Being innovative takes courage – and, of course, really good coffee. The R&D team at Sandvik Coromant in Norway, working with Silent Tools™ +, additive manufacturing, and new materials, has plenty of both.
Most successful companies are built on an innovation, but the innovation itself will not help a company flourish forever, no matter how brilliant it once was. Maintaining and continuously nurturing an innovation can be challenging, but is necessary for a company to avoid resting on its laurels. This is why the team at Sandvik Coromant in Trondheim, Norway, has a continuous focus on the development of its Silent Tools concept.
One key ingredient is idea generation, and it is actually embedded in the culture at the Trondheim facility. Areas of greenery, a scattering of chairs and tables and ready availability of good coffee make it easy for people to stop to chat. Many ideas come to life in these spontaneous meetings, and the R&D team has created a structured way of catching them.
“Ideas have a tendency to dissolve, regardless of how great they are, if you don’t discuss them with someone,” says R&D manager Anders Digernes. “Therefore, each Friday, we bring ideas up in our team and determine whether or not to put effort into them.”
One such coffee-fueled discussion had to do with a small component required for the new Silent Tools+ bars. R&D engineer Tormod Jensen tells the story of an operator on-site whose hobby was 3D-printing and molding plastic components. Thanks to a short chat with a colleague, he is now producing a part for the sensor-based bars.
“The traditional Silent Tools boring bars consisted of 25 components,” Jensen says. “The digital version consists of 300. This means that we need a lot of new suppliers than we are used to when it comes to electronics, software, sensor technology and much more.”
The Silent Tools boring bars are optimized in every detail, with several different materials in the conventional bars and even more in the digital version.
“Stronger, lighter materials and constructions are always on our radar,” says R&D engineer Einar Leo Ottesen. “Carbon fiber is one such material that has great potential, and we are also investigating sandwich constructions to reduce weight.”
Right now, Ottesen is evaluating additive manufacturing as a production method for milling cutters. “The lighter they are, the more productive they are,” he says. “With additive manufacturing, you can design products that would be impossible with traditional metal cutting.” He points to an additive-manufactured milling cutter. “The material is exactly where it’s needed and nowhere else,” he explains. “You save a lot of weight, and you gain a lot of productivity.”
The opportunities that come with digitalization are also challenging. R&D engineer Mathias Tjomsland explains that the metal cutting industry is conservative and still a bit hesitant to try anything that isn’t rock solid. “We are so used to testing every new product meticulously and never launching it before it’s absolutely flawless,” he says. “Today, software develops so rapidly that we have to work differently with our products and services as well. We must dare to fail, dare to deliver test versions and upgrade as we go.”
Consequently, the Trondheim team is about to initiate two pilot projects with aerospace customers to test the concepts in a tough environment and learn more. “In terms of materials and manufacturing, the aerospace industry is leading the development and pushing boundaries,” Jensen says. “To ensure that we are still in the forefront when it comes to tools, we partner up with them, developing great things together.”