A time-saving solutions guide. No matter the kind of work you do, there's a creative time-saving solution for you in this guide. Best of all, many of the suggestions are relatively simple, nondisruptive and won't bust your budget.
20 WAYS TO SAVE TIME IN A MACHINE SHOP
There are few other places where the old phrase “time is money” is more accurate than on the shop floor. Put simply: When spindles spin, you make money; time spent doing other things around the shop that keep spindles from spinning costs money. That said, it’s also possible to lose value while spindles are spinning. When old methods or equipment are used or modified to work for a particular job, speeds and feeds are slowed, and sometimes costly, and unnecessary, secondary operations are implemented. For example, on the workholding front, we find that it’s not typically until setup costs reach 20-25 percent of the total time cost to manufacture a part that customers inquire about a better solution. It’s an extreme example, but inefficient secondary operations can increase costs. Here’s the good news: You don’t have to reorganize your shop, reinvent your processes or invest in expensive machinery to eliminate these hidden inefficiencies. In fact, there are simple strategies and relatively inexpensive equipment that can turn wasted time into money-making time. We’ll run through 20 scenarios, some you probably deal with on a daily basis, that provide opportunities to operate more efficiently.
Are you still tapping with a collet chuck? Time-saving solution : What many don’t realize is that another perceived strength of collet chucks, their rigidity, can actually be detrimental in tapping. Rigidity does very little to counteract the dramatic thrust loads imposed on the tap and part to maintain synchronicity.
Estimated time savings: 15 minutes for each tap replaced
Are you using straight shank mills assembled into side lock end mill holders? Time-saving solution : Traditional side lock end mill holders are inexpensive but can be costly in terms of efficiency. With a TIR of .001”, poor vibration damping and weak gripping power, this traditional toolholding method should be restricted to roughing operations at low speeds. There are, of course, faster alternatives. Integral shank indexable end mills perform 3x faster than straight shank mills assembled into side lock end mill holders; anytime you remove a joint, performance—and, in turn, efficiency—will improve.
Estimated time savings: 25-50% decrease in rough milling time
Do you use built-in machine tool probes, touch-off devices and lasers? Time-saving solution : When most of these devices are at work, your machine tool isn’t making you money. In-machine measurement tools also often fail to measure runout and/or length, requiring time-intensive test cuts. A presetter can measure both a length and diameter (or wear factor) and allow the operator to correct runout before a tool goes into production, allowing for a good part on the first try. There’s a fairly simple formula calculating just how quickly your new presetter will pay for itself.
Average # of hours per shift on each machine setting, tool lengths and diameters
# of machines presetter will support
# of shifts per day
Spindle value per hour
Price of the presetter
The total of this equation will show you the approximate number of days it will take for your first presetter to pay for itself. Everything after that is added value.
Estimated time savings: 5-10 minutes per tool setup
Are you using milling face grooves in your CNC mills? Time-saving solution : Features like small-width, circular O-ring grooves can be challenging and time-consuming to create with small mills. While it takes time for a small mill to power through the material, a plunging motion can remove the material much faster. Boring heads can be equipped with specific face grooving holders and cutters that can produce these tricky features much more easily.
Estimated time savings: 15-45 minutes for each face groove
Do you use circular milling to turn outside diameter pins or shafts? Time-saving solution : Reverse boring tools are a little-known solution for finishing ODs. In order to finish outer diameters with good tolerances, mills can take significant time. Reverse boring tools can do this much more quickly while maintaining better runout.
Estimated time savings: 5-45 minutes per feature
Do your holders make it difficult to replace worn or damaged cutting tools? Time-saving solution : Collet chucks need to be loosened and cleaned. End mill holders have screws that need to be loosened and cleaned. Heat-shrink holders take time to heat and cool. None take all that much time on their own, but two minutes here and two minutes there, over the course of months, add up to a tangible cost. The mechanical advantage of hydraulic chucks offers consistent clamping force with little operator-to-operator variation without special fixtures or tools. Add the fact that they are also the fastest clamping technology and you have a time-saver and quality control in one package.
Estimated time savings: 5-15 minutes per cutting tool replacement
Are you clamping cutting tools with collet chucks on your Swiss lathe? Time-saving solution : As Swiss lathe operators know, these machines have many fixed and rotating tools in a narrow space, making it difficult to replace a cutting tool inside the machine. Needless to say, spending time working with tools while on the machine is not ideal in the production environments where the machines are often deployed. After decades of little change in terms of lathe tooling, hydraulic chucks now offer an alternative. These tool holders use a single wrench, which makes for a quick and easy change of the cutting tools on a gang slide.
Estimated time savings: 5-15 minutes per cutting tool replacement
Are you only using digital boring heads to show incremental diameter correction? Time-saving solution : For those using digital boring heads, you’ve probably realized that they can shorten fine adjustment time by at least 20 percent thanks to the precise digital readout on the tool itself and/or your phone. Digital heads often pair with apps that provide even more actionable information. For instance, our boring app brings critical data like tool history, speeds and feed, tolerances and diameters to your fingertips, in real time and remotely. Having this more precise information leads to faster decision-making and adjustments.
Estimated time savings: 1-2 minutes for each diameter change
Are you using circular milling to produce large starter holes?
Time-saving solution : Using helical interpolation to open holes is common practice. But when production levels and volume increase, or when holes get deeper, rough boring will deliver higher productivity and repeatability. Helical interpolation relies on the machine tool axes and constant radial force, to produce output. With a twin rough boring approach, the tool is only plunging axially, creating a more stable operation. The radial cutting forces are balanced, and the result is axial force back into the machine spindle. This is also the case when deeper bores require longer tool lengths. As tool length increases, the deflection of a milling cutter will decrease its productivity much faster than if using a boring tool. And when that productivity difference is amortized over a long production run, boring becomes increasingly valuable.
Indexable insert drills and twin bores can produce large starter holes very fast for producing deep cavities versus circular milling only.
Estimated time savings: 15-90 minutes of rough milling time
Are complex setups or small secondary operations slowing down your machines with three or fewer axes? Time-saving solution : The power of modern design software and production machinery have manufacturers exploring the limits of what’s possible. When these two sides struggle to meet in the middle, problems arise: You can draw pretty much anything you want, but that doesn’t necessarily make it something that can be manufactured efficiently, or at all, for that matter. Angle heads bridge this gap and eliminate extra setups and operations by creating an additional axis on your machine, allowing for the use of shorter tools and for simply flipping the tool instead of a part.
Estimated time savings: 1-5 hours per workpiece
Are you using steel boring bars to bore holes over 5x diameter? Time-saving solution : Integrated damping systems for boring can perform up to 3x faster than solid tool holders and boring bars. These shorten the distance between the damper and the cutting edge, the source of vibration, so that chatter or vibration is eliminated and cutters can move smoothly through the hole. Our tests have shown that deep holes can be bored with an excellent surface finish and dramatic time savings. For example, with a projection length of 14.3” working with high-carbon steel at a cutting speed of 1,300 SFM, an impressive feed rate of 11.4 IPM was achieved with our EWN41 Smart Damper.
Estimated time savings: 5-10 minutes per hole
Do you use perform drilling on a machine that’s not equipped with through-spindle coolant?
Time-saving solution : Efficiency in coolant delivery is not all that different from other concepts in machining. Like a holder with excellent runout control, delivering coolant to the cut as directly as possible improves results. This is especially true with drilling because of the extra texture/flutes of the geometries that make them more susceptible to buildup or deflection if chips aren’t evacuated properly. Coolant inducers can provide a big boost in coolant delivery and, in turn, speed up all your drilling cycles.
Estimated time savings: 1-5 minutes per drilled hole
Do you perform spot drilling and chamfering in two separate operations? Time-saving solution : You don’t always think about single-purpose tooling solutions. Drills are available to perform both spotting and chamfering. The inside of the drill is a spot drill, but there’s also a second chamfer that smooths the edges. This reduces tool changes, saves fussing with tools in the magazine and avoids secondary hand deburring.
Estimated time savings: 2-4 minutes per hole
Are you still only using a vise in a five-axis machine?
Time-saving solution : A standard vise blocks the sides of the parts. A low-profile vise for five-axis machining leaves these sides more open but grips only along the part’s lower edge. Even a custom fixture for a five-axis job is potentially problematic because of the danger of interference with the tool or spindle housing as the entire unit of part and fixture pivots throughout the work zone. There are multiple types of systems for 4th- and 5th-axis machining that can wholly replace vises or at the very least make them more efficient. Zero-point systems have found a place in five-axis machining, not primarily because of the quick-change clamping, but instead because it offers a secure way to clamp the part entirely from underneath. More access means time saved arranging different setups.
Estimated time savings: 25% reduction in cycle time
Are you still indicating your vise all the time?
Time-saving solution : Taking a raw workpiece, setting the zero point and end stop, then running the program are all fine and good. It’s when a new batch of parts comes into play that the vise’s limitations emerge. Every time you change to a different series of parts, the zero point change often requires significant time to reestablish. What’s more, switching from vise work to fixture work can be a bear. From cleaning the table to getting the new workholding square and true, eventually you reach a point of diminishing returns. Zero-point workholding systems allow you to avoid a lot of these time-consuming operations, only requiring one-time indication. We’ve seen vises either on an adapter plate or with clamping knobs attached to the bottom of them. Many vises can be adapted fairly easily. There’s also a creative alternative that meets somewhere in the middle of converting fully to zero-point and sticking with legacy vises: We often see setups with a standard vise on one end of the machine table and a zero-point chuck on the other.
Estimated time savings: 15-30 minutes per setup
Does a five-axis machine ever sit idle while parts are prepped using primitive workholding or because of slow part transfers? Time-saving solution : Because the five-axis machine is liable to be the most expensive in any given shop, it needs to be dedicated to the most valuable work while running as constantly as possible. Using zero-point chuck-based workholding in conjunction with receivers on multiple machining centers can allow for a more efficient workflow where roughing is performed on a lower-cost three-axis machine and quickly transferred and clamped into the five-axis machine’s receivers so that this machine can be ready to perform high-value precision-finishing work right away—all without any loss of accuracy along the way.
Estimated time savings: 20-40% reduction in setup time
Are you still measuring tool length manually with gage blocks, paper touch-off or dial touch-off gages? Time-saving solution : While manually measuring tools feels simple, using touch-off gages, gage blocks and paper only measures the Z-axis length of your tooling. Even worse, your machine tool is not in operation while you are using these old methods. Using a presetter will not only measure your Z, but also your tool radius and runout, all while your machine tool is running another job.
Estimated time savings: 5-10 minutes per tool setup
Are you touching off tools in each machine to establish negative tool offsets based on the zero-point surface—the vise, machine table, workpiece, etc.? Time-saving solution : While presetters are fully capable of calculating negative gage lengths, room for error remains if the switch isn’t made to a positive. Adapting machines to a single presetter so they can receive positive gage lengths is superior, however, to using all types of machine-specific negative offsets. This is an opportunity to introduce more standardization to the shop floor, which reduces the burden on operators and saves time. Plus, you can confidently move tools from machine to machine: Simply enter the tool offset into the control and be ready to go. There is no need to touch off the tool again and again. The more machining centers and more consistent the taper styles, the more time that’s saved.
Estimated time savings: 5-10 minutes per tool setup
Are you still sorting through cluttered drawers to find the right collet? Time-saving solution : Collet sets and cases make it easy to find the right collet when the job calls. Sets keep collets organized by size and type over the whole clamping range, reducing time to find a collet in a drawer—no more hunting around the shop and rushing while a job waits to run.
Estimated time savings: 5-45 minutes per collet search
Do chips get stuck in the T-slots on your machine tables? Time-saving solution : If you leave T-slots that aren’t in use during machining exposed, it’s inevitable that heated swarf and packed chips will get stuck inside. The time spent and danger involved with clearing these out before setting up another part can be completely eliminated with T-slot covers that prevent the buildup.
Estimated time savings: 10-30 minutes per cleanup
NO OVERHAUL REQUIRED
Our engineers have come across each of the scenarios, with real customers and businesses, we’ve discussed here. While there’s almost never a one-size-fits-all solution in machining, these solutions are proven. They prove that smaller changes, not just capital investments, can make an important difference. What’s more, none of the solutions provided will bust a budget or require diligent long-term planning. Whether it’s changing the way something has always been done in the shop or just thinking about a challenge a little differently, there’s usually a faster way to do things. That’s what we specialize in: helping machinists do their job faster and better.
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