Friday, August 24, 2018

The cutting edge of manufacturing

Today was an incredibly exciting day. 

Earlier this year I went to the Louis Belet factory in Switzerland. At the risk of succumbing to cliches, I would like to say that it was life altering. 

The organisation of the factory, the workplace culture, the care and commitment for on-time delivery, the massive investment into RnD, the pursuit for perfection in every day tasks and the seeming laser focus of every single machine operator, sales manager, design team member etc. Etc. It blew me away. If you ever have the opportunity to tour, please - do it.

On my tour I asked about something that I had seen at a trade fair the previous year, solid ceramic cutting tools. The response I got was interesting, a mixture of technical explanation and sales pitch, but surprisingly, very very little sales pitch. 

There was almost hesitation in Arnaud's voice when talking about these tools (Arnaud - the 3rd generation CEO of the family owned company) 

These tools were the venture into uncharted territory in this field. Ceramic tools have been made before, usually in the form of turning inserts for hard metals, but this was different. This was micro tooling specifically for high efficiency cutting in brass. Almost exclusively used in the watchmaking industry. The problem being that watch manufacturers usually aren't too willing to buy into new forms of tooling, and, therefore, very few people are willing to test these tools. We were.

The benefits? Almost no wear. The claim is that these tools last orders of magnitude longer than brass. Further, the surface finish should not degrade as quickly. 

This is due to the almost magical edge retention of the cutting surfaces.

The drawbacks? You need an extremely rigid and dynamic machine to use these tools. They don't withstand vibrations or shocks - think of how brittle your fine China dining set is. Yep. That's what we are cutting with. (Thank you Kern Pyramid Nano for the ability to use these tools!) I ordered these tools on Monday afternoon, they travelled around the world and arrived in Brookvale, in Sydney's northern beaches, on Friday morning. Amazing! 

The white is ceramic, grey- carbide.


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