Seco Tools' R&D team has revealed a technique that reportedly increases the longevity of a single tool by a factor of 20. The breakthrough came while the team was machining a novel cast iron for use in engines manufactured by Swedish truck maker Scania.
The discovery of a new, lighter form of cast iron offers the potential for lighter and more efficient engines, but first the manufacturer had a problem to solve. Would their existing machines and tools be able to work on this new material, and if not, how would they manage their production process?
“The background was this new form of cast iron, which offered many advantages – it is more environmentally friendly and it’s also stronger, which means that they can make the engine walls thinner and lighter,” Stefan Frejd, R&D Specialist Drilling at Seco, said. “The problem that Scania wanted to explore was the fact that this material increased the wear on the production tools, which of course shortened the life of the tools. The challenge was to find a way of extending the tool life for the milling cutters, drills and reamers that would be used on this new material.
“We got together with Scania’s engineers and discussed some of the problems and the applications they used, and then we came back with some new tools to be tested. The first one drilling tool we tested turned out to have a tool life of more than 20 times the existing one, so that was a huge improvement."
Other test tools managed to outlast their predecessors by a factor of seven.
“A lot of these things come down to time – the tools last longer, which means that more time elapses between when you mount the tool and when you have to replace it," Frejd said. "In practical terms, that means that you might mount a tool at the start of one shift and you can continue using it right through another shift before having to replace it, whereas previously you might have had to replace the tool at the start of each shift, which costs both time and money to do.
“What is often overlooked is that every time we change a tool the machine has to be stopped and during that time it cannot produce anything, and time is money in manufacturing. The fact that we were able to make stronger, more durable tools also reduced the amount of breakage in production – when tools break during a shift it can often cause great disruption to the production process, and they take time to fix."
The learnings at Scania can also be implemented in a variety of other settings, according to Frejd.
“Every application is different, but there are always things that we discover that we can apply elsewhere," Frejd said. "Normally you develop a tool from a stock item or a standard tool, and then you apply different criteria based on what the customer needs. In the case of Scania, they had particular requirements for roundness when reaming, for example, so you could say that their standard is in fact customized special tools.”