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Indexable cutting tools proving safe haven from runaway carbide prices

Rockford, IL -- Alert manufacturers are moving to indexable tools to avert the recent steep price run-up for solid ...


Rockford, IL — Alert manufacturers are moving to indexable tools to avert the recent steep price run-up for solid carbide tooling, according to Ingersoll Cutting Tools, which supplies both types of tools.

“There is a definite shift toward indexable drills and milling cutters triggered by the rise in solid carbide tooling prices,” says Chuck Elder, Ingersoll executive vice-president. “We hear it from supply chain managers and distributors, and are seeing it in our own sales figures.”

Tungsten carbide prices rose five-fold in 2004, thereby increasing the price of solid carbide tooling by 60-70%. Prices for indexable tooling, by contrast, remained relatively stable, since those tools contain only 10-15% of costly tungsten carbide. The run-up in carbide prices reduced the premiuim for indexable over solid carbide milling cutters from about 50% to 20%. For indexable drills, which generally cost less than solid carbide even before the run-up, the differential increased from about 30% to 50%.

Elder added that, athough carbide prices may flatten going forward or retreat slightly, the odds of any return to near pre-2004 prices are remote in the extreme.

“At carbide present prices, North American manufacturers could save about $300 million a year in tooling costs alone by converting from solid carbide to indexable round tools,” Elder estimates. “That doesn’t include savings from eliminating the ‘reconditioning merry go round’ and from gains in throughput, which can be substantial.”

“That ‘merry go round’ refers to the four- to 15-week turnaround cycle for reconditioning solid carbide tools. In a high-volume operation, it necessitates a “float” of four to six tools for every one in active service.

Case in point: Global Gear and Machining (GGM), Downers Grove, IL, which makes 300,000 automotive drive train flanges a year, cut its drill inventory from 600 solid carbide drills to just 20 indexable Qwik-Twist drill bodies and a supply of replaceable points. Saving: about $205,000 a year all told in drill inventory and reconditioning costs — with essentially a drop-in tooling switch.

“The bigger the tool, the bigger the saving with indexables,” adds Bob Jennings, Ingersoll Qwik-Twist product manager.

Indexable milling cutters have caught on especially for mixed work, since several different types of cutting edges can be mounted on the same steel shank. “Indexable milling cutter sales have definitely taken off as carbide prices rose,” says Ingersoll Chip Surfer product manager Mike Dieken. A principal application has been opening large holes by corkscrew milling as an alternative to step-up drilling. “And since one size mill can generate virtually any size hole, you get by with fewer tools,” he says.

Also contributing to the trend is the improved repeatability of modern indexable tools. “Today’s indexables routinely hold the same 0.0005-in. repeatability, after indexing, of any mainstream solid carbide tool,” says Elder. “Moreover, it is possible to create better cutting geometries in an indexable insert than in a full length solid carbide round.”

Prior to 2004, the market was gradually realizing that the benefits of indexables go way beyond tooling cost and are permanent, according to Elder. “The run-up in carbide prices has simply accelerated the sea change toward indexable tooling over solid carbide. It started people thinking more about using costly carbide as a cutting tip only, and making the rest of the tool out of inexpensive alloy steel. That’s an idea that will be with us a good long while.”

For further information, visit Ingersoll Cutting Tools at www.ingersoll-imc.com.