In machining, a cutting tool is an element of a technological system that shapes a part by material removal, comprising a machine tool, a workholding fixture and a toolholding device.

Shaping a part is performed by various machining processes using different cutting strategies. Progress in machining tools resulted in modern machines that enable combined and whole process operations; processes that were separated in the past. Moreover, advanced machine tool capabilities enable progressive machining strategies to achieve maximum performance.

The metalworking industry must deal with different engineering materials. Progress in material science and metallurgy brought in exotic new materials, and technologies to create materials with pre-defined properties. Producing components from such materials has significantly improved the working parameters of parts, but machining has become more difficult.

A cutting tool, the smallest element of the technological system, is the link between the machine and material. To realise the advantages of high-tech machine tools and productive machining strategies, the cutting tool must meet appropriate requirements. Finding a decent answer to the ever-growing demands of modern metalworking is the base for new developments in the cutting tool field.

The metalworking industry has been through a rough time with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a decline in economic indicators for the industry. Hitherto bright prospects were replaced by modest hopes. On the other hand, this has been a time for deeper analysis of industrial trends and forecasts, and planning tomorrow. Progress has not stopped. Metalworking is on the threshold of serious changes, and the manufacturer should be ready to adopt them.

The forthcoming changes cannot bypass cutting tool production, one of the more important links in the metalworking chain. Therefore, to have a clear understanding of the direction of industrial progress and the requirements for the cutting tools of tomorrow is a cornerstone to success for a tool manufacturer. It is the key to new tool developments and the demand for a wide range of products.

There are various directions for the development of cutting tools. The “traditional” way is to make the tools stronger, more productive and cost-effective, a reflection on the natural requirement of the customer for a consumable product. Other directions of development are related to advanced manufacturing technologies that have become ingrained in the metalworking industry, whereby available tooling solutions still leave a broad field for improvement.

The course of nature

The traditional direction of development considers improving tool performance by introducing innovative cutting geometry, advanced tool material grades, progressive tool body designs to ensure higher rigidity and durability, and so on. It may seem that this direction has almost depleted its resources and does not promise true revolutionary changes. However, cutting tool manufacturers have managed to surprise the metalworking world with substantially new products that provide significant benefits despite the traditional approach to the product design.

An important success factor was the significant growth in scientific and technological levels of tool production, new achievements in powder metallurgy and coating technology, and the introduction of modern systems for inspection and quality control. The considerably increased capabilities of tool design itself, CAD/CAM systems, and 3D modelling, gave noticeable impetus to the realisation of challenging innovative ideas.

Technological developments have evolved new machining methods, which require tools to meet stringent new demands. These tools have the ability to cut hard metals while eliminating the need for grinding operations. In milling, these tools are able to contend with extremely high feeds per tooth (HFM) at high machining speeds (HSM), and are able to perform trochoidal milling with the use of high-pressure coolant (HPC). The design of such tools differs from general-duty tools as they require specific features that characterise the above-mentioned methods and strategies.

Advancements in machine tool engineering have pushed the metalworking industry closer to living out a dream of every manufacturer: complete, one-setup production. The impressive capabilities of the latest multi-axis and multi-tasking machine tools, and and hybrid manufacturing systems, which combine material removal and 3D printing technologies, give evidence of a quantum leap toward one-setup production. A driven-tool option features more and more turning centres expanding their capabilities. Understandably, this progress has built other requirements for cutting tools, around multifunctionality, tool life, and time-to-failure characteristics.

Attempts to find a cost-effective alternative to solid carbide tools gave a new impulse to designs with exchangeable carbide heads. Some of these designs even provided a substantial advantage in the high repeatability of the head overhang with respect to the tool. As a result, there is no need for additional adjustment after replacing a worn head, which can be quickly changed without removing the tool from a machine spindle. The “no-setup” benefit opened a source for diminishing machine downtime, and in combination with distinct economic advantages, ensured promising prospects for the exchangeable solid-head concept as a direction of cutting tool development.

The metalworking industry has tightened its requirements for cutting tool versatility and maintainability. This has drawn a good response from the tool manufacturer. For example, a typical cutter with indexable inserts features inner channels for coolant supply through the cutter body. Such a body design is effectively an unwritten tool standard now. Another example is the way cutting tool manufacturers not only strictly specify the necessary torque for tightening insert clamping screws, but also supply dynamometric keys to ensure necessary torque value.

Emerging trends and new challenges

In the metalworking industry, there are enduring trends that present new challenges for cutting tool manufacturers. The significantly increased use of composites and sintered materials now requires specific cutters, which are customised in many cases.

Precise metal forming and 3D printing are leading to the growth of workpieces that are produced very close to the final shape of a part. This causes a considerable reduction of stock removed by machining operations. Therefore, productive and accurate low-power cutting on high-power machine tools is rising substantially. Advanced multi-axis machines are capable of precisely generating complicated shapes via cutting methods. Hence, the metalworking industry is interested in reasonable, effective solutions from the cutting tool manufacturer.

Machining difficult-to-cut ISO S materials, especially β and near-β titanium grades and high-temperature superalloys (HTSA), requires low cutting speeds. Growing demands for the components from these materials require the respective increase in output by speeding up machining operations.

As it turns out, the smallest element of the technological system – the cutting tool – becomes a main obstacle to the productivity growth. The search for a resolution to these issues is connected mainly with design and manufacturing. In one way or another, these belong more or less to a traditional and familiar sphere.

At the same time, changes taking place in the industry have presented the toolmaker with tasks of a completely different kind. Industry 4.0 and the digitisation of manufacturing have brought the virtual world to tool manufacturing. Manufacturers have demanded that the cutting tool be supplemented with a corresponding digital twin and a developed set of information services. This will be a pre-requisite for the smart factory of tomorrow. Without it, the tool manufacturer will remain at the factory gate. Tomorrow’s customer is waiting for active virtual design options that are needed for process modelling, tool assembly integration, concept design of customised tools, and more.

Online marketing will play a core role in this change. COVID-19 has accelerated the influence of online marketing, and the growing demand for online pre-sales services and post-sales support will be expected as a whole spectrum of services by the tool manufacturer.

Consequently, an “All-in-One” digital system – encompassing online marketing, tool data, access to information, generating twin models, engineering and economic calculations, tool life analysis, immediate service, advice, knowledge, competency and more – will all be an integral part of the product range for the cutting tool manufacturer.

Looking for the right answer

Of course, tool manufacturers cannot just sit around and wait for things to change; they must be proactive. Iscar is an example of how a leading toolmaking company seeks to meet new industry demands and prepares itself for forthcoming changes. In recent years, Iscar introduced many new innovative product lines through its LogIQ product campaign to provide solutions that reflect industrial trends.

Iscar’s turning product line was enriched with a versatile assembled system comprising of an anti-vibration bar and exchangeable heads carrying various inserts. New inserts from polycrystalline CBN tips were designed to improve performance in turning hard materials. A lead-edge parting system with multi-pocket adapters and robust reinforced tool blocks opens new horizons for increasing productivity.

Iscar significantly expanded its milling line with a range of tools for HFM and HSM. For machining difficult-to-cut aerospace materials, Iscar specifically developed new carbide grades for indexable inserts and ceramic endmills. Also, newly introduced extended flute cutters with HPC option significantly increased metal removal rates in rough milling titanium.

Iscar’s line of drills with replaceable carbide heads was replenished by a newly designed three-flute head that ensures considerably increased productivity. New solid drills with polycrystalline diamond nibs and wafers provide efficient solutions for drilling composite materials.

The information segment of Iscar’s product program has undergone major changes, with digital tool twins in accordance with standard ISO 13399, virtual assembly options, an optimal tool selection software, a cutting material grade optimiser, various sources of constantly updated information, online purchasing, rich mobile phone applications and many other new functions.

The logic of industrial development demands new high-performance cutters with a developed informational integrant. Striking a complete, organic balance between the material and virtual worlds will soon be recognised in the cutting tool industry and define a cutting tool’s incorporation into advanced manufacturing systems.