All posts by Chris Hopkins

About Chris Hopkins

Chris Hopkins Manages the West Coast office and technology center for DATRON Dynamics, Inc. As an Application Engineer, he has over a decade of experience training and helping some of the world's leading manufacturers with their most complex machining challenges.

3 Tips for Faster Rapid Prototype Machining

Rapid prototype machining using a 5-axis high speed CNC machining center.

Time is money …  even more so in rapid prototype machining. Rapid prototype machining is important for bringing a design to reality. While making usable parts, this process also allows for testing and evaluating the design. In the consumer electronics industry, time is also crucial for beating fierce competition to market with the newest products. So, I’ve come up with three tips to help you become more agile and your rapid prototype machining faster.


1. Standardizing Stock Sizes for Rapid Prototype Machining

How many times have you stood next to a rack of material measuring to find the correct size stock for your part? One way to get past this is to have a library of standard stock sizes. If you have a dozen or so standard sizes, these can be saved in your CAM system to fit the size of the part needed. I personally would rather have a few more roughing passes to mill extra material then wasting time searching and cutting stock to size before milling.

Rapid prototype machining with standardized material blank sizes kept in stock will allow you to produce prototype parts quicker because you are guaranteed to have stock on hand.
Rapid prototype machining using standard size material blanks held in inventory can speed up the process and time to market.


2. Part Probing for Rapid Prototype Machining

Touch probes can save significant set up time. For example, with the 3D Probing on DATRON CNC machines, you are able to program cycles to find edges to set zero points. There is also an option to rotate your program to match the stock that was probed. Say you needed to put a part back on a machine to adjust a feature. With a probe you could touch off on a known location and reset your origin.

Rapid prototype machining can be made more efficient through the use of a 3D probe integrated on the CNC machining center. This diagram illustrates part location and verification.
3D probing can speed up rapid prototype machining in many ways (see above).


3. Optimizing Your CAM for Rapid Prototype Machining

How many parts do you make where you are always using the same machining techniques? Rough, finish pass, drill etc. Most CAM systems have an option called feature based machining. This option looks at the solid design model to define features that can be machined. Once those features are defined, the software selects toolpath strategies to machine each of the features found. Feature base machining might not be ideal in all situations but it will take significant time out of programming, even if you have to tweak a few parameters.


Rapid prototype machining CAM features like future based machining can be used to speed up programming and reduce overall prototyping time and even time to market.
Rapid prototype machining can be made more efficient by using feature based machining in the CAM software.


In conclusion, these three steps save you valuable setup time. I have personally seen this practice take a solid file to a metal 3D prototype part in the matter of minutes.

DATRON Dynamics West being located in the tech-savvy bay area, helps start ups to Fortune 500s get their machined 3D prototypes to the market first! If you are interested in seeing how DATRON can get bring your design to life please call us at 925.456.0157 or reserve a seat at one of our Technology Workshops.

Toolpath Filter for Achieving a Perfect Surface Finish

There are many factors when trying to achieve the perfect finish on a machined 3D part . I’d like to focus in on the toolpath filtering options available for CNC machines and CAM software.

Toolpath Filter in CAM Software

In many CAM systems you are able to set a tolerance for how accurately you would like to follow the surface with the tool. If you have a large tolerance set in your CAM you will lose detail or tolerance in your part. On the other hand, if you set the tolerance too low you will have more code, processing time increases along with the risk of vector points being visible on your surface. Filtering and smoothing options exist in the CAM software and work by shifting and removing points.

Toolpath filter or smoothing in the CAM software works by shifting and removing points to improve the path and resulting surface finish of the milled part.
A toolpath filter in the CAM is based on shifting and removing points.

Toolpath Filter in CNC Milling Machine Control Software

But what about the option of using a smoothing feature on the milling machine itself? In the case of DATRON’s new HSC Pro software, there is a proprietary smoothing toolpath filter that works on a totally different basis. Instead of removing points and losing tolerance on your part as with the smoothing in CAM, this toolpath filter adds points within the tolerance set in the CAM. The machine also calculates to five decimal places (metric) giving a more accurate surface. By adding points and increasing the read ahead of the machine, you don’t have to worry about losing detail while creating a smooth finish. The DATRON smoothing toolpath filter also monitors the jerk. Monitoring the jerk of the motors ensures a smooth machine motion while eliminating excess stress on the machine at high feed rates.

Surface finish is optimized by using the PerfectCut toolpath filter or smoothing function within the DATRON control software.
The results (above right) of using the PefectCut toolpath filter within the DATRON HSC Pro control software.


A toolpath filter or smoothing function called PerfectCut can be accessed through the CNC milling machine control software to optimize surface finish.
The PerfectCut toolpath filter or smoothing function within the milling machine control software has a significant effect of surface finish.

So in conclusion, running a smoothing toolpath filter in the machine you are able to have faster calculation time from your CAM along with a more accurate part requiring less optimization in the CAM software. To learn more about this toolpath filter and achieving perfect surface finish download the PerfectCut Data Sheet by filling out the form below.

Download Toolpath Filter Data Sheet