Thursday, February 2, 2012

PTFE machining considerations – tapping


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Machining PTFE, as we have touched upon before, is never a straightforward process. Most machining handbooks will suggest that PTFE should be treated much like wood when it comes to machining, as this is the material it most closely behaves like when machined. And while this is a good starting point for tool selection and CNC programme settings, as we delve deeper into the aspects of machining PTFE, we see that it behaves much like it’s own material. So learning by doing becomes the only option – since PTFE is a niche product (when compared with other known polymers).

Recently, we faced an interesting issue when creating a rather complex part. The part is approximately 200 Grams in weight and machining it involved multiple operations including CNC turning, CNC milling, drilling and finally tapping. All in all, the drawing highlighted over 28 dimensions that needed to be within a strict tolerance and it took us the better part of a week to just get 10 prototypes ready.

We were pretty happy with the result: everything measured, as it should. We almost didn’t check the tapping – which called for an M3 tap in two places. The M3 taps used were brand new and the first tap was done on the VMC as part of the programme – so there was no way it could be an issue, we thought. But we were wrong.

The no-go gauge entered in the hole all too easily and we were pretty shocked to realise that even an M3 bolt was sitting loose in the hole. At first we though we had the wrong tap – which we didn’t. We then argued that the gauge would always enter – as it was designed mainly for harder materials and PTFE would yield all too easily, since it was much softer. To check this we used the same taps on a mild steel plate and confirmed that the no-go did not enter. But this still did not answer why the bolt itself was loose.

We searched extensively for an answer online, but there was very little information on tapping and even less on the issue we in particular were facing. We then decided to start experimenting with different combinations of taps and drill holes.

On the part, we had used a 2.2mm drill with all 3 taps. The first tap was done on our VMC, while the next 2 were done by hand. We tried the following combinations:

Drill Hole
Tap 1
Tap 2
Tap 3
Result
Remark
1.5
Y
Y
Y
Reject
Bolt loose
1.5
Y


Reject
Bolt loose
1.5


Y
Reject
Bolt tight
2
 Y
Y
Reject
Bolt tight
2


Y
Reject
Bolt loose
2.2
Y
Y
Y
Reject
Bolt loose
2.2


Y
Reject
Bolt loose

In a couple of cases – where we used only the 3rd (finest) tap, the bolt was tight. However, none of the holes were answering to the no-go gauge, which passed equally easily in all the holes. We once again argued that this was a PTFE related issue and that as long as the bolt was tight, it should not be a problem. But many of the consultants and experts I spoke with said that they had come across parts in PTFE that answered to the no-go gauge, and hence there must be a way to machine such a part.

The problem was finally solved when an engineer in our client’s side suggested we use a “Form Tap”. I had never heard of a form tap and when I searched it, it seemed to apply mainly to tapping soft metals (such a aluminium). There was no mention of applications to PTFE. Nonetheless, it was our last shot, so we tried it and were pleasantly surprised.

We eventually went with a 2.0mm drill and an M3 form tap to get a result that was both functionally good and which answered to the gauge.

The reason the form tap works, is because unlike a regular tap, it does not bore into the PTFE, taking out material as it does. Instead, it merely forms the tap profile within the drilled hole and as PTFE is soft, it yields quite easily. The result is that the tapped hole is much fuller than when a normal M3 tap is used – making it tighter and ensuring the pitch profile does not yield to the no-go gauge.

Surprisingly, this does again strengthen the PTFE-Wood similarity in machining. Tapping is unheard of in wood; a screw can be passed through a drilled hole and sit tight forever! In many ways, a form tap is nothing more than passing a screw/bolt into the PTFE to imprint its profile within the hole. Only that the form tap is possibly more exact and can ensure that the resulting tap is accepted when inspected with the correct gauges!

7 comments:

  1. So the problem resolved by “Form Tap”. Nice to read this article. Thanks
    tap bolts

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for sharing information..Depending on your requirements, DHF can supply high-quality hydraulic cylinders. DHF is the leading manufacturer of hydraulic cylinder..Same dhf.in is a unique opportunity to Get Tapping Machine in India.It provides Hydraulic cylinder AND Tapping Machine in india

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Guys,

      We are a very well established brand in the Hydraulic Cylinder and Tapping Machine manufacturing sector. To know more about the Tapping Machines and Hydraulic Cylinders, please visit our website: DHF.in.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for sharing this useful info.. CNC Machining

    ReplyDelete

  4. Ptfe Manufacturers in India
    Ptfe Products in India

    For more details contact:
    http://www.ptfeparts.co.in/

    ReplyDelete