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Cutter path and chip formation in milling

Cutter path and chip formation in milling

Correct cutter path and chip formation in milling are important factors for ensuring a secure cutting edge and better tool life in milling.

Each cutting edge of a milling cutter in a radial direction intermittently engages with the workpiece. There are three different phases to consider in each engagement:

1. Entrance into cut
2. Arc of engagement in cut
3. Exit from cut

Entrance into cut

When using carbide inserts, the entrance into the cut is the least sensitive part of the three cutting phases. Carbide handles the compressive stresses well at the impact of entering.


Exit from cut

The exit from the workpiece is the most sensitive part of the three cutting phases.

Always try to avoid thick chip formation in milling upon exit. Thick chip formation will often cause a drastic reduction in tool life when using carbide inserts. Chips lack support at the final point of cut and try to bend, which generates a tensile force on the carbide that can create a fracture on the edge.


Arc of engagement in cut

  • The maximum possible arc of engagement is 180° (ae = 100% DC) when slotting
  • For finish milling, the arc can be very small
  • The grade requirements are quite different, depending on the percentage of radial immersion, ae/DC
  • The larger the arc of engagement, the greater the heat transferred into the cutting edge
  • With a large arc of engagement, CVD-coated grades provide the best heat barrier
  • With a small arc of engagement, the chip thickness is normally smaller and the sharper edge on PVD coated grades generates less heat and reduced cutting forces
Large (max.) arc of engagement
  • Long time in cut
  • High radial forces
  • More heat generated
  • CVD-coated grades
Small arc of engagement
  • Short time in cut and less heat allows for higher vc
  • Thinner chips allow for higher fz
  • Sharp edges
  • PVD-coated grades

Entering the component

When the cutter is programmed to enter straight into the workpiece, thick chips will be produced at the exit until the cutter is fully engaged. This can dramatically reduce tool life, especially in harder steels, titanium and heat-resistant alloys. Also, from a vibration point of view, it is essential to enter the workpiece smoothly.

There are two ways to increase tool life:

1. Lower feed

Reduce feed to 50 percent until the cutter is fully engaged.

2. Roll into cut

Program a roll into cut in a clockwise motion (counterclockwise will not solve the chip thickness problem). By rolling into the cut, the chip thickness upon exit is always zero, allowing for higher feed and longer tool life.

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Cutter position

Position the cutter off-center – to the left – to achieve a thicker chip at entry and a thin chip at exit (down milling method). A more constant and favorable direction of the cutting forces is achieved, minimizing vibration tendencies.

If the cutter is positioned symmetrically on the center line, thick chips will be generated upon exit, and there is a higher risk for vibration tendencies.

The cutter diameter, DC, should be 20–50% larger than the width of cut, ae.

Available spindle power must also be considered, as it influences the choice of pitch.

Cutter should be +20–50% larger than
ae and be positioned off-center.
Cutter on center line can
generate vibrations​.

Keep the cutter engaged

Sharp changes of direction in a cut will generate thick chips upon exit. Follow these recommendations for a secure and optimized milling process:

  • Keep the cutter constantly engaged
  • Roll around all corners
  • The width of cut, ae, should be 70% of DC to ensure maximum coverage of the corner
  • In peripheral milling, roll around external corners
  • Program around interruptions and holes when possible

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