Let’s say you have to machine a part with a unique profile or feature. Would you rather use several off-the-shelf tools, each machining a different section of the contour, or just one tool that could do it all in one setup? Form tools, which are precision ground to machine a particular profile or contour on the workpiece surface, are designed to do exactly that. This type of custom tooling (solid milling tools or turning inserts) can be beneficial for almost any industry that has complex part shapes being produced in mass.

The Case for Form Tools

Buying three or four tools to do the same job as one form tool can be costly. Besides the initial cost per unit, there is the time spent in ordering and managing the inventory. Each tool has to be set up and programmed individually, taking more time and operator involvement. Additional downtime is spent trying to dial in tight tolerances and blend the multiple surface finishes from different tools.

A tool that is custom made for a specific application will always provide optimum performance over just using “what’s in stock,” even if your machinist has the skill and experience to make it work. Often the cobbled together, multi-tool process will fill up the clock with excess cycle time, or even the scrap bin, with a lot of trial and error mistakes. That can be especially stressful on everyone involved if you are on a tight delivery schedule with even tighter profit margins.

Rethinking the Status Quo

Despite all the advantages, there are still a lot of shops that could benefit from form tools that haven’t given them a try. Some just never thought about it. Others were simply used to the process of opening a catalog and making do with what was available “off the shelf.”

But what happens when your “go to” guy, the one that could always make the “off the shelf” tools work, suddenly leaves? Finding a replacement with the kind of skill, knowledge and experience to orchestrate a satisfactory multi-tool result is going to be difficult, if not impossible.

Another group that gives form tools a pass are shops that have tried them in the past and have been burned by long delivery times, poor quality, high costs or tooling that just couldn’t do the job.

A Custom Mindset

We are the first to agree that not every cutting tool company can make a high-quality form tool. They’ll give it a try, but if they are not used to thinking outside the “standard” box, they won’t often produce good results. At GWS, we think “custom” every day. Even the majority of our catalog tools started out their careers as made-to-order items. More often than not, each time the phone rings, it is a customer that has a problem requiring a unique solution. Our job is to provide it ASAP. Nothing extraordinary. It’s just another day at the plant. This custom mindset gives us a tremendous advantage.

form tools


form tools


Knowledge is Power

When you do something for a long time, you collect a lot of information. We have put that data in a digital format for all our design engineers to access; a design library with tens of thousands of tools, searchable by tool attributes. We can put that data to use by looking up what has been done before and tweaking it to perfectly match a new application. Did a certain design element to increase reach work well for a jet engine impeller? We can apply that to a diesel turbo impeller, where reach is also an issue, while incorporating the cutting geometry from a second previous design that was successful with the same work material. Geometry, relief, rake angles, substrates, coatings – it’s all in there. Sometimes one of our high-performance standard tools is a good foundation for a new custom version. We’ll look at those, too.

form tools

A Proven Process

Even if we don’t find the answer in our library, every entry in it has gone through the same design process perfected over years. Our engineers can work from prints, a sample part or even napkin designs to come up with the answer to your machining needs. Our Inside Sales and Engineering Departments will put together a concept of a tool and what it should look like. A quote is submitted and an order processed. Approval prints are created, proofed and signed off on. (Communication is a key element.) We manufacture the tool, coat it (in our own plant) and ship it to you. The entire process takes a lot less time than you would expect. (For an example, read this testimonial from Medtronic.)

What Does Quality Look Like?

Custom is even in the DNA of our quality control professionals. Because we manufacture something new and different every day, a deeper understanding of how geometry works is needed to properly inspect custom tools. Checking several independent features, without understanding how they relate to other features and performance, is not good enough at GWS. Our quality experts work with the engineers during the design process so they can not only tell you if something is wrong during inspection, but can also help tell you why and even how to fix it! The result is complex tools, delivered fast, that work the first time.

So you see, from start to finish, there’s a big difference between form tools and GWS form tools. Please contact us or upload a part print to start speaking with one of our engineers today on making Custom a Standard for you.