Five Go-To Technologies

There are numerous ancillary machine tool technologies that shops can use to become more efficient and effective. Here are a few that I appreciate.


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I’ve been visiting and writing about machine shops and manufacturers for more than 17 years (10 of those with this magazine). Over that time, I’ve repeatedly come across a handful of ancillary machine tool technologies that, while not necessarily indispensable for every shop, were tremendously valuable to many successful operations I’ve profiled. Consider how you might benefit from the following (listed in no particular order):

• Tool vending systems. A tool vending system can accurately track every nondurable tool for a job while providing daily tool usage reports. This enables tight cost control and ensures that a shop never runs out of the tools it needs. By limiting the number of tools an operator can check out for a given job, the system can also serve as a problem-solving mechanism. If an operator attempts to remove a tool once the limit has been reached, the system can be set up to alert a supervisor who can help the operator determine why an additional tool is needed.

• Tool presetters. Measuring offsets with tools installed in a machine’s spindle can be time-consuming, especially for jobs that require a number of cutters. Conversely, toolholder assemblies for an upcoming job can be measured in seconds using a presetter, without the machine being interrupted. Some presetters generate a label for each tool with the offsets that an operator can quickly enter into the machine’s CNC. Other, more advanced presetters can be networked with the CNC and transfer offsets digitally.

• Machine tool probes. On-machine probes also can speed and simplify setups. A touch-trigger probe installed in a machine’s spindle can find the true location of a workpiece set up on a table and shift the coordinate system to compensate. This eliminates the inherent challenge of accurately positioning parts using dial gages and traditional setup methods. Similarly, a tool-setting probe is an economical solution for on-machine verification of tool geometry and condition. The probe can automatically set length and diameter as well as identify broken tools.

• High-pressure coolant delivery. Compared to flood coolant, a directed stream of high-pressure coolant removes a greater amount of heat, enabling higher material removal rates and faster cycle times. It also helps break up chips and remove them from the cut zone efficiently so the tool spends less time re-cutting chips. Reduced heat and more efficient chip evacuation prolongs tool life and makes replacement more predictable, because the tool wears more predictably.

• Shopfloor CMMs. There are different types of shopfloor CMMs, including the traditional bed-type version as well as articulating arms. Having more advanced shopfloor inspection capability can reduce machine downtime considerably for first-article inspection. That’s because an operator doesn’t have to walk to the quality lab so that a CMM inspector can perform measurement routines beyond what the operator’s conventional gages can support. In some cases, downtime can be extended because the operator has to wait for the lab’s CMM to become available.