Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence in Cutting Tool Manufacture
US cutting tool manufacturer Tool Alliance celebrates 50 years of highly successful business in March 2022. During this time, the company has grown steadily and in the process has built an enviable reputation for the quality and durability of its solid carbide and indexable carbide cutting tools.
Tool Alliance makes extensive use of CNC grinding machines from various manufacturers, but has chosen to standardize the machines’ control systems on NUM’s Flexium CNC platform and NUMROTO software, primarily for reasons of performance and production efficiency. Tool Alliance is one of the largest licensees of NUMROTO in the United States.
Founded in 1972 and still privately held, Tool Alliance operates a number of company-owned factories – its principal manufacturing facilities are located in Huntington Beach, California, and in Fort Myers, Florida. The company’s cutting tool products and services include such renowned brand names as Ultra-Tool®, RoundTool Laboratories®, Tungsten ToolWorks®, Routco® and Mil-Tec®. All five brands are sold worldwide, and are supported by shared research, design, engineering, manufacturing, marketing and sales facilities.
The owner and President of Tool Alliance, Dave Povich, is no stranger to the cutting tool industry. A past-President of the United States Cutting Tool Institute (USCTI), he has worked for the company since 1987. According to Povich, “NUM is our CNC technology partner, which creates a win-win situation for both companies. We benefit from having a direct technical input to NUMROTO software development, while NUM gains valuable feedback on the design and production of the very latest cutting tools.”
Tool Alliance’s innovative Ultra-Tool Series 365 high performance end mills are a case in point. Designed specifically for the machining of exotic materials, these solid carbide tools feature a patented variable-helix geometry combined with a proprietary edge preparation/PVD coating combination that allows for world-class dynamic milling of tool paths, including most slotting cut applications. The tools are produced on high performance 5-axis CNC grinding machines using NUMROTO, employing monitored tool run-out, real-time deviation compensation and the latest diamond abrasive technology utilizing advanced wheel truing equipment.
Mark Wortsman, Tool Alliance’s Technical Director, says that collaborating with NUM has multiple advantages. “The NUMROTO team is very supportive and always amenable to suggestions, which makes life a lot easier for us, as well as our customers. For example, we recently suggested adding categories for collets, and some new features for wheel probing and automatic 3D collision checking; these have all been implemented in the latest version of NUMROTO software.”
“We consider the 3D-simulation capabilities of NUMROTO to be the most accurate in the tool grinding world; they help us to optimize tool programming by preventing any grinding errors that might otherwise be caused by imperfect wheel measurement or incorrect machine alignment.”
Wortsman also points out that NUM’s software helps simplify shop floor management. “Over the years we have built an extensive library of tools that we have produced with NUMROTO. The NUMROTO team has done a superb job of incorporating the library in a centralized industry-standard SQL database which can be accessed by any of our machines or programming stations. The database can store tens of thousands of tool programs which can be accessed by several hundred users – at the same time if needed.”
“It is much easier to backup a single centralized database file instead of having to backup files from the computers on each machine – we perform automated backups several times a day, just to ensure productivity continuity in the event of a machine breakdown. Software updates are also handled very efficiently. As soon as a key NUMROTO update is available, we can bring all our machines, regardless of make or model, up to the same software revision level.”
Many of Tool Alliance’s CNC grinding machines are equipped with automatic loading systems to facilitate overnight production – in fact, some run for two days in a row without interruption and without the need for any manual compensation. To keep the tool dimensions within tolerance, the company relies on the NUMROTO software’s “measurement in process“ feature, which automatically measures tools after grinding and applies appropriate compensation.
A number of projects undertaken by Tool Alliance have warranted installing early generation CNC machines and then retrofitting them with NUM’s latest motors, drives and CNC systems. According to Steven Schilling, General Manager of NUM Corporation, “Again, we were able to help. Our CNC team in Chicago provided local support, and we were able to improve the performance of the machines’ spindles and axes. It has been, and continues to be, a pleasure to be a partner to the success of Tool Alliance.”