each other and humans in real time which helps in making decentralised decisions. Industries with scattered manufacturing plants can now coordinate in much better way due to this. Self-diagnostics is another feature which helps in preventive maintenance which eventually helps in increasing productivity and quality. Indian MNCs are working on working on adopting Industry 4.0. Even it is helpful from smaller companies where plant manager/owner is able to track the production and maintenance data on single click over his smart phone or PC.

Super-finishing and micro-finishing are some of the new kinds of machines that aerospace and defence companies are looking for. This sector has suddenly emerged as an industry since the government decided to look at awarding more contracts to Indian companies. Tupkari says, “We have special purpose machines for metal finishing, deburring, NANOFINISH and solutions including robotic automation and abrasives. NANOFINISH is a technology that consists of super-finishing/Micro-finishing for generating surface finishes that can only be measured in nanometers. The NANOFINISH range of machines uses mainly film-backed abrasives with Grind Master NANOTouch contact tooling to provide reliable and high performance solutions to a wide variety of components ranging from engine parts to rotogravure cylinders. “We have extended the portfolio of NANOFINISH machines by adding machines for mission critical micro-finishing of crankshafts & camshafts. Robotic automation for fettling/de-flashing applications is another breakthrough product which has revolutionised the foundry sector,” says Tupkari.

Walter’s Brajesh Kumar says that the new Walter BLAXX M3255 porcupine milling cutter is a milling innovation that achieves outstanding results thanks to a completely new design. A special front insert with an axial limit stop, combined with the new geometry of the tangentially arranged indexable inserts, allows for an “overlapping” arrangement, with more inserts per row of teeth and more rows of teeth per milling cutter. The “continuous” cutting edge this creates cuts into the workpiece virtually seamlessly. Another new feature is that each of the indexable inserts is supplied individually with coolant. Coupled with the large chip clearances resulting from the new insert arrangement, this optimises cooling and chip evacuation. This is particularly advantageous when it comes to slot milling, which is why the M3255 can also perform slot milling operations with larger diameters.

With so many options available in the market, manufacturing companies would do well to understand the kind of machine tools they require and consider the new kinds of contracts that are coming their way before buying machines off-the-shelf.

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