Allied Machine & Engine
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Assembling the Jigsaw Puzzle of Special Cutting Tools

March 11, 2021
Determining how customized holemaking and hole-finishing tools will work most efficiently and effectively is a detailed process — with multiple options.

When you start to solve a jigsaw puzzle you face many choices. Is it best to separate the puzzle pieces by shape? By color? Should the outside edges be constructed first? What are the best techniques to create the image?

Like the process of assembling a jigsaw puzzle, creating special tooling challenges Allied Machine’s application engineers to determine where the tool will work more efficiently and effectively than standard tooling in specific holemaking and hole finishing operations. Additionally, their online utility, Insta-Quote, allows machine shops to design, quote, and order special tooling more quickly for simpler tooling requests. “Specials” can be an excellent choice in these instances, and provide great return on investment, but understanding a machinist’s needs for the tool is an in-depth process.

Solving any puzzle must begin with a basic plan. To optimize the current process, Allied Machine application engineers categorize the end-users’ needs – needs that, ultimately, go beyond a standard item that’s not getting the job done.

Saving time and money is one notable situation in which it is beneficial to invest in special tooling. For example, application engineers can develop specials for combining operations, so that instead of having six tools complete an application, three tools will get the job done.

Similarly, end-users may need to lower tooling costs. If the shop is using a large solid-carbide drill that must be reground, the end-user may want to invest in an indexable type custom tooling that would save costs.

A final category where special tooling may be beneficial involves assessing the end-users’ workshop, machine operators, and machines. Knowing the capabilities of each of these will determine how effective an investment in custom tooling can be.

Once the circumstances for investing in specials are understood, the foundation of the puzzle begins to be solved. Constructing the edge pieces of the custom tooling puzzle starts with a detailed conversation with the end-user.

Before determining a solution, the application engineers first must understand the application itself. Then, a solution can be constructed based on a variety of factors. For example, knowing more about the material being machined allows the geometry, substrates and coatings to be tailored better to the application. What is the material hardness? Are there any surface treatments? Specific grades?

Machine capabilities are equally as important. End-users must share the strength of their gearing, the torque and horsepower capabilities of the spindle, as well as specific details about the coolant being used.

Another factor is understanding the project at hand. If it is a new project for the end-user, how quickly do the tools need to be pushed through production? Conversely, if it is an existing project, are there other issues that need resolved too, like cycle time, chip formation or number of tools? Knowing the objective or what the end-user is trying to accomplish is of the utmost importance.

All in all, the more Allied Machine’s application engineers know about the reasons for and the needs of the application, the better they can customize the design of the custom tooling.

As these parameters are established, it becomes much easier to fill in the inside pieces of the puzzle — how tooling processes can be combined into one tool.

One of Allied Machine and Engineering’s standard product lines, AccuPort, is used for this. Three to four operations may be combined into one tool in instances where spot faces are smaller than the standard, or the minimum thread length is longer than what the standard tool produces.

The Superion burnishing drill is another Allied Machine product that is often used to combine functions to create custom tooling. The specific geometry of this drill achieves better surface finishes and hole sizes than what a standard high- penetration drill might produce.

Finally, adding a back chamfer and top chamfer to a hole can be done when applying special tooling. Instead of drilling a hole and using different tools for the back and top chamfer, the application engineers can combine that operation into one tool with the T-A back chamfering tool.

Still, every puzzle brings new challenges, making the picture much more difficult to complete. Often with custom tooling, end-users are hesitant to take the plunge because of the cost. Frequently, the overall tooling cost is determined in terms of cost per hole. Yes, a special can be supplied that gets the job done more quickly, but if it is only 20% faster and costs 30% more, is it worth it? 

Ultimately, decreased cycle time, increased production and decreased tooling inventory make it a worthy investment. Lead time is important too, and because manufacturers and machine shop owners must meet their customers’ deadlines, they may continue to use multiple tools for the application if these are the tools they know will complete the job. Support from Allied Machine’s application engineers or their field sales engineers helps to ease the concerns of the end-user and put the final pieces of the puzzle into place.

Clearly, strategy is important when completing a puzzle, and while Allied Machine and Engineering’s application engineers execute effective strategies for developing customized tooling, other strategies are available through Insta-Quote, its free online utility. Here, end-users are guided through the simple process of tool design and receive a printed quote with a PDF drawing of their special tooling solution. Upon approval, the order is processed and delivered by a local Allied Machine distributor, with a unique item number for revisions to the tool and future ordering.

While more complex requests are fulfilled by application engineers, this utility is ideal for end-users who need a tool body that is longer, deeper, or shorter to miss a fixture, or who need special forms or a special geometry for difficult-to-machine materials.

Whether it is developing custom tooling for long boring applications into the hull of a submarine or creating a custom tool that overcomes the limited working envelope in a steam turbine, Allied Machine can solve the puzzle. Special tooling can be as intimidating as a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, but Allied Machine’s holemaking and hole-finish experts, and the Insta-Quote utility, make putting the pieces together that much easier.

Contact Allied Machine & Engineering to learn more about custom tooling possibilities. Christa Kettlewell is the marketing lead management and content creation coordinator for Allied Machine & Engineering.

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