In the world of steel machining, finding cost-effective ways to extend the life of cutting tools is akin to turning lead into gold. Luckily, a range of stainless products has been developed to achieve just that alchemy.
Jan LönnbergDay and night, machine shops around the world produce vast quantities of precision, stainless steel components – the flanges, bearings, gears and the like that make up the unseen clockwork of the global economy. Every one of those machine shops faces the same limitation: the short lifespan of their tooling.
A tool change is an expensive proposition involving not only the cost of the new tool itself, but resulting in an interrupted production cycle and additional work by machine operators. With so much riding on the tool life factor, engineers have naturally been striving to create better, longer-lasting tools as well as to find ways to improve machining techniques. But there's an altogether different way to approach the problem: change the steel.
The Prodec proposition
With another perspective on optimization, Outokumpu developed a range of stainless steel called Prodec. Created for improved machinability, these grades are easier on tools than standard grades but still maintain the same high quality, tolerance and corrosion resistance that manufacturers need.
Prodec has already yielded some impressive results. To find out just how the Prodec grade compares to the standard grade equivalents, Outokumpu contracted IAMS/Metcut, a manufacturing technology research outfit based in Cincinnati, Ohio, to conduct side-by-side machinability tests against three competing products. In all cases, the Prodec type 304 and type 316 stainless bars tested left their rivals in the dust, showing a tool life advantage of approximately 100%.
Other trials using Prodec stainless plate, including turning plasma-cut rings into machined flanges, had similar results, but some even more interesting data came from observations by Rolled Alloys, Outokumpu’s long-term partner in the US.
Rolled Alloys was working with one of its customers in switching from standard 316/316L to Prodec 316/316L to manufacture fluid regulators. They started off by running at their old cutting parameters and saw long, stringy chips – not what they were hoping for. When they gradually increased cutting speed, however, they hit the optimal chip breaking conditions.
Imagine having an extra day each week to get your work done.
Cutting at these higher speeds ended up netting the customer a 50% reduction in production time, not to mention extending tool life. Prodec had achieved a win/win situation. An Outokumpu customer in France had a similar experience after switching to Prodec – they were able to produce twice as many products with the same tool, reducing their overall process lead time by 25%. Imagine having more than an extra day each week to get your work done.
Tools for modern life
Faster machining, longer tool life, superior tolerance and surface – these attributes are set to win Prodec grades a considerable amount of supporters among the manufacturer set. But the prospect of doubling tool life certainly has ramifications well beyond this group.
The ability to produce vital components faster and sell them at a lower cost will prove all the more critical as the world's economies continue to develop, driving demand for all of the mechanisms associated with modern life. This is where the right stainless steel can make all the difference.