Aggregates: The Forgotten Tool
An aggregate or angle head is a device that is attached to the spindle drive of a CNC to allow the user to rout or drill at different angles other than where the spindle is orientated. They are almost always used in conjunction with a tool change format like HSK, ISO or BT.
The use of aggregates on CNC machining centers greatly increases the versatility, capability and the overall value of an already very expensive machine.
CNC spindles in most all cases are always mounted at a right angle to the machine table so there are two distinct reasons to add aggregates to your machine – to change the direction of the spindle (meaning the way the tool is orientated to the workpiece) and to add a new operation to the machine, like mortising, tenoning, sawing or cutting soft materials with a reciprocating knife.
Aggregates and the C Axis Having a C or a fourth axis on a CNC machine is not necessarily a requirement for the use of aggregates. A three-axis machine could make very good use of a four-way, degree aggregate. This would allow the user to machine in X+ and X-, also Y+ and Y-. However, many aggregates are relatively useless without a C axis.
Take, for instance, a moulder unit. This is an aggregate that can accept profile ground knives to produce curved mouldings such as elliptical or round window casings. This operation absolutely requires an interpolating C axis, allowing you to “steer” the aggregate around the curve of the casing. If a machine does not have a C axis, it will need an aggregate anti-rotation ring or a stop block. This is the device that the torque pin of the aggregate fits into, preventing it from spinning around like a Whirling Dervish on caffeine when you start the spindle motor. If you are not sure if you have the anti-rotation device, call your manufacturer.
But getting back to productivity, let’s take the example of a standard piece stile and rail door. Every operation — raising the panels, doweling or mortising the joints, sizing the assembled door, mortising the lock recess and routing the hinge pockets — can be complete with aggregates on a CNC. What’s required is a horizontal drilling unit for the dowels, a horizontal mortising aggregate for the square holes, a sawing unit for cutting the rails and stiles to length, a 90 degree aggregate for cutting the tenons and a lock recess aggregate for both the deep (lock) cut and the hinge pockets.
If you are using your CNC for nested-base cabinet parts, you have probably not read anything so far to justify the use of an aggregate. But have you ever heard of a floating aggregate? This is a device that, regardless of how your panel might vary in thickness, will always maintain a precise depth of cut on the part. It can be used for precision dovetailing or grooving a tabletop edge to accept a solid wood profile with a tongue. How about compound miter cutting? You can do that, too, with an adjustable-angle sawing aggregate. There is an aggregate available to square up hinge pockets to accept high-end hinges.
A belt-sanding aggregate can sand a door or tabletop edge and an orbital sander aggregate can sand or polish horizontal surfaces, all without moving the part from the CNC. There’s also an aggregate for holding small parts on a vacuum table. Do you see a pattern here?
Heat and aggregate life Every so often I get asked, “How long can I expect my aggregate to last?” There are two things that will ruin your nice new aggregate — heat and operator error. If you crash it, well, you’re on your own. However, heat, you can control.
Most lubrication will cook off at temps more than F, causing the unit to ultimately fail. Heat is a result of excess torque on the gear set, often caused by excessive feed speed, too much chip load or insufficient rpms. While most aggregates use a hybrid grease which liquefies at operating temperature, some will use an oil bath. This works equally as well but has one caveat; oil seals must be tight on the shaft to work, this creates friction which generates heat. As the seals wear, so goes the oil and the result is a failed aggregate.
Oil-mist lubrication is available on some models at a hefty surcharge but you must have an air supply delivered through the “C” axis. That’s the Rolls Royce of lube systems. Almost all aggregates have a temperature strip on the side of the body and it is up to the operator to monitor the unit and make sure it does not overheat. Always partner with a reputable tool supplier to find the optimum tool for your application. They can advise you of the proper feed speeds and chip loads to help your aggregate run within its designed loads.
Noise – Some aggregates can really scream. Those most likely have “Crown Gears” which do a great job at transferring torque at low speeds (<rpm) but woodworkers typically run at speeds more than 12, rpm. Bevel Gears are the preferred choice here. They run very quiet and have less vibration than their metalworking cousins.
Contact Precision Drive Systems to learn about expanding your shop’s options by adding aggregate heads to your CNC machining center.
Source: Bob Barone has more than 30 years in the woodworking industry as an application specialist. His focus is secondary manufacturing of both panel products and solid woods. Bob is National Sales Manager for Precision Drive Systems of Bessemer City, NC. Contact him at [email protected] For information also call or visit PDSSpindles.com.
Posted on: November 6th, by: Precision Drive Systems
Aggregate heads (also known as angle heads) are a relatively easy way to add a new dimension to most CNC spindles. They essentially enhance horizontal capabilities to include vertical options. That is, they allow the operator to change the direction of the spindle. They can also change its function because they allow a woodshop to add new tooling that wont always work on a vertical spindle.
Aggregate heads are available for virtually any CNC machine, but they do eat up power. The minimum spindle rating is usually 5 hp, but many manufacturers will recommend something with more umph. Heads will work with either HSK or ISO connections and some will accept BT, too.
Many aggregate heads will work with automatic tool changers, but talk to both the head supplier and the CNC manufacturer before committing. Some options will require manual mounting. There might also be physical size and weight restrictions and questions about configuration, too. You might end up sacrificing some tool-holder positioning. And you have to be sure the head can maneuver inside the confines of your CNC without bumping into anything, before you actually run parts. The new head substantially increases the tooling footprint. Youre also switching from vertical to horizontal positioning and that can have limiting implications for paths.
Aggregate heads also come is variable versions, so youre not always looking at 0- or degree applications. Many are infinitely variable between those angles (and sometimes slightly beyond them), so they can perform beveling or chamfering functions.
There are other advantages to aggregate heads. Adding one to a C axis pretty much converts the CNC to four axes. And a floating aggregate head can handle workpieces that are not entirely flat. They will register off the top face of the panel, rather than the bed of the CNC so they can mill a uniform depth below the surface even if the workpiece is tapered usually up to a tolerance of about 10mm so theyre engraving in much the way a laser would (although not as finely).
A big selection
Most major manufacturers provide a complete array of aggregate heads to handle a variety of woodshop operations. For example, Techniks (www.techniksusa.com) has aggregate heads in stock that perform routing, drilling, sawing, mortising, sanding and many other operations. These heads let a shop combine functions and thereby increase productivity. The company has stock aggregates for just about any application and it can build custom models to meet a woodshops requirements, usually at no additional cost.
That brings up a good point. Aggregate heads are often quite customized and that can be labor-intensive. When Techniks creates one, it is test-run it for 30 minutes and completely disassembled for a quality check. The company offers a Never Down program that ensures a shop will always have an aggregate head up and running.
The very nature of these heads invites constant innovation. For example, Benz Inc. (www.benz-inc.com) recently introduced a new floating version. It comes with a degree integral dust hood that directs chips straight up and into a shops dust collection system. It requires no C axis and theres no need to steer the unit because the dust hood is concentric. The Benz Floating Aggregate is easily adjustable for depth of cut and has large, easy-to-read gradations (for us older, more seasoned woodworkers). Itll fit all brands of machinery, too. Benz also repairs all makes of aggregates.
The companys Undersurface Trimming Unit is an aggregate head that will machine an elevated workpiece from underneath, up to 6 in from the edge. Benz also offers a Corner Notching Unit that mills square corners with a round tool. (Well, it actually plunges a small rotary cutter head from the top, which squares the corner.) The company introduced several new aggregate heads at IWF , including its HF Solidfix spindle motor, which allows for quick and easy tool changes. It uses adapters that hold a variety of tools, instead of requir ing a manual tool change or adding an automatic tool changer. Its more flexible than a collet shaft and has a brushless motor.
Precision Drive Systems (www.pdsspindles.com) describes the need for aggregates this way: Users of CNC machines and robots often find it necessary to perform operations that cannot be accomplished with a spindle alone. Some of these instances include changing the angle or plane of machining and fitting into tight spaces.
Precision Drive Systems repairs heads and spindles and builds custom solutions for woodshops. In , the company began manufacturing its own line of high-speed spindles called the XLerator series. Today, Precision Drive Systems offers both fixed- and variable-angle aggregate heads for vertical CNC machine tools. Its aggregate heads are used for sawing, routing, boring and mortising and custom head designs are available. But aggregates are very versatile and not limited to those functions. For example, Precision Drive Systems also make heads that are designed for a broad range of automated sanding and polishing applications in wood and composites.
C.R. Onsrud Co. (www.cronsrud.com) offers the new InnoAgg labeling system, which allows a CNC to apply printed labels to parts before they are milled from the sheet stock or to print directly on the parts with either water-based (for easy cleanup) or permanent inks. This innovative labeling aggregate lets a woodshop label the sheet, do a quick tool change and cut the parts in one smooth transition. Its perfect for a nested-based manufacturing setup and it also saves the space that would have been used by a dedicated offline printing station. Theres no wax ribbon or transfer paper involved and the heads feature wireless self-charging, so its powered by the spindle and requires no cord connections. Plus, when its idle it can reside in the tool changer.
Colombo USA (http://colombospindles.com) offers an entire family of aggregate heads about 70 variations all told with ISO, splined or HSK spindle inputs. They include models with fixed right angle (single or dual output) and heads with variable angles that can address work anywhere from 0 to 90 degrees. The company maintains inventory of the most popular items with stocking programs available to minimize lead times. All Colombo spindle repair work is guaranteed and completed using only OEM parts and factory specifications. The company has been designing and manufacturing spindles for nearly 60 years and can tailor heads to suit a specific woodshop application.
Another company with a long history in spindles is HSD USA Inc. (www.hsdusa.com). With a worldwide reach (it has branches in Europe and China), HSD is the leading Italian producer of aggregate heads. Its U.S. operations are based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and its aggregate heads cover milling, boring, drilling, floating, copying and cutting options. The companys HSK and ISO aggregates are made of Avional aluminum (a high strength alloy that contains copper, magnesium and silicon), which is designed to deliver a high level of structural integrity and durability. HSDs woodworking line is being constantly updated with the addition of new models, a recent example of which is an oil-lubricated head. As with all of these high-end suppliers, quality control is extremely important. Each mechanical, pneumatic and electronic component used in a HSD right angle head undergoes a double testing phase. The companys catalog can be downloaded online.
GDP/Guhdo (www.guhdo.com) has been supplying industrial cutting tools in North America since Based in Marietta, Ga., most of its partner companies are ISO-certified and thus explicitly required to adhere to European safety and quality standards, which are usually higher than ours. The company provides custom tooling for CNC machinery, including HSK63F, SK30 and ISO30 aggregate heads that are made in Germany. They cover options such as drilling, routing, grooving and sawing. Gudho aggregates fit most CNC machining centers, including Weeke, HolzHer, Homag and point-to-point machines. The company also supplies a good range of aggregate head saw blades (Series ).
Integra Precision Tooling (www.ipgandm.com) offers 1-, 2-, 4- and variable-angle aggregate heads, plus a soft touch (floating) model. The companys Ultra aggregates are lubricated in an oil bath and sealed from contaminants for extended use under heavy-duty conditions. Ultra models are recommended for saws with blades larger than 7 , V-grooving, heavy routing applications and cutting MDF or composites. Integras Function aggregate heads are grease-lubricated for standard duty operation and cover a large number of configurations and application-specific options. And the Integras Smart aggregate heads are smaller units for standard duty operations that are grease-lubricated and intended for smaller CNC routers.
The bottom line with aggregate heads is that they expand a shops options. A CNC can stay busier when it can do more things and by adding a relatively inexpensive head (or heads), a woodshop can tackle more functions than simple routing. Plus, with an adjustable head, the CNC can work at an angle.
This article originally appeared in the September issue.
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