Product development Creating a new cutting tool – From concept to spindle
New cutting tools are continuously being introduced to the market, but what is the process needed to develop a product from concept through to the spindle? Global company Dormer Pramet tasks its product management and development department with creating new tools every year.
In January 2015, Jan Bittner joined Dormer Pramet and became part of the company’s project to develop an assortment of high-feed milling tools. Almost three years later, a new range of SBN10 cutters and BNGX inserts were launched on the global market. The time taken to introduce a product is an indication of the investment a manufacturer makes to create a new product that will add value to customers for many years.
At Dormer Pramet, the process of creating a new tool begins with its product management department, which identifies the market needs and gaps in the company’s current assortment. Karel Tiefenbach is the company’s product manager for indexable milling and he created a brief and clear objective for the development team.
Dormer Pramet’s aim was to create an assortment of tools for its double-negative cutters that enabled feed rates for increased productivity. The design needed to be for double-sided inserts to maximise the economic value (four edges) and provide good chip control, allowing for a higher ramping angle. At the same time, the tool needed to offer process security and a versatile range for mould and die operations, covering roughing to finishing.
Bittner began the process with Jan Vlcek from the company’s product design and information department, responsible for all aspects of tool development. This included compiling high-quality data on every tool produced, the design of products and supporting manufacture. The department’s first task in designing a new high-feed milling tool – later known as SBN10 – was to research what products were already available on the market from competitors and how Dormer Pramet could be different, while still meeting the needs of customers.
Jan Bittner said: “We started with a series of preliminary studies and initial prototype designs, putting a number of ideas forward before we could start to produce samples. There are always difficulties and challenges to overcome, but some small changes at this stage can have a big impact. For e.g., with one of the first samples created, we realised there was a conflict with an existing patent from a competitor. With many companies creating new inserts all the time, it is a very crowded market.
“However, we worked with the designer to modify our concept to make it unique, whilst still fulfilling the original brief. This led us to liaise closely with colleagues in Sweden and North America to make sure our designs did not conflict with any patents. We discussed with colleagues in Intellectual Property (IP) how we can make our design unique and this was a new experience for me. At each stage, we were in discussions with IP over the design and any slight changes being made. We needed to confirm we were within patent pending at every point and not conflicting with others already submitted. Eventually, we were given the OK to proceed.
On-site tests with customers
“At the start of the process in 2015, we had a schedule to follow and aimed to launch the BNGX inserts by November 2017. We had pressure from our sales teams who wanted it earlier! Our aim was to keep the process going as fast as possible and we kept to schedule. By the second quarter of 2016, we were able to start the testing stage. This included several on-site tests with customers as this is the best way to check how good a product really is.
“We were confident it was a good product, but no amount of in-house testing can match trying it out in the real world. We learned so much from these tests, which allowed us to identify areas of further improvement.
“A test we did with a customer in France involved machining a titanium-bearing austenitic, chromium-nickel, stainless steel. It is an extremely tough and ductile material. It requires a powerful machine, capable of heavy feeds and slow spindle speeds. We put it up against a competitor’s high-feed milling tool with similar features to our SBN10.
“After machining three parts, the cutting edge of the competitor’s insert was worn, forcing the operator to index the cutting edge to continue production. After machining eight parts with the SBN10 cutter and BNGX inserts, the cutting edge showed minor flank wear and was still in a good enough condition to continue cutting. In addition to significant longer tool life, the metal removal rate was 20 percent higher. The customer was so impressed, he immediately bought one cutter and pre-ordered seven more by early 2018.
“We did more than 20 tests with customers in France, Brazil, Poland, China, Italy, the Czech Republic and Germany. Altogether, five of these tests did not match our expectations, so it allowed us to go back and look at what needed improving. This is an important process and can only help improve product performance and reduce limitations. The crucial part is to react quickly during the testing process; speed is crucial. Any issues need to be eliminated and the design of the tool improved as soon as possible, before putting it back in for more tests.
“In July 2017, we returned to Germany to a customer where one of the tests did not go as well as the others. Going back to the same location meant we could perform the exact same trial in the same conditions as before. This was important to verify whether the improvements we made had worked. The application ran very successfully and it was great to show the customer the new and improved version!
“We realised at this stage that we were ready to launch the product on the market. We had further discussions with IP to make sure our patent was in place and everything was prepared. This led to meetings with production to ensure enough inserts were manufactured for the time of launch and liaisons with the marketing and communications department on creation of all the support material, such as brochures, images, videos, press releases and online content.”
Launching the product on the market
Dormer Pramet launched its range of BNGX inserts and SBN10 cutters in November 2017, almost three years after the initial design brief was prepared. During 2018, the company will manufacture more than 30,000 BNGX inserts, comprising different sizes and chip breakers, alongside 450 cutters, in three different variants: end mills with threaded shank, end mills with parallel shank and shell mills.
Bittner added: “Product development is very much a team effort. There are many people from around the world involved in the creation of new cutting tools – from product management and design to the technology team, production, testing, through to sales and marketing.
“No department is independent of the rest. We are all connected and one area cannot be successful without the support of the rest. They all must work together to get a product to market.
“Also, any new product created will become the future work for our production department. Sometimes we can be focused on today and what is new now, but it is our job to look at the future and what will be important in five to ten years’ time.”