6 Tips for Holding Tight Tolerances

Holding tight tolerances when CNC machining is a challenge that can be mastered with these tips.

There are few things that a machinist likes more than when they get a print and see this: +/- 0.005”. Holding five thousandths of an inch is child’s play for any good machinist – they might as well mill the part with their eyes closed. But, then there are those jobs that are a bit more demanding. Add another zero, and now you’ve got: 0.0005”. Holding five tenths of a thou is a whole different story. It’s the difference between the thickness of a human hair and a white blood cell. When it comes to holding tight tolerances, here’s a few recommendations that can keep your parts in spec.

Spindle warm up and warming up your CNC machine in all axes helps in holding tight tolerances.
Spindle warm up and a warm up routine can help in holding tight tolerances when machining.

1. Spindle Warm Up for Holding Tight Tolerances

Run a warmup routine – While this is standard procedure with most CNC machines, consider running something a bit more strenuous. A typical procedure will only warm up the spindle, which is critical for spreading grease to prevent premature bearing wear. But, you also need to allow the internal components to reach a steady operating temperature to account for thermal expansion. Now, all of this is fine if you’re only looking to hold tight tolerances in your Z axis, but if you combine the spindle warm up with machine movement in all axis, this will help even further. Allowing the machine to run for 10-20 minutes with all components moving allows for the components to reach an ideal temperature, and will help mitigate the effects of thermal expansion during milling. No matter what, at the end of your warmup, make sure to measure all your tools for absolute precision and holding tight tolerances.

Tool selection can be a factor in holding tight tolerances.
Tool selection can be a factor in holding tight tolerances. Use your roughing tool for the “heavy lifting” so that the finishing tool exhibits less wear and maintains precision.

2. Tool Selection for Holding Tight Tolerances

Choose your tools carefully – When you’re dealing with these unforgiving tolerances, be sure to be accommodating with your tooling. You’ll want to make sure to have specific tools for roughing and finishing, allowing the roughing tool to take the brunt of the wear, while the finishing tool is saved for only the final passes, will ensure a repeatable process for creating accurate parts.

Gauge pins are a handy tool in holding tight tolerances in that you can machine an under sized feature and then dial it in.
Gauge pins can be used measure an under-dimensioned feature before machining it to an exact size.

3. Compensation for Holding Tight Tolerances

Compensate your tools – Tool manufacturers aren’t perfect, so they engineer their tools to be a little forgiving. They know that if you’re going to make something using their tools, you’ll be a lot happier if the feature it cuts comes out under-dimensioned instead of over-dimensioned. Just like a haircut: you can take more off, but you can’t put it back on. Knowing this, you’ll want to make sure the first thing you do when setting up a precise job is to dial in your actual tool diameter. You can do this several ways, but my preferred method is to mill a feature and then use accurate tools to verify the dimension – gage pins or blocks work well for this. It’s easy – if you interpolate a 0.250” hole with a 0.236” tool and only a 0.248” gage pin will fit, then your tool is undersized by 0.001” (use half of the value since it is undersized on each side). You would compensate your size to 0.235” at this point, either through your CAM software or utilizing Tool Comp commands in your cut file.

Temperature sgould be considered if holding tight tolerances is critical in your manufacturing.
Temperature impacts accuracy due to thermal growth. So, be mindful of your environment and machine location.

4. Temperature for Holding Tight Tolerances

Thermally Stabilize – This is one of the most important things on this list for holding tight tolerances because it can make a huge difference and you may not even notice it. Pay attention to where your machine is located. Is it near a window, if so, does the sun shine on it during parts of the day? Does the AC kick on in the afternoon and blow cold air on the machine cabin? Is your material kept a sweltering warehouse, then brought into a chilly 68° environment? These all seem innocent but can create a huge headache in your process. Thermal expansion or contraction of the milling machine or the material you cut can create large variances in your process. Put these all on lockdown – keep your machine and material in a temperature controlled climate, unaffected by sunlight, and you will reap the rewards – consistency in your process.

Ball bar testing and frequent machine calibration help in holding tight tolerances.
Ball bar testing and regular calibration of your machine will help in holding tight tolerances.

5. Calibration for Holding Tight Tolerances

Calibrate your equipment – When you’ve done all of the above but you need it to be just *that* much tighter, consider calling in the manufacturer. After a machine has been built, shipped, dropped off a truck, moved around, leveled, and used for thousands of hours, things will shift and settle. It’s unavoidable. Luckily, there are several pieces of equipment, be it granite squares or the Renishaw Ballbar, that can help pull the reins in on your loosened-up machine to help in holding tight tolerances. We like to perform a ballbar test and make adjustments as part of a yearly maintenance, that way you can keep a tight leash on your machine accuracy. Also, performing these annual services ensures that bearings are tight and lubricated, belts are properly tensioned, and drive motors are healthy – all important factors in having an accurate machine.

Linear scales assist in accuracy and holding tight tolerances.
Linear scales add to a machine’s precision and consistency in holding tight tolerances.

6. Linear Scales for Holding Tight Tolerances

If all else fails, scales! – If you have done everything on this list, and you still struggle, it may be time to consider getting a machine with linear scales. Your typical CNC machine will use the drive motor encoder as the primary method for keeping track of its absolute position, but this can be flawed due to imperfections in the ball screw or thermal discrepancies. Linear scales change all that – typically installed at the factory, they consist of two main components – the scale, and the read head. Put simply – the scale is like a highly accurate ruler that the machine can read, constantly comparing and adjusting for deviations. On our M10Pro, this allows for a 25% tighter positioning tolerance, a 20% improvement in repeatability, and a 85% reduction in backlash..

Use the DATRON M10 Pro to assist in holding tight tolerances in CNC milling applications
The DATRON M10 Pro features linear scales for added precision and accuracy.

Hopefully, these tips will help guide you well down the long, winding, bumpy (but still rewarding!) road of high-precision machining and holding tight tolerances.

Learn More about the DATRON M10 Pro:

Download DATRON M10 Pro Brochure

How to Purchase the Perfect Engraving Tool

Engraving tool made in Germany using solid micrograin carbide for exceptional durability.

I don’t get to write Blogs too often because I’m a Purchasing Agent. But, within the CNC machine tool business, I do have some experience with regard to purchasing capital equipment and cutting tools that may help you out and save you some time. In this case, I’d like to convey a method for purchasing the perfect engraving tool that is ideally suited to your application. This may be somewhat skewed towards DATRON cutting tools and our process, but there is some good general information here about engraving tools.

What to Know When Ordering Engraving Tools

When you call in to order engraving tools here is some basic questions that you should be prepared to answer:

  1. Your Company Name
  2. Half Angle
  3. Tip Size
  4. Shank Size
  5. What are you engraving? Soft Material: Aluminum  Hard Material: Steel
  6. Volume – how many do you anticipate using in a typical month?

This information gives us what we need to get back to you with pricing, turn-around time and a part number that you can reference for future orders. We will need a purchase order from you before we proceed with placing the order.

DATRON engraving tools are made in Germany using the finest grade of micrograin carbide.
DATRON Engraving Tool – made with the highest grade of solid carbide.

Below I have detailed the nomenclature for our engraving tools and a color-coded diagram. These help us to generate part numbers for engraving tools and may help you to understand our part numbers.

First 3 digits: Unit Prefix
The unit prefix affects two parameters: shank diameter and tip diameter.
599 = metric
598 = inches
When you have a 599 prefix, you’ll have metric values for shank and tip diameter.
When you have a 598 prefix, you’ll have inch values for shank and tip diameter.
The requested shank diameter is the main determining factor for unit prefix.

Digits 4 through 5: Half Angle
The half angle dictates the degree of the pointed end of the engraving tool.
Be sure that you specify if you are providing a “half” or “included” angle.
For instance, if you ask for a 90-degree included angle, the half angle will be 45 degrees
This value is unaffected by the unit prefix.

Digits 6 through 7/8: Tip Diameter
The tip diameter is the dimension of the flat end of the engraving tool. This value is affected by unit prefix.
If you request a tip size of 0.5mm, this value will be: 50.
If you request a tip size of 0.010”, this value would be: 10.
If you request a metric shank with an inch tip, we will need to convert:
For example, if you request a 6mm shank with a 0.005” tip: Since the shank diameter determines the prefix (in this case, metric, 599), we will need to convert 0.005” into metric.
This is an easy enough equation: Inch value * 25.4 = metric equivalent. In this instance: 0.005* 25.4 = 0.127mm. At this point, round to the nearest digit, and you have your number: 13.
Even easier: Just Google the conversion to quickly get an answer.
If you have an exceptionally large tip on the engraving tool, exceeding 1mm or 0.100”, an additional digit (8th digit) will be required.
So a 1.5mm tip would use the number 150, or a 0.125” tip would use the number 125.

Second-to-last digit: Shank Diameter
The shank diameter is the dimension of the clamped portion of the engraving tool, that is driven by the spindle.
Common metric sizes: 6mm (use value: 6), 3mm (use value: 3)
Common inch sizes: 1/4 (use value: 2), 1/8 (use value: 1)
Remember: This is the main determining factor in the unit prefix. If you require a metric shank, but ask for an inch tip size, you’ll need to convert the inch value to metric.

Last digit: Angle Profile
The angle profile is a variety of angles applied during the grinding process to the tip and leading edge of the cutting flute. These can be adjusted to be either very sharp (good for softer materials) or very strong (good for tough materials).
There are two choices here:
If you are engraving tool steels, stainless steels, or other hard materials: use letter G.
If you are engraving aluminum, brass, acrylic, or other soft materials: use letter S.
It is important to answer this question because if you use the wrong profiles, you’ll get poor results (decreased tool life cutting steel, burring when engraving aluminum).

Engraving Tool Diagram for Part Number Identification

So, with all that in mind here is an example:

Engraving tool features used for identification and creating part numbers for DATRON engraving tools.
Engraving Tool Features that help us to identify and supply the ideal tool for your application.

Scenario in metric:
You ask for a 6mm shank engraving tool with a 60-degree included angle, a 10 thousandths tip, so you can engrave in A2 tool steel.

Since you requested a 6mm shank, we will use the metric 599 prefix.
Then, from the 60-degree included angle, we can determine that we need a 30degree half angle
Next, convert 0.010” into metric: 0.010 * 25.4 = 0.254mm, rounded down: 25.
6mm shank = 6 in the part number.
You are cutting steel, so we use the cutter profiles.

Scenario in imperial:
You call and ask for a 1/8th-inch shank engraving tool, with a 90-degree included angle and a .002” tip for engraving in brass.

Since you requested a 6mm shank, we will use the metric 598 prefix.
Then, from the 90-degree included angle, we can determine that we need a 45degree half angle.
Next, take the 0.002” tip diameter and shorten it: 02.
1/8th inch shank = 1 in the part number.
You are cutting soft material, so we use the cutter profiles.  Part Number is: 59845021S.

Now fear not, in general, all you need to have prepared when you call to order engraving tools are answers to the 6 questions at the top of this Blog. We’ll walk you through the rest. But, I thought it might be helpful for you to see how all of this works, as well as the great care we take in making sure you purchase the perfect engraving tool for your application.

Download DATRON Cutting Tool Catalog

Step Stencil Milling vs. Laser and Chemical Etching

Milling step stencils from stainless steel sheet stock using high-speed CNC

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.

Step stencil milled on a DATRON high speed milling machine using integrated vacuum table workholding.
Step Stencil milled from stainless steel sheet material on a DATRON high-speed milling machine

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.

Step stencil design in CAD/CAM software for the CNC milling process.
Step Stencil Design for High-Speed CNC Milling

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.

Vacuum table used on a DATRON high-speed milling machine for step stencil production.
Vacuum Table used for holding stainless steel sheet material during step stencil production. Sacrificial layer allows you to mill through holes without damaging the vacuum table.

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

CNC Workflow for DATRON neo High Speed Mill

A Blog detailing the CNC workflow for the DATRON neo high-speed milling machine.

DATRON neo was specifically designed and purpose-built to provide an easy and affordable introduction to high-speed milling. It’s a Plug-and-Play system that features the new DATRON next software which gives you full control of 3-axis milling without requiring years of experience as a machinist. That said, customers ask me all the time about the CNC workflow for this machine and whether it is actually as easy to use as we say it is. Well, I’m not a machinist, I’m a salesman, but in detailing the CNC workflow below, I operated the machine myself (as evidenced by my reflection in the touchscreen). Keep in mind, that I’ve included instruction on many optional functions and features and the actual CNC workflow for DATRON neo can be as short as 4 simple steps. Anyway, here goes:

CNC Workflow for DATRON neo

Once the CAM’d part or “G” code is done, simply load onto a flash drive or send to DATRON neo if networked.

Loading a program to DaATRON neo can be done with a USB drive or sent via network connection.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 1 – Load Job Program (CAM or G-code).

Once loaded, DATRON neo will take the operator through the steps to run the part.

DATRON neo CAM Assistant starts to walk you through the CNC workflow.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 2: CAM Assistant

After loading the “G” code into the DATRON neo, the operator can pick the saved file to run.

Just pick a program from the DATRON neo touchscreen menu as the next step in the CNC workflow
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 3: Pick Program from Menu

As the operator moves through the process, DATRON neo will check the tools already loaded vs tools the file calls for. If a is tool is missing, DATRON neo can suggest a tool that is already loaded.

As the next step in CNC Workflow the DATRON neo will select tools based on the program loaded.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 4: Tool Selection with Assistance from DATRON next software.

Next, the operator can drag their finger across the screen and use the integrated camera system to locate the part for probing.

Part location is the next step in the CNC workflow for the DATRON neo high speed milling machine.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 5: Part Location

Once the part is visually located, the operator can simply draw on the screen to start probing with the integrated probe on the DATRON neo.

Probing is the next step in the CNC workflow when using DATRON neo.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 6: Probing

DATRON neo will automatically place probing points based on the operator’s drawing. These points can be easily moved as the operator sees fit.

DATRON neo's probe field can be set and moved using a finger on the touchscreen.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 7: Probe Field Adjustment

Another option that the DATRON neo operator has, is to move the probe points individually and manually set the parameters to avoid any special features, all by touch.

Milling parameters can be input automatically or manually as part of the DATRON neo CNC workflow.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 8: Options for Input of Milling Parameters

Once the probe points are to the operators liking, they just hit go.

Hitting GO is the next step in the CNC workflow for DATRON neo.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 9: Hit Go!

The next screen will bring the part into a simulation so the operator can see the tool paths they created and make sure the part is ready to run correctly.

Milling simulation is the next step in CNC workflow for the DATRON neo high speed milling machine.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 10: Simulation

The DATRON neo operator has options on how to view the part to ensure the correct machining file was chosen.

Optional simulation modes as part of DATRON neo CNC workflow.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 11: Simulation Options

After the simulation, the DATRON neo is ready to execute the program.

At this point in the CNC workflow for DATRON neo you execute the program.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 12: Execute Program

Other options can be done on DATRON neo for quick and simple milling. Macros are pre-set on DATRON neo to run pockets, drilling, face milling,  and contours. For quick prototyping, these operations can be done right on the machine without the need to CAM a part.

Optional pocket milling as part of the CNC workflow can be set up easily with DATRON neo.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 13: Set Pocket Mill Parameters

Chip disposal could not be easier. DATRON neo has a removable drawer. Here, clean dry aluminum chips can be vacuumed out. DATRON neo uses a Minimum Quantity Lubricant (MQL) system instead of a traditional flood coolant system.

Chip disposal is easy with DATRON neo's removable chip drawer.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 14: Chip Disposal

With DATRON neo tools can be hand loaded into the machine very easily.

Cutting tools can easily be loaded or replaced in the tool magazine on DATRON neo.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 15: Replace Tools

After the tool is placed, the operator can simply tell  DATRON neo which space and tool were used.

As part of CNC workflow on DATRON neo, tell the machine which tool and space was selected.
DATRON CNC Workflow 16: Tool Assignment

DATRON neo can track tools inside the tool changer, as well as tools in the shop inventory. DATRON neo also has DATRON’s full tool library installed. This makes it a breeze to load tool information.

Loading tool info is easy because DATRON neo trachs tool changes in the magazine and references the DATRON tool library.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 17: Tool Tracking/Inventory

DATRON neo can accommodate two vacuum tables and each can be operated independently. Also, DATRON can provide a sacrificial card that is air-permeable. This allows for parts to be cookie cut without milling into the table.

Integrated vacuum chuck workholding can be used with DATRON neo.
DATRON neo CNC Workholding 18: Vacuum Table

DATRON neo has vacuum port controls at the front of the machine to easily turn the vacuum tables on and off. This type of workholding is a great option for flat parts. When using the vacuum table, parts do not need to be perfectly aligned because you can use the probe to locate parts and their rotation will be compensated for automatically.

Vacuum controls on the DATRON neo allow you to control each vacuum segment independently.
DATRON neo CNC Workflow 19: Vacuum Controls

There are a host of other accessories available for DATRON neo including a dust extraction head and pneumatic clamping. Please let Datron know if you would like further information on these items.

Learn More about the DATRON neo Machine:

Download DATRON neo Brochure

Small CNC Investment Yields Huge Advancement

Aluminum parts batch milled from aluminum stock using a DATRON neo high speed milling machine.

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.

Carbide Products, Inc. uses a DATRON neo compact high-speed CNC milling machine for batch milling small aluminum parts
Carbide Products, Inc. makes use of an original structure built in 1958 as part of their 15,600 sq. ft. facility in Georgetown, KY.

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.”

Carbide Products has the DATRON M8Cube earmarked for milling aluminum parts.
DATRON M8Cube high-speed milling machine initially researched by Carbide Products for machining aluminum parts.

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.”

Job shop uses a DATRON neo to get started with high speed machining of aluminum.
Paul Strippelhoff’s son, Peyton, is among the 4th generation from the family to work at Carbide Products, and the first generation to use the DATRON neo.

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.”

The DATRON neo is compact high speed milling machine that is reducing some of Carbide Products cycle times by 50% over the Haas Super Mini Mill.
Evan, Danny Strippelhoff’s son, shows off a batch of small aluminum parts being batch machined on the DATRON neo.

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.”

The counter bore in this solid carbide roll was ground with a DATRON neo outfitted with a diamond wheel.
A solid carbide roll with a counter sink bored by the DATRON neo outfitted with a diamond grinding wheel. Not a typical DATRON neo job, but one that Strippelhoff says the machine is very good at.

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.”

Learn More about the DATRON neo Machine:

Download DATRON neo Brochure

Leverage Your Machine Purchase with the Right CNC Operator

CNC operator selection is critical in achieving maximized efficiency and capability with any machine.

When engaged in the machine qualification process, we often ask our customer, “Who are you assigning to operate or manage the machining system?” You might ask yourself, “Why should DATRON care who operates the system?” The short answer is, to us, it’s just as important that you have the right CNC operator, as it is that you select the correct machining system.

CNC operator selection is critical to reaching maximum potential with the machining center.
CNC operator selection can be as important as machine selection in order to utilize the technology to its fullest potential.

Over the past 20 years, we have built our business on implementing high-speed machining systems that increase product efficiency and quality. Our reputation has grown on the success stories and reference companies we have accumulated over the past two decades. Truly, the DATRON milling system is only one piece of the equation for a successful implementation. The other piece is who the CNC operator is after the machine installation is complete.

Why Selection of the Right CNC Operator is Critical to Success

As a machine tool distributor, it is our responsibility to not only make sure you have the right machine configuration for your needs but also to make sure you are prepared to leverage your capital investment by assigning the right CNC operator to the DATRON machine. As expected, we go through extreme testing and scrutiny to qualify our machine tool for the given application, but sometimes, not enough scrutiny or consideration is given on which CNC operator will have the responsibility for the installed equipment. Unfortunately, there have been instances where customers have not selected the right CNC operator to run the equipment. In those cases, when the wrong CNC operator is chosen, it often leads to unsatisfactory results from the machine in terms of output – and a frustrating and costly implementation for both DATRON and the customer.

CNC operator controls are becoming easier to use but training is still a good idea in order to get the most out of the machine.
CNC operator controls, like this touch-screen on the DATRON neo, are becoming easier to use, but operator training is still recommended to leverage the full potential of the technology.

Choosing the right CNC operator or system manager varies depending on the equipment, application and production demand. I highly recommend you discuss these details with the DATRON representative who is managing your project. Clearly setting expectations such as; the learning curve, ramp-up time before you are in full production, education and experience of the CNC operator, number of days and people involved in the training, secondary processes, third-party equipment, and budgeting for advanced CNC operator training at a future date are just some of the considerations for a complete and successful implementation.

It is our goal at DATRON that every system implementation is performed on-time, quickly, efficiently, smoothly and stress-free. A successful installation is just as rewarding for us, as it is for our customers.

Bill King,
President
DATRON Dynamics, Inc.

Learn More about How DATRON Handles Customer Care:

 Download Customer Care Brochure

Slow to Fast Feed Rates for Single Flute End Mill

Feed rates for single flute end mill are detailed in this DATRON Blog.

Machinists ask me all the time, “When do I go fast and when should I go slow with a single flute end mill?” Well, as you can imagine, there are a lot of variables at play regarding feed rates for single flute end mill, but let’s try to break it down.

I’ll use one tool for reference, but the results should be easily scalable amongst the rest of our tools. Let’s say you’re using a DATRON 68806K Single Flute End Mill (aka. 4-in-1 wiper flat) to machine a piece of 6061 aluminum. There is a variety of jobs you can accomplish with this tool, but each will have a different feed for a different reason.

The single flute end mill is very efficient in evacuating chips which allows for very high feed rates.
DATRON Single Flute End Mill: exceptional for efficient chip evacuation and high feed rates.

Slow Feed Rates for Single Flute End Mill

Slow (60″/min) – Finishing – If you need an exceptional quality in the finish of a floor or wall, it helps to slow the machine down to take a fine chip and decrease cutter load/cutter deflection.

Use slower feed rates when using a single flute end mill for finishing especially if great surface finishes on walls and floor are required.
Feed rates for single flute end mill when Finishing: for superior surface finishes on the walls and floor of a pocket, slower feed rates are suggested.

Medium Feed Rates for Single Flute End Mill

Medium (120″/min) – Slotting – Something a single flute does particularly well is slotting, which is a tool path that has 100% of the tool diameter engaged in the material. Using a proper depth cut (25% of tool diameter), you can cruise along at a decent pace without worrying about clogging up on chips.

Medium feed rates are suggested when slotting with a single flute end mill
Feed rates for single flute end mill when Slotting: With 100% of the tool diameter engaged, medium feed rates are beneficial.

Fast Feed Rates for Single Flute End Mill

Fast (180″/min) – Traditional Roughing – When you are using a normal milling strategy, in the range of 33-50% depth of cut (2-3mm) with a 50-70% stepover, you can be fairly safe kicking the speed up, just keep an eye on your spindle load.

When roughing with a single flute end mill you can safely run with fast feed rates.
Feed rates for single flute end mill when Roughing: In the range of 33-50% depth of cut you can dial up the speed.

Very Fast Feed Rates for Single Flute End Mill

Very Fast (240″/min) – Trochoidal Roughing – If you are using Mastercam (Dynamic milling) or Fusion 360 (Adaptive clearing) you may have heard of this strategy before. Instead of going about the traditional method, this method utilizes more of the flute to boost efficiency. For instance, we could use 100-200% depth of cut (6-12mm) with this strategy because our stepover would be decreased to 10-20%. In many cases, this prolongs the life of the tool and puts less strain on the spindle, so you can safely bump the feed rate up.

Very high feed rates can be used when performing dynamic milling using a single flute end mill.
Feed rates for single flute end mill when Trochoidal Roughing: Very fast feed rates can be used when performing dynamic milling.

Extremely Fast Feed Rates for Single Flute End Mill

Extremely Fast (300″/min) – Shallow roughing – If you are taking off less than 10% depth of cut (0.60mm), then you should be safe cranking the feed way up. With such a shallow cut, you won’t have to worry about overloading the tool or spindle.

When shallow roughing at less than 10% depth of cut you're safe to dial up the feed rate.
Feed rates for single flute end mill when Shallow Roughing: If you’re taking less than 10% depth of cut, let ‘er rip!

 Download Cutting Tool Catalog

Drill vs. End Mill? – Some Basic Guidelines.

When to use a drillvs an end mill is a question that machinists often ask. here are some tips/

Question: “Should I use a drill vs. end mill?” DATRON Application Technician, Dann Demazure answers, “It depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

When to Use a Drill vs. End Mill

Drill vs. End Mill is a question asked by many machinists and Application Technician, Kevin Mulhern has some answers.
Drill vs. End Mill? If you need to make a lot of holes a drill is probably the way to go.

If you’re making a very small hole, say, less than 1.5mm in diameter, go with a drill. End mills under 1.5mm become increasingly fragile, and subsequently cannot be run as aggressively, as a drill can be.

If you need to make a very deep hole – in excess of 4x your hole diameter, choose the drill. Past this point, chip evacuation can become very difficult with an end mill, which will quickly wreck your tool and your part.

Are you making a lot of holes? Drilling is probably the way to go. In most instances, a drill will best the fastest time you can achieve with an end mill.

Need to make an extremely precise hole? While milling is typically perfectly acceptable, sometimes the tolerances require a drill and a reamer for the perfect finish.

When to Use an End Mill vs. Drill

However, there’s a lot to be said for using an end mill instead.

Drill vs. End Mill? The End Mill is your choice when you have to make a lot of different size holes.
Drill vs. End Mill? If you need to make a lot of different sized holes, you should probably go with the end mill.

Need to make a big hole? Big holes need big drills and lots of horsepower, this is where helical milling shines. Use an end mill that’s 60-80% the diameter of the hole you’re making to quickly clear out while leaving plenty of room for chips to escape.

Print calls for a flat bottomed hole? Normal drills can’t do that, so you might be better off milling the feature.

Making lots of different size holes? Try to use the end mill, you’ll save time on tool changes and room in your tool changer.

Rapid prototyping? End mills will be appealing for their flexibility. Being adaptable to take on some features that may normally be drilled means you can spend less time CAMing a part and more time making chips.

With either one, there are two simple rules to remember:

Break your chip – don’t try to be a hero and blast through your hole in one go, program a quick retract to get the chip out and let the coolant in.

Turn up the coolant – unless you have through tool coolant, you’re going to want to be sure to turn up the coolant flow and decrease your air pressure. The coolant needs to be able to flow into the hole during your retract.

 Download Cutting Tool Catalog

Sign Engraving with CNC Machine, Including ADA Braille!

Sign engraving expert, Bill Rogers is the Director of Manufacturing for Ellis & Ellis Sign Systems.

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.

Monument sign making is one of the primary focuses of Ellis & Ellis Sign Systems in Sacramento, CA
Monument Sign Making is a focus of Ellis & Ellis which is illustrated by this sign made for Slate Creek Corporate Centre in Roseville, CA

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).

Engraving braille signs to meet ADA requirements led Ellis & Ellis to DATRON to purchase an M8 Engraving machine.
Engraving braille signs was the requirement that led Ellis & Ellis to DATRON and resulted in the purchase of an M8 high-speed milling machine.

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.

Sign engraving machine DATRON M8 features a 60,000 rpm spindle, 40" x 30" work area, vacuum chuck and integrated probing.
Sign engraving CNC machine, DATRON M8, features a 60,000 rpm spindle, 40″x30″ work area, vacuum table workholding, and probing for quick job setup and part location.

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.”

Sign Engraving samples made by Ellis & Ellis Sign Systems on a DATRON M8 high-speed machining center.
Sign engraving samples at Ellis & Ellis show the versatility of the DATRON high-speed milling machine.

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.”

Sign engraving aluminum and plastic (acrylic) lettering can be performed in batches due to the 40" x 30" work area on the DATRON M8.
Sign engraving in acrylic and plastic was a necessity for Ellis & Ellis and with the DATRON M8 they are also able to run batches of aluminum and acrylic lettering of all shapes and sizes.

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.”

Sign engraving CNC routers like these MultiCam machines can produce better results when using DATRON cutting tools for a better cut quality and longer tool life.
Sign engraving CNC router by MultiCam is equipped with DATRON solid carbide cutting tools for better performance and a 3-to-1 improvement in tool life.

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.”

Download DATRON M8Cube Brochure:

Large Format Milling: Why You Should Care About MLCube LS

Large format milling on the DATRON MLCube LS featuring linear scales.

In the world of computer-controlled milling equipment, there’s always been something of an understanding when it comes to work envelope and precision: as the ability of a machine to achieve ever smaller numbers when it comes to positional accuracy and repeatability goes up, the size of the work envelope (and therefore the largest part you can physically fit in the machine) must go down. Now, like any rule of thumb, there are exceptions to this out there – but these exceptions generally carry with them one significant caveat: they’re expensive as all get-out. Enter DATRON MLCube LS Large Format Milling Machine with linear scales.

There are many legitimate reasons that this convention has become the norm. In ball-screw-driven machine tools, using a ball screw with a very tight pitch to achieve stellar accuracy and repeatability usually results in a decrease in the maximum rapid rate – which is a real bummer if you need the machine to move large distances. Technologies such as linear motors are capable of moving very fast over long distances, but sacrifices often need to be made when it comes to resolution and accuracy of the encoders that feedback the motors motion to the machine’s control system. Even linear scale technologies, while being readily able to increase a numerically controlled machining system’s ability when it comes to accuracy and repeatability, must by default be an additional piece of hardware which accompanies the linear motor or ball screw/linear guide system. Any additional hardware, as any engineer will tell you, is subject to damage, misalignment, or in the case of milling equipment -contamination from the chips, dust and coolant that are part of the milling process.  It would seem that the combination of large, capable, precise, and economical has been an elusive one in machine tool industry.

Fortunately, this very problem that the DATRON MLCube LS has been created to solve.

Linear scales for large format milling machines have allowed for accuracy over a larger work envelope.
Linear scales for large format milling machines enable precision and accuracy across a sizable work area.

Linear Scales for Precision in Large Format Milling

The ML Cube LS represents the latest in a long lineage of ever improving portal/gantry designed CNC milling equipment from DATRON. Building on the success of the DATRON MLCube, which provides 3 m/s2 acceleration, advanced dynamics and jerk control, 0.1 micron resolution, and the ability to exercise up to 60,000 RPM across its 60“ by 40” work envelope, the MLCube LS makes the significant addition of an integrated linear scale system on X and Y axes.

Large format milling machine MLCube features a 60"x40" work area that accomodates large work pieces or sheet material for batch milling applications.
A Large format milling machine like the MLCube with a 60″ x 40″ work envelope enables nested or batch machining for short-run production

To avoid the hurdles common to achieving tight accuracy across a large area, DATRON engineers have employed a unique combination of technologies that together present a robust and highly precise positioning system: the integrated measurement system. This integrated system marries the accuracy and repeatability advantages of the external linear scale, with the well-established and optimized mechanics of the ball screw-driven / linear guide axis. In the same way that unifying a servo motor with the associated ball screw by eliminating the drive belt, the ball screw/linear guide/linear scale system benefits in its operation and longevity overall by combining components and optimizing the system.

High-speed large format milling machines like the DATRON MLCube LS with spindle speeds up to 60,000 rpm.
High-speed large format milling up to 60,000 rpm for high feed rates and reduced cycle times!

Benefits of Large Format Milling Machine MLCube:

Benefits if this unification are numerous, but in the case of the MLCube LS the most significant benefits show themselves where they matter most:

  • System is free of wear or maintenance
  • Highly resistant to contamination
  • Exact positional measurement is achievable even under dynamic load changes
  • Effects of thermal expansion are essentially eliminated
  • Scale system is completely free of external influence by magnetic fields or electromagnetic vibration
  • Positional accuracy is improved by 50% compared to the same machine without linear scales

But at the end of the day, the real question is: Why should I care about this machine? Well, fortunately, that’s the simple part:

With a starting price of just under $250,000 including typical options and a positional accuracy of ±25µ across nearly 17 square feet of workspace, the MLCube LS arguably offers the most capability, across the largest work envelope, with the highest degree of positional accuracy, for the least amount of money.

Large format milling parts like these can be nested or batch milled due to the 60"x40" work area of the DATRON MLCube LS.
DATRON MLCube LS can be configured with a vacuum table or pneumatic clamping system to hold aluminum stock for parts like these.

So whether you need to produce a few very large and precise parts, or you need to batch machine hundreds of small precise parts in one long unattended machining session – the MLCube LS offers advantages that are not easily matched.

Download DATRON MLCube LS Large Format Milling Machine Brochure