Steve Carter is the Brand Manager at DATRON Dynamics and has been with the company for 11 years. His writing on high-speed machining has been published in trade magazines such as Aerospace Design & Manufacturing, Modern Applications News, Manufacturing Engineering and Tooling & Production.
There is no question that electronics are getting smaller and smaller. As a result, electro-mechanical parts like Printed Circuit Boards (PCB), must be produced in smaller sizes. Therefore, the demand for step stencils (for stencil printing) is increasing, as well as the requirement for precision and accuracy in order to produce them with intricate detail. This Blog is about Step Stencil Milling and the advantages of this process over both Laser Cutting and Chemical Etching.
If you are not familiar with step stencils, they are metal sheets that help to control the volume of solder paste applied to specific components or features of a printed circuit board during the solder paste printing process. Because PCB’s are getting smaller and smaller, the components that populate the board have to be positioned closer and closer together. So, you can probably see the challenge here – smaller components and tighter spaces demand accuracy.
Milling vs. Laser for Step Stencil Production
Here’s where milling comes in … and more specifically the demand for very precise high-speed milling machines. Step stencil material such as stainless steel sheets can be milled with slots and other features to reduce the thickness in desired locations. The depth of these slots (known as “steps”) need to be very precise as does their location. This is where high-speed milling has a significant advantage over laser cutting – because laser has less accuracy as well as restrictions in depth in terms of accuracy. With laser cutting, as you go deeper in the material, the laser (an intense beam of monochromatic light) tends to bend or walk. Whereas with a high-speed milling machine very precise and even depths can be maintained. As an example, the DATRON M10 Pro has a +/- 5 micron position accuracy with <3 micron runout when using HSK-25E tool holders. If you have a need for a very large work area to produce a large step stencil or many step stencils from one sheet of material, the DATRON MLCube LS (with linear scales) delivers the same kind of accuracy and provides a 60″ x 40″ work envelope.
Milling vs. Chemical Etching for Step Stencil Production
The other process used to produce step stencils Chemical Etching. In this process, stencil material such as stainless steel is made thinner in selected areas with chemical etching. All areas that will not be made thinner (or etched) are covered with a protective film. Chemical etching is a less accurate process but is very fast. The problem is the cost and quite frankly the mess. By nature (and law), chemicals have to be managed carefully and disposed of properly, which can be very costly for the manufacturer.
High-Speed Milling Advantages for Step Stencil Production
So, getting back to the high-speed milling process, the focus should be on achieving the best production quality while saving time and obtaining a damage and residue-free stencil underside. Our customers have found that the combination of integrated probing and vacuum table workholding yield a perfectly reproducible quality, despite any material tolerances … and result in a residue-free stencil underside.
The integrated vacuum table is ideal for holding flat substrates like stainless steel sheets during the milling process. Plus, job setup is incredibly fast. The integrated probing adds to the speed of setup because the probe is used for automated part location. Additionally, the probe is used for surface scanning which records any variance in material thickness so that variance can be automatically compensated for in the milling program. This means that the depth of milled features (or steps) on the stencil will be deadly accurate!
Time Savings: faster than laser
No thermal degradation of the material structure
Absolute and constant accuracy in rapid removal of material
No costly chemicals, or chemical disposal
Download DATRON M10 Pro for Step Stencil Production Brochure
In 1985, Danny Strippelhoff became a partner in the business that his grandfather established in Georgetown, KY in 1943. Now, he oversees the day-to-day operations of the Carbide Products, Inc. as President/CEO. In 1987, another of the founder’s grandsons, Paul Strippelhoff, joined the business and now oversees all manufacturing operations as Vice President.
Today, Carbide Products, Inc. owns and maintains a 15,600 sq. ft. climate-controlled facility and serves more than 200 diversified industrial customers in 26 countries each year. They employ highly-skilled personnel using the most advanced equipment to manufacture made-to-order parts, tools, and gauges, using a wide variety of materials and material combinations. This includes solid tungsten carbide, carbide tipped, silicon carbide, silicon nitride, high-speed and tool steel, stainless steel, super alloys, samarium-cobalt rare-earth, cast iron, other ferrous and non-ferrous alloys, heavy metals, PCD (polycrystalline diamond), PCBN (polycrystalline cubic boron nitride), and plastics. All of Carbide Products machining processes, as well as heat treating, brazing, assembly, inspection, and documentation, are performed in-house for total quality control.
In particular, the company is adept at producing small runs of very small parts to exacting tolerances with requirements for superior surface finishes. According to Paul Strippelhoff, “Most of our jobs are 2- to 50-piece runs and in terms of size, in many cases, you can hold a dozen parts in the palm of your hand.” Often their customers provide them with prints and the job is quoted based on that print. But, Strippelhoff explains, “Sometimes we ask the customer if we can change the print a little bit to make it easier to manufacture. We work closely with all of our customers to save them money and save us time.”
In 2016, a unique job came in that the company hadn’t seen or heard of before. An equine podiatrist asked them to manufacture special aluminum horseshoes including corrective horseshoes for horses with hoof or gait problems and horseshoes for yearlings in the thoroughbred racing industry. According to Strippelhoff, “We were getting some pretty big orders for a local equine facility, and our VMCs were just not fast enough. So, we were looking for something different, something easy to program and control, and with faster feeds and speeds in aluminum.”
During their research to find the ideal machine for this project, they came across the DATRON M8Cube, a German-engineered high-speed milling machine with a 40”x30” work area and spindle speeds up to 60,000 RPM. Strippelhoff says, “It just seemed perfect for the horseshoe job. Additionally, we had a date stamp screw job for the mold industry that we had earmarked for the M8Cube.”
A trip to IMTS in Chicago in September 2016, solidified the company’s excitement about DATRON technology, but what they saw exhibited by DATRON altered their plans just slightly. Strippelhoff explains, “They were demonstrating a smaller machine called DATRON neo and the newer touch-screen control on that machine just blew us away. Our kids these days are using their fingers on touchscreens to do everything! We decided, that we really had to get one of these in our shop and be on the front end of this technology and embrace it.”
Carbide Products purchased the DATRON neo almost as an experiment, but with their long-term goals still focused on larger DATRON machines. Strippelhoff says, “We decided to get started with the DATRON neo in hopes that the same software and touchscreen would be added to the M8Cube and M10 Pro machines so that we could replace our traditional VMCs with those. The price point on the DATRON neo was good and it doesn’t take up much floor space, so it gave us a chance to get involved with DATRON and see if we like the support that they have and the product that they have without making any huge investments.”
This “experiment” has turned out quite well according to Strippelhoff who was surprised that even the DATRON neo with its 20.5″ x 16.5″ X, Y travel has been able to supplant the company’s smaller Haas machines. He explains, “Currently, we’re making some special lightbulb parts on the DATRON neo that we were making on our Haas Super Mini Mills − and by using the vacuum chuck to hold sheet material on the neo, we’re able to batch machine these parts which has reduced cycle time by nearly 50%.” During the course of purchasing and installing the machine, Carbide Products has been able to get a feel for the American-based service that DATRON offers to support their German-made machining centers. Strippelhoff says, “Our plan to ‘get our feet wet’ with DATRON has worked out well. On a scale of 1-10, I’d give their support a 10 … it’s been really, really great. So, we’re excited now to get into that M8Cube. Everybody there has always been Johnny-on-the-spot and available.”
In terms DATRON neo’s overall ease-of-use, and the ability to quickly setup the machine and integrate it into the production flow, Strippelhoff is extremely pleased and admits, “Honestly, I haven’t personally programmed a CNC mill or written a program or anything for 22 years, and I was able to use this machine right away. The controller with the integrated probe and camera system for part location makes it incredibly easy to set up a job and operate. You don’t have to have your workpiece set up and trammed in, it does the skew alignment for you.” Although Carbide Products had never used HSMWorks before, Strippelhoff praises DATRON for strongly recommending this software, as well as how well it integrates with the DATRON neo in terms of tool libraries. He explains, “What I didn’t know upfront, but was glad to see, is that there’s a tool catalog in HSMWorks for DATRON and all we have to do is plug in a 5-digit number, drop the tool in and all the information is there which is so simple it’s crazy.”
Ultimately though, the “proof is in the pudding” as they say, and all the bells and whistles in the world amount to nothing if the machine isn’t making money for you. Strippelhoff says that is NOT the case with the DATRON neo. He explains, “I currently have 6 different 200-piece jobs running on the DATRON neo all being made with aluminum sheet material. Running multiple parts out of a sheet is completely new to us, instead of making solid-piece parts one up. What this does is gives you the ability to keep your number of tool changes down over a 200-piece order, because while your tool is in the spindle it does all of its work.” As an example, he says, “I’m getting 105 parts out of a sheet and the drill is going to drill all the holes before the machine makes a tool change – and then the machine doesn’t have to pick the drill up anymore. Reducing the number of tool changes has a huge impact on cycle time and this is a big difference between the DATRON and our VMCs.”
At the time that DATRON introduced the DATRON neo to the North American market, it was met with some skepticism on social media forums – mostly by traditional VMC operators who couldn’t imagine that this compact machine was anything but a toy. Within Carbide Products, this has not been the case. Strippelhoff says, “The other machinists in the shop walk by the DATRON neo and they kind of take a step back and are pretty impressed with what they’ve seen so far compared to running their VMCs. They can’t believe the technology that they’re seeing on this machine. Everybody in the shop is excited about it, even the people who aren’t running CNC mills – the lathe guys, guys and gals in the grinding department, everybody just loves watching that thing run.”
Innovative manufacturers logically find innovative ways to use new technologies — sometimes pushing the limits or using a machine for a process that it was not specifically designed for. That is certainly the case with Carbide Products, and they quickly found a unique use for the DATRON neo that further leverages their capital investment. In this case, they decided to replace the cutting tool with a diamond grinding wheel to use the DATRON neo like a jig grinder to grind a counter bore in solid carbide rolls. Paul says, “This was a task for our very expensive Agie Sinker EDM, but this too has changed.” Some manufacturers find it hard to think outside the box — and when they spec a machine for a job, that’s the job the machine will do until it’s at capacity, and then, they buy another machine to pick up the slack. But, Carbide Products’ methodology is to find every imaginable way to use a piece of equipment even if it means reaching capacity quicker. Strippelhoff says, “Another DATRON, probably the M8Cube, is on the horizon anyway. It has a larger bed size and that will come in handy. And if we do things right, that machine will be as busy as the DATRON neo is.”
As the example above illustrates, it is not simply the technology that drives innovation, but rather the skilled personnel who find the best ways to use it to impact efficiency, capability and ultimately the company’s bottom line. Carbide Products President/CEO, Danny Strippelhoff, says, “It takes the best of the best employees to be successful enough to have the opportunity to invest in the latest and greatest manufacturing technologies. The DATRON neo that we’ve installed is a testimony to their hard work.”
Since the equipment our company offers is ideal for sign engraving and processing flat sheet material, we’ve seen the inside of a good number of sign companies over the years. But, walking into Ellis & Ellis Sign Systems in Sacramento, CA becomes a different experience as soon as you pass through the lobby and corporate office of this family-owned business. That’s because the overall size of the place is impressive. Well, it has to be really, considering the work they do – this includes billboards, architectural signage, landmark signs, amusement park signs and even those dazzling neon jobs enticing patrons at the many casinos in Reno. They even made a 16-foot tall Tyrannosaurus Rex, a gigantic Frankenstein and a not so menacing (but still sizable) Curious George for Universal Studios.
But not everything they do at Ellis & Ellis is so big. Take for example the Braille required for way-finding signs and architectural signage. This is intricate work often done on smaller signs that must be ADA compliant for elements like position and tactile height. Braille can be produced using a variety of different processes. For example, Photopolymer Braille uses UV light and a chemical process to remove negative space material. In contrast, Route-in-Place with Raster Braille is a process where small acrylic beads are mechanically pressed into predrilled holes.
Sign Engraving with ADA Compliant Braille
Having tried both of these processes, Ellis & Ellis experienced significant obstacles as follows:
Photopolymer Braille: First and foremost, the Braille was not completely round and was, therefore, subject to ADA liability. They also found the necessary raw materials to be expensive. Ellis & Ellis Director of Manufacturing, Bill Rogers, explained, “The excessive costs of the materials were compounded by costs associated with the human labor required for processing and finishing.”
Route-in-Place with Raster Braille: Similar to Photopolymer Braille, Ellis & Ellis found that additional human labor was required for finishing in the Raster Braille process because of the excessive glue that remains after tactile copy is placed and engraved. Bill Rogers said, “Additionally, the alcohol, solvents and cleaning products would cause crazing to occur on the acrylic beads which often shattered them.” Plus, they found this process to be limited in terms of surface finish possibilities.
Eventually, Ellis & Ellis decided to research other processes and equipment to produce the intricate ADA compliant Braille they needed to manufacture these way-finding signs. Ultimately, they decided on a DATRON M8 high-speed machining center after demonstrations proved that the machine was not only capable of producing spot-on Braille, but could also perform many other functions – thereby adding flexibility to their shop floor. (See aluminum and acrylic letters at bottom of Blog).
Plus, there were other factors involved in their decision. Rogers said, “Well clearly floor space in California has a premium cost associated with it and the DATRON’s footprint fit nicely into the small enclosed space that we designated for this process.” He added, “With the small footprint, it’s amazing that this machine provides such a large work envelope.”
Sign Engraving CNC Machine for Batch Machining
In fact, the DATRON M8 (as well as the newer M8Cube) has a 40” x 32” machining table made of solid polymer concrete that provides exceptional rigidity delivering the accuracy that Ellis & Ellis needs. The large work envelope is not diminished by the 15-station automatic tool changer located at the back of the table. This covered pneumatic unit includes a tool-length sensor which allows Ellis & Ellis to monitor tool life as a means of maintaining a high level of quality. In many cases, the signs that they manufacture are produced in batches and the tool length sensor helps in allowing them to run these parts unattended. Here’s how it works. Within the machine’s control software is a macro program that can be set up to run a tool check after executing a number of lines of code. For instance, a tool check macro can initiate a check after every 500 lines of code. This is known as an “if/then” statement, in other words, “Measure this tool; if the length is shorter than the listed parameter, then change the tool.” As a result, if a tool becomes dull in the middle of running a batch of signs, it is replaced automatically even if the machine operator is not present. This helps to maintain quality and minimize waste.
However, running batches of signs, whether unattended or with the operator present, requires the ability to accommodate and fixture sheet material from which the individual signs are milled. So, Ellis & Ellis was pleased to find that DATRON manufactures their own vacuum table workholding. In the case of their M8 machine, the vacuum chuck is affectionately known as a QuadraMate due to its four independently activated 12” x 18” segments – which can also be simultaneously activated providing a full 24” x 36” of workholding.
Bill Rogers said, “The vacuum table combined with the machine’s integrated probe makes it so easy to set up a job – it’s faster and takes out the element of human error.”
That’s because once the operator sets the material on the table, even if it is not situated perfectly straight, the probe takes measurements that compensate for that. In fact, even if there are irregularities in the material such as surface variance, the measurements are fed into the control software and the program is adjusted accordingly. Since Ellis & Ellis performs so much alphanumeric engraving and milling to produce their signs, this guarantees an even depth of those characters even if the material topography is not consistent. According to Rogers, “All of this equates to more efficiency, higher quality, less waste and ultimately cost reduction.”
The machining center itself is not the only area where DATRON has helped Ellis & Ellis add efficiency to their operation — and Bill Rogers says that they have become quite a proponent of DATRON solid carbide cutting tools. “We saw the exceptional performance of DATRON tools being used with the DATRON machine in terms of cut quality and tool life, so we decided that we’d give them a try on some of our larger machines.” Those larger machines include MultiCam CNC Routers, and as they anticipated, the DATRON tools did, in fact, improve the performance of those larger machines. Bill said, “In terms of tool life, we’re looking at an improvement of about 3 to 1 which is a big cost saving over time.”
In addition to using DATRON tooling with the MultiCams, they also decided to try DATRON’s coolant with these routers and that too helped to impact cutting quality.
Bill Rogers said, “Staying competitive means trying new things, new technology, and always looking for ways be more efficient.” To that end, Bill and his team are frequent visitors at the DATRON Technology Center in Livermore, CA. According to Rogers, “DATRON has informal events like TechDay at their facility where we can go see advancements in the technology. I can always count on their guys to get us the answers we need. It’s a great partnership.”
With additive manufacturing and 3D printers being such a hot topic these days, it’s important to remember why subtractive processes like milling are still incredibly important to rapid prototyping. But first, let’s examine some of the benefits and limitations of additive rapid prototyping (or direct digital manufacturing).
Benefits of Additive Rapid Prototyping
The process of additive rapid prototyping joins and fuses materials like liquid resins together, layer upon layer to produce a 3D object from model data. Additive rapid prototyping is generally simple, relatively inexpensive and fast. Additive rapid prototyping also allows for a substantial amount of complexity within cavities or internal areas of a part that would require undercuts and may even be impossible with subtractive processes like milling.
Limitations of Additive Rapid Prototyping
The primary drawback of additive rapid prototyping is that the resulting part usually is not made of an end-use material like metal … and even if it is, it lacks structural integrity. That’s because the point where one layer is joined to another lacks the physical strength exhibited by a solid block of the same material (with no layers or joints).
Subtractive Rapid Prototyping with End-Use Materials
Subtractive rapid prototyping provides the ability to prototype in end-use materials. Since milling or machining removes material from a larger piece of material, the finished part has a solid composition rather than a layered composition as seen in additive rapid prototyping with 3D printers. This yields a higher structural integrity which is critical if the prototype part is to be used in product testing. Product testing with a part made through subtractive prototyping allows for an accurate analysis of the part’s viability and even durability since it is made from the same material that will be used to manufacture production parts.
A Wider Range of Surface Finishes and Textures with Subtractive Prototyping
Subtractive rapid prototyping processes also offer a wider range of surface finishes for the completed prototype as opposed to the standard “stepped finish” often achieved in additive rapid prototyping with a 3D printer. This could range from a completely smooth surface with a mirror-like finish to ones with milled or engraved textures. In this way, subtractive rapid prototyping with a high speed CNC milling machine is capable of producing prototype parts with a repeatability suitable for end-use production. The smooth surface finish that can be achieved with high-speed machining can be functionally beneficial if the given part needs to slide and aesthetically beneficial if the prototype is going to be used in market testing.
Additive Rapid Prototyping vs. Subtractive Rapid Prototyping
To illustrate the points made above, we asked our applications engineers to quickly prototype a part using both additive and subtractive processes. Since our favorite after-hours (wink, wink) past time is foosball, they decided to make a “replacement” foosball man for testing. This decision was based on an actual real-life need – since we had recently broken one of the men that came with our vintage 1985 foosball table. Using additive rapid prototyping (3D printing), they were able to design a very rudimentary foosball man in about 90 minutes. From there, they began printing and in just over an hour the part seen below was complete.
Using subtractive rapid prototyping (high-speed milling) programming the part took substantially longer and clocked in at 3 hrs. 45 minutes. However, milling the part below was considerably faster than 3D printing and took 28 minutes.
Product Testing an Additive Rapid Prototype vs. a Subtractive Rapid Prototype
Well, you knew we had to “test” the part right? So, in a series of 4 rather heated games using each prototype, here’s what we found. In terms of functionality and durability, the subtractive prototype was the clear winner. Not only did it last through the 4 games, the solid composition of the part made for stronger shots with high velocity. Plus, it clearly would hold up for hundreds of more games. By comparison, the 3D printed part began to show signs of delamination on its right side half way through game 3 — and by the game 4 we had to mend it with a bit of scotch tape to get through the rest of our “product testing”. The damage to the part revealed the inside composition of the 3D printed part as seen below.
The rather hollow nature of this part shined a bit of light on why we couldn’t achieve strong shots using this foosball man. In analyzing the resulting surface finish on both parts, we felt that the subtractive prototype was … well, simply more attractive. Plus, the milling process provided more flexibility to achieve different surface finishes. For example, we were able to make the majority of the subtractive prototype very smooth while giving the foot section a more textured finish for added “grip” or ball control. By contrast, the inherent “stepped” surface finish on the additive prototype served well in terms of ball control … but wasn’t very attractive over the entire part.
The Ultimate Subtractive Rapid Prototyping CNC Machine:
Last year’s introduction of the DATRON neo compact high-speed milling machine makes subtractive rapid prototyping more affordable and viable than ever. Plus it’s compact size and touchscreen operation make it easy to use and easy to fit in the tightest “lab-type” environment. To learn more download the brochure by filling out the form below:
When an Autodesk Fusion 360 Product Manager put out a “key chain challenge” to see who could produce the best quality sample part, many CNC machinists on social media took note and got right to work.
Appropriately named the AUTODESK Fusion 360 CAM Challenge, participants were asked to produce a Fusion logo made into a key chain. Autodesk supplied all participants with the same file in their software. There were only 3 requirements to the Autodesk Fusion 360 CAM Challenge:
Use Autodesk Fusion 360 to program
Take a photo of yourself programming the part
Supply a photo of the final end product
All participants of the Autodesk Fusion 360 CAM Challenge were given 1 week to complete their sample parts and submit their photos. In that week 56 people participated and tagged 152 photos that were viewed by 129,000 people.
DATRON Dynamics Application Technician, Adrian Montero won the Autodesk Fusion 360 CAM Challenge in the Category of Best Surface Finish. His part was machined on the DATRON neo, compact high-speed milling machine.
Willington Nameplate in Stafford Springs, CT manufactures metal engraved nameplates and Identification tags for a wide range of customers from aerospace and defense to Gillette Stadium – they actually produced all of the seat tags for “Casa de Brady”. Their metal nameplates and ID tags are made from a range of materials including aluminum, brass and stainless steel.
Willington Nameplate was founded over 50 years ago by Marcel Goepfert and day-to-day operations have been run by his son, Mike Goepfert, since 1990. Since that time, there have been many changes and a lot of growth. This includes a critical decision in 1999 to purchase their first DATRON high-speed milling machine.
Willington Nameplate’s Fabrication Group Leader, Jamie Vale Da Serra, recounts this story saying that, “Prior to installing the DATRON machine we used a manual kick process.” He goes on to say, “We needed to get away from that process because we needed a tolerance higher than .005”.Vale Da Serra refers to the DATRON milling machine as a “set it and forget it” piece of equipment that runs unattended freeing up staff to attend to other tasks.
Quick job setup and the ability of the DATRON machine to run unattended are the result of a number of integrated features – all operating in concert. This starts with integrated vacuum table or vacuum chuck technology that allows the operator to quickly setup the workpiece – for nameplates this is generally sheet material such as aluminum, stainless steel or Metalphoto®. An integrated probe for part location and measurement also speeds up job setup and enables uniformity by automatically compensating for material irregularities like surface variance. An automatic tool changer with an integrated tool-length sensor provides a full stable (and wide variety) of necessary tooling that can automatically be changed at given intervals and/or when a tool is broken.
Vale Da Serra says, “Consistency is there with the DATRONs from the first to the last they all measure the same, whereas with the manual process human error is possible that could give you a deviation.”
The growth at Willington Nameplate is not limited to adding DATRON machines, the company has recently purchased three other companies in New England, thereby expanding sales by 35% in five years. With a staff of more than 80 people, Willington Nameplate has now set their sights on additional acquisitions elsewhere in the United States.
Learn more about Nameplate Production download the White Paper:
DC Graphics, founded in ’94 by Kevin Brandon, is run today by Eugene Prohaske, President, and Kristine Brandon, Vice President, and has a long history in the engraving industry. Eugene is a passionate engraver and has over 30 years of experience in the engraving for packaging industry. He originally started in the engraving business with his father’s company, Styleart Engraving back in 1983. After his father retired in 1994, Eugene started his own business, HAP Engraving in Manhattan, together with a partner. They were in business until 2010 when he came to DC Graphics. Eugene originally joined business with Kevin Brandon, former President and original founder of DC Graphics. They worked together for about three years before Kevin passed away in 2013.
DC Graphics is an offset, flexographic pre-press, plate/die making and photoengraving facility, which produces magnesium and copper plates/engravings as well as CNC milled brass plates. DC Graphics, specializes in producing sculptured embossing dies and engravings, flat stamping and folding cards for the paper packaging and pre-press industry. They employ a staff of approximately 16 people.
Magnesium is a metal plate that can withstand high temperatures and is impact resistant as well. Embossing and foil-stamping both require a plate that can meet these criteria for long press runs. Magnesium plates are also used to make rubber plates, signs and name plates; a versatile product indeed. Its durability provides the end user with a long-lasting printing image or die. Plates come in different thicknesses: 16 gauge, 11 point, and 1/4′. The largest size is 18″ x 24″. Copper is also used because it is a harder metal that lasts and stores longer for a better quality product. Counters for their embossing and debossing dies are available in both .030 and .060 thicknesses. They can also create fast and accurate brass dies to a customers’ exact specifications with CNC machining.
DC Graphics is constantly seeking new innovations and utilizes the most current technology in its industry. Having access to the latest technologies keeps DC Graphics ahead of their competition by allowing them to work more productively. Their state-of-the-art equipment allows them to provide their clients with high-quality products faster and less expensively than their competition. Before DC Graphics purchased their first DATRON high-speed milling machine, everything was done by hand, gauging machines and etching. But etching proved to be dirty and carried additional costs associated with disposal of the chemicals used in the process. They knew that they needed a change.
So, in 1996, DC Graphics purchased their first DATRON machine (an M4) and made a transition from everything being done by hand, gauging machines and etching and began using CNC milling machines. It was a big undertaking but proved to be a smart decision for DC Graphics to go green and DATRON was the perfect solution for that.
Prohaske says, “Once I saw everything, I decided this was the wave of the future for us and if we didn’t make the change when we did more than likely we wouldn’t been in business anymore.”
In 2008, DC Graphics purchased a DATRON M8 high speed milling machine, followed by and two additional M8s (in 2012 and 2013) to get their engraving jobs done quicker and to handle more business for their customers.
According to Prohaske, “At the beginning it was a big learning curve because we needed to get the machines in and had to figure out how to run them. DATRON definitely walked us through it as a real partner would do.”
It was a natural progression of having one machine and getting a second one soon. At this time, they had one DATRON and one LANG. They took one year to evaluate the two machines and started weighing the pros and cons of both machines. Both are reliable and good German-engineered machines, but the service and support in the U.S. provided by DATRON Dynamics was a major part the decision to get more DATRON machines.
“They are in the States and whenever I have a problem, they help me and respond to an issue right away. Having a contact person and service over here is key because if I need a part or help figuring out what the problem is or what needs to be replaced, I can get the part the next day; worst case scenario being two days.” says Prohaske.
Prohaske continues, “I always have good experiences with DATRON. They always treat me with a lot of attentiveness and they always help me to get through an issue and give me guidance. I respect that and know I can trust them! Moving forward with the business and growing by getting more machines, it was just a logical decision to continue with DATRON. For what we need, DATRON is the best machine. The machines work fantastic because they’re very versatile and don’t break down. They last for years.”
Now, DC Graphics uses the DATRON machines for most of their projects. They run their LANG for flat stamping plates only because it has a smaller table and only an eight-station tool holder compared to the DATRON, which has a 15-station tool changer and larger table. The DATRON gives them more options in terms of creative engraving, which requires a high level of expertise and flexibility of the machine.
“It is just a very nice machine to work on. I do a lot of programming for the creative engraving and I am very familiar with the DATRON. My engraving creativity combined with the opportunities a DATRON machine offers is a good melding and these different factors coming together make a product that comes out quick, clean and reliable.” Prohaske says.
Prohaske prefers using a lot of tools. He uses specific tools with angles, shapes and cuts for engraving that help him to create a die quicker. This versatility helps him to achieve engraving effects he wouldn’t be able to produce if he didn’t have so many tools at his disposal on the machine. He has the engraving expertise to know how to apply the right tools for particular engraving challenges. Creative engraving is part of the front end program process where he programs everything and applies it to run on a DATRON.
“We really try to maintain a good customer service and engraving expertise – the knowledge of what’s gonna work. For certain types of engraving you need to know what’s gonna work to get an effect. That’s what people appreciate because they don’t know what to do. They come to me and say what’s gonna make this look like what our customer wants. That’s when you build a good report where they can account on you. You are able to do something that other engravers can’t do. That is you edge! I never want to be known as the cheapest engraver … instead, I want to be known as the place to go when something is difficult. And the reliability of DATRON machines and the fact that I’m familiar with these machines allows me to provide this kind of cutting-edge solution.” – Prohaske says.
DATRON AG employee, Marc Reis, made a CNC guitar using a DATRON M8Cube high speed milling machine. This CNC guitar is a Fender Stratocaster replica with body, neck, electronics pocketing, fret inlays and tuner through holes all milled on this high speed CNC milling machine made by DATRON AG in Germany.
Video of CNC Guitar Milling
For this CNC guitar milling project, Marc was able to leverage many of DATRON’s unique features such as vacuum table workholding used to hold the guitar body during machining. DATRON Vacuum tables are designed to swiftly and efficiently secure flat workpieces to the bed of a machining system. Thin stock, which could be secured only with great difficulty before, can be secured literally within seconds with this vacuum system. This includes plastic foils as thin as 0.001” up to heavier 0.250” aluminum sheets. This vacuum table features airflow-optimized ports, with recessed chambers, to provide superior vacuum distribution. A low cost, gas-permeable substrate serves as a sacrificial vacuum diffuser, allowing the cutter to machine through the workpiece, without cutting into the table.
Also, the ability to clamp long (or tall) parts to front of the cut-away in the M8Cube machine bed facilitated the drilling of a cavity in the guitar neck to accommodate the truss rod. (A guitar truss rod is used to stabilize and adjust the lengthwise forward curvature of the neck.)
CNC Guitar Photo
The DATRON M8Cube high speed milling machine features brushless, direct drives that provide faster acceleration, feed rates up to 866 inches per minute and shorter cycle times. A 3kW, 40,000 RPM, liquid-chilled spindle delivers greater horsepower for heavier machining, as well as the flexibility to mill a wide range of materials. To learn more download the brochure by filling out the form below.
Download Brochure on Machine Used to Make this CNC Guitar:
Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President, Panos Panay, says, “This is like a big toy factory” when speaking about their R&D operation in Redmond, WA. This state-of-the-art facility, along with the many DATRON high-speed CNC machining centers there, was recently featured by CNN in a piece called “Inside Microsoft’s secret design lab”. Like a kid in a candy store Panay continues, “You can spend days and weeks and build anything on the planet in this building!”
Indeed, Microsoft has amassed the world’s leading technology under one roof and the possibilities are endless. Many of the products and devices that we’ve all grown to love and depend on were developed in this building. More importantly the future of commercial electronics will be born here.
Panay is the man behind Microsoft’s Surface, and when commenting on the competitive landscape he says, “You know, we have a very deep set of competitors right now. We’re not sitting on our heels, we need to go forward every day. We can’t fall behind and the way to do it is you build a product, you test. If it fails you build it again. This is awesome right? You learn right away. Iterate, every hour or couple of hours, you can put something in overnight … you can find success and boom! Right there, you’ve failed and succeeded in almost the same set of 8 hours and now you have a solution that works for your customers.”
This is perhaps, the truest spirit of Microsoft R&D, and the equipment in their lab is akin to an artist’s paintbrush, allowing them to embody and emote this spirit in an efficient and meaningful way that can impact the daily lives of millions of consumers. Commenting on rapid prototyping, Panay says, “It happens quickly and it happens in a way that you get the true feel of the product. That’s so important. Tor really know what your customers are going to use and love you have to feel it.”
DATRON is proud to have consulted with this Microsoft R&D lab regarding the best suited high speed milling equipment for this type of rapid prototyping. What can be seen in the video, is a lineup of DATRON M8 and M8Cube high-speed CNC milling machines that are particularly efficient in milling aluminum parts with superior surface and edge finishes. The quality of surface and edge finish is of paramount importance when evaluating attributes like “feel” discussed by Panay in the video.
Bloomberg broadcasted a different video last year of the Microsoft R&D lab that was titled “Inside Microsoft’s Secret Surface Labs”. In this video, the narrator refers to the DATRON M8 as a “magnesium slicing milling machine” and Panay, who appears in this video as well points out, “You’re starting to see that same billet back there come to life right here … and this is our model shop.” The “Surface” story in this video is very much about the tenacity of Microsoft R&D. In fact, it suggests that the initial launch of the Surface in 2012 was less than successful and that iterations of the design have resulted in the product quietly gaining ground.
Brett Ostrum, Surface Development General Manager at Microsoft says, “Thinner and lighter, thinner and lighter, thinner and lighter. Grams, tens of grams are a huge currency for us.” As consumer electronics get smaller, the machines used to develop them have to be able to make tiny parts often featuring thin features, thin walls and other intricate features. This is where DATRON high speed machining centers excel because they were engineered from the ground up around a high speed spindle and for the sole purpose of high speed machining. To learn more about this technology and the science of high speed machining:
As recently as a decade ago, there was discussion regarding the best process for engraved name plate production –with the main contenders being the Pantograph, Stamping Machines and Milling Machines. Since that time, the argument for the pantograph has all but gone the way of the dinosaurs. That is because pantograph is a manual machine that requires extremely skilled craftsmen, so the process cannot be automated and it has become difficult to find qualified operators. Both of these factors increase costs. Stamping Machines, on the other hand, remain a viable method for engraved name plate production. Particularly where very large production runs are required, stamping machines have noticeable advantages. Specifically, for runs of say 20,000 name plates, the fact that these machines can produce a couple of parts per seconds makes them a logical choice. For lower runs, however, the costs of running stamping machines reduce the appeal. Much of the cost is associated with the dies required for the process which range from $2,000 to $5,000 each. Combine that cost with the quality of a stamped name plate and the stamping process becomes unattractive. This is because the stamping machine removes material from the workpiece by pushing the die down through the material like a cookie cutter. The force created at the location of the cut bends and shears the substrate. With malleable materials like metal this can mean bending at the edge and with other more brittle substrates, chipped edges can result. Finally, stamping machines are limited in functionality to just stamping or cutting the part out. So if the end product requires a counter sunk hole, tapping or engraving (perhaps for serial numbers), this would require another piece of equipment and a secondary operation – both at additional cost to the manufacturer.
So, for lower volume name plate engraving, milling machines — and specifically high speed milling machines — reign supreme. The remainder of this blog post will focus on high speed milling machine features that provide the competitive advantage in engraved name plate production.
High-Speed Spindle Most ID product and name plate engraving is done with small engraving bits and end mills. These small tools must be run at high speeds. High-speed milling machines featuring high-frequency spindles from 40,000 to 60,000 RPM effectively evacuate chips from the cutting channel during milling and engraving. This results in smooth surfaces and burr-free edges. It also eliminates the need for a secondary de-burring operation, as well as the costs associated with it.
Probing Probing or Surface Scanning (Mapping) saves time during job setup and ensures accuracy and repeatability. Probes available as an integrated component on some milling machines can recognize irregular work-piece topography and compensates for it dynamically. They do this by taking measurements along the surface of a blank and feeding that data into the machining controller. The controller automatically adjusts for uneven surfaces or work piece position. Through this process, job setup times are reduced and piece/part rejection is minimized.
Oil-Free Coolant While Probing can save valuable time at the front end of engraved name plate production (during set up), oil-free coolants can save time at the back end. That’s because unlike oil that leaves residue on the completed nameplate, certain oil-free coolants simply evaporate. So, the secondary de-greasing operation can be eliminated – thereby reducing the cost of labor, the cost of consumables required for cleaning, and most importantly minimizing total engraved name plate production time.
Integrated Vacuum Table Workholding Workholding for engraved name plate applications, like production runs of Metalphoto, can be problematic. Thin substrates are difficult to hold. This is particularly true if the manufacturer is using a conventional CNC to engrave or cut small parts with limited surface area, because the force of the spindle can literally “fling” the part across the machine bed once it is completely cut out. Many manufacturers actually resort to spray glue as a method of workholding. Not only is this messy, it can also lead to bending when the finished part is removed from the machine bed. Plus, it results in a time consuming and costly secondary application to remove the glue form the completed parts.
However, some high-speed milling machines can be equipped with integrated vacuum table workholding. For example, with DATRON’s vacuum table, thin stock, that was once difficult to secure, can now be secured in just seconds. Plastic foils as thin as 0.001”, up to 0.250” thick aluminum sheets can be secured quickly and held in place even when the parts are “cookie-cut” completely through the material. A vacuum pump provides vacuum power for the system to work. A vacuum table features airflow-optimized vacuum ports, with recessed vacuum chambers, to provide superior vacuum distribution. A low cost gas-permeable substrate serves as a sacrificial vacuum diffuser, allowing the cutter to machine through the workpiece, without cutting into the table.
Automatic Tool Management ID product and engraved name plate manufacturers considering various CNC machines for milling and engraving, need to consider their current processes and what their ideal process might be. In other words, they may currently be running only one or two shifts, but in a perfect world, an unattended overnight shift could be the secret to increased profitability. Even if a “lights-out” shift isn’t in the cards, a day shift where the CNC machine can run unattended allows the operator to tend to other business – thereby providing the manufacturer with more productivity from a single employee.
So, choosing a CNC with the right kind of tool management is crucial. The required Automatic Tool Management System is made up of three separate components working in synergistically — the tool checker, the tool changer, and the software. The tool checker is a mechanical sensor that measures tool length and detects the broken tool. The tool changer is a rack or tray that has space for spare tools and sockets where the machine places broken tools before picking up a replacement. Operators can stock the rack with spare tools, so they have a ready supply should tools break during “lights out” operation. The software is a macro program that can be set up to run a tool check after executing a number of lines of code. For example, a tool check macro can initiate a check after every 500 lines of code by employing an “if/then” statement such as, “Measure this tool; if the length is shorter than the parameter (listed in the software’s tool database), then change the tool.”
Wrapping It Up: ID product and engraved name plate manufactures who specialize in low production runs can gain efficiency, flexibility and an overall reduction in cost by using high speed milling machines. Since most of these manufacturers use small tools, it is imperative that they select a CNC machine designed specifically for use with small tools. High-speed spindles are best suited for small tools and produce burr-free parts with superior surface and edge finishes. The low force of these spindles maximizes tool life and enables innovative workholding such as integrated vacuum tables that reduce setup times. Probing also makes setup more efficient and ensures accuracy and repeatability. Automatic Tool Management provides a reduction in cost by enabling unattended or lights-out production. High speed milling machines that deliver all of these features provide manufacturers of ID products and engraved name plates with a real competitive and cost-reducing advantage.