Getting Specialty Cutting Tools Into Your Shop As Fast As Possible.
With the time from the concept to the order placement, just ordering custom cutting tools can take as long as four to five weeks. Then, the tool manufacturer has to make it.
Custom tooling usually is more expensive than off-the-shelf tools and takes longer to get than off-the-shelf tools, but most shops agree that the costs are worth it, especially when such tooling performs multiple operations and reduces part cycle times and tool inventories. However, even with those savings, many shops are not willing to endure excessively long delivery lead times usually required to get custom tooling.
To shorten the pre-manufacturing stages of custom tooling, most cutting tool companies have some type of system in place that speeds the quote process to get the finished tools to their customers faster. These systems often include self-serve websites and proprietary software programs that run on Intranet systems. In addition, there are things that customers themselves can do to help the quote process along.
Insta-Quote is one self-service Internet site at which shops can get custom-tooling quotes in minutes. The site, from Allied Machine & Engineering Corp. (www.alliedmachine.com), lets customers design their own specialty tooling, generate a print and get instant pricing. Allied Machine & Engineering specializes in holemaking tools.
Users on the company's site answer a series of questions about the intended application for the custom tool, along with diameters, depths, angles and other needed variables. They then press a "quote item" button, sending the information to Allied Machine & Engineering's server.
The server is equipped with proprietary software that develops a design-feasibility model from the information that was put into the program on the Internet. Allied Machine & Engineering later uses that design-feasibility model to manufacture the tool. If the tool design is feasible, the site displays a list-price quote and a generic drawing in a .pdf or .gif file format that is e-mailed to the customer for approval.
If the tool design is not feasible, the site offers suggestions on how the customer can fix it. Alternately, Allied Machine & Engineering application engineers can review the quote drawing and contact the customer with recommendations on how to make the tool workable.
According to Gary Kropf, vice president of marketing and sales at Allied Machine & Engineering, custom-tool drawings can take at least three to four weeks to produce and to gain approval when going through traditional channels, and some cutting tool companies will not develop an approval drawing unless they have a purchase order from the customer. However, customers will not submit a purchase order without first seeing a drawing, says Kropf.
"The whole idea of the Insta-Quote site is to produce an approval drawing, have the customer sign off on it that the dimensions are correct and get the tool into manufacturing as quickly as possible," he says. A North Texas manufacturer that serves the oil industry found that the process was almost instantaneous.
The shop needed a custom chrome helix drill with replaceable ends to produce 0.625-in.-diameter holes running 3-in. deep. The shop wanted to replace a high-speed twist drill it was using to make the holes because the high speed drill required a pecking cycle. Also, the custom tool had to have at least 7 in. of reach to clear fixturing.
Allied Machine & Engineering field sales representatives, together with the Texas company's senior manufacturing engineer, generated a quote and approval print in real-time within minutes at the engineers desk using Insta-Quote. The engineer showed the drawing to the rest of the engineers in the office, then issued a purchase order.
Insta-Quote use is not limited to just those times when a quote is desired. Customers can log on 24/7 and try out "what-if" scenarios, most of which often involve multiple-function custom tools, says Kropf.
Currently, about 70 select end users, along with hundreds of distributors, are registered on Insta-Quote. Site registration is limited to "serious" customers that either have a strong history with Allied Machine & Engineering or have been referred to the site by an Allied Machine & Engineering distributor.
SPEEDING QUOTES FROM THE INSIDE
THE WIDER A TOOLING COMPANY'S product range, the more difficult and complex it is to develop an on-line-type, self-service quoting tool, says Patrick Cline, manager of special tooling at Iscar Metals (www.iscarmetals.com). Many cutting tool makers do have custom-tool design sites/software programs, but their use is strictly internal for sales forces, engineering teams and manufacturing.
To process custom tooling quickly, Iscar uses an in-house proprietary software system that is shared globally with all of the company's subsidiaries. This system provides one common database and eliminates the time wasted passing customer drawings via e-mail or fax to the appropriate engineers within Iscar. Once a custom-tooling quote is complete, the sales force, which also has access to the system, is notified automatically, and customers can order the tooling based on that quotation. The main advantage of the system is that it eliminates redundancy of input information and saves time, says Cline.
Tooling supplier Citco (www.citcodiamond.com) also has special in-house software that, in some instances, allows the company to deliver custom PCD and PCBNtipped round tools in as little as 4 weeks from initial design to finished fabrication. The software automates the process of determining the manufacturability of cutting tools.
Citco engineers put the finish workpiece dimensions into the program, along with the number of tool flutes, spindle connection style and the PCD or CBN segment design. The software then renders a print that includes clearances, secondary angles and flute design, and that file is used to create a solid model that can be viewed on-line. From the tool-design program data, engineers produce a scale model of the tool for approval. Once the order is confirmed, the design travels electronically to the tool-manufacturing site, and the software writes the NC-CAM program that is DNC-linked to the company's manufacturing machines.
At Sandvik Coromant (www.coromant.sandvik.com), engineers rely on the company's internal software program called Tailor Made for quickly getting customtool orders out the door. The software shortens the total custom-tool manufacturing process time by allowing Sandvik engineers to determine a delivery time early in the process and design tooling up-front at the time of quotation, rather than after an order has been placed.
Because Tailor Made is parametric-based software, it lets Sandvik enter custom tooling parameters into the internal system that then provides design, product coding and pricing models. "This speeds the order-placing process as well as the manufacturing of custom tools because the necessary information travels directly to the machines making the tooling," says Brian Wilson, general manager for special products at Sandvik Coromant.
Similar to Insta-Quote, Kennametal's (www.kennametal.com) Tool Expert Software System, or Tess, also provides the means for determining feasibility and generating a custom-tooling approval drawing, pricing and manufacturing data in real-time on-line. However, Tess is primarily an internal tool for Kennametal engineers, sales people and some distributors. While a limited number of distributors are currently permitted access to Tess, the number of persons with access to it is expected to grow because the intent is to drive the system's use to the point-of-sale, and the company is considering giving its customers access to the system.
While it covers only custom holemaking and round tooling, Tess's operation hinges on data concerning part features to be machined and workpiece materials. In a sense, it works from the workpiece backwards to the appropriate custom tooling. Engineers formulate necessary information to enter into the system by describing either the dimensions of a custom tool or the feature of the part that is to be machined. From this data, the system then reverse engineers a custom tool.
Tess-generated approval drawings show critical tool fit, form, function, dimensions and even depicts the part feature the tool will create.
HOW CUSTOMERS CAN SHORTEN THEIR LEAD TIMES
CUTTING TOOL MAKERS SAY IT takes a group effort to shorten the custom-tooling process, and shops can help. The more correct and complete information a customer supplies at the start of the data-collection process, the faster an order will flow through a cutting tool company's system, says Iscar's Cline.
When contacting a tooling supplier, customers should be ready to specify the type of intended operation, whether the tool is rotating or nonrotating, running dry or with coolant, and what are the specifications of the machine that will be running the tool. Obviously, the type of information a customer should supply changes with the operation and type of the custom tool.
"Often, tool suppliers need to know things that a tool drawing can't provide. For instance, with a custom face-grooving tool, we need to know what the initial plunge diameter is going to be. This information allows us to apply the proper radial sweep to the blade under the tool to avoid any part rubbing," says Cline.
Sandvik recommends approaching the custom-tooling order process from a workpiece/application standpoint. And, depending on the tool's geometry, the company suggests that shops have a skilled tooling engineer on hand.