Whether it’s a bandsaw or a cold saw, these machines are typically the first used in the manufacturing process, readying material for the next steps. This means the person in charge of the saw has to know what they’re doing. Faulty or poor-quality cuts at this early stage in the process means difficulty or complete failure down the line. So, when it’s a new operator stepping into position in front of a saw, what do they need to know?
Art Allen, southeast regional sales manager at DoAll Sawing Products, says first and foremost, a new operator must be comfortable around the moving parts of the machine and be safety minded. Also, being trained to use a tape measure is a plus.
Allen’s colleague, Patrick Schmidt, northeast regional sales manager at DoAll, adds that the operator must be conscientious about their work.
“Sawing is the start of the machining process,” Schmidt says, “and with today’s materials manufacturers need to create as little scrap as possible. The operator needs to understand how important accurate cuts are to the shop, how many hazards the saw can create if the surrounding area is not clean and how important deburring operations are to the machinists down the line.”
Stefan Dolipski, vice president at Kasto, advises manufacturers seek out someone who doesn’t take shortcuts and follows the rules.
“Saws are usually the machines for entry-level operators,” he says. “With tha, you need to make sure operators are getting proper training and a good introduction to the differences in materials and cutting speeds and processes.”
OSHA has numerous requirements to ensure safety when operating a bandsaw. For example, section 1917.151(f)(1) says, “saw blades and bandsaw wheels shall be enclosed or guarded, except for the working portion of the blade between the bottom of the guide rolls and the table, to protect employees from point-of-operation hazards and flying debris.” Furthermore, bandsaws must also be equipped with brakes to stop the saw wheel if the blade breaks.
But there are also operator-related behaviors that must be followed. For example, operators should never clear a piece of material from the cutting area when the blade is moving. They must not push on the back of a piece of material with their fingers nor reach across the cutting table or cross arms. Safety glasses are an obvious must.
Justin Eastwood, warehouse supervisor at Cosen Saws, says all new hires should go through safety training where they learn a variety of crucial aspects of the job, such as always using personal protection equipment and to never wear loose fitting clothes that could get caught in moving parts. He says safety training should also be ongoing.
“They need to learn about all the safety features and requirements for the machinery they are running,” he says. “There are many advancements in technology that help keep everyone safe. From limit switches to guarding to remote operating stations, these are all designed to improve safe operation.”
To get the most out of a saw through the entire shift, it’s important for the operator to go through a startup procedure that ensures the saw is ready. DoAll’s Allen says good machine housekeeping “is a must” for keeping a safe environment, reducing downtime due to repairs and increasing machine life.
“They should walk around the machine to check for any fluid leaks,” he recommends. “Also, they should check the coolant level and check the blade for wear and ensure the correct blade type and tooth pitch is selected for the material to be cut.”
Similarly, Cosen’s Eastwood says every operator should complete a pre-shift inspection of their equipment.
“This should include cleaning of the machine,” he says, “and inspecting the blade guides, guide bearings, wheels, coolant and blade. The chip brush should be inspected and set properly. Overall lubrication should be kept up with also.”
Schmidt says when he’s training operators on a DoAll machine, he advises that the saw should be completely at startup. “Today’s saws are equipped with washdown hoses to allow the use of coolant to wash down the machine,” he says.
“They should also do a quick walkaround, checking fluid levels and clearing any tripping hazards from around the machine,” he adds. “Other checks include making sure all safety guards are on the machine, and before starting the saw, checking for correct coolant flow at the saw’s guides. Last and most important is making sure the band brush is clearing chips, and if not, changing it out.”
While these pre-shift checks come easy to veteran saw operators, it can be difficult for newcomers. Eastwood says rookies, in particular, often struggle with properly setting the blade speed and feed rate with each corresponding blade and tooth pitch and the material being cutting.
“Most blade manufacturers provide this training more in depth,” he says.
Schmidt says that even with today’s material libraries available on new saws, and with sawing apps on smartphones, operators need to understand that “these numbers are nothing more than starting points. They can fine-tune the saw and band to their material by adjusting the speed and feed rates to keep harmonic vibrations to a minimum, maximizing blade life.”
Veteran saw operators are so in tune with their saws that some claim they can put a hand on the running machine and feel if something is off. But what clues can new saw operators look for to ensure everything is running properly?
“Look at the chips!” responds DoAll’s Allen of the remnants of material left after a cut. “Reading the chips can tell you a lot – has the correct band speed and feed rate/force been selected? You want a thin, curly, springy chip.”
Schmidt also has a tip about chips. If they are present near the left-hand arm, “it’s a good chance that the band brush either needs be adjusted or replaced. The operator must keep the discharge side of the machine clear to prevent cut parts from hitting the floor.”
Schmidt stresses in his training sessions that operators that the saw should be running quietly enough that they should be able stand by the saw while it is running and have a conversation without yelling. New operators find out fairly quickly that the harmonic vibrations caused by cutting will shatter the tooth tips of a saw blade.
“The operator must tune these noises out by adjusting speeds and feeds,” Schmidt says. “They also must keep an eye on coolant flow, making sure the tank does not run out halfway through the cut.”
Cosen’s Eastwood agrees that vibration and noise are key indicators of something going wrong and says bad cuts and broken blades are the end result.
“Most of the time,” Eastwood says, “a minor adjustment is needed but attention always needs to be paid to prevent damage or loss of product.”
Finally, Schmidt says operators must also check their parts for cut accuracy.
“Depending on their tolerance,” he says, “as a blade wears, the kerf changes, which could lead to long parts, so they may need to adjust their kerf compensation.”
Manufacturers are opting for automated saws today, which make operation easier than ever, but challenges remain that need to be addressed with new operators. For example, Kasto’s Dolipski notes automated machines have screens/monitors where operators can enter information as well as follow steps in the cutting process. But they also need to make sure they’re selecting the right materials.
Cosen’s Eastwood agrees, adding that one of the most difficult aspects of operating an automated saw is learning the human-machine interface (HMI).
“On an automatic machine,” he says, “the most crucial training is use on the HMI for programming and safe operation. All aspects of training need to be covered, as with any equipment, but this is where most people struggle.”
DoAll Schmidt sums it up, saying that when new operators understand the machine cycles, know the proper technique for changing blades and setting the band brush (chip brush) and set the coolant flow at the correct volume and placement, they’re on the right path. The feed and speed rates are the final piece of the puzzle.
“Lastly,” Schmidt says, “I have the operators, one at a time, set up and run a job. Let them push the buttons. This assures me who has been listening and who has not. Never consider training complete until each trainee has set up and run a job on their own.”