Are you one of the many machine shops that are losing $10,000, $50,000 or $100,000 per year, in company profits and you don’t know it?  If you have implemented quick change tooling on your mills and lathes, congratulations you are maximizing company profits!  If you are not using quick change tooling, it is time to pay attention as your company is bleeding profits at an estimated $25,000 per lathe per year! 

February 12, 2002 Donald Rumsfeld said, “we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know.  We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.  But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”                  

There is not a better quote to reference when we talk about quick-change tooling.  Especially quick-change tooling for CNC lathes and angle heads used on machining centers.  Customers think the cost of quick-change tooling is too high to purchase with little payback (known unknowns).  There is nothing further than the truth.  

Perception that there is little payback can trick us to do things that seem to make sense, yet often lead us to the wrong conclusion.   The wrong conclusion can distort our belief, cause us to make bad decisions and ultimately cost large amounts of company profits.  (unknown unknowns) 

Most of this article will be focused on tooling used on CNC turning centers. There are a lot of applications where quick-change tooling should also be considered for angle heads on machining center applications.  General manufacturing, aerospace, defense, automotive and heavy equipment manufacturing all have the need for set-up reduction along with fast broken and worn tool replacement.      

Quick change tooling has been around a long time.  In the mid 80’s Kennametal developed the KM quick-change system.  In 1990, Sandvik introduced the CAPTO quick change tooling system.  Both products targeted turning, milling and drilling applications, yet companies are slow to implement or make a conscious decision not to implement.  

There have been many articles written, including this one, on quick change tooling and why it needs to be implemented.  The earliest article I could find was written 23 years ago. In 1996 Mark Albert of Modern Machine shop wrote: 

  • Modular, quick-change tooling is one of the tactical options many shops are exercising in their quests to stay on top of the competition. 
  • Tooling often determines the earning potential of a new machine.

I couldn’t agree more and restate it this way: “Quick change tooling will determine the earning potential of a new machine!”  Why? There are many areas where quick change tooling will improve productivity resulting in increased production and higher company profits.  

  • Set up reduction
    • Unless you are running high production, leave the tools mounted in the turret, change only the preset adapters, set ups can be reduced by 1-2 hours.
    • On low production applications, the turret index time is not as important as set-up reduction.  You are most likely to finish the production run in less time than it takes to set-up the lathe!  The focus must be set-up reduction.  
  • Fast broken & worn tool replacement
    • Preset adapters can be replaced in 15 seconds instead of 3-10 minutes per tool.
    • Tool presetting is done off the lathe saving 2 minutes per tool compared to using the lathe presetter.  
    • Tool replacement is often done by someone other than the operator. Downtime waiting on this person is time consuming and costly.    
  • Quick-change applies to both static and live tools
    • Do not exclude the static tools when considering quick-change.  Turning, threading, grooving and cutoff tools seldom change but do need inserts replaced.  More common need for quick-change on static tools are the boring bars, reamers, drills and taps. They change with every set-up.  
  • Lowers the cost of tooling as you do not need tools with dedicated spindles 
    • Tools with mill arbor, Weldon, whistle notch, different size and style of collet chucks, etc. are too costly to have on hand for usage once or twice a year.   
  • Provides safety to the turret 
    • Manufactures say not to change the tool in the collet in the lathe in any position other than the driven position.  Why?  It will cause damage to the inside of the turret. 
    • Most of the lathe operators don’t know this or ignore it, putting your company at risk for high maintenance cost!  
    • Quick-change lowers risk of maintenance, tools can be changed in any turret position as there are no forces passed to the tang to damage the inside of the turret.
  • Provides safety to the operator 
    • Adapters can be exchanged safely with one hand. 
    • No risk of a collet wrench slipping off the tool and the operator getting injured from adjacent tooling as the quick-change adapters are assembled and preset outside the lathe. 
    • No risk of injury when the operator reaches into large lathes. Tools are heavy and reaching into large lathes to install the tool in the turret can cause the operator to lose balance creating a high risk for injury.
  • Lowers the need for capital spending on additional machinery
    • Allows you to increase productivity on existing machinery first. 

Most of the time operator safety, machine tool safety and lower capital spending are not talked about.  Customers are surprised to find out these are additional advantages to purchasing quick-change tools. All three should be considered as they will greatly enhance the need and payback of the quick-change tooling.  

In 2012 BENZ introduced BENZ Solidfix® a 15 second quick change tooling system to be implemented with our live tools, static tools and angle heads.  Our advantage:  Solidfix® can be quick changed in the same time (15 seconds) as CAPTO and KM for about 30% less.  The question: how much will Solidfix® quick-change help me?  To answer this question we created a Solidfix® cost justification worksheet to help customers understand savings derived from set-up reduction and worn or broken tool replacement.   The savings calculated and opportunity for increased production/profit was surprisingly high and showed the quick-change payback was less than 6 months, resulting in increased profits the first and every year thereafter.  

April 2013 Cutting Tool Engineering released a great article “Buying Time”.  This article confirmed our worksheet was correct.  The math was even easier, reduce downtime an hour per day and a shop with an hourly rate of $100 could save more than $25,000 per lathe per year!  It also confirmed our belief that perception of high cost and low payback was why the technology was not being widely implemented.  

Reduce downtime an hour a day is more than reasonable.  With this confirmation we were ready to rock and roll.  Since we manufacture and sell both BENZ Solidfix® and BENZ CAPTO™ tooling we had everything the customer would need, right?  Wrong, something was still missing!  

What were we missing?  Why hasn’t the quick-change tooling been widely implemented?  What has the industry been doing for the last 34 years?  Why aren’t all CNC lathes equipped with some sort of quick-change tooling?  There are five answers. 

  1. The perception of high cost gets in the way of a smart buying decision.
  2. Most machine tool distributors are focused on selling machine tools, not tooling.
  3. Tooling to reduce setup time or broken tool / worn tool replacement is the customer problem, not the machine tool distributor or OEM problem.  
  4. It is not discussed at time of purchase or machine demo.  
  5. Most application engineers and salesman are not educated in the advantage of quick change,  they cannot pass this information on to the customer.  

As tooling companies, it is our job to better educate the customer, machine tool distributor and OEM.  A lot of machine tool distributors now have Integrated Tooling Specialists.  This is a great start as their job is to help the customer buy and implement tooling to make the machine more productive.   Sadly, we are hearing a lot of the distributor organizations do not care about selling tooling and do not want to get involved.  To keep things simple, they will sell the basic tool package with the lathe offered by the manufacture and include it with the financing.  As a customer you need to speak up and say I want my machine to be as productive as possible, what are my options for maximum productivity?  

When tooing purchases to reduce set up time and broken / worn tool replacement is left up to the customer or tooling salesman, then the decision is too late as the machine and tooling have already been purchased.  The customer has been unknowingly forced on the path to lose more than $20,000 per year per lathe in company profits.  The choice to throw out all the tools purchased with the lathe to invest in quick change tooling is no longer an option.  Yet this again is the wrong decision.  The payback is short enough and substantial enough to start over with the correct tools! 

When do you need to invest in quick change tooling?  The best answer is at the time of the lathe or angle head purchase.   The second-best answer is as soon as you finish this article, as you are now informed!   It is never too late to stop the bleeding and increase company profits!  

Implementation of quick-change tooling will require some new procedures.  Don’t let this get in the way of your decision.  This is not a choice, it is your profit we are talking about!  Just like anything else, training and procedures are required to maximize your investment.  

If you need more information on quick change tooling contact: [email protected]