Going paperless means much more than job travelers and inspection reports

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By staff writer

I get it; books are awesome. But sad as it is to say, it might be time to wheel the dumpster over and get rid of all those tooling catalogs cluttering your bookshelf (be sure to hang on to those old editions of Shop Metalworking Technology, though). Just as smartphones and the internet have changed the way many of us consume written content, so too have they made tooling information easier to access, more current, and above all, smarter.

Programmers have been downloading .DXF and then .STP files of parts and toolholders for nearly as long as Al Gore has claimed credit for inventing the internet. It wasn’t until fairly recently, however, that A) numerous companies began developing robust online portals for access to tooling information, and B) cutting tool manufacturers began adding “metadata” to their tool files. 

What’s metadata? Ask a computer geek. They’ll explain that metadata is “data that describes other data.” In the case of cutting tools, this means feed, speed, and depth of cut (DOC) information, what materials the tools should be used on, where to buy them and how much they cost, and all the other stuff that once took hours each week to look up and was often out of date. So not only does metadata save time and reduce mistakes, it keeps all the shop’s CNC programmers and machinists on the same page. 

One big toolbox

Mike Weldon was once one of these. Now he’s a sales engineer and application specialist for CAM/Digital/PIP Lean at Sandvik Coromant Canada in Ottawa, where he refers to the company’s CoroPlus Tool Library and CoroPlus Tool Guide as two very big drawers in the digital toolbox. “If you need to build a two-inch face mill toolholder assembly today but suspect that you or a colleague built one sometime last month or last year, you can open the library, see if it or something similar is available, and import it into your CAM software,” says Weldon. “Similarly, our tool guide makes it easy to find feed and speed recommendations and quickly determine which tool is best for a given application or material.”

While Weldon might be understandably partial to Sandvik Coromant tooling, he says the CoroPlus Tool Library links to Tools United, a vendor-neutral website that provides a wealth of information on competitors’ tooling, allowing users to “search, download, and source” whatever’s needed to program and machine a job. In either case, a programmer can build and manage complete toolholder assemblies and other tools, then export them in a range of file formats for use in a CAM system or simulation software. 

They’re also able to export a GTC package (generic tool classification), as an introductory white paper from Sandvik Coromant explains in great detail. Simply put, GTC is an attempt to simplify the communication of tool data between vendors and software systems, and complements the ISO 13399 cutting tool standard.  “The GTC package contains all of the information about a given tool, including any CAD models, product and application data…everything,” Weldon says.

There’s just one problem: widespread adoption appears to be a steep climb. “I still see far too many shops that aren’t using technology to their advantage,” he says. “Those who really push the boundaries and do everything they can to think digitally will be the most competitive going forward. Leveraging a tooling portal like this is a great place to start.”

Navigating the storm

“I totally agree on that,” says Brian Baker, product manager for milling and threading at Walter USA LLC, referring to a recurring theme—shops not taking advantage of modern cutting tool technology and, more importantly, not running today’s tools at the recommended cutting parameters. Both of these, he suggests, can be addressed by using the Walter GPS (guided project search) machining navigation system, a downloadable or online software tool that guides users through the cutting tool selection and programming process. 

Walter Tool’s GPS 6.2.5 (guided project search) machining navigation system is a downloadable or online software tool that guides users through the cutting tool selection and programming process. 
Image: Walter Tools

“A lot of people will grab a new drill or end mill and run it where they feel comfortable,” says Baker. “I’ve spent many years in the industry and can’t blame them for doing this, but they’re leaving money on the table by not using these tools at the correct operating parameters.”

Baker’s happy to help them with this exercise, but notes that it’s probably more expedient to log into Walter GPS. As its name suggests, the software guides the user through tool selection based on the operation, material, and machine, then recommends the proper application parameters. And for certain operations—thread milling, for instance—Walter GPS will write the NC code. “I’ve worked with numerous companies that also use it as a very advanced calculator for job quoting, even if they’re not using our tools exclusively.”

Laying the bricks

Jeff Stoesser, project manager and application coordinator at Ontario-based Iscar Tools Inc., has similar advice. The company’s ITA (Iscar Tool Advisor) also makes application recommendations based on the user selecting the appropriate machine and material values. With that is Iscar’s eCatalog, which is fully integrated with its ITA, and offers the “toolbox” capabilities mentioned earlier. 

Iscar’s eCatalog is fully integrated with its ITA (Iscar Tool Advisor), simplifying tool selection and procurement. 
Image: Iscar Tool

So do other options, such as Kennametal’s NOVO solution, Tungaloy’s TUNG-Navi, the Seco assistant, and others, not to mention third-party systems like MachiningCloud (and, as already discussed, Tools United). Each offers varying levels of tool information as well as integration with different CAM software and tool management platforms. To date, there is no universal industry solution and perhaps there never will be, although the ISO 13399 standard likely provides the most comprehensive roadmap to bringing the machining industry closer to universal tooling harmony. 

Until that glorious day, many shops will continue to reach for the paper catalog or use whatever values the programmer feels most comfortable with that day. And yet, more and more machine shops are beginning to see the value of climbing aboard the digital train. 

“It admittedly takes some time to set up in terms of what machine tools you have and the materials you’re cutting, but that’s true for any manufacturing software system,” says Stoesser. “Once you’ve laid the groundwork, though, it works very well. So while the number of shops taking the digital route is still hit and miss, some customers use it religiously—especially those doing toolpath simulation and those pursuing an integrated, standardized tooling strategy. These are the ones seeing the greatest success in today’s environment.” SMT

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