Some Cutting-Edge Advice for Optimizing Wood Yields

Cutting tool experts slice right to the point about improving yields when machining solid wood.

BY JOHN IWANSKI

As the furniture and woodworking industries in North America continue to feel the pinch of increasing lumber prices and timber harvesting restrictions, companies are looking for more ways to reduce overhead costs and improve bottom-line profits.

One cost-reducing area that many companies are looking at is improving the yield of their available woodstock. By reducing waste and scrap and getting more product out of available lumber, companies are improving on their overall profit margins while still providing the same product quality to customers.

Wood & Wood Products polled 10 individuals at the forefront of cutting tool and saw blade technology and asked them what improvements have appeared in the tooling and cutting industry that will help manufacturers improve yields when machining solid wood. W&WP also asked what trends are appearing now that are most likely to dictate changes in the future for both the wood cutting and tooling industries, including new developments for reducing noise or improving productivity.

Diamonds Can Be a Woodworker's Best Friend

"The biggest development still hitting the tooling segment is the improved design of diamond tooling," says Karin John-Deutschler, vice president of GUHDO-USA. "Materials are becoming more and more abrasive, so much so that you wind up with products that simply can't be machined with conventional blades. That's why we are seeing such a development in new diamond technologies."

John-Deutschler adds that longer tool life, as well as tool changes, are increased several times versus the use of conventional blades.

GÇÿMaterials are becoming more and more abrasive ... That's why we are seeing such a development in new diamond technologies.'

- Karin John-Deutschler,

GUHDO-USA

David Freund, president of Saber Diamond Tools, says that diamond tools also greatly reduce the amount of waste that occurs with tool changes. Freund notes that the only scrap that will normally occur with diamond tooling is the fuzziness at the edges of the wood that accompany the need for a tool change.

"You eliminate the scrap by eliminating the frequency of tool changes," says Freund. "The user doesn't have to run a few boards through the machine after the change and scrap them because of rough cuts or fuzziness. They can start the machine up and go right back into production."

Fred Heise, technical sales representative for Royce-Ayr Cutting Tools Inc., says "We have a customer who has had the same diamond tool on his machine for nine years and he hasn't had to sharpen it once. We don't know if we did something really wrong or really right, but he hasn't had to change the way he machines wood.

"Although diamond tools were originally developed for cutting wood composite materials, they have proven to be very cost-effective when machining solid woods," continues Heise. "Diamond-tipped tools are sure to be the GÇÿcutting edge' of the future."

Selecting the Right Tool Pays Off

Harry Guenshe, project engineer for Leitz Tooling Systems, says customers are placing a greater premium on tooling for machinery, a trend he hopes will continue into the next millennium.

"When customers start investing in good tools, it pays off for them in the long run. They recognize that accuracy and correct geometry pay off pretty quickly," says Guenshe. "You can improve your yield by reducing the scrap material you generate by using the correct tooling applications."

He also says that using new tools is allowing end-users to keep cutting angles and the geometry of the cut on-line for longer periods of time.

"We are getting to the point where customers can reduce if not eliminate sanding. And with the developments in carbides and also diamond tooling, we are seeing changes where customers don't have to fuss with repair work or tear-outs on wood projects as a result of bad technologies or tools," Guenshe says.

Increased customer interest toward tooling applications is echoed by John-Deutschler, who has a similar outlook for tooling manufacturers.

In her 17 years in the industry, John-Deutschler says she has "noticed that usually the last thing woodworkers think about is tooling. But I've never seen anything like the interest in tooling right now. Companies are going over complete tooling requirements along with the machines they are going to buy. It used to be that companies ordered the machines and then realized that they had to get the tools to run them so the machines didn't sit idle. Now, tooling is becoming increasingly important and that is something that we obviously like to see."

Carbide Allows Smaller Shops to Keep Up

"Carbide technology has really evolved," says Norm Hubert, vice president, sales and marketing, LRH Enterprises Inc. "A few years ago, moulder heads were only available in steel. Now, there are products that are carbide-tipped or coated, and it allows the end-user to extend the life of the tool as well as cut a lot of the MDF and other products that are on the market now."

Hubert also notes that since 80% of the marketplace is made up of small- to medium-sized shops, carbide will continue to evolve as a cost-effective technology for smaller-sized shops.

"Diamond has a lot of applications, but it is really useful in high production," says Hubert. "However, it's a real balancing act in terms of purchasing the right tools for smaller shops. That's why carbide insert tooling and other carbide improvements are a step up. The technology is coming around for all sizes of end-users."

"CNC carbide technologies have really taken off," adds John-Deutschler. "Also, new developments in carbide grade panel saw blades will result in a much longer tool life and help produce cleaner cuts longer."

Scott Erickson, chief executive officer of Ingleside, IL-based Leuco Tool Corp., "There have been some major gains in powder metallurgy over the last few years. These gains have allowed carbide to be used more in solid wood machining, particularly in the machining of softer woods such as pine. And now, the development of GÇÿsofter' carbide with higher cut angles is similar to that of high speed steel tools, but with improved durability. This produces finish qualities that are better than carbides that were used in years past."

CNC Technology Drives the Industry Forward

"The big change over the last ten years and over the next ten years is the CNC router. It has completely changed the way people make furniture and manufacture parts," says Tom Erikson, vice-president of sales at Onsrud Cutter Mfg. "As a result, it has spawned a whole new generation of tooling and tool manufacturing."

Bruce Swing, president and owner of Wisconsin Knife Works Inc. says "The machinery in general is getting more sophisticated and that is requiring us (tool manufacturers) to make more accurate tooling with less deviation. This is especially true in CNC machines. Speeds and feeds are continually increasing, with much higher rates of frequency for production. Motors are requiring the industry to constantly adjust its tooling technologies because of the rate and speed which manufacturing is occurring at now."

 

GÇÿCompanies are...seeing if spending three times more on saw blades will save them in the long run on tool changes and higher wood yields.'

- John Schultz,

Super Thin Saws Inc.

John Schultz, president of Super Thin Saws says, "All of the advancements right now, technology, sophisticated equipment and training, are combining together right now. We are seeing everything from the testing of new cutting materials such as stelite and tantung, to increased advances in diamond tooling. Companies are training their employees on their computerized equipment in order to make the organization more productive and efficient.

"What all of these things have in common is that the industry is moving towards a higher-tech status," continues Schultz. "Wood machining is being done a lot less by the seat of the pants and now is much more technologically advanced. That may have to do a lot with the development of CNC machinery, but it definitely is a key factor in the future of the tooling industry."

Getting More from Moulders

"There are several developments occurring in the moulding industry for natural wood, both in content and design," says Gary Metzgar, dept. of marketing & training, North American Products Corp. "Items like a carbide helical moulder head that are now available on the market have a life two to four times longer than the life of a normal head. And with the ability of a helical head to perform different jobs, you reduce both the number of tool changes required as well as the inventory of different tools."

Freund adds, "We have been able to get very high shears as well as helical cuts with some of our new diamond tooling. With the higher shears, it enables the processor to prevent the rough cuts and fuzziness that come with trying to get as many pieces out of the board as they can with as few tool changes as possible."

Industry Also Interested in GÇÿCutting' Noise

"As far as tooling is concerned, the biggest development in the area of moulders is noise reduction," says Heise. "These tools obviously won't contribute to the end-user getting more wood out of the tree, but the noise reduction is tremendous.

"With the development of the shear-faced head, or the spiral head as the case may be with our company, it is something that every tooling company is getting into in some way," Heise continues. "The unions and companies are concerned about it, and some big steps have really been taken to help with the noise pollution that occurs in shops and plants."

Man-Made Woods Influence Tool Design

"The biggest change overall is the use of man-made woods," says Swing. "Whether it's MDF, particleboard, the common denominator in all is the use of glues and resins. These materials takes us away from high speed steel and more and more towards the use of solid carbide knives." He adds that these

GÇÿ... Man-made woods ... take(s) us away from high speed steel and more and more towards the use of solid carbide knives.'

- Bruce Swing,

Wisconsin Knife Works Inc.

carbides are used not only to cut and mould this material, but that by using them manufacturers prolong the tool's life and also save money by using some lower-grade woods. With the pressures on the industry and limits being placed on hardwood foresting, this will become even more crucial into the year 2000.

"Use of man-made woods is growing rapidly and will continue into the future. The industry has gotten more sophisticated for how it can use those as finished products, whether it is in MDF mouldings for furniture, window cores, whatever, they are finding all kinds of new applications for it," says Swing.

Careful Analysis Can Improve the Bottom Line

Experts say it's important for companies to identify what their markets are when considering both their tooling and machining needs. Unrealistic expectations for tools often are a sure way to erode profits.

"Diamond tooling will work well with abrasive materials, but it doesn't have much of a cutting edge. Conversely, carbide blades might give a cleaner cut, but might not be as durable or be able to cut materials for the end-user," says Erikson. "You have to make compromises with the cut size and quality of cut as well as life of the blade. Many things factor in on that."

Schultz notes that companies for the first time are really analyzing their costs to see how and where they can save money without playing with the quality of the end product.

"Companies are sitting down with their accountants and seeing if spending three times more on saw blades will save them in the long run on tool changes and higher wood yields," Schultz says.

Metzgar adds, "Our (the tooling industry) approach is if you can keep the tool on line longer, then the longer you can run without downtime for tool changes and the more you improve your bottom line. Improving yield is something all customers want to do, and might be achieved by using a thinner carbide blade on a gang ripsaw. But if you have to change tools twice as often to save 2/100-ths of an inch on every cut," continues Metzgar, "you aren't saving money because you have to factor in the tool change downtime and your lost productivity. Companies have to factor that in when looking at costs."

Custom-Built Tools for Custom Needs

"Everyone is asking for custom tooling now," says Hubert. "Shapers, insert heads, router bits, people want tools that will work exactly the way they want to. Some manufacturers stay away from that because they only want long

GÇÿEveryone is asking for custom tooling now ... People want tools that will work exactly the way they want to.'

- Norm Hubert,

LRH Enterprises

runs on tools, but we try to get them manufactured and get them out to the customer as soon as possible."

Schultz agrees with that sentiment, saying, "A big trend is toward alternative cutting materials. We are testing different materials ourselves, as are other companies. Everyone has known about the virtues of thinner blades and other advancements, but now everyone is trying to make it happen," says Schultz. "I don't know if that is just to increase yield, but the end-user is letting suppliers know what they are looking for right now."

Directly to the Point: Learn to Earn

Hubert also notes that with all the technological developments in the machine side of the industry, another area is showing tooling manufacturers a way to help themselves: the internet.

"I've been doing this for 25 years and I've always gone through a distributor," says Hubert. "But now the manufacturer is getting calls because customers want the hard facts and the manufacturer knows his product inside and out. It saves the end-user a lot of time and when they get the product, they know it will do exactly what they were told it would.

"Economics didn't justify it before, but now, especially with the convenience of the internet, I can take that order direct and handle it myself," Hubert continues. "I won't ever undersell my distributor, but the distributor has to learn to earn or those sales will start to go directly to the manufacturer."

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