Era of waste is over: working smarter is more critical than ever to offset rising metal costs.

Author:Alpern, Peter B.
Position:Cutting tools & material strategies
 
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While commodities such as gold and oil have hogged the headlines--with a barrel of crude oil predicted to go to $150 this year--many of the lesser-known specialty metals are also following suit.

That surge in costs for metals such as cobalt, tungsten, tantalum, nickel, and beryllium has affected the price of cutting tools throughout the manufacturing sector.

Though the cost for cutting tools and their accompanying inserts hasn't reached a critical stage, their customers have been forced to consider with what innovative techniques these tools can be best maximized.

"Everyone's feeling the pain," says Michael Locker, president of Locker Associates, a New York City-based steel consulting firm. "Whether the Fed wants to admit it or not, we have galloping inflation on the cost of production. And you're really feeling it in manufacturing."

There are many reasons for the cost increase: metals from all over the map have leapt in price in recent years as a result of the booming economies of China and India; the manipulation of supply in several countries where these metals are mined have affected the cost, along with the explosive growth of the aerospace and medical implant industries.

Work more efficiently

Many manufacturers have been able to ride out the tide by working more efficiently.

The days when a company could purchase strategic metals plentifully and cheaply are gone. For years, the routine was to use plenty of carbide to drill small, shallow holes. That was the way it was purchased, and that was the way machining was done.

"You look back then--and we're talking just a few years ago--and they were often using pieces of carbide inserts for both milling and turning," says Mike Gadzinski, Iscar Metals national training manager. "It was way, way bigger than what they really needed. We've all had to downsize what we're using."

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For a time, one of the smarter machining strategies being bandied about was ways in which to extend tool life. But Gadzinski doesn't see that strategy as the end-all solution.

"Nobody's ever gone into business to save money--they've gone in to make money," he says. "So if I can spend less money on my inventory and material and do more work with a smaller piece of carbide, and ultimately get more parts out the door, I'm making more money."

Smarter machining

For years, working more efficiently could be loosely translated as relocating production to low-cost countries or downsizing. But diminished production or a weaker product often followed the immediate gratification of savings.

Cutting tool manufacturers have suggested that the easiest way for customers to survive the upswing in metal costs is through maximizing their productivity, improving their processes, and reducing their waste.

Sandvik Coromant has formulated a model...

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