SIRIM’s new Tool & Cutter Grinder (TCG 8) machining workstation can now produce precision cutting and milling tools that are more complex and precise than ever before

 

 

HARD STEEL. PERFECT FINISH.

To understand just how challenging it is to make such a tool, imagine a surface so fine and so smooth that a single strand of hair lying flat on it would seem like a four-storey building in the middle of an open field. Now, imagine trying to fashion that surface out one of the hardest metals known to man. That is the kind of challenge the TCG 8 was built for. 

The most challenging precision manufacturing work today happens at a level of detail that is practically invisible to the human eye. The phenomenon of miniaturisation is making products smaller, and the components and electronic circuits within them even more so. Drilling, milling and manipulating these tiny parts requires tools and endmills with micrometre points and perfectly smooth finishes that are nonetheless capable of cutting and poking through very hard, very durable materials. 

When it comes to precision machining cutting tools, the material of choice is tungsten carbide: a very tough metal that can be cut and formed into bits of various shapes and sizes but is nonetheless able to withstand exceptionally high temperatures. Luckily, tungsten carbide is only the second hardest material known to man, else there would be no way to shape it into the cutting instruments the material is so useful for. The hardest material in the world is diamond, and that is what the TCGB 8 uses to saw, shape and grind its tungsten carbide workpiecesTCG 8's specialty is that its diamond blades are made from high quality crystals and are designed specifically for cutting tungsten carbide in twelve different ways!

 
TCG8
(LEFT) SMOOTH FINISH: The TCG 8 can produce tungsten carbine tools with a surface roughness of less than Ra 0.1 μm – smoother than the surface of a hypodermic needle.
 

Making the tools and endmills that are used in these manufacturing processes is a delicate business. Firstly, the tools have to be made of very tough material in order to be able to penetrate metal, steel and silicon. Secondly, they have to comply with extremely precise specifications and have micron-perfect finishes. Even under the best conditions, an error of a single micrometre can render a tool useless. 

Indeed, the engineering tolerances of the TCG 8 are so fine that SIRIM decided to equip the workstation with a microscope and a quality control imaging system that allows technicians to see the tiniest detail up close. The tiniest groove, ridge or taper can be plotted out on screen via a digital software interface before the actual cutting begins, thus significantly reducing the number of defects.
 
By using high-quality diamond compound wheels, the TCG 8 also offers an exceptionally high operating temperature. Having a high operating temperature is important as it allows workstations to be more productive. Cutting wheels last longer and are able to produce more tools per workcycle.
 

MONEY MACHINE.

Given the TCG 8’s portability and ease-of-use, the machine could open up a whole new world of opportunities within Malaysia’s rural population. Just like the cottage industry in Switzerland for example, which supplies the country’s famous watch industry with many of the high-precision components and tools they use to make the world’s finest timepieces. The TCG 8 is designed to be portable and small enough to fit into a van, and it only needs singlephase electric power. With some training and a little practice, anyone can take it back home, plug it in and start making high-precision tungsten carbide tools for Malaysia’s burgeoning E&E sector.
 
Given that a typical tungsten carbide micro tool bit can cost between US D10 and US D30 a piece, the TCG 8 also makes an attractive case to start up a new
machine shop cooperative (or koperasi, as they are more popularly known). The National Cooperative Policy 2011-2020 would like to see koperasis more involved in high-value, high-skilled economic activities to protect their members from the competitive pressures of the private sector.
 
Nonetheless, semi-automated tool and cutter grinders are new to Malaysian industry, and thus will take some time to develop and educate the market as well as the talent pool. Vocational schools, engineering colleges and training and reskilling centres can fill this human capital gap by offering short TCG 8 courses to its students. SIRIM is currently focused on building the TCG 8 talent pool by promoting TCG 8 training programmes to educational institutions around the country. A practical, two-week module on precision grinding technology would fit nicely into any machining course and will prepare students for the rigours of high-precision fabrication and assembly.
 
Students trained with the TCG 8 will have very good prospects in Malaysia’s high-value economic future. The TCG 8 is expected to be widely deployed
and used to supply components to the automotive, electronics, oil and gas and aerospace industries, all of which rely on micronperfect tungsten carbide tools
and endmills. It will be easy to arrange industry attachments with component vendors within these high-growth industries in Malaysia, and the government is sparing no effort in attracting investments within these sectors as high precision tools are going to be in very high demand. 
 
 

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