MMS Blog

Hard Milling Replaces Hand Grinding in Finishing Die Components

How far can hard milling go? Hard milling’s uses in moldmaking and other high-precision tooling work is well-documented. It skips time-consuming steps like EDM or hand polishing, saving time and money. However, a leading hard milling application is demonstrated by the die-production process at Feintool, where milling even seemingly slight details that once would have been hand-ground has proven vital for realizing repeatability in some of the most precise metalforming tooling. Feintool both manufactures and operates machines for the forming process known as fine blanking. For this company, hard milling has replaced essentially all hand-work operations, and the company is looking at replacing jig grinding as well.

One of the rarer processes that manufacturers come across, fine blanking is a precision die-cutting and shaping process for making high volumes of parts, often with complex structures. Unlike standard blanking, fine-blanking dies have rigid cutting edges with 0.5% clearance between the edge and workpiece, 10 times more precise than that of standard blanking. According to Feintool Executive VP of Sales and Marketing Lars Reich, “The precision and rigidity of the process enables fine-blanking machines to produce thousands of parts per day with excellent flatness, 90-degree edges and excellent dimensional accuracy, with most parts needing no postprocessing.”

Deciding to Specialize as an Aerospace Supplier

Indiana Precision Grinding (IPG) is no stranger to making business changes. William Cox founded the company in Indianapolis in 1975 as the Centerless Grinding Co., but when he realized the volume of local centerless grinding work wouldn’t support the business, he expanded its capabilities to include other grinding services, such as cylindrical grinding. In the mid-1980s, the company moved and rebranded as IPG to reflect these changes.

IPG is in the middle of another shift, this time from a job shop business model that serves a diverse local customer base to one that specializes in aerospace work. This was a difficult decision for IPG to make, and has required new equipment, an AS9100-certified quality management system (QMS) and a marketing plan. But the company’s president says recent changes in the manufacturing industry have made this shift necessary even in spite of recent turbulence in the aerospace sector, and it is proving successful so far.

Mapping the Optimal Path for Machinists

When shops first implement a machine monitoring system, it’s not uncommon for them to discover their machine uptime is lower than they thought. “All machine monitoring solutions out there show you how bad the production is because you collect data. You know that you’re at like, 40% uptime, but you don't know how to improve,” says Frederic Scherer, CEO of JITBase (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), a machine monitoring solutions provider. Shops are usually on their own when it comes to using this data to increase uptime. However, JITBase has devised a way to use machine data to create a clear map for shops to increase production.

Mr. Scherer says the idea for the product came from one of JITBase’s customers, an aerospace manufacturer that makes landing gear components with cycle times that range to 24 hours. “What they realized is that 80% of the time they had one machinist that is behind the machine and is just waiting for the machine to do the job,” Mr. Scherer says. “It was independent production from 80 to 90% of the time. The operator was waiting, doing nothing.” The customer asked him if JITBase could use the data it was collecting to help its machinists manage more machines. Mr. Scherer said yes, and as he thought about it, he realized this solution could help address the shortage of skilled manufacturing workers many areas are facing.

How To Measure Surface Roughness on Large Parts

Large parts such as engine blocks for emergency power generators, construction machines or ship engines; knuckles for trucks; or gears and bearings for wind-power generators are often too large and heavy to measure on a stationary roughness measuring device. Nevertheless, roughness parameters must still be tested. In fact, roughness measurements on large parts are typically both critical and difficult to perform. In most cases, a lot of operator involvement and skill may be required to get to a surface hidden amongst dozens of features on a part.

These requirements are usually attempted by a skilled machinist — not necessary a skilled quality technician — and extensive efforts are often necessary. For example, on a large flat surface, measurement may be straightforward, requiring little skill. Yet the repeatability of measurements fluctuates greatly because the user cannot find the same exact measuring position by eye. To perform critical roughness measurements on slanting, vertical or (upside down) overhead positions, it is then necessary to fix the drive unit or roughness measuring system during the measurement or the measured results will be incorrect.

CNC Machining as a Business Strategy for 3D Printing

In 2013, additive manufacturing (AM) was having its moment. The possibilities of the technology for industrial production were just then becoming apparent to manufacturing at large. Indeed, at that time, the view of AM was soaring from lofty media hype into a stratosphere of impossible promises. Bob Markley was having a moment of his own at that time. He had just finished a 10-year stretch as an engineer for an Indy 500 racing team before moving on to work for Rolls Royce and then General Motors, the latter of which was consolidating its Indiana workforce to Pontiac, Michigan. Unable to relocate his family from their Indiana home, the then-31-year-old Mr. Markley wrote up a business plan centered around AM — a technology he’d barely used, but one that appealed to the experimental engineering style he’d developed through racing.

Thus, 2013 proved to be the year that Mr. Markley went all-in on AM, launching 3rd Dimension Industrial 3D Printing in a 1,800-square-foot facility outside of Indianapolis. After opening for business, he quickly partnered with 3D Systems and brought in the company’s ProX 200 — a laser powder-bed fusion machine he still refers to today as his workhorse. Sustained financially by his original loan and a small but growing base of customers, Mr. Markley purchased a second ProX 200, followed by a 300 model and later a 320 that he beta tested for the company.