Broaching a blind keyway with an inserted tool

February 8, 2017 4:28 pm

By Alan Richter

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Being able to broach a blind keyway while keeping the part on the same CNC machine tool used to perform the other machining operations provides a significant improvement in setup, reliability and accuracy, compared to moving the part to a dedicated broaching machine.

That’s according to Kevin Sanieski, CNC tooling system lead for The duMONT Co. LLC, Greenfield, Mass. One effective method is to use broaches that accept inserts, and the toolmaker offers those in its Minute Man line for application on CNC lathes and machining centers.

Minute Man broaches from duMONT accept keyway inserts, as well as slotting and special inserts,
for application on CNC lathes and machining centers.
 Image courtesy of duMONT.

“You can basically run them in any lathe or milling machine,” Sanieski said. “Obviously, the bigger and more rigid the machine, the better the tools will operate.”

Inserts are available to produce blind-keyway widths from 3/32″ to ¾” and from 2mm to 25mm.

The challenge when applying this type of tool is that if a user cuts a blind keyway, simply retracts the tool from the cut and then continues to broach, the chips continue to build up at the bottom of the keyway and the insert inevitably becomes damaged, Sanieski explained. Therefore, the company provides a CNC program with its keyway broaching system that promotes continuous tool movement and cutting while eliminating the need to manually clear chips.

“Specifically, in the blind-keyway situation, you didn’t really have an option before CNC systems came along,” he said. “We have found that ramping that tool out at a 45° angle, or thereabouts, helps keep that insert intact and clears the chip out of the way.”

CNC Broach Tool offers indexable-insert tools for broaching blind keyways. The tools have setscrews
on the side, but the inserts are open face. Image courtesy of CNC Broach Tool.

Sanieski added that the broaching system is not only suitable for generating keyways but also splines, squares, hexes and other internal and external features. “Anything you can think of, we can match a profile.”

A Different Approach

John Gardner, owner of CNC Broach Tool LLC, Marina Del Rey, Calif., agreed that users can ramp, or taper, an indexable-insert broach out of a blind keyway when broaching it, but maintains that the programming required to do so is difficult to perform. In addition, the design of the broaching tool CNC Broach Tool offers isn’t well-suited for ramping out of the cut.

When broaching on a lathe, the workpiece is positioned horizontally and gravity causes chips to fall down and away. Not so when broaching on a mill. With a mill, Gardner recommends creating a cross-hole, groove or notch relief in the part—an open area to push the chips into.  The relief area needs to be large enough that coolant doesn’t simply flush and pack the chips into it, however. If the relief area is not large enough, the tool will pound into those packaged chips and potentially cause a crash, he said, adding that coolant flushes the chips right through a cross-hole and avoids that.

“We want to have enough relief space so you’re not pounding chips in there,” Gardner said. “That’s the ultimate goal for blind-keyway broaching.”

The duMONT Minute Man tooling system allows users to broach through and blind keyways,
keyways in a tapered bore and shaped or splined holes. Image courtesy of duMONT.

CNC Broach’s tools have setscrews on the side, but the carbide inserts are open face, Gardner explained, and the design of the insert directs the cutting force down into the tool centerline and seats the insert down and back in the tool body’s pocket. This design protects the machine if the insert, which has two cutting edges, experiences a lot of pushback or chips buildup in the relief area, he said.

The company states that it designed the insert to pop out of the tool pocket to protect the machine spindle if there is not enough relief space. “Don’t get mad and blame the tool,” Gardner stated. “This is a clue that you do not have enough relief space or the chips are not evacuating the relief space and you are pounding into them.”

The duMONT sharpening stem holds an insert securely in place as the cutting edge
of the insert is resharpened at its original angle. Image courtesy of duMONT.

Ron Odekirk, production manager for Muthig Industries Inc., Fond du Lac, Wis., a parts manufacturer that applies tools from CNC Broach to broach blind keyways, described the toolpath as rectangular, and said the tool is fully withdrawn from the workpiece when it retracts from the hole after each cut.

When the tool comes out of the hole, the insert shouldn’t touch any metal, Odekirk said, noting the rectangular toolpaths get wider and wider as the broach progresses and makes the keyway deeper and deeper.

Need for Speed

Gardner compares blind-keyway broaching with an indexable-insert tool on a CNC machine to chopping down a tree with an ax. “If you swing the ax really slowly, the ax bounces off of the tree, but if you swing it fast, the ax bites and cuts,” he said.

“Speed is your friend” when broaching, Gardner added, but many users are afraid of hurting their CNC machines when applying the tools. Depending on the workpiece material, “I have to constantly remind them that they’re only taking a 0.001″ depth of cut,” he said. “It’s just a very light shave. There is virtually no force involved. You could push that through with your hand.”

Nonetheless, Gardner pointed out that even though the operation involves taking a light DOC, it’s essentially a “controlled crash. You’re blasting the tool in there. Broaching is a very shocking operation.”

For example, Muthig Industries applies broaches from CNC Broach at 550 ipm (13.97 m/min.) when producing blind keyways in parts made of relatively soft cold-rolled steel. (See sidebar below).

To achieve the most-effective cutting speed, Gardner suggests holding the broach body in an ER collet with the backstop held directly in a CAT 40 or 50 spindle. He recommends to never hold the shank of the ER collet in a VDI boring bar sleeve to avoid generating taper in the ceiling of the keyway.

The Daily Regrind

While the vast majority of indexable inserts are disposed of or recycled once they are worn, Sanieski said duMONT’s broaching inserts, which contain 13 percent cobalt and are heat-treated to a hardness greater than 68 HRC, can be resharpened up to five times, depending on insert condition and, therefore, how much material must be ground off.


When blind-keyway broaching, CNC Broach Tool recommends creating a relief area in the part to push chips into and prevent chip packing. The types include cross-hole (top), groove (middle) and notch (bottom).  Images courtesy of CNC Broach Tool.

“If you are paying attention and don’t run them too long and start chipping them, you can sharpen them quickly and won’t remove too much material,” he said.

For shops that resharpen their inserts in-house, duMONT offers an accessory called a sharpening stem. It holds an insert at the correct angle—the angle of the face originally ground into the insert. “You just screw the insert onto the end [of the stem] and buzz it with a grinding wheel,” Sanieski said.

Uncoated inserts are acceptable for some applications, such as when broaching aluminum, but Sanieski recommends recoating inserts when cutting materials such as stainless steel and other challenging-to-machine materials.

Inserts from CNC Broach, which come coated with TiN, can also be resharpened, sometimes up to nine times, and most of its customers do not recoat them after resharpening, Gardner said. “I feel the coating helps get maybe two extra keyways per cutting edge, but with our product you’re already getting 100 to 200 keyways per cutting edge.”

Resharpening inserts doesn’t suit everyone. Odekirk said Muthig Industries doesn’t resharpen its inserts, which average about 250 keyways per edge, because resharpening changes an insert’s dimensions and makes it nonstandard. “Then you have to either cut, measure and recut to get a good part or retouch the tool off every time you change it,” he added. “I don’t like to live in that world, which is why we also do not sharpen endmill diameters.”

Whichever approach is most economical, Gardner emphasized the need to make a mental leap when it comes to broaching on CNC lathes and mills. “People have this whole backwards notion about broaching on a CNC machine,” he said. “They just can’t visualize a different way of doing it, so they have a resistance to doing it on their lathe or mill.”

That mentality can quickly change, however, after a shop outsources, say, a couple hundred parts that need blind keyways to be EDMed at $25 a part and receives the parts with incorrect keyways 2 or 3 weeks later. “If you can blind-keyway broach in your own house, you’re saving money, time and the chance that somebody won’t scrap your parts,” Gardner said. “How do you beat that?”

Fine-tuning single-point broaching

When broaching blind keyways, Ron Odekirk at Muthig Industries emphasized that it’s critical that chips don’t pack together at the end of an indexable-insert tool’s stroke. This essential element was reinforced after the multifaceted parts manufacturer experienced three “pretty significant crashes” when applying indexable-insert broaches from CNC Broach Tool to produce, for an OEM, ¼”-wide × 2″-long (6.35mm × 50.8mm) blind keyways in a family of two different crank adapters made of cold-rolled steel.

Odekirk said the crashes, the first of which happened a day or two after production began, didn’t damage the main spindle on the company’s Doosan 2600SY lathe, but they did permanently damage three tool bodies when the insert popped out. After each “full, hard crash,” the machine was out of alignment, which required half a day to correct, he added.

A chip became welded to an insert during blind-keyway broaching at Muthig Industries. Image courtesy of Muthig Industries.

Muthig began single-point shaping with CNC Broach indexable-insert broaches after it quoted producing the crank adapters complete in the lathe without manually loading parts into the machine. “We load bar stock into a machine and out comes a finished part that’s ready for packaging and shipping,” Odekirk said, adding that the job involves annually producing 40,000 to 60,000 of each adapter.

The OEM, which had been producing the adapters in-house, turned the parts in a lathe and then moved them to a vertical machining center for broaching, he noted.

Odekirk said he learned about the benefits of CNC Broach Tool’s broaches online and, after watching a demonstration video, determined “if they can do it, we can do it; we just need to get a broach in here and figure it out.”

The company did and produced five samples of each part, which the customer approved, without any issues, according to Odekirk. To break the chips and prevent them from packing at the end of the blind keyway, Muthig machines a cross-hole relief in each part, which is more suitable for this particular family of parts because adding a groove or notch relief would create a thinner wall that could reduce part strength.

To try and prevent further crashes, Odekirk consulted with CNC Broach Tool’s John Gardner, who recommended a larger cross-hole for the relief, but the customer didn’t want any revisions to the part design. “They said, ‘We’ll manufacture them ourselves if you guys can’t figure it out,’” Odekirk said. “We said, ‘We’ll figure it out, no problem whatsoever.’”

Gardner suggested that maybe a chip was sticking to the end of the insert, causing the insert to pop out. Odekirk thought that scenario would be difficult to verify, but, sure enough, one day he was watching the machine when broaching suddenly stopped. “And there it is; I’m looking at this chip stuck to the end of the insert,” Odekirk said. “Any time you get material welding to your cutting tool, you have a problem. It significantly increases the cutting load.”

The insert was relatively fresh, with its coating still intact, so Odekirk said he examined the coolant line. Coolant was flowing through an ER32 collet, but spraying along the length of the tool without a clearly defined coolant jet directed at the chip. The company changed the coolant line so the flow was directed at the tool/workpiece interface and not just spraying everywhere. “Before, it was like cutting underwater,” he said.

The dimensions (in inches) for when a chip breaks out of a cross-hole and when it starts to touch the other side
of the hole, along with a selection of chips produced when broaching blind keyways. Image courtesy of Muthig Industries.

Odekirk added that Muthig also increased coolant concentration to enhance its lubricity and antiweld characteristics.

In addition, Odekirk explained that he examined where the broach was stopping within the cross-hole and determined that a chip breaks out of the hole at 1.9096″ (48.5038mm) of the cut length and starts to touch the other side of the hole at 2.1504″ (54.6202mm). “So we were stopping about 0.1″ past the end of the cutting stroke. I said I’m only going to stop 0.04″ past and see if that corrects the issue, because the chips were packing the backside of the hole.”

With those corrective measures in place, Odekirk said Muthig Industries continues to apply the broaches from CNC Broach Tools to produce crank adapters and has not experienced any crashes or other issues. “We are definitely familiar and comfortable with the technology and the manufacturer.”


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