When the time came to begin thinking about what to include in our latest special issue on high speed machining, I imagined an introductory article titled something like "High Speed Machining Comes of Age." What was a relatively new idea several years ago is now much more widely known. Namely, the idea that by fine-tuning various aspects of the process—aspects that aren't so significant at lower speeds—it becomes possible to apply high speed and feed rate toward considerably more effective manufacturing. Our special issue, I thought, would cover the gamut of high speed machining applications, and offer a clear picture of what speed makes possible.
The problem is, a clear picture of what speed makes possible still is not so easy to see.
Within the "mainstream" of high speed machining applications, we found shops that are accomplished and noteworthy practitioners. But along the way to discovering these shops, we also discovered a shop or two applying more traditional high speed machining expertise toward new machining challenges. And we found a case or two in which a shop already successful at employing high speed was struggling nevertheless to find out what it could accomplish at speeds much higher still.
The frontier continually moves forward. And even though we see one threshold surpassed, we remain tempted to assume that other thresholds are uncrossable.
The story of high speed machining so far has been about overcoming limits in the process. Look at the program, control, toolholding and even the vibration in some cases—close all such gaps where instability can occur—and the more seamless process that results makes faster cutting possible. That part of the story is still being told.
The next chapter probably will focus on performance thresholds in the hardware itself. Developments related to tooling, bearings and machine design promise to push back the physical barriers that limit even a well-designed process today. When these experimental technologies become not just available but accessible, those shops at the leading edge of exploring high speed machining today will be best equipped to determine how to put the even higher levels of performance to use. Fundamentally greater combinations of speed, power and precision may lead to another fundamental revision in our idea of what constitutes effecting machining. This thing we call high speed machining may just be getting started.