How to Maximize Tool Life in CNC Work
Maximizing tool life is an important aspect of CNC work. Its a given that all tools experience wear and will eventually fail as long as theyre continuing to be used, but managing that lifespan to get the most out of the tool can make a significant difference in driving your overall efficiency and profitability.
Here is a closer look at what tool life is, how it is best determined, and some considerations for maximizing it within your own shop environment.
What Is Tool Life?
Tool life refers to the full useful life of a machine tool. It is typically expressed in the number of good parts a tool can produce before failing or beginning to develop out-of-spec parts.
How Is Tool Life Determined?
The way tool life is best determined today looks quite a bit different than it did several years ago.
Back then, part counts could be logged until a tool failed or began developing out-of-spec parts. You could then take the average of those part counts and use it to establish a threshold for the total lifespan of the tool.
You could also use the machine tool OEMs provided part count (if one was provided) to establish the cadence for proper tool changeover.
While these methods were the best option available in previous decades, they are not as precise as we would like to see in todays CNC space. They often led to tools being either underutilized (replaced before reaching the end of their life) or overutilized (resulting in an excess of scrap parts and downtime).
Today, relying on machine tool data to determine changeover cadence is a much more accurate and reliable option used widely by the majority of professional shops.
What Factors Impact Tool Life?
There are a number of leading factors that have the greatest impact on how long a tool can be of use. These include:
- The type of material being worked on
- The material of the tool itself
- The type of cut
- Speed and feed rates
- Cut depth
- Vibration during cutting
- Level and frequency of tool maintenance
- And more
How Can I Maximize My Tool Life?
There are various ways to go about making the most of your tools lifespan.
Tip #1: Use Proper Feeds and Speeds
Using proper feeds and speeds is not only critical to the quality and efficiency of your work, but it also has a major impact on tool life. Actual cutting time should certainly always be a consideration, but using proper feeds and speeds can extend your tool life even more.
Tip #2: Apply Cutting Fluid
The cutting process generates a tremendous amount of heat, as metal works against metal to complete the job. This makes using the right amount and type of cutting fluid particularly essential in prolonging the life of your tool.
Tip #3: Avoid Re-Cutting Chips
Chips serve an important purpose in CNC work, helping carry away much of the excess heat generated during cutting. However, its important that the settings are correct so as to prevent re-cutting chips, which can result in increased flank wear, crater wear, and other issues.
Tip #4: Control Runout and Deflection
The age of your equipment can have a big effect on runout. Automated tool-holders help ensure proper positioning and securing of the tool. Runout on older machines often comes from misaligning or securing the center of the tool shaft relative to the centerline of the central axis, which can also result in scrapped parts and a shortened tool life.
Deflection is also a concern that must be controlled. As heat builds up during cutting, tremendous forces are at play as material characteristics affect both the tool and the workpiece. Chips that are formed as metal is removed push back as they build up, which can bend or deflect the tool if everything is not properly set up.
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