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Fast-changing market demand fast-change tooling.

Fast-changing market demands fast-change tooling

Engineers are realizing that quick-change modular tooling systems offer speed benefits that keep both old and new machines cycling faster with less setup time between jobs. Here's how quick-change tooling developed, and where it can be used to best advantage.

In the late 1970's, as more and more CNC machines were produced, the need arose for tooling systems that could take advantage of the flexibility offered by these machines. Also, there was a need for consistency among workshop tools.

A large number of different machine tools became available, all without benefit of standardization of shank ends for tooling. Every machine needed its own dedicated set of tooling. So, as new developments arose in the industry (new cutting edges, new cutting tools, etc), or whenever a new job required special tooling, updating a shop became an extremely costly proposal.

Enter the concept of modular tooling. Modular tools are made up of interchangeable components, including holders, extension adaptors, bars, and cutters or other front ends. The tools can be taken apart and reassembled easily to accommodate the special needs of individual jobs and individual machines. They can be made longer or shorter; the operation or the size of the cutting tool can be changed--whatever is necessary for the situation.

And whenever a user has a special application, all that is required is a reconfiguration of the quick-change pieces. There is no long wait for a dedicated tool order (typically 12 to 18 weeks), and on top of it all, costs are considerably less.

Modules for quick change

Modular tooling systems can be used in two basic ways. In one, the tool is configured in a preset area, and then taken to the machine for use. While the first tool is running, the tool for the next operation can be assembled. This method involves removing the entire tool from the machine.

The second way of using modular tools incorporates quick-change capabilities. Quick-change tooling can be swiftly and simply converted, right at the machine, because only the front end of the tool is changed. For instance, replacing a worn cutting edge on a drill bit can be accomplished in 10 to 15 sec, slashing both downtime and maintenance time.

A quick-change modular system means that, even on a machine with one spindle and no tool changer, the operator can perform all machining operations on a bore without doing more than changing the cutting head on the tool. Because the tool is preset, there is not time lost on resetting it, and no need for cut-and-try passes. The operator simply bores the hole, changes cutters, reams the bore, changes cutters again, and finishes it.

Along with speedy changeover, quick-change modular tooling offers a number of other benefits over solid tooling systems. These include reduced costs, reduced inventory requirements, greater productivity, and built-in quality assurance.

Using a modular tooling system results in significant savings on tool costs. The initial investment is slightly higher for a quick-change tool than for a similar solid tool, because the modular tool requires a strong, accurate coupling to join together its pieces. However, the tool quickly makes up for its cost by simplifying maintenance and increasing productive machining time.

The other consideration is future savings. Although a system may not be the cheapest initially, it will be significantly less expensive the second and third time around; the next time a tool is needed, it can be assembled from existing components. And if a special piece does need to be purchased, it will be far less costly than buying a complete solid tool.

With quick-change modular systems, shops no longer have to keep complete sets of dedicated tools for each machine. Because all tools can be made from interchangeable standard parts, there is no need for piles of single-purpose tools.

Another advantage is that, should a tool break, a piece from another machine can be substituted, because all parts are standard. Interruption of machining time is minimized.

Quick-change modular systems offer built-in quality and accuracy; repeatability is inherent to their nature. Because the head of the tool is the only thing to change on the machine, there's no need to reset it; the tool is already locked into the right place.

Repeatability presented a problem in the past, because manual changing of solid tools made absolute accuracy very difficult. But flexible tools are quality oriented in their very design. And the more quickly and accurately tools can be changed, the more quickly and accurately parts can be produced.

Good for any situation

The applications for quick-change modular tooling are virtually unlimited. Because the typical shop has a mix of new machines, old machines, and everything in between, there is no single niche for quick-change modular tooling; it can be applied to any machine, in any machine shop. Its flexibility suits small and medium shops, which frequently run one job one week, or one day; and another very different job the next. These shops can realize considerable savings from quick-change because they tend not to have long-run jobs. The more often they have to change tools, the more savings they enjoy.

Larger shops and companies derive an additional benefit because they can order standard parts in volume for all the machines in their shop, or for machines in all of their manufacturing locations, thus saving even more.

Another consideration, when comparing modular systems to solid tools, is that of optimal performance. When buying a tool, a customer will purchase the one that satisfies his worst possible condition: for example, the longest reach. If he buys that tool, and uses it for all his parts, then he ends up sacrificing something (machining speed or rigidity of the tool) to use that one tool and save on initial tooling costs.

With a modular system, however, tools are assembled specifically for each job, optimizing tool efficiency to run the machine as fast as possible.


Total acceptance of quick-change tooling faces one obstacle. It's still a relatively new concept, and some machinists have doubts about the reliability and strength of modular tooling because of the pieces: Can a tool that is more than one piece be as strong as a solid tool? The answer is yes, it can be as strong, perhaps even stronger.

During machining, a tool develops a harmonic vibration that travels down the length of the bar. A solid tool, which is one long piece, permits longer, stronger harmonics, leading to chatter. A modular tool, on the other hand, is joined with couplings that act as dampers, physically breaking the wave, so it remains a smaller harmonic within each segment. Because thousands of pounds of compressive force are exerted on each coupled area, it would be necessary to overcome that force and change it into tension before the energy could become a vibration.

Therefore, in many cases, we can prove that a longer-than-standard modular tool can be more secure and more rigid than a solid tool.

An available system

One example of the quick-change philosophy in action is the Hekto-Flex [R] modular internal machining system offered by our firm. We believe Madison was the first to offer a quick-change modular tooling system, the Madison-Hektobore [R] boring system. First marketed in 1972, it was a forerunner to our presentday Hekto-Flex system.

Hektobore was strictly a boring system. It was developed to eliminate the problem of poor repeatability, which was common to manually changed tooling. Our system offered consistent repeatability, because the cutting head was all that changed. It also enabled greater flexibility of part diameters with less tool inventory.

We wanted to expand the Hektobore concept to include something more modern, using more tools such as our Duodex [R] indexable spade drill. To accommodate the drill, which removes a great deal of material from solid metal rather than simply enlarging an existing hole, the system had to be much stronger and more rigid to stand up to increased torque.

To accomplish this, our engineers kept the special taper and face coupling, which provided zero clearance and metal-to-metal contact; but they changed the actuating mechanism to yield greater contact between the two faces, producing even higher compressive forces.

Zero clearance minimizes runout and inaccuracies, and creates a very large compressive force between the two faces, which translates into maximum rigidity and repeatability. The resulting product, Hekto-Flex, was introduced at the 1988 Chicago IMTS show.

The system takes quick-change modularity a step further, and incorporates the best features of Madison's other cutting tools. Not only are the cutting heads replaceable, but so are the cutting elements themselves. The Duodex spade drill, for example, is double-sided for faster cutting, and the throwaway indexable inserts can be changed in seconds with no time lost to regrind or reset depth.

Other systems

There are other systems available on the market which offer broader, more encompassing applications as far as different cutting edges and combinations. Whereas Hekto-Flex is geared toward the concept of holemaking and internal machining, other systems include components for a variety of operations, such as milling and tapping.

The future for modular tooling is limitless. Ideas that are only just surfacing in the market include adaptors to interface one manufacturer's modular system with that of another manufacturer. Madison, for example, has developed an adaptor that allows use of the Hekto-Flex system with Sandvik Coromant Varilock toolholding systems, taking full advantage of both.

Acceptance is the key. As people accept modular tooling, they'll start to look around the shop and see all the places where modularity can add to profits. Then they'll want to find that one little interface adaptor that will go with any other manufacturer's system. In fact, this is a possible future for the market. It will give the customer the best of all systems, and even greater flexibility. Just one more example of the possibilities for quick-change modular systems.

PHOTO : Hekto-Flex [R] components reduce tool inventory. Machine setups are fast because only the

PHOTO : cutter is changed, not the bar. Boring and reaming bars have self-centering, floating

PHOTO : action, and double cutting edges minimize bar deflection. The cutters lock into position

PHOTO : for roughing.
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Title Annotation:modular tooling systems; includes related article on Rodney Hunt Corp.
Author:Lopes, W. Dave; Koppelmann, Eldo
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Previous Article:$1.8 million laser system.
Next Article:Parametrics - a software link.

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