Automotive Cutting Tools
by Tim Wilson
Now that the automotive industry is back in gear, the new manufacturing environment is proving itself to be highly competitive, with improvements occurring in all areas, including materials and tooling.
Cutting processes specific to automotive parts are adjusting to lighter weight metals and alloys, and they are performing in a far more demanding environment.
“One of the key driving forces we are seeing in the automotive sector is light weighting,” says Steve Rodgers, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA). “We are noticing more use of aluminum, and also some new magnesium alloys.”
These are not materials that tool makers and manufacturers are unfamiliar with, but they do change some processes and outcomes. They can deliver greater formability with stamped panels, for example, and make laser welding more common.
“A bigger issue is that a lot of these parts are being processed on CNC machines, with advances in 3D solid model components going direct from design to machining centres.” says Rodgers. “There is more opportunity to control heat at the cutting surface because of today’s technology; a machinist can better handle the machine speed coming into a curve to maintain accuracy.”
In the automotive sector, one big player on the tooling side is Kyocera, a Japanese multinational with over $15 billion in annual revenue. A company of this size has deep pockets to invest in innovation.
“The largest percentage of our business is automotive,” says Eric Jenkins, a senior applications engineer with Kyocera, Hendersonville, NC. “We are introducing products that allow our customers to run at faster cutting speeds to reduce cycle times and save costs, or simply to increase the longevity of the tool.”
Kyocera has its MegaCoat technology, with the most recent addition, the PV7025 PVD-coated cermet grade of indexable cutting tool inserts. “This is a PVD process that is exclusive to Kyocera,” says Jenkins. “The chemical composition makes it physically harder than titanium aluminum nitride, or TiAlN.”
Such developments apply to the automotive sector, where leading
high volume, precision, automotive parts makers like Guelph,
ON-based Linamar, have found that innovation on the tooling side has made a big difference.
“We are getting excited about the newer versions of DLC, or ‘diamond-like coating’”, says Hussain Ansari, senior tooling engineer at Linamar. “I have some test tools in our machines right now.”
Linamar has excelled by keeping up with, and driving change within the highly competitive automotive sector.
“There is a lot of pressure to compete,” says Larry Walsh, operations manager–prototypes. “We win through high speed machining to yield higher production outputs: high speed spindles, balanced tools, advanced cutting tools–all of these are necessary to stay in front.”
For Linamar, part of embracing change in the competitive automotive sector is building internal capabilities that ensure it can support its customers and respond to market fluctuations. The company’s Frank Hasenfratz Centre of Excellence in Manufacturing, where Walsh works, fits into this strategy.
“We are a development centre, for both people and processes” says Walsh. “We push the limits. In support of this, we design and build advanced workholding fixtures for Linamar. We can turnaround a high performance cast iron based fixture in about eight weeks.
On the tooling side Linamar can solve some of the simpler problems on its own; it has tool makers in its plants and utilizes them for things such as boring bars.
“We also have tool rooms that can make multi-pocket tools,” says Walsh. “We will use them as a stop-gap when we’re in a crunch while we wait for long lead-times tool. Our focus is to service our customers as quickly and effectively as we can.”
All this can help out in special situations, but it is the company’s deep relationships with tool vendors that keeps its performance on the cutting edge. Linamar works with brand name vendors such as Kennametal, Komet, and Sandvik Coromant developing longer term tooling strategies.
“Our vendors have the knowledge base and R&D dollars to work on modern-day cutting tools–we rely on them for that,” says Walsh.
These vendors are delivering technologies that are moving the automotive sector into a new era of innovation. Lower cost carbide tools are being replaced by tools that can deliver longer life and consistency in more demanding environments.
“Lengthening tool life helps us make a more consistent part more reliably,” says Walsh.
Manufacturing suppliers must respond to demand for tighter tolerance requirements being dictated by the auto makers. These tools must also deliver in increasingly stressful application environments.
“The future is here and it is in high speed machining,” says Ansari. “There are machines coming out with extremely high rpm. It is not uncommon to see 40,000 rpm machines out there these days. To run tooling at those speeds you need specialty tooling and tool balancing equipment in-house.”
Although it is not a new issue, Ansari say there are also challenges with porosity when machining aluminum castings–air bubbles during the casting process form holes after cooling down.
“As we speak, we are testing new tooling geometries to reduce the size of these holes or even close them,” says Ansari.
But the foundries producing the castings can only do so much–it is up to the manufacturers, in partnership with their cutting tool suppliers, to close the gap through advanced processesand tooling. SMT
Tim Wilson is a freelance writer based in Peterborough, ON.