The old proverb tells us that a bad workman always blames his tools. There’s some truth in that, but it’s also true that the finest craftsmen in the world can be held back by substandard equipment. Why else would people have their own toolboxes? Why is there a hammer or screwdriver that just seems to have the right heft and which we mourn the loss of should we accidentally leave it behind on a job?
Good tools contribute to good results. That’s true whether we’re talking about a screwdriver, a spirit level or cutting tools on a CNC machine. Yes, you do need a good workman, but with CNC technology the tools are crucial. One of elumatec’s UK based technical experts describes tooling as being the place where the rubber meets the road, clarifying that by saying the best sports car in the world would be no fun to drive if fitted with the incorrect tyres. It’s an analogy that anyone who drives will understand.
Penny wise, pound foolish
Like all our team, he knows his stuff, but he can be vocal, especially when he sees a business being held back by poor choices. He points out that companies make significant investments in CNC machinery and its installation. They make provision in their budgets for training, but they can start being a bit tight when it comes to tooling. Unfortunately, that penny pinching doesn’t pay off. It’s the high-performance super car with the bargain basement tyre. You’ll never be able to experience what it can do.
While I’d like to include every feature of our machinery as being ‘essential’, somewhat controversially, our technical expert says that the most important part of any CNC machine is the tooling and the feed rates chosen. He justifies his view as follows: “You might be able to make parts easily and with consistent accuracy, but there’s more to it than that. Could your accuracy be even better? Could you produce the components faster?”
Without good quality cutters, the answer is no. You can have the best machine on the market, you can put it under the control of an experienced operative but using poor cutters will always return poor results.
The right tooling
As well as choosing poor quality tooling, there’s another pitfall that holds back too many manufacturers: using the same tool for different operations. Tools have specific functions and are designed for machining different materials. You wouldn’t use a Torx head screwdriver on a Phillips head screw, but some users still expect tooling to be universal.
A thorough appraisal of the operations you perform on your machine and careful selection of the right tools can reap huge rewards. In initial outlay terms, it might cost a little more to acquire the correct high-quality tooling, but like the CNC machine itself, tooling should be considered an investment. Better quality tooling not only lasts longer but is also better for the machine it’s used on, preventing wear and tear and ultimately prolonging its lifespan. It can also reduce machining times, and by reducing machining noise, make the shopfloor a safer and more comfortable place to work.
It’s about optimisation – using one correct tool and one operation for the result you need, rather than using an incorrect tool and then fettling the result. Too much time is squandered on secondary processes such as deburring. What’s needed is a focus on eliminating waste, avoiding rejects and getting every component machined right the first time.
Picking the right tooling
I asked the aforementioned technical expert to list the key things to look for. He simplified it. 1. Is the tool length right for the operation being performed? and 2. Is the tool material right for the material you’re machining? It’s sound advice that should be easy enough to remember, but when juggling the day-to-day demands of a busy operation, it’s easy to forget the importance of details. People make do and mend, rather than fixing a problem.
I’m suggesting that, right now, before you do anything else, you should ask yourself whether you are compromising your operation by using the wrong tooling.
If you are, or if you’re unsure, we will gladly help. Our production engineers are here to advise you of the best tooling, feed rates and programming methods to get the very most from your CNC machinery. That’s true whether you purchased your machinery 12 months or 12 years ago. Forget the proverb. To do a good job, you need good tools. We’ve got them.