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Thread Whirling—One Of The Oldest New Products In Town

There’s not much new about whirling. It’s been used in Europe to machine helical parts for more than 50 years. It’s time-tested, and it’s proven to machine screws and thread forms at speeds often as much as four times faster than traditional thread milling or hobbing, and typically without the need for secondary finishing operations. But that’s in Europe.

What’s new is whirling’s recent and growing acceptance in the United States. It has become widely used in the manufacturing of “large” parts, such as steering gears, worm gears, acme threads, ballscrews and other threaded parts. To make these, however, has required installation of large, costly and dedicated whirling machines.

Now there’s an alternative. It’s a new whirling attachment that’s designed specifically for use on Citizen-Cincom Swiss turning centers. This new tool brings the advantages of whirling to the production of “small” parts, such as bone screws and threaded surgical implants. It also introduces this new application to a non-dedicated machine tool, while preserving the machine’s multi-axis turning, milling and drilling versatility.

CNC Swiss-Type Machine Tool

Some examples of screws produced using thread whirling on a CNC Swiss-type machine tool.

According to John Antignani, vice president of sales and marketing for Marubeni Citizen-Cincom (Allendale, New Jersey), whirling threaded parts solves problems that have long plagued bone screw manufacturers. “Bone screws are machined from hard metals, typically 316L stainless steel or titanium. They’re characterized by high length to diameter ratios, by deep helix buttress thread forms, and by wide differences between root and head diameters. This combination of part length, material hardness and depth of cut mandates either numerous machining passes or high cutting forces. The first of these lengthens cycle times; the second introduces the risk of bowing or deflection.

“Traditional threading operations have limitations,” Mr. Antignani continues. “Single point threading works well on shorter screws. But for longer screws, pre-turning and special supports are needed. Die heads prove suitable for 316L, but not for titanium. Thread milling involves pre-turning, special cutters and special supports. Thread grinding serves almost exclusively as a secondary finishing operation following traditional threading operations. In addition to the special tooling, supports and frequent need for secondary operations, a number of passes are needed to keep the chip load low to prevent deflection.”

By combining the speed of whirling with the rigidity afforded by a sliding-headstock, Swiss turning center, helical products can be machined precisely, and in a single pass, without the need for special supports.

Marubeni Citizen-Cincom

Thread whirling is a fast and accurate method of producing a variety of different threads. Application of this attachment from Marubeni Citizen-Cincom enables shops to perform thead whirling on the company’s standard CNC Swiss machines.

Citizen’s whirling attachment consists of two components: a cutting head that contains the cutting inserts, and a whirling head that mounts the same way as a cross drill in a live tool station. Three circular form tools are mounted along the inner diameter of the toroid-shaped cutting head. The tools are mounted at the height and rake required for the threaded part. Once the tools are installed, the cutting head is secured in the whirling head and rotated to the appropriate helix angle. The entire assembly is then mounted on the Swiss turning center, using any of the live positions on the machine’s tool turret or tool block.

In operation, the ring rotates at speeds up to 3,000 rpm around a slowly rotating (approximately 10 to 20 rpm) workpiece. The three tools rotating at 3,000 rpm are equivalent to a single tool operating at 9,000 rpm—eight or nine times faster than typical for single point threading of deep buttress threads. This allows a smaller chip load, minimizing the risk of deflection, while significantly reducing cycle times. High precision parts, such as bone screws and other threaded surgical implants can be produced from rough stock at high speeds in a single pass.

Mounting the whirling attachment on a sliding headstock turning center eliminates the risk of deflection. On a sliding headstock machine, all operations are performed within an eighth of an inch from the machine’s guide bushing. With the distance between the bushing and tool minimized, and with whirling’s minimal chip load, pressure on the workpiece is minimized, eliminating the risk of bowing and deflection.

At present, nine whirling attachment packages are available for use with Cincom model C, E, L or M series Swiss turning centers. They are suited for helical parts up to 1/2 inch diameter, with the length limited only by the stroke of the machine. Maximum depth of cut is 0.18 inch on diameter, and typical feed rates range from 1 inch to 2 inches per minute.

Bone Screws Machined In Half The Time

The Technical Center at Marubeni Citizen-Cincom has compared the performance of cycle times for different sized bone screws machined on its traditional sliding-head Swiss turning centers and on the same machines equipped with the company’s whirling attachment. The results typically show using the Citizen whirling attachment reduces cycle times 75 percent or greater across a broad range of part lengths, diameters, pitch and rake. The company cites the following as a typical example:

Part: Surgical Bone Screw
Geometry: thread length: 3.937" (tapered from 0.078" to 0.161" minimum diameter)
root diameter: 0.168" ±0.002"
thread pitch: 0.118"
thread height: 0.059" radially/0.118" on diameter
Machine Tool: Citizen M12
Stock: 316L stainless steel
Without Whirling Attachment With Whirling Attachment
Spindle speed: 1,000 rpm 10 rpm
Whirling speed: n/a 2,400 rpm
Depth of cut: 0.059" 0.059"
Feed rate: 0.118 ipm 0.118 ipm
Number of passes: 63 1
Cycle time: 9 min. 30 sec. 4 min. 15 sec.

The Citizen M12 with a whirling attachment reduced cycle times for the test part by 50 percent. The part was machined from stock to thread diameter in a single pass, within tolerances, and with no further machining operations required.

Used with permission. is a collaboration between Modern Machine Shop
and The Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA).
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