The tool-grinding industry has set off a new wave of laser technology

10 November 2022
Cutting tool manufacturer The company excels in machining traditional cutting tool materials and complex geometries but needs to make breakthroughs on this basis. As cutting tool materials continue to evolve and place higher demands on machining, grinder manufacturers have to upgrade.
The Kirkland, Illinois-based company started a sharpening tool business 40 years ago, primarily involving natural diamond materials.
However, modern cutting tool materials range from cemented carbide to synthetic monocrystalline diamond (MCD), polycrystalline diamond (PCD), chemical vapor deposited diamond (CVD), cubic boron nitride (CBN), and ceramics.
Similarly, the types of tools produced by Shape-Master have expanded from indexable PCD and PCBN inserts to various types of tools and rotary tools.
Laser machining
To address the unique challenges of advanced cutting tool materials, Shape-Master purchased two of the most advanced laser tooling machines in North America.
Laser technology not only enhances Shape-Master's productivity, enabling it to handle a wide variety of difficult-to-handle materials, but it also enables the company to compete with large custom tooling suppliers.
Thanks to the production flexibility of laser technology, Shape-Master can cost-effectively handle small batches of individual machining, as well as recurring planning tools of various sizes, without sacrificing quality and delivery time.
After only a few months of training and hands-on learning, Shape-Master has expanded its product range and business scope with laser machines, including rotary tools. At present, a considerable part of the factory's business is derived from rotary tools, and the factory is planning to continue to expand its product range.
In addition, Shape-Master has the ability to recoup previously outsourced business. This is especially important because Shape-Master's purpose and goal is to keep the business as in-house as possible.
Laser machining
The "EWAG LASER LINE ULTRA" laser machine from Shape-Master was purchased from United Grinding Group.
Using state-of-the-art ultra-short pulse laser technology, the machine can process a wide variety of high-quality cutting tools with complex geometries in just one setup.
Equipped with the patented EWAG Laser Touch Machining® technology, these machines can handle all the latest commercial precision ground tool materials, including carbide, CBN, PCD, CVD, and MCD, to name a few. The machine does not generate heat-effect zones, so the surface finish quality of the tool is extremely high and the tool life is longer.
The Laser Touch Machining® laser uses a tangential laser beam machining process that generates the edge and geometry of the cutting tool by using the outer edge of the laser beam to shape the tool surface in extremely short pulses of 10 picoseconds. These ultrashort laser pulses vaporize the material directly without generating appreciable heat.
In the repetitive scanning process, the laser scanning unit moves synchronously with the machine's eight CNC axes to generate the tool geometry.
Laser machining
Shape-Master employs fewer than 30 people and produces thousands of tools per month with the help of laser machining machines and CNC grinders. The company mainly produces cubic boron nitride cutting tools, and a considerable part is diamond cutting tools. The company uses automation technology to keep production above the 1.5-shift standard per day.
Both LASER LINE ULTRA laser grinding machines from Shape-Master are equipped with automation technology. One of them integrates a 6-axis FANUC robot, a 2-in-1 HSK 63 tool holder, and a pallet. All equipment enables the fully automatic production of rotary knives without interruption and without light. The machine also automates the high-volume production of indexable diamond cutting inserts.
Another LASER LINE ULTRA laser grinder from Shape-Master has a stacking system that adjusts the height of the pallets, doubling the load-carrying capacity. When machining shorter or lower workpieces, 8 pallets move upwards in a stacking system, each carrying up to 300 workpieces. The flexible, automated nature of the EWAG LASER LINE ULTRA laser grinding machine was the main factor in the decision of Shape-Master.
“We have been using grinding machines from EWAG,” says Dan Chambers, Applications Manager at Shape-Master Tool. "We first introduced EWAG's manual machines, then in the 90s we added EWAMATIC LINE CNC grinding machines, which are still in use today".
Laser machining
According to Chambers, the Shape-Master took some time and is now proficient in the operation and capabilities of the LASER LINE ULTRA laser grinder. The equipment supplier offers a one-week training at EWAG's headquarters in Switzerland, as well as a one-week training in-house. But he added that training is an ongoing process.
“United Grinding Group attaches great importance to the training and providing technical support to its equipment,” says Chamber. "Their customer service and support are very comprehensive and prompt. They are always willing to assist with any questions and answer any queries. Without their support, I am afraid my processing plant would not be able to achieve what it is."
He adds that EWAG has developed software based on their CNC grinding machine suite, which allows users to easily program the LASER LINE ULTRA laser machine. However, with multiple axes and laser heads, the LASER LINE ULTRA is more like a machining center than a CNC grinder.
Laser machining
At the Shape-Master factory, the LASER LINE ULTRA laser scan head typically has a step rate of a few thousand millimeters per minute, with cutting step increments as small as 0.2 microns when traversing a tool. Depending on the complexity of the geometry and the size of the workpiece, the cycle time for laser processing varies from about 1 minute to 1 hour. Machining near the cutting edges and edges takes up most of the machining time.
“The laser can process geometries, polishing, and edge preparation that are difficult or even impossible to achieve with CNC grinders,” explains Chambers.
“When machining cutting edges, for example, conventional grinding will produce sharp edges in the range of 5 to 10 microns. In contrast, laser machining produces edges in the range of only 1.5 to 5 microns. Achieving such edge accuracy is a significant advantage for us. "
With one simple operation, the laser beam rounds the cutting edge for increased strength, the equivalent of CNC grinding plus post-processing of the edge. LASER LINE ULTRA can also machine chamfers and other 3D edge shapes.
Laser machining
Customers can use Shape-Master tools to machine parts in a variety of materials, from cast iron, depleted uranium, and aluminum alloys to industrial composites, in automotive, aerospace, energy, and more.
Shape-Master also makes knives for the space exploration industry and supplies components for U.S. defense systems, according to Chambers.
He also noted that many of the company's aerospace customers use composite as well as novel materials.
Chambers believes that such materials will continue to enter the automotive industry, which, like the aerospace industry, has the same need for lightweight and energy savings. As a result, the advanced tools the factory produces for customers in the aerospace sector will soon also be used in the automotive sector.
"We have high-quality products and services, great people, and our repeat customers help us spread the word," Chambers said.
“We have invested heavily in technology, inspection equipment, and finishing equipment to meet all the needs of our customers and to be able to provide a better product than our competitors. This is what our customers expect and this is what EWAG machines bring to us the benefits of".


Contact us now
 Home  Whatsapp  E-Mail  Inquiry