by Mary Scianna
As cutting tool data management moves further into the digital world, what does it mean for
your machining operations?
Imagine receiving a request to machine a complex geometrical component made from a high temperature exotic alloy.
Uncertain about the most effective way to machine it, you access an online database of information with tips, techniques and best practices. You give your NC programmer the part specs and CAD graphics, and he then inputs the information into a software program that uses the cloud to access current machining data to automatically calculate the processes to machine the part, the types of cutting tools and toolholders required, the speeds and feeds at which to run each tool, and then assembles the tooling system in a CAD software program and runs it through a CAM machining simulation program to verify the data. The data is then sent to your point-of-use inventory management system to check available tooling. This cutting tool vending system is also connected, via the cloud, to your online data management system. It not only tracks who is using different tools and on what machines, it also tracks tooling inventory and automatically re-orders tooling to maintain inventory levels.
Whether your machine shop is ready for it or not, cutting tool data management is moving quickly into the digital world. And with it come many benefits, perhaps the most important being that it optimizes the time it takes a shop to move from the design stages to the shop floor, ready to machine the part.
Despite the reticence some manufacturers may feel about the growing move toward the digitalization of cutting tools, suppliers Shop Metalworking Technology contacted for this story say manufacturers shouldn’t be nervous about adopting digital technologies.
“I’ve been in manufacturing for 40 years and I’ve seen designers with draft boards creating blueprints by hand,” says Clovis Mansour, process development team leader with Sandvik Coromant Canada, which offers an online tooling catalogue, CoroGuide, currently undergoing a revamp, and AutoTAS, an inventory management system. “It’s a bit of a culture shock for some people, but there is a definite advantage in going digital because it makes a job easier and also produces a better product more efficiently.”
It is also a good return on investment, adds Tim Marlatt, Matrix systems manager for CTMS, the tool management business unit of IMC Group, the parent company of Iscar, Ingersoll and Tungaloy.
“This is about a better ROI for manufacturers because there’s less pressure on them and more pressure on tooling manufacturers who are picking up the ball and providing the services and the information they had to do themselves, which took up a lot of time and the return for them with this new technology is huge.”
For the past five to six years, tooling manufacturers have focused on the productivity of tooling, “but tooling represents only three per cent of the total cost to machine a part and the bigger focus now is on that 97 per cent which is to increase overall productivity and all of that is done through the digitalization of information,” adds Marlatt.
By supplying complete tooling data and process knowledge electronically, it saves process planners, cost estimators and manufacturing engineers with “countless hours of catalogue lookups and process guesswork, says Katie Richardson, program director for Kennametal’s NOVO system, launched in 2013 and now available on PCs and tablet devices.
The most significant advantage for manufacturers working with digital cutting tool management systems is access to unprecedented volumes of data about how to machine a part from the design stage right to the shop floor, but it is also the biggest challenge for cutting tool suppliers.
The challenge lies in digitally integrating the reams of information from inventory management systems with cloud-enabled digital tooling and cutting process data.
“Getting internal data in order is a big challenge,” says Ben Alexander, service owner for Seco’s My Pages, an online digital portal for product data and technical information. “With over 30,000 standard products, it’s not easy to instantly provide cutting data and related attributes with CAD drawings. With launches of multiple products every few months, how do you keep up to date? It’s a big challenge and it changes the way a [tooling] company works from producing a print catalogue every few years to having accurate and up-to-date information available 24/7.”
“We’re moving toward adding more connectivity with third party software that connects inventory management systems with a company’s ERP system,” says CTMS’ Marlatt. “We’re also working on cloud-based services that allow you to integrate online tooling catalogues, such as Iscar’s Tooling Advisor (ITA), with tool management systems in the shop, but it’s ongoing work because we’re dealing with so much data and we need to ensure we’re providing customers with accurate information.”
Indeed, Sandvik Coromant’s Clovis Mansour says the full integration of information is the next big challenge for cutting tool suppliers.
“We will never stop improving these systems. These systems are designed to save a programmer time and get them to where they need to be much more efficiently, especially with harder to cut materials like heat resistance alloys. Cutting data is very important; how to choose the speeds and feeds, the toolpath, etc., all the information is there but we need to build it under one roof. We’re almost there, which is correlating CAD systems, tool management, tool design and tool cutter selection.”
Bringing it all together
One company that says it has achieved this integration between inventory management systems and cloud-enabled digital tooling and process information is Kennametal. It recently announced it has combined its vending system ToolBoss, with its online digital tooling system, NOVO. ToolBoss users on the cloud with the latest software version can now use NOVO to see if an item proposed for a process plan is available in the tool inventory. “By adding ToolBoss credentials to their user profile, customers easily check the inventory in their local ToolBoss units with their developing process plans, says Daniel Gillig, global services ToolBoss manager at Kennametal. “They’re better able to visualize items already in their shop.”
John Jacko, Kennametal’s VP and CEO says customers can “expect a 20 to 50 per cent time savings in quoting, programming, set-up and machining processes compared to traditional fragmented approaches requiring high levels of skills in the area of tool selection, application and data integration.”
One step further
“The digitalization of cutting tools is more than just cutting parameters and associated attributes,” says Seco’s Ben Alexander. While the company offers similar data to its competitors, such as cloud-enabled tooling advisors and inventory management systems, the company says it’s gone one step further in creating a more collaborative type cloud-enabled environment for manufacturers.
“We’re looking to collaborate with our customers using all of these tools about cutting data,” says Alexander. “We’re working on providing access to customer relationship management tools that gives them access to data, such as cutting tool test reports and sales force visit plans. A lot of effort goes into tool advisors and cutting tool data systems and while we have this information, we also recognize we have a lot of knowledge with cutting tools and we want to share that with customers.”
A good example of this knowledge sharing is the “Threading Wizard” tool on My Pages which guides users by asking them to select specific data to input and then automatically recommends a threading product and generates a CNC code to import into the machine.
Security in the cloud?
Many manufacturers are hesitant to manage sensitive data in the cloud but in reality, “people would be surprised to learn how much data is managed this way,” says CTMS’ Marlatt.
Indeed, Kennametal’s Katie Richardson says the company is “leveraging the latest cloud security to protect information,” noting that it has “determined it is secure for the purposes of sharing tooling application knowledge. Our customer support teams are using NOVO to field technical questions.”
A key component of that security is Machining Cloud GmbH, a Swiss-based company that is partnering with several tooling suppliers (e.g. Widia, Kennametal, Iscar, Paul Horn GmbH, Command Tooling Systems and Raptor Workholding) to provide the ability for cloud-enabled cutting tool data management via a neutral digital platform. Through the Machining Cloud technology, cutting tool suppliers’ product data, usage and application knowledge, is readily available to power CAM systems, simulation and tool management software, cutting tool presetters, machine tools and other shop equipment, according to the company. SMT