Tool Flo: Automatic cutting-edge measurement in tool production
Tool life, geometry, and stability largely depend on proper edge preparation. Tool Flo, located in Houston, Texas, is a manufacturer of carbide cutting tools such as inserts for threading, turning, and milling. The company uses Alicona's optical 3D measurement systems in the quality assurance of inserts. "Alicona's systems allow us to carry out high-resolution measurements of the geometry of cutting edges and the chipping and roughness of cutting surfaces in a fully automated process free of possible user errors," president Dennis Flolo confirms.
CEO Tool Flo Manufacturing
“Since 1978 Tool-Flo has become a prime supplier of carbide inserts for threading, grooving, turning, milling and specials of various styles. We have been looking for years for quality control inspection systems offering what Alicona supplies. Others have given us promises, Alicona showed the proof. We are convinced about the accuracy and repeatability of the tool measurement capabilities. This brought us to a
new level of quality beyond belief.”
Edge preparation reduces chipping and increases edge stability. This improves the edge strength of precision tools. As a result, tool life and process reliability of machining tools are enhanced, which in turn leads to better workpiece quality. Tool Flo uses the EdgeMaster, Alicona's optical 3D cutting-edge measurement system, in the production-integrated quality assurance of inserts. Alicona's tool measurement systems are used in mold and tool making in particular due to their capability for repeatable and traceable high-resolution measurements of complex geometries, small radii, and steep flanks. This also makes them the perfect tools for verifying edge geometries.
Measuring the micro-geometry of cutting edges
Since its founding in 1978, Tool Flo has become a first-rate supplier of carbide tools for threading, grooving, turning, milling, and other special purposes. Using the latest in CNC grinding technology to ensure flawless edge preparation, the tool manufacturer produces inserts with edge radii of 2.5 µm–0.1 mm. At this level of manufacturing precision, a measurement system capable of highest resolutions is required to accurately inspect a tool's edge. "Before we became aware of Alicona's products, we used a profile projector to measure edge preparation. The system simply wasn't precise enough to accurately identify edge radii in the micrometer range. It was only after switching to the EdgeMaster that we became capable of high-resolution measurement and precise mapping of edge shapes," president Dennis Flolo explains. The EdgeMaster has made it possible for Tool Flo to map edges using two radius parameters, including a so-called ellipse fit. This is in contrast to conventional methods that use only one radius parameter. "When trying to measure the many undercuts and chamfered edges on inserts, our old measurement system quickly reached its limits. Now we're capable of measuring even complex geometries at resolutions previously unknown to us, and the results are traceable as well", Dennis Flolo says, contrasting the old profile projector with the EdgeMaster.
Apart from radii, Tool Flo also uses the EdgeMaster to verify edge parameters such as the clearance, wedge, and rake angles. True and projected bevel lengths of the cutting edge are also measured. In addition to mapping the cutting edge's geometry, Tool Flo also inspects it for chipping. This reduces the risk of cracks and increases tool life. "Thanks to Alicona, we have been able to eliminate all guesswork regarding edge geometry," CEO Dennis Flo explains.
Automated measurement as part of the production process
Manufacturing tolerances in the micrometer range make it impossible for Tool Flo to accept measurement errors. However, conventional measurement systems often struggle to provide solid high-resolution measurement results in production environments. For this reason, Tool Flo relies on Alicona's fully automatic optical 3D measurement systems to ensure highest measuring accuracy in the production process. With the EdgeMaster, Tool Flo is equipped with a measurement system that eliminates all sources of user error and therefore provides unambiguous and conclusive measurement results. The system offers repeatable and traceable high-resolution measurements, even when subjected to vibrations, extraneous light, and fluctuations in temperature. Reference category and tolerances only need to be set up once. Afterwards, the EdgeMaster carries out measurements without requiring the user to adjust any further settings. The user simply places the insert into the respective grip, starts the measurement, and, after a few seconds, receives the measurement log. The measurement range is automatically selected by the system according to the predefined measurement area. "We use the EdgeMaster as part of our production process. It's easy to set up and can be operated by all of our employees without any special training," Dennis Flolo on the advantages of the optical 3D measurement system in the production process.
Improving chipping and clearance surfaces
Apart from form and geometry measurement as employed at Tool Flo, areal roughness measurement of the cutting surface is beneficial for tool manufacturers as well. The ground cutting surfaces of inserts may display a range of defects such as microcracks, chipping, or burrs. These defects of the chipping and clearance surfaces are often where further tool damage originates and are detrimental to chip removal. Alicona's systems allow users to measure the cutting-surface roughness of inserts. The roughness can be mapped across the entire surface with surface texture measurement. Parameters such as bearing area curve and spectral dimension are measured in this process. The resulting measurement data allows manufactures to improve the microstructure of chipping and clearance surfaces on the cutting edge. This increases chip removal, tool life, and the quality of the cutting edge.
The following fully automatic measurements of inserts are carried out with Alicona systems as part of the production process:
- Edge radii from 2.5 µm to 0.1 mm
- Measurement of undercuts and chamfered edges
- Profile-based roughness measurement to inspect for chipping
- Deviation from dimensional tolerances