Cutting Tool Manufacturer Maximizes Technology To Create A Niche

After purchasing two grinders and a filter system, the company has been able to produce consistent, close tolerance tooling.

Tom Pankratz launched Advanced Tooling, Inc. (ATI) (Mt. Calvary, Wisconsin) 8 years ago. In addition to a growing customer base in the medical, automotive and aerospace industries, ATI’s core business has been serving customers the mold industry. Mr. Pankratz says many of his customers are concerned about tool breakages while “in the cut.” For example, a typical customer may be machining a hardened (Rockwell 65) steel mold with a cutting tool for which an unusual geometry has been especially designed to suit the application. In this case, the user can’t afford to have the edges of the cutting tool shatter, possibly damaging the mold.
“A lot of standard tooling looks shiny on the OD,” Mr. Pankratz says. “But when you’re trying to hold tenths, grind marks on the flutes will have an adverse effect on tool life, as well as on the finished product. Correcting something so basic, in a consistent manner, is where our technology has paid off.”
About 5 years ago, Mr. Pankratz’s quest to push technology limits led him to Transor Filter USA (Elk Grove Village, Illinois). While many shops focus only on grinding machine capabilities and wheel performance, Mr. Pankratz quickly recognized that oil filtration could be a critical factor in enhancing overall productivity and efficiency. After he installed a centralized filter system to service two grinders and one tool regrinder, the results were immediate. Unlike the cartridge filters previously used, the filtration system provides ATI with consistent, 1-micron filtration. The Transor system is a form of filtration that operates on the principle of edge filtration.
Rather than using a consumable, such as diatomaceous earth or a paper cartridge, it operates with a filter wafer, which is designed to be cleaned rather than replaced. An automated back-flushing procedure removes debris from the paper wafer and places it in a biodegradable paper filter bag. Mr. Pankratz says the system is so clean that his operators no longer need to engage in messy cartridge disposal. The clean oil also reduces machine maintenance and downtime. On the consumable side, the company’s grinding wheels have been providing a minimum of 25 percent longer life. But the real advantage has been the ability to produce consistent, close tolerance tooling, Mr. Pankratz says. “We’re regularly required to hold 0.0002 inch to 0.0003 inch on many tools,” he says. “By machining with oil filtered to 1 micron and by incorporating the chiller on the filter, we’ve been able to take the thermal expansion out of the machine so there are no growing or shrinking problems.”
ATI has also found success in manufacturing small cutting tools. “The small tools market started as a natural extension of ATI’s basic mission,” Mr. Pankratz explains. “We found a need in the market for tools ranging from 3/8 inch diameter all the way down to 0.005 inch, with the vast majority of production being 1/8 inch or less.”
To address this need, the company purchased two GrindSmart 620XS grinders by Rollomatic (Mundelein, Illinois). The six-axis operation and quick change-overs provided the flexibility to profitably handle the varying geometries and small-batch requests from customers. In addition, being able to consistently maintain concentricity of 0.0001 inch met Mr. Pankratz’s standards. An additional filtration system was also purchased.
“Many of the smaller tools we manufacture could be running at speeds of 30,000 rpm, and any inconsistencies in the tool become quite apparent,” Mr. Pankratz explains. For this reason, the enhanced filtering on the grinders was especially beneficial. Eliminating particles in the oil kept them from the surface of the grinding wheel where they could interfere with the wheel’s cutting action, causing deflection and impacting product finish and quality.
By using the integrated load/unload feature of the 620XS, ATI has been able to implement an unattended third shift by running batches of 200, 300, 400 and 500 blanks.