Machinist Apprentice | Haas Minimill Pausing With Large Program | Day 164b

Finished up the first operation of the first set of parts. 

Unfortunately, I made a stupid mistake yesterday when trying to use the tool wear compensation in Fusion360. I accidentally had the toolpath generate on the centerline of the contour rather than having the cutter's edge follow the wall.

I got to the shop this morning to check on an overnight run, only to find the Haas minimill paused at a single line of code with the spindle on and coolant running. I have this happen several times in the past, and I keep forgetting to save the code that caused it.

I'm not sure what I'm missing, but I hypothesize that the machine is getting overwhelmed by the information and pauses. When I came in this morning, it looked like someone paused the machine rather with a feed hold, but nothing happens when trying to hit cycle start.

It ran through the first 3/4" of the program just fine, and only when the machine raised the tool in the z height did this happen. It seems pretty consistent with the previous times it's happened.

I asked this question on a public forum for Fusion360 and got one person responding with a very probable solution. He said that he had similar past issues where the power would fluctuate and cause the machine to stall for a second, just enough to pause the machine where it is without moving forward or corrupting the file. My thought is that since it's such a large file, the machine has to read through it all at such a pace that it would require less of a power surge the larger the code. 

As it happens, this file had several thousand lines with about a 3 hour run time. 

Machinist Apprentice | Tool Organization | Day 164b

I get to work an hour before my boss each morning to warm up the machines and clean the shop. 

Today I had a little extra time on my hands this morning before my boss arrived, so I decided to re-organize the cleaning & deburring station in the shop using some leftover pick and pull foam for shipping the rocket kits. I'm really pleased with the outcome, and it makes it much easier to keep the worktop clean! 

I found that some of the smaller tools that aren't as thick as the foam are more difficult to grab in a pinch. So I only removed half the foam so that the tool would be propped up toward you, presenting itself to be readily available. 

I believe that if your workspace or tools are clean, you automatically take better care of it. This is why some automotive companies require you to sign a document saying you will keep the vehicle clean while it's in your ownership. If you drive a beat-up old car, most probably won't maintain it as much as they would a nicer-looking vehicle.

I absolutely love cleaning and organizing, and I'm in the process of slowly organizing the shop in between contracts and janitorial duties :)

Machinist Apprentice | Long Reach & Slow RPMS Haas Minimill | Day 164

Working on these somewhat complicated parts, I got to program yesterday.

There are three L-shaped pieces, and I'm doing them all together in a large piece of bar-stock. Unfortunately, I had to run through a somewhat tedious process of removing the material around it before I could finish the sidewalls and get the small details because of their shape. 

Because these parts have such high walls and tight corners (see my previous post), I had difficulty getting good surface finishes. I'm actually a little surprised how well the 1/4" long flute endmill did cleaning the sides at multiple steps. We don't have a tool long enough to get the entire depth of the wall in one shot, so my boss reduced the tool's neck so I could take it at several stepdowns. I would previously have issues where there would be a witness mark showing where the end of the flutes ended and the endmill's neck started; this time, there wasn't!

The difficult feature of this part is the corner where the two inner lines meet up. They have a hole in that corner to ensure the block that gets set into it is perfectly square to the two side walls. Unfortunately, this means that cleaning the inner walls has to be done with a small endmill which chatters more the longer the tool sticks out. I was able to clean up the majority of the wall surface with a 1/4" SQ, but as it got close to the corners, there was a very slight hook where the tool couldn't quite make it. Because of this, I had to take a very long reach 1/8" sq and take very slow cuts (low rpm and feedrate) to make sure that back corner was square.

The problem with this is that because you are using two different endmills to clean the same surface, it's nearly impossible to get a seamless transition due to the actual diameter of the tools you're using. Because of this, I had to guestimate the actual diameter of the 1/8" and compensate for the offset by leaving negative stock to leave on the side walls. It's not perfect, but I was able to slightly undersize the sidewall by 0.0003" (3 tenths) which is acceptable for this part so long as it's not positive). You can see in the image above the faint difference between 1/4" and 1/8" sq endmills. 

Machinist Apprentice | Steep Machining Depths | Day 163

Working on a new set of parts that pose a very subtle but interesting challenge.

One of these pieces' requirements is that you can't use any sandpaper or Scotch Brite to finish up the parts' surface due to their final use. This wouldn't normally be an issue; however, many steep walls lead into tight corners on this job. They are all L-shaped, and the parts' outer contour is no big deal, and I can use large endmills for it. However, since they have an inside corner that needs to be pretty sharp, I have to use a smaller endmill. 

In one section, the wall spans nearly 1.5," and I have to somehow get an 1/8" endmill to finish the walls without any burnish marks from the shank. The solution to this problem is using a combination of a 1/4" endmill to finish the majority of the surface, then come in with a reduced shank cutter and get the remaining spots the 1/4" couldn't reach. 

One problem may arise, which is the diameter of the tools themselves; when endmills are ground down, they are typically undersized vary slightly from their written size. To fix this problem, I will be using tool cut diameter compensation (CDC) inside the machine and program to sneak up on the correct size. 

For example, say you cut a square block with a 0.5" endmill, and you want the block to be 1" square. When you cut and measure it, you find it's actually 1.008". You would then input into the diameter offset -0.004" (0.008/2), and the toolpath would adjust to compensate for the offset. Most of the time, this isn't necessary as the difference is so slight it falls into most tolerances. But in this case, where the wall's surface needs to be clean and accurate, I will have to make sure it's as close as possible. 

Machinist Apprentice | Machining Speeds & Feeds & Nuclear Parts | Day 162

Working on the first of many parts for this new client. Everything has to be extremely clean, and I spent the previous two days washing down the machine in preparation for these pieces. 

There aren't anything complicated about these parts, just big, fairly straightforward pieces. The tricky thing with these is you can't use any cleaning tools like files, sandpaper, or certain Scotch-Brite pads. Even the cleaning process for these requires no brushes or sponges to be used. 

The part I worked on today was a basic plate with a few countersunk holes. My boss wants to go the extra mile for this company, so I used a ball end mill to get the holes' large fillets. I didn't realize it until working on this project that the boring toolpath in Fusion360 works with tapered faces quite well, and I was able to quickly rough it out for the ball endmill. 

I am also diving in deeper into the speeds and feeds area of machining, reading through a few tooling manuals, and understanding more of the chip-load and how it relates to the SFM & RPMs of the machine. I'm quite surprised how far I can push these tools by using the correct speeds and feeds (who would have known!).

Machinist Apprentice | New Coolant to Water Ratio | Day 161

I got the Haas minimill coolant tank all cleaned up today and refilled it with the fresh!

Part of this process involved cleaning out the pump, which consisted of running several gallons of warm-hot water through the entire system to clear out any leftover debris or coolant. I accomplished this by taking an empty plastic bin and filling it with clean water, lowered the pump inside it, and let it run for a few minutes to flush everything out. 

Removing the coolant and chips from the machine's bed was the difficult part and took me a while to figure out how to do it. Since this is an older machine, it doesn't have as many fancy features, like an access panel or easily accessible hatches to perform coolant maintenance. So I was subjected to crawling on my knees with an outstretched am and a wide range of long objects to push as much of the grit toward me. 

I eventually cobbled together a method of using a long reach chip scooper to bring the bulk of the junk toward me, then using an (I am ashamed for this) t-square to get the chips from the very back out. I then took advantage of many old shop towels, which I used to suck up as much of the remaining liquid until it was fairly dry. Finally, I used a mop-like cleaner to pull the last remaining sludge from the back corners that the other tools couldn't reach. 

Once the underside was as clean as it could be without investing a ton more time, I poured the new coolant into the machine. Finding the right ratio of coolant to water was the difficult part, and I'm shocked the company doesn't have the ratio printed on the side of the bucket. But after doing a bit of research, I found the correct coolant-to-water ratio (4-10%) and eyeballed each bucket. When there were only 5 gallons left to go, I used a refractometer (a tool that measures the water content in liquids) and measured my new coolant against what was recommended, and I felt right inside the gate of 6.4-12.0%.

There aren't many great resources out there that explain how the coolant ratio work, so I had to jump around to several sites to get the gist of it. From what I understand, each coolant type has its own ratio, but many are very similar and don't need to be spot on. Plus, over time, the water evaporates, so the coolant becomes more concentrated. When you add more to the machine, you have to keep adding less and less coolant per bucket so you can compensate for the concentrate. 

Machinist Apprentice | Deep Machine Cleaning | Day 160

Today I got to do the thing I've been dying to do since I got in the shop (mild sarcasm), which is cleaning out the coolant and chips from the Haas minimill!

We just got a couple of jobs to come in that require precise machining requirements due to the part's use. I believe it's got something to do with nuclear prototyping, and so many variables have to be removed when working in that environment. Because of this, the coolant being used on these parts cannot have touched any other metals except that which it is milling.

Since we've made copper and steel parts in the machine, it meant that I had to clear everything out and remove the old chips and coolant and replace it with new stuff. It was a little bit of a daunting task at first, just because there are so many nooks and crannies in the machine that would be super difficult to remove with the tools at hand. This machine is the only one that doesn't have an external hose hooked up to it, so I just extended the host on the machine and manually washed it out. 

It was a very disgusting job, and I got closer to coolant than I ever want to be again, but the inside is now looking beautiful and clean. I haven't yet completely emptied the internal tank, which will require a lot more work involving a wet vac, uncomfortable positions, and long arms. 

Machinist Apprentice | Modifing Surface Bodies vs Solid Models | Day 159

My boss recently made the wheels to go on the little truck models I've been working on, and they turned out amazing!

Unfortunately, something neither of us picked up on until after the tires were on was that the back fender's angle that sticks out past the wheels is at a slightly different angle than the tire guard on the other side. It's slight but gives it a weird optical illusion that makes the wheel look slightly off-center. Thankfully it's not super noticeable when the windows and details are cut out after getting anodized, but I was allowed to change it before running the final blocks. 

Initially, I was a little afraid to do this, as making modifications to solid models in the past has been anything but a clean process. However, taking advantage of the surface body features in Fusion360, I was able to delete, modify, and remove faces, rather than solid 3D models. This made the change much easier, and there weren't any weird floating bits leftover that I would sometimes get. It also was able to show me very quickly where there was a disconnect on faces/features before taking it into the CAM environment. 

Machinist Apprentice | Slow and Steady Machining | Day 158

One of the steps of this unique machining method I learned from my boss was milling out the small pockets and features in the piece while still in a block. 

The thing I love most about this very different technique is that it's a one-shot go. There is no first and second operation; there are no soft jaws, there are no extra complicated steps. It's a simple push of the button, watch it run for 20 minutes, stick a block of metal on it, and hit the button again. The outcome is a finished part and requires no cleaning up! It absolutely isn't the most efficient way of making these parts, but it makes the most sense for just a couple of them and takes the least amount of time.

I'm really discovering that, not just in machining, but in life as a whole, you really can't cut corners. There is no fast track. You have to take it slow and steady; that is really the fastest way. It's painful at times, but the more patience shown will help you move faster toward that desired outcome. 

Hardlotion Pumpkin Planning | Identifying the Niche

Using Mike Machalowicz's pumpkin plan method for improving the MadeOn Hardlotion business to identify and cater to the unique offering rather than trying to be everything for everyone. 

Starting out, there are the three concentric circles to find your "pumpkin," basically the sweet spot that you can specialize in. The three rings consist of Top Clients, Unique Offering, & Systems.

Top clients are the ones you love working with the most. They are most dedicated to your brand and buy from you religiously.

Unique Offering is what you offer that is different from similar businesses. Something that you do better or are the only one offering.

Systems is what you improve on once you identify your top clients and unique offerings. You build your systems to cater specifically to those first two circles, narrowing your area of expertise to do it better.

For Hardlotion, identifying the top clients is as easy as finding the principal customers that bring in the most revenue consistently. The tricky part is separating those top clients into two categories: those who are there for your unique offering and those who are there for your other products. 

Hardlotion's Unique Offering is "Fixing dried and cracked skin with, few, all-natural ingredients that are good for you."

The third circle is yet to be defined as the focus is on finding the top clients.

Sorting out the highest paying clients that match the take-home revenue and unique offering take the top down to only a few (about 50%). I am weeding out those who mostly buy other products that Hardlotion sells, like soaps (a big area that brings in the money though not the unique offering.) 

The plan is to eliminate all the weeds that distract from the one thing Hardlotion does best, fixing dry skin. Removing the weeds will allow the pumpkin (unique offering) to grow. 

Hardlotion's unique offering products are:
Hardlotion bars, Beesilk Jr, Rash Cream, Natural & Peppermint Lip Balms, Shea Facial, Beecool, Tinted Lip Balms, Foot Rub, and Beesilk Sticks. 

Hardlotion's 'weeds' that distract from the unique offering are:
Soap, Soap Pallets, Facial Washcloths, Hair Butter, Rash Sticks, scented Sticks, and scented Lip Balms.

The first step is to identify the actual top customers who primarily buy the unique offering.

Looking through the current top customers and their previous orders, there seems to be about half that fall into the 'ideal customers' category. They buy the unique offering with few or no discounts and rarely buy the sideline products.

Once I've identified several top clients, I will then interview them to find their frustrations in the skincare industry and their 'wishlist' of things they want improved on. Finding out the frustrations they are running into will help me better identify how I can serve my ideal client and attract more like them. 

I would also ask for other vendors that serve them. Such as personal health companies. So that I can collaborate with them to bring better service to them.