Cutting Tool Engineering
July 2011 / Volume 63 / Issue 7

Limited Engagement

By Bill Kennedy, Contributing Editor

Courtesy of B. Kennedy

Advances in machine tool technology, tooling and software facilitate high-productivity milling strategies.

In milling, metal-removal rate is calculated by multiplying the radial WOC times the axial DOC times the feed rate (ipm). Advances in machine tool technology, tooling and software enable manipulation of those parameters to maximize productivity.

A traditional approach to maximizing mrr when milling involves combining radial engagement (WOC or step-over) of 25 to 50 percent of the cutter diameter with axial engagement or DOC of 25 to 50 percent. According to Craig Segerlin, owner and president of consulting firm Performance Tooling Solutions, Browns-town, Mich., that approach has historically produced acceptable results, but can generate heavy and uneven radial cutting forces. This can produce unpredictable tool wear and stress on the machine tool spindle and other components.

An alternative and more productive strategy involves reducing the radial engagement of the milling cutter while simultaneously increasing both the feed rate and cutting speed. The resulting cut is lighter and faster, producing a higher mrr and reducing forces on the cutting tool and machine, according to Segerlin. Despite the higher cutting speeds, heat is reduced because the engagement time for the cutter edge is short and it spends more time cooling in the air.

However, reduced radial engagement also reduces the thickness of the chips produced when milling. Excessive chip thinning can be a problem. When a cut is too light, the milling tooth or endmill flute rubs instead of shears the workpiece, creating additional heat and reducing tool life. A too-thin chip also loses the ability to act as a heat sink that carries damaging heat from the tool and workpiece.

Courtesy of Methods Machine Tools

A double-face-contact spindle that locates the tool both on the taper and the face of the spindle, such as this one on a Feeler machining center from Methods Machine Tools, provides added radial stiffness for operations that generate significant side loads, such as milling.

To regain sufficient chip thickness after reducing radial engagement, it is necessary to increase the chip load on the milling tool’s cutting edges. Segerlin provided an example: when a 0.500 "-dia. cutter is taking a 0.250 " radial WOC, the cutter engagement is 50 percent and the arc of the cut is 90°. Assuming the cutter is taking a 0.002 " chip load, the chip thickness at 50 percent cutter engagement is also 0.002 ". If the radial WOC is reduced to 0.010 " (1⁄25 of 0.250 "), the arc of cut becomes 3.6º (1⁄25 of 90º). To maintain the chip thickness of 0.002 " at a 0.010 " radial WOC, the chip load can be increased 3.5 times, to 0.007 ".

That can be accomplished by increasing the feed rate. Then, because cutting speed is also a factor in determining chip load (chip load per tooth × No. teeth × rpm = feed rate [ipm]), cutting speed can be increased as well. Segerlin said reduction in radial WOC to 5 to 10 percent of the cutter diameter can be accompanied by a cutting speed two to three times faster and a feed five to seven times faster to achieve a three to five times greater chip load.

Limited radial engagement also greatly reduces side loads on the cutter, permitting use of the endmill’s entire cutting edge (axial DOC), Segerlin said. Because mrr is determined by the product of the radial WOC, axial DOC and feed rate, the increased DOC directly boosts the volume of metal removed. Segerlin calls this approach “high-efficiency productive machining,” or HEPM. (See sidebar below for details on an application of this strategy.)

Machine Tool Considerations

According to Segerlin, in some cases the low-radial-engagement strategy can enable a less-powerful machine tool to produce results rivaling those of a more powerful one, depending on the workpiece material. Even though a typical 50-taper machine may have more horsepower than a 40-taper machine, the smaller machine may be capable of higher spindle speeds and therefore is better able to achieve the lighter, faster cuts characteristic of the strategy.

Michael Minton, national application engineering manager for Methods Machine Tools Inc., Sudbury, Mass., said taking a smaller radial WOC at higher spindle speeds and feed rates “provides an opportunity to look at alternative strategies as opposed to traditional methods where you might bury the tool and take a big, heavy cut.” He agreed that this method reduces the load on the machine tool, and could allow a lighter-duty machine tool to achieve higher productivity.

However, he said, the existence of such strategies shouldn’t be the only influence on machine tool purchasing decisions. “My belief is you buy the right machine for the job,” he said, noting that each application is unique, and machine buyers should consider machine construction features that facilitate execution of their particular operations.

For example, he said, “A double-face-contact spindle, locating the tool on both the taper and the face of the spindle, gives you better radial stiffness.” That quality may be less important when drilling, but is critical when side loads like those generated in milling are involved. Minton said double-face contact spindles are standard even on Method’s commodity-based, value-priced Feeler machining centers.

Adopting new strategies also involves open-mindedness on the part of machine users, Minton said. “There are some progressive thinkers who routinely think outside the box,” he said, “but many just want to continue doing things the way they always have.”

Minton described an application “where we were cutting nickel-base alloy with a cobalt endmill at low machining parameters. We were running about 115 rpm and 1 ipm,” he said. “We offered to demonstrate something different: how to take that same cut in less time for less money. We might take that cut in eight passes at 40 ipm or even 16 passes at 40 ipm and would still be significantly faster, while putting a lot less wear on the spindle and the tool, and a lot less stress on the part. The best way to sell that technology is by showing customers how it applies to their end products.”

Bill Howard, vertical machining center product manager for Makino Inc., Mason, Ohio, said with low-engagement strategies, “because you are taking basically a smaller bite and running at higher speed, the approach may require less horsepower and torque. But the machine still must be rigid and accurate.”

SPindle with chips in roughing mold cut.tif
Courtesy of Makino

Compared to milling strategies that involve large radial engagement of a milling cutter in the workpiece, a much lighter engagement combined with simultaneous increases in feed rate and cutting speed results in a light, fast cut that produces a high mrr as well as reduced forces on the cutting tool and machine.

To assure a fine surface finish, every cutting pass must precisely match the one that preceded it. The considerations are the same at the end of each pass. “If you have a really loose or weak machine, you overshoot, then the cut is not going to end where it is supposed to,” Howard said. He compared the situation to a racecar rounding a curve: “If there is too much play in the steering, you are constantly fighting to keep control of the car, at speed, through the turn.”

Speaking of machines for high-speed, accurate operation, Howard cited Makino’s F-series VMCs. Among the VMCs’ features are ballscrews with an 8mm pitch rather the more common 16mm pitch. The finer-pitch screw provides 8mm of axial linear movement per rotation, compared to 16mm per rotation with the more coarse pitch. The finer pitch ballscrews combined with digital servos allow the smaller axial movement to be divided into much finer increments and “help that racecar get around the corner at higher speeds,” Howard said.

Paired with the mechanical elements of the machines are the “brains behind that movement,” according to Howard, namely the super geometric intelligence (SGI.4) technology that Makino reports is engineered for high-feed, tight-tolerance machining of complex, 3-D, contoured shapes. SGI.4 anticipates changes in axis motion, servo lag or following error in rapid toolpath changes and compensates in advance to maximize toolpath accuracy. According to the company, the 3-D compensation lets the machine follow toolpaths on mold contours and complex geometries, even at feed rates five or more times higher than conventional machines.

High-Feed Tools

To take advantage of high-productivity milling strategies, tool manufacturers have developed various high-feed cutters. Bill Fiorenza, die and mold line product manager for Ingersoll Cutting Tools, Rockford, Ill., said the purpose of a high-feed cutter is to increase the feed rate and take a lighter DOC, leveraging the chip thinning process and driving the cutting forces up through the center of the spindle. In general, the tools generate consistent chip loads and minimize chatter, protecting cutting edges and extending tool life. Specific high-feed geometries vary, Fiorenza said, “but, in essence, the high-feed cutter typically is a high-lead-angle, straight-edge cutter or a rounded triangular shape.”

On the high-lead-angle side, Ingersoll offers SP6H/SP6N S-Max facemills with inserts inclined at an almost-horizontal 80° lead angle. As the lead angle increases, chip thickness shrinks because the chip is spread over a greater length of the cutting edge. To regain sufficient chip thickness, the feed rate must increase. The aggressive lead angle on the S-Max mills results in chip thinning that requires feed rates as much as five times higher than 0° lead angle cutters.

Tom Noble, MAXline product manager, described the benefits of high lead angles in terms of mrr. He used an example of a 0° lead angle tool running in P-20 mold steel at a 0.150 " to 0.200 " DOC and a chip load of 0.010 " to 0.012 ". Switching to an 80° lead angle tool, “You are going to be taking a little bit lighter depth of cut, from 0.060 " to 0.070 ", but you may be running at a feed rate of 0.060 " per tooth, the result of using that five times chip thinning factor. Now, when you look at the cubic inches per minute that you are removing, they are four, five or six times what they were with a 0° lead tool.” Noble emphasized that the feed rate multiplier will not be as large for tools operating at greater than three times length-to-tool-diameter ratios in order to minimize side loads.

Courtesy of Ingersoll Cutting Tools

As the milling tool’s cutting edge lead angle increases, chip thickness shrinks. Ingersoll Cutting Tool’s SP6H/SP6N S-Max facemills have inserts inclined at an almost-horizontal 80º lead angle, which results in chip thinning that requires feed rates as much as five times higher than 0º lead angle cutters.

Fiorenza said high-feed strategies can also be used with traditional button cutters, where the chip volume is spread over the longer, round cutting edge, producing a thinner chip at lighter depths of cut (in the range of 0.020 " to 0.050 "). “Basically, you can run a button cutter as a high-feed mill; just take a lighter DOC,” he said. But, Fiorenza added, high-feed cutters generally will do a better job than button cutters because they typically have a small corner radius and lower radial contact. The complicating factor with round inserts is that the chip load varies in relation to the DOC.

To calculate how much of a button cutter should be radially engaged in the cut, Fiorenza advises subtracting the insert inscribed circle dimension from the cutter diameter measurement, then multiplying that value times by 60 or 65 percent. For example, using ½ " IC inserts in a 4 "-dia. cutter, the cutter diameter (4 ") minus the insert IC (½ ") equals 3½ ". Sixty percent of 3½ " yields a radial engagement value of 2.1 ". Fiorenza said the formula “generally works very well.” He added that that centerline cutting (engaging exactly half the cutter diameter) is not recommended because the cutting edges tend to slap the workpiece material instead of arcing into it, but approaching it closely, as in this example, is usually acceptable and can significantly aid in achieving higher feed rates.

Programming Solutions

As speeds and feeds become more aggressive, taking full advantage of light-engagement milling strategies “is related to tooling, the machine tool, the control and the setups,” said Tom Raun, industry project specialist, Iscar Metals Inc., Arlington, Texas. When cutting at high radial engagements, “The limitations were pretty much on the cutting tool; how hard can you feed the tool before you break it?” On the other hand, when combining light radial step-overs with high feeds and speeds, “There is a transition where you go from the limitation being the cutting tool to the limitation being the machine tool—how fast can it go?” he said.

In the original low-engagement strategies, he said, “The focus was on overcoming chip thinning, and it was easy to find the feed rate you needed to get back up to an average chip thickness that made sense for the tool. But increasing the cutting speed at the same time wasn’t really considered.” Now, Raun added, shops are in “uncharted territory” because machines with higher-speed spindles allow speed to rise in parallel with feed, and the upper limits of machine capability are not clear.

As a result, Iscar researched how to standardize light-engagement milling. Raun said: “We locked down the radial engagement to a number between 5 and 10 percent, and used that as our benchmark to find out, in a given material, just how much faster we can go. In many cases, that is dictated by how fast the machine will allow us to go. We are running into situations with machine tools purchased without available high-speed options, and they can’t take advantage of the light-radial, full-depth approach because the machines can’t smoothly and quickly create the required tool motion.”

In the light-engagement R&D process, Raun said, “We built up the knowledge and data until we felt we had good benchmark information to put into a programming system.” Then Iscar teamed with CNC Software Inc., Tolland, Conn., developer of Mastercam CAM software. Mastercam contained sets of toolpaths engineered to take advantage of the light-radial, high-axial approach. “Their Dynamic Milling toolpaths are all about maintaining control of the engagement of the cutting tool,” Raun said. When Mastercam users pick a Dynamic Toolpath, they can enhance the toolpath for light radial applications by activating a function within the toolpath known as Iscar HEM. This is done by choosing from a specific Iscar library of tools provided in Mastercam X5.  Once a tool is selected and the programmer inputs starting speed and feed parameters (traditional slotting parameters), the software recommends speeds and feeds based on stored data from Iscar R&D. “There is a slider bar inside the toolpath dialog box that takes care of all the calculations for radial chip thinning and speed increases,” Raun said.

According to Steve Bertrand, Mastercam’s director of international sales/strategic partnerships, “This no-fail approach ensures that the tool is applied correctly and that users can realize the greatest benefit from their machine, cutting tool and software.”

To this point, Iscar’s R&D effort has focused on supporting milling common P and M (steels and stainless steels) ISO workpiece material groups. Raun said work continues in exotics, such as aerospace-grade materials. (See Dr. Scott Smith’s column, “Machining strategies for difficult materials,” in the February CTE.)

Courtesy of Iscar

Iscar’s Chatter Free line of endmills feature variable-pitch flutes to dampen chatter in high-speed operation and facilitate high-productivity milling.

Raun noted that Iscar has narrowed the focus for light-engagement milling to two tooling lines. One is the company’s CF (chatter-free) tools with variable-pitch flutes to dampen chatter in high-speed operations. The other is a new “All-In-One” offering, called that because it combines different technologies in one tool. The tool tip has a high-feed geometry to handle entry into the cut, while the flutes have variable pitch to control chatter. The flutes also possess a series of serrations that split the long chips common in pocketing and channeling. Combined, the technologies promote smooth, productive high-speed milling while controlling tool wear, according to Iscar.

Simplicity is the key to acceptance of new manufacturing strategies such as light-engagement milling. “Something that is not easily programmable will not take hold,” Raun said. “This light engagement approach would not be happening without software like Dynamic Milling. You wouldn’t be able to efficiently program complex toolpaths.” CTE

About the Author: Bill Kennedy, based in Latrobe, Pa., is a contributing editor for CTE. He has an extensive background as a technical writer. Contact him at (724) 537-6182 or at


BTM Corp.
(810) 364-4567

CNC Software Inc.
(800) 228-2877

Ingersoll Cutting Tools
(815) 387-6600

Iscar Metals Inc.
(817) 258-3200

Makino Inc.
(513) 573-7200

Methods Machine Tools Inc.
(877) 668-4262

Performance Tooling Solutions
(972) 632-7042

Courtesy of BTM

BTM milling department leader Tony Weber (left) and Craig Segerlin discuss the benefits of Segerlin’s HEPM low-radial, high-axial engagement milling strategy.

Locked in and ready to go

BTM Corp., Marysville, Mich., took advantage of light-engagement milling technologies to boost mrr, cut cycle times and extend tool life.

The company makes Tog-L-Lok systems, a patented method for joining pieces of sheet metal, and builds machines that apply the systems for production. “If you tear your washing machine apart at home tonight, I’ll bet there are Tog-L-Lok joints in it,” said Tony Weber, BTM milling department leader.

In addition to making its own products, BTM performs contract machining. One military job involved two sizes of blind end caps made of 17-4 PH stainless steel. The parts were approximately 7 "×7 " and 7 "×9 " square and 15⁄8 " and 21⁄8 " thick. The workpiece material was available only as round 9 "-dia. and 10 "-dia. stock, so BTM had to mill it square. “The operation is heavy in points because of that factor,” Weber said.

The stock is bolted in a Mazak Ultra 650 horizontal machining center. Initially, BTM used a 3 "-dia. facemill at 280 sfm and 14.95 ipm with a radial WOC of 1.78 " and an axial DOC of 0.200 ". “It was an insertable facemill with seven inserts,” Weber said. “We were nibbling it off.”

At those parameters, the cutter removed 5.32 in.3/min., and a total of 1,639 in.3 before the inserts required replacement after 308 minutes of machining. Machining one cap required 14 passes and consumed 22 minutes.

Craig Segerlin of Performance Tooling Solutions recommended replacing the facemill with a 0.750 "-dia. solid-carbide Iscar endmill. The endmill ran at 600 sfm and 130 ipm, with a radial DOC of 0.050 " and an axial DOC of 1.78 ". Before the endmill required replacement after 336 minutes of machining, it removed a total of 3,888 in.3 at a rate of 11.57 in.3/min. Machining a part required 42 passes, but cutting time per part was only 8 minutes. “Chip load per tooth went up, and then we took full axial depth,” Weber said. “Basically the endmill just kept going around and around and around in a square shape. You drop in full depth, and then you start racing around the part; you go around it quite fast. We were removing more material faster, and the tool also lasted longer.”

—B. Kennedy

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