Carbon fiber is becoming increasingly popular due to its incredible versatility and its lightweightness. Almost every industry today requires parts made of this composite material that is rapidly replacing components made of aluminum or plastic left and right. However, machining or cutting carbon fiber is harder than most think, and it takes time to get used to its elastic properties.
If you own a machine shop, you know how important tool life is in terms of costs and downtime cycles. Having your end mills chipped in the middle of a project can prove disastrous for your EOD bottomline. Carbon fiber is an abrasive material that can wear down your steel tools real quick, reducing cut quality and causing the fibers to get entangled in your tool flutes. Moreover, carbon fiber usually consists of a series of layers that are prone to delaminate if you approach them with the wrong tools or speed.
It is true that tooling materials like high-speed steel provide great sharpness and do a decent job when drilling or machining carbon fiber sheets or panels. However, the abrasive properties of composites will inevitably dull your tools down very quickly. We have seen brand new HSS bits go completely dull after driving less than ten holes into composites. After that, the temperature climbs up and starts burning the resin. If you keep going with these tools, you better find end mills for sale because you will need tons of them.
The main cause of overheating when machining carbon fiber is that there is no chip making, so ship evacuation does not help with heat dissipation. When your end mill finds purchase, it shatters the material and the fibers. If you are not careful enough to always go with the “grain”, just like on hardwoods, you risk wearing your tool really fast.
One other aspect of machining carbon fiber is that the material relaxes when you cut or drill it. After you punch a hole or pocket, the material attempts to regain its original shape causing holes to be undersized. Making sure everything is aligned and close to print requires constant inspection which is very time consuming, but it is necessary if you want to avoid the huge costs of scrapping this costly material. You need tools that help you reduce time between cuts if you plan on getting any work done during the day.
We recommend the use of advanced tooling materials for the job. Carbide end mills offer better performance than the usual steel based bits and drills. They are slightly less sharp, but retain their profile far longer than steel tools. Carbide can be a bit more expensive, but you can find fantastic deals online and a great variety of end mills for sale. Moreover, carbide tools reduce the chance of having to scrap your pieces because of pulled fibers or dull machining. Mistakes are costly when dealing with carbon fiber, but they get greatly reduced when you use high-precision carbide tools.
Your best choice for machining carbon fiber reliably is using solid carbide mills. The unique properties of carbide allow it to retain its sharpness for a really long time, which is excellent to prevent delamination. I have seen hundreds of holes punched with a single solid carbide bit without a problem.
If you are considering giving carbon fiber a try, you better be prepared with very high quality tools. Online Carbide offers incredibly resistant carbide tools for hard to machine and exotic materials. They often have unbeatable offers at manufacturer direct prices. Find the best carbide end mills for sale, and take your shop to the next level.