We tend to focus on the seen instead of the unseen. We focus on the big or urgent things instead of the smaller things. In metalworking, that means we focus on machine tools.
As well we should. A process is defined by its machines. In your own shop, the machine tools determine the parts the shop can take on and the operations it can perform. Machine tools make the shop what it is—sort of.
Actually, there is more to it than that. The machine requires cutting tools. And because this tooling is (relatively speaking) such a small, quiet and consistent part of the process, many shops fail to give their cutting tools ample consideration. The machine is seen as an “investment” while the tool is seen as an “expense.” This very distinction serves to conceal just how far the cutting tool may go in determining what the machine can do.
For a moment, shift your perspective. The process is more than the sum of its machines. Right here, in the midst of a busy day, shut out the way you might usually think about the shop, so you can briefly see things differently. Imagine all of the cutting edges. That is, imagine all of the edges shearing through all of the workpieces that your shop will machine today. Imagine all of that material removal—this is your process. Your machines get the cutting tools to where they need to be, but the cutting tools are, quite literally, at the leading edge of what you do. And you may not have noticed.
You may not have noticed, because it is easy to fall into the habit of seeing your tools as just a commodity to feed the machines.
If this is too often the view in your shop, then you may have missed a subtle shift. You may have missed the way cutting tools have changed. More rigorous machining requirements and more challenging workpiece materials have demanded more of tooling, and tooling technology has risen to the challenge. Now, new choices in cutting tools might give your shop capabilities it never expected before—perhaps including the speed to increase capacity by day, or the tool life and reliability to run through the night without an operator.
Three companies hope you will understand this idea better. They are: Diamond Innovations, Precision Dormer and Sandvik Coromant. The companies jointly contributed articles for a special online knowledge center, “The New Rules of Cutting Tools.” Find it at www.mmsonline.com/newrules.
Sometime soon, step back to take a second look at your tools. What are the implications of not using the most effective tooling? You may never know! Plenty of shops get OK performance from OK tools, unaware that a different process built around different tooling might let them do more with their machines than they ever thought they could. If you haven’t reconsidered your cutting tools in a while, you might not know what you are missing.