You’re Buying That New Lathe … Some Tooling Tips

For those shops that are just getting started with live tools, guest columnist Preben Hansen of Heimatec shares this short primer on tooling that will assist you in equipping your next machines.  

When any metalworking manufacturing facility, whether captive or job shop, makes the substantial investment in a new lathe, they are often looking for ways to streamline their manufacturing process. The smarter you are when choosing the live tools for your job, the more efficient the machine becomes. Finding a supplier of live tools who offers high-quality, high-performance products that will allow you more flexibility on the first big job and into the future in your operation is the key.

The first tool feature to consider is the output needed. Standard ER output or quick-change? Do you need coolant thru the tool capabilities? Does the tool meet your requirements for precision and performance, including the necessary torque output to complement the machine? Are the tools designed according to the specifications of the lathe manufacturer

When you look at an ER output, does it give you enough flexibility or do you need a more flexible machining system that will allow you to use the same tool for different applications?  If more flexibility is required, then you may want to consider tooling with a system that features adapters for a variety of tools without the cost of new complete toolholder assemblies for each tool needed. However, when you look at such systems, be sure they feature a rigid polygon drive system design to prevent power transmission and alignment issues.

Such systems seem appealing, because the live tool stays in place and only the adapter and collet get changed out with each new tool. However, less sophisticated – though inexpensive – systems will compromise the accuracy of your work. At that point, the few dollars saved will mean very little compared to the scrap and downtime resulting. If changeover time is critical, such as when working on a family of parts, the option of a true quick-change system might be more beneficial. Adapters can be set offline and ready to go for minimal changeover time.


A demonstration of Heimatec live tools on a Nakamura WY 250.

When coolant-thru tools are selected, it is imperative that you first check the machine specifications to be sure your tool is capable of handling the coolant pressure of the machine. In general, your internal coolant live tools should be able to handle 1,000 psi or more. If your live tool is constructed with large, high accuracy bearings, the tool will have excellent rigidity and premium cutting performance, with minimal runout (0.0002 in or 0.006 mm is a desirable goal).

The bearings, combined with ground, paired and high accuracy gears, make for tools that are consistent and long lasting. Bore tolerance is absolutely key in maintaining proper bearing load and this factor should never be compromised.

You should also consider the many applications that can be accomplished with the proper live tool. You can purchase speed increasers for higher rpm, gear reducers for added torque, adjustable angle tools for compound angles, multiple-spindle tools for additional capacity, or gear hobbing tools for spline or gear cutting. Most of those items are standard catalog devices, but one more piece of advice: never shy away from the custom tool, when appropriate and justified by the job you have in-shop today, as well as the ones you might have tomorrow.

A good tooling supplier will work with you to produce custom tools at reasonable prices, but the supplier must be very reliable, so look for one with grinding, finishing and perhaps even heat treating in-house or very closely monitored, to do such work. Be certain the supplier has local support and tools can be repaired or reworked quickly and correctly.

The workpiece materials are always a driver. Those of you doing medical machining know this well. To be blunt, buying a less expensive or lower featured tool to work cobalt chromium and titanium is a really bad idea. On a practical level, always check the supplier for inventory and source of supply. When your customers are demanding faster response times and more cost off-loading, you can and should expect the same from your tooling supplier. Likewise, application and engineering assistance should be available from local sources to support your tool choices.

The bottom line is the bottom line for most of us today. However, always consider the impact of future jobs when purchasing tooling systems for your new and existing lathes. What might seem a bargain might not be after that first big job is completed. DIN and ABEC standards are the norm in industry and your supplier should be willing to supply all necessary documentation upon request. Shortcuts on quality are never, repeat never, worth the short-term savings.

I hope this short primer on tooling will assist you in equipping your next machines.

Preben Hansen

Preben Hansen is the president of Heimatec, Inc.,16 East Piper Lane, Suite 121, Prospect Heights, IL 60070, 847-749-0633, Fax: 847-749-2445, phansen@heimatecinc.com, www.heimatecinc.com.

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