AB Tools broach the machine operator skills gap with ANCA software and technology

Simple to learn, and flexible to use, ANCA’s technology can be learnt in under three days claims Alfred Lyon, AB Tools Shop Supervisor


AB Tools are leading experts in the special cutting tools market as a specialty house in high performance rotary cutting tools. Started in 1977 by Alan Baker and Jon Baker joined in 1979 as the first employee. Today they service almost every industry, from smaller shops to large facilities in aerospace, automotive, medical as well as others.

AB Tools is experiencing the highest sales in their 40-year history with most of their customers in the US as well as exporting to Canada, Mexico, Europe and even Australia.



Jonathon Baker, President of AB Tools said, “We not only stand by our product 100%, but we use them in our day to day operations. From milling out some multi-flute carbide-tipped cutters with one of our own Dexi-Dovetail cutters, to securely holding blanks with our own Accu-Hold endmill extensions.”

“The Shear-hog is our bestselling product, my father, Alan Baker, designed the Shear-hog insert 25 plus years ago and it immediately became our number one product and has been ever since. We make a range of carbide tip cutting tools on steel blanks to increase the possible range of diameters and lengths of our products.”

“We chose to invest in ANCA technology when our top grinder, Alfred Lyon, became interested in how a CNC machine could help our business. Once we invested in an ANCA, the company significantly increased its capacity in what types of tools we could produce. Personally, I think our ANCAs offer the entire package - they run clean, don't require a lot of maintenance and are fast to set up. Our cycle times improved and the programming ease is night and day.”

Alfred Lyon, Shop Supervisor and top grinder at AB Tools said, “Years ago it was difficult to be competitive in producing special tools due to the time and labor involved. When we invested in an ANCA machine, its grinding capabilities and flexible software meant we could now produce one offs or two offs faster. Furthermore, it dramatically increased the efficiency of the manufacturing process meaning we could manufacture specials at a profit. That has meant that today we are very competitive in our pricing and can service our customers with shorter lead times.”

“I looked into getting an ANCA at the IMTS trade show where a technician demonstrated that I could program one of our tools under five minutes. Previously to make a tool it took 20 to 25 minutes to program the G-Code and a further 15 to grind. That meant huge savings in time and effort, and once you finish the job and the program saves so the next time you require that tool you can simply reload the file.”

“An ANCA Applications Engineer came to AB Tools for three-day training on the new machine. I'd like to think I'm a fast learner, but in a day, I was grinding tools and by the second day, I felt like the trainer didn't need to be there. It was literally that fast. Having technology that is easy to learn is especially important given the lack of skilled operators. At AB Tools our approach to broach that skills gap is to train people who have recently finished high school and offer them a career path. In a few days we get them operating, setting up, and then we train them in programming, it’s that easy.”

 “My favourite thing about the ANCA technology is the ability to program off machine. In the past the simulation was in my head and that's true of many manual cutter grinders. You have an idea of what you want, and after making the tool you hope it is produced to look like what you’ve been dreaming about. The simulation software allows us to create the tool, with all the given parameters and see what the finished tool will look like. That combined with being able to program off machine has revolutionized how we make cutting tools.”

“Repeatability is also important because in the past, we could make the same tool but it would never be exactly the same. The flute length would be different, cut length, relief, clearance, those things would all change slightly. With ANCA, because you can save the program, and all the features that go along with it, meaning the cutting tool has the same features every time it is ground.”

“When we got our first MX7 Linear we were blown away by the finishes. I mean, the cutting edges are just beautiful. The flutes, how they look. And we don't polish anything. I love to share what I make on social media and comments like ‘That's art’ as the tools these days are honestly beautiful,” Alfred said.

Jon continued, “Alfred, a key employee at AB Tools had back surgery and that knocked him out for a good few months. However, Alfred doesn’t like sitting still and his passion for grinding meant he wanted to come back to work as soon as he could. The ANCA technology meant he was able to take the simulator and run programs at home on his bed, enabling him to start working again while he was physically healing.”

“This was also important for our business as it meant we had our top grinder and all his expertise back with us much earlier than would have been possible without the simulation software.”

Alfred continued, “I had a spinal fusion that required an eight-hour surgery. That night I wanted to start working again but my wife wouldn't let me and I was in the hospital. After coming home, I was immediately able connect everything. From my bed I was able to program jobs for the ANCA grinders in the shop and was programming five to 15 jobs a day.”

“I would email the programs to the shop which were loaded onto a USB by a member of my team who would stick them in the machines and be able to just hit go.”

“I wouldn't be as happy with ANCA if their service wasn't as good as it was. Because it doesn't matter how great your product is, if you don't have support that can be an issue. I simply email and I will be sent an answer or a technician showing up at our doorstep the next morning. And that level of service started from when we had one machine till now when we have six. That kind of treatment resonates with me.”

Jon concluded, “I’m passionate about our industry. I love our industry, been in it all my life and there's a great bunch of people out there that love what they do. AB Tools is always looking to the future and hope it will include almost all CNC equipment. I say this as the achievements we realised  from buying our first ANCA CNC machine is incredible and that technology will continue to improve, opening huge opportunities.”