A nice hot bath may be all that a cutting tool needs to enjoy a longer life.
Macro Specialty Industries Inc. has built a machine and designed a treatment system it says extends by 25 percent the useful life of drills and other cutting tools.
The system is deceptively simple: Drill bits or other tools are heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Then the tools are plunged into a container with a fluorocarbon resin that binds with the tools as they cool.
The result is a smoother cutting surface that resists chipping and cuts with less pressure.
'It sounds like snake oil, but it works,' said Bruce Novak, the record keeper for grinders and cutters at Ford Motor Co.'s engine plant in Dearborn, Mich.
Teflon is the trade name DuPont assigned to a similar fluorocarbon resin. Macro Specialty's treatment results in a similar surface, said Steve Savoie, one of the machine's designers.
'Basically it adds some lubricity to the tool, making it slicker,' Savoie said.
Macro Specialty, in Napoleon, Ohio, builds three versions of the machine, each tailored to different sized tools. Prices range from $10,000 to $15,000 and more for custom orders, Savoie said. The company has sold 25 machines during this, its first year of marketing the process. The tool treatment process will contribute about $300,000 to the company's 1999 revenues of about $1 million, said company President James Maassel. The types of cutting tools Macro treats include drill bits, cutting dies and a tool called a broach, which reams out cylinder holes in engine blocks.
Different companies have developed different ways to coat or treat tools to prolong their life. Titanium nitrate tin coating is one example, but it is expensive, Savoie said. Coating a 6-inch long drill bit with titanium costs about $5. The treatment for a similar tool in Macro Specialty's system is about 50 cents, Savoie said.
The treatment does not work on all tools. Carbide-tipped tools, for example, wear out at about the same rate as nontreated carbide tools, Novak said. But in tests, he noticed treated carbide tools broke much less often than nontreated versions of the same tool. Before treating, 80 percent to 90 percent of the tools broke before their edge wore out. Now, treated tools break about 20 percent of the time, Novak said.
TRW Automotive's brake plant in Jackson, Mich., also has been using the treatment. The plant builds brake caliper assemblies for DaimlerChrysler and Ford. Much of the cutting work involves using dies to cut holes for the bleeder valve and inlet hole, said Ray Hines, a manufacturing engineer at the plant. Using Macro's treatment on all of the plant's dies will save enough money to pay for the machine in a year, Hines said.
Macro also has treated tools for DaimlerChrysler and General Motors plants. Those automakers are now testing the treated tools against untreated versions, Savoie said.
The treatment fluid costs $550 for a 2.5-gallon jug. That quantity of fluid treats about 1,400 6-inch-long drill bits, Savoie said. Only two people know the formula for the patented treatment fluid. The ingredients are kept in a safety deposit box in Ohio.
At Ford's Dearborn engine plant, which spends up to $1 million per year on cutting tools, the savings from using the Macro Specialty treatment could be as high as $250,000 per year, Novak said. Not all of the cutting tools used at the plant are treated now, but he is trying hard to expand the machine's use, Novak said. 'It took three years to get the first one in here; I'm trying to make them see we need another.'