Cutting fluid productivity – a question of attitude from supplier and customer


With manufacturing confidence almost fully restored and reports of some sub-contractors having to turn work away, now is the time to take a closer look at potential productivity gains. Typical targets for these gains are replacing older machine tools or improving cutting tool technology. However, according to Jemtech’s Steve Coull, cutting fluids play a major role in improving bottom line figures as well.

A small percentage improvement in productivity can have dramatic effects on profitability and deliver a whole raft of other benefits for companies. However, while many companies instigate productivity improvements, few capitalise on all of the available aspects of the process. Taking advantage of most but not all available options can restrict the overall result.

Typically, production Engineers will focus their time and effort on machine tools, software, tooling, workholding and methods, but by overlooking the effect that the correct choice of cutting fluid can have on a process any gains made can be squandered. Correctly managed and properly selected the cutting fluid will deliver significant payback, in the form of increased cutting data, improved tolerance holding, improved surface finishes and increased uptime.

When investigating cutting fluids it is important to look at the true cost, not simply the cost per litre for concentrate. The total cost of use for cutting fluids is made up of several diverse elements, first we have the initial cost; top-up costs; cutting tool life; indirect costs (machine damage, health & safety issues, etc); maintenance costs; and of growing importance, disposal costs. The actual cost per litre to buy fluids is a very small percentage of the overall cost.

The first step in gaining an advantage from your cutting fluids is to take a close look at your monitoring and useage. Reviewing information gathering and logging, tool life, cutting data, finishes, tolerances, number of sump changes per year, costs; tooling, overhead, hourly rate and down time will highlight obvious improvement targets that will drive the change through. By reducing waste, lowering product consumption; increasing machine uptime; improving cutting tool life and reducing labour costs the benefits will be seen almost immediately.

For example, one customer in the automotive sector machining cast iron components, increased tool life by 200 per cent by switching to Blasocut BC25 fluid, generating savings in the tool costs of £275/week on one cutter alone, which equates to an annual saving of over £16,000 per year when other costs are taken into account. Similarly, considerable savings can be made through good management of cutting fluids. If the cutting fluid is not suitable, or the concentrations are incorrect, or it is poorly managed for example not removing tramp oil regularly, then sump life will be shortened considerably. Using Blasocut BC20 at a sump concentration of between 7 – 8% and a top up of 1-2 %, considerably lower than the previous top up levels of 4–5 %, complimented with the installation of Fe-Ol tramp oil removing devices, the sump life was increased from two weeks to 26 weeks. This generated a 76 per cent reduction in fluid consumption, a 23 per cent reduction in costs, and massively reduced labour cost for cleaning out the sumps. In addition, this action generated a considerably safer working environment for the operators. Moreover, there is the cost of waste disposal which is considerable when changing coolant every two weeks, amounting to 45 tonnes of waste per year, from just three machine tools in this instance!

While the above savings should speak for themselves there are still many differing perceptions surrounding the benefits of good cutting fluid use and management, from both the supplier and the consumer. Some see it as a necessary evil, while others value it as a liquid tool. It is a sad situation that some suppliers of cutting fluids seem only interested in making money by selling greater volume of fluids, while generating extra costs for their customers. The positive and negative influences that cutting fluids have on productivity are interconnected in complex ways, which leads to compromise.

Anyone telling you that they can extract only the positive from a change of cutting fluids is misleading you. As has already been mentioned it is a matter of attitude; when you move away from the necessary evil (it is juts for cooling and lubrication) viewpoint and translate those elements into reduced costs and improved productivity, or the liquid tool attitude, the time and money invested in developing a good process, that includes cutting fluid management, will be repaid several times over.

A good cutting fluid provider will work in partnership with its customers to focus on producing components faster, longer, and better and not necessarily for the lowest initial cost. By faster we mean higher feedrates, increased depth of cut, reduced secondary operations, reduced cycle times and higher throughput. Longer translates to improved tool life, reduced set-up times, less machine downtime, improved labour usage, and a better return on investment. In combining these elements we arrive at Liquid Tool , which means improved productivity through growth and prosperity, and an overall improvement in the manufacturing process.

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