Milling refers to the process of removing materials from a workpiece with the use of rotary cutters, and it may be conducted with a wide range of machinery. In modern applications, computer numerical control (CNC) systems are regularly used to carry out such operations, taking advantage of automation to efficiently and accurately achieve desired results. CNC milling relies on CNC machine types to automate rotary cutters for completing a piece, also often being capable of switching out tools to minimize the need for manpower. With their method of operations, CNC milling can be considered the opposite of CNC turning. In this blog, we will discuss the common types of milling cutter equipment and tools that are commonly used in manufacturing processes, providing a brief explanation of each so that you may understand their functionalities.
In the present, the primary types of milling cutters that are often used include the end mill, face mill, ball cutter, slab mill, side-and-face cutter, involute gear cutter, fly cutter, hollow mill, shell mill, roughing end mill, dovetail cutter, and woodruff cutter. While each equipment piece has its own unique features and uses, it is important to first be aware of the difference between two of the most popular milling operations: end milling and face milling. While not always the case, end mill tools often feature a flat bottom, though some may be round or radiused. Comparable to drills, the end mill cuts into materials axially, though presents the option for lateral cutting as well. Face mills, meanwhile, feature replaceable teeth and are incapable of cutting a material axially as their cutting edges are situated on the sides of the cutting head.
The ball cutter is a milling cutter that features a hemispherical cutting tip, ensuring that perpendicular faces are worked on with the corner radius. Slab mills are a type that may spin horizontally between the spindle and support, often used for machining large surfaces and materials. The side-and-face cutter is considered a predecessor of end mills, featuring teeth around their circumference that allows for efficient machining. The involute gear cutter has a similar appearance to the side-and-face cutter, featuring teeth around their circumference that allow them to mill involute gears.
Fly cutters are similar to face mills, though they are not able to provide the same cutting quality as such equipment. Hollow mills, meanwhile, function opposite to face mills with their operation of feeding a workpiece into the inner part of the equipment to create a cylindrical shape. Rough end mills are closely related to end mills, though feature jagged teeth that speed up the process of cutting as compared to standard end mills. With the woodruff cutter, also known as a keyway cutter, woodruff keys are used for machining. Lastly, the thread mill cutter is useful for creating tapped holes, and such variations are often used for drilling equipment.
While each tool can provide unique properties to carry out different machine processes, it is important to find the right fit that balances speed, cost, and quality for a given application. For an inexpensive tool material, high-speed steel is useful, though can run into significant wear over time. For quicker and more efficient milling, cobalt-bearing high-speed steel or cemented carbide are better options that may last longer, though are more expensive. Diameter is another factor to consider, and larger diameter tools will typically be capable of milling a part faster in certain instances. To prevent wear to milling equipment, tool coatings such as titanium nitride are useful, though it is important to know that some coatings can reduce the amount of lubrication that is needed for a project. Lastly, one should also consider factors such as the number of flutes, helix angles, and costs which all may help narrow down a decision.
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