Q&A with Mike Finn

Senior Applications Development Engineer at Mazak


What are your responsibilities with Mazak?

I work in applications engineering. We work with customers to basically size a machine or select a machine appropriate for their application. We help customers generally with machine operation, programming, sometimes setups, and there are times where a customer would purchase, say, a turnkey, which is where we would basically design the manufacturing solution. One of the components is machine tool, and we’ll work with tooling vendors on tool selection, and also the fixture vendors for fixture selection if fixtures are involved, and then we will develop a machining solution for their particular part.

What’s an auto gear package, and why is it important to gearing?

From the outside, a machine with Mazak’s AG (auto gear) function looks like a standard  INTEGREX machine, but with that capability, it becomes a Mazak HYBRID Multi-Tasking System. However, there are some mechanical and software enhancements that allow it to perform in such a manner that it can cut high, accurate gears and splines.

How is Mazak incorporating auto gear packaging in its machines?

The auto gear package uses MAZATROL, a programming software that resides on all Mazak controls, and it’s a conversational-based programming system. What it does is it allows the users to input information. Basically, the control is going to ask you, “What do you want to do? Do you want to drill holes, mill slots, what not?” So, the user would enter in information, geometry, a number of features, and where the features are located, and a program will be automatically generated.

Moving on to the manufacturing gear programming, the user can input data similar to a dedicated gear machine. For example, it’ll ask the user how many gear teeth, the pressure angle, the helix angle, the root radius, and so forth, and the machine will automatically create a program to cut that specific part.

What else makes auto gearing unique?

The machine is capable of not just cutting gears. It can be equipped with a second spindle and a lower turret, so it can be used really for anything that you can fit inside the machine and that you can grip on. You can cut components that would go inside the gearbox, such as shafts and other type of components like levers and so forth, or you can cut parts that aren’t even gear-related.

It’s a very versatile machine. We took the INTEGREX, which is already a versatile multi-tasking machine on its own, and we added this additional capability to cut gears.

What’s been the response from the gear industry so far with this technology?

We get a lot of interest. We see customers that basically farm all their gearing out. So, they’re interested in perhaps purchasing a machine like this where they can dabble in gear-cutting, even though they’re not dedicated to gear-cutting.

How do you think this auto gearing will affect the future of the gear industry?

It opens the doors to customers that maybe normally wouldn’t get into gearing, because they don’t have either the money or perhaps maybe the personnel to buy a dedicated gear-cutting machine — for example, someone who is pretty savvy at milling. Those are good candidates for running this type of a machine tool. We employ three different modules of software on an AG machine. The first one is Mazak’s SMOOTH Gear Hobbing, where you’re using a standard hobbing cutter that’s used on any other hobbing machine. There’s nothing special about the hob cutter. We can use that type of tool to cut OD gears and splines.

The second module is SMOOTH Gear Skiving. Much like hobbing, we use the standard skiving tool. And that tool can cut both OD and ID gears and splines, but with straight and helical. Last is SMOOTH Gear Milling, which allows the user to use everyday ball-nose, end mills, and bull-nose cutters — like a non-special tool — to cut a gear tooth. We use milling strategies to machine the involute form of the gear tooth.

Is the machine easy to learn to operate?

It’s a full five-axis machine tool. It’s capable of simple, two-axis turning up to your high-end five-axis milling. We see the people who learn the fastest would be people with a milling background.

I think if you’re just talking just simple gears and splines, the programming of hobbing and skiving is fairly straightforward. The controls handle all of the, what I’ll call “fancy math.”

If you give it an rpm, the machine can figure out what the ratio needs to be between the tool and the part. And so, the control does a lot of the work. 

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