A Camera Can Revolutionize Your Workpiece Setup

The camera and probe combination is the ideal way to streamline workpiece setup in CNC milling applications.

Workpiece setup has come a long way in the CNC world. Edge finders and wigglers were once commonplace in every machine shop, but nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find any current-generation machinist using one. Touch probes have become the norm, be it an electronic Renishaw unit or a more basic Haimer dial indicator. But make no mistake, there is still a lot of skill involved in using these tools properly. Ask anyone in the trade and they can quickly tell you why graphics like this are around:

(Credit: Saunders Machine Works https://saundersmachineworks.com/)

Probing for Workpiece Setup

So does does workpiece setup go from here? This is a question that DATRON has been answering for many years (see video below). It started many years back by integrating the probe as a Z-axis accessory, instead of a separate tool all together, and including a comprehensive probing utility in the software that made 3D-probing functions easy. Macros could easily be assembled by even the most plebian user to create fully automated solutions. The goal to make probing easier for everyone, without sacrificing functionality, is just getting started.

Workpiece setup with probing. An integrated Z-Axis accessory with a probing function included in the control software.

Camera for Workpiece Setup

But for DATRON, advancements for workpiece setup don’t end with probing. There is another accessory that is quite uncommon on most CNC machines: a camera. The common use for a camera in a CNC machine is to serve as a visual edge-finder, so-to-speak. Move your machine to a camera offset, and use it as a “bombsight”. This is especially useful in the graphics industry, where you can print a crosshair on the outer perimeter of your piece to quickly line things up.

Workpiece setup for graphics. An integrated camera that locates crop marks (registration marks).

However, this solution still lacks something – automation. Using a camera requires the user to pay very close attention to all the details in order to succeed. This gave way to DATRON Vision. By collaborating with MVTec Halcon, DATRON was able to create a solution for automated vision system in a CNC process.

Workpiece setup for PCB. Includes camera (vision system) to locate fiducials.

There are several applications where using automated vision is critical. Apart from the aforementioned graphics industry, the most prevalent of them is the electronics industry. Being able to utilize the fiducial marks integrated onto a circuit board allows you to quickly register a part for milling or rework – something that no probe can touch (pun intended). Functionality is integrated so that two fiducials could be used to quickly determine a parts rotation about its zero point, which allows for a highly accurate and repeatable process.

Camera & Probe Combo for Workpiece Setup

As much as I love this tool, it is a bit of a niche product – only applying to certain applications. Though, the R&D department at DATRON AG saw the potential for more. By cleverly integrating a camera and a touch probe as standard features on the DATRON neo milling machine, DATRON pushed camera integration to the next level. Combining the functionality of the camera for workpiece recognition, as well as utilizing swipe gestures on the Next control’s touch screen allow for easy, seamless part probing that can be mastered by anyone, machinist or not, in a matter of minutes.

And voila! Machine Vision for the masses. Where does workpiece setup go from here? Only time will tell, but you can be certain that DATRON is focused on the task.

Learn More about the DATRON neo Machine with Integrated Camera & Probe for Easy Workpiece Setup:

Download DATRON neo Brochure

5 Tips: Mastering Marking Die Production

Marking die used to stamp information on parts during manufacturing process.

I’ve had the distinct honor of working closely with a large company over the past few months to develop a highly-automated system for creating roll marking dies. Before I continue, you might be saying “what’s a roll marking die?”

Serial number on this steel roll marking die was machined by a DATRON CNC milling machine.
Steel roll marking die with serial number machined by DATRON high-speed milling machine.

What is a Roll Marking Die?

A marking die (roll or otherwise) is used to stamp information onto parts during the manufacturing process. They are used in all kinds of industries – from hardware and firearms to automotive. When a company needs their logo, part code and traceability code embossed on every part going out the door, but engraving or laser marking take too long, roll marking is the way to go.

Marking die close up in comparison to a pen tip.
Close up of a marking die in relation to the tip of a pen.

Using High-Speed Milling to Produce Marking Dies

A big emphasis for this customer was in creating very small features, some less than 0.010”. There are a few features about DATRON that work especially well with creating dies like this that I’d like to share with you.

  1. 1. High RPM – When you’re working with extremely smaller letters, you work with even smaller tools. As the tip size of your tool drops, your SFM (surface feet per minute) drops accordingly. This can become a real issue once you need to utilize a “zero tipped” engraver since a tool that comes to a fine point and has virtually no SFM. This is where having a 60,000 RPM spindle comes in handy and can be very helpful. Being able to utilize all that RPM helps to keep the tip from getting overloaded and will prolong its life.
  2. 2. Proper tooling – Strangely enough, a good old-fashioned split shank engraver is the tool of choice in this arena, with some minor caveats. These tools work well with high-RPM engraving due in part to their ability to properly evacuate a chip. Also, be certain to spec a tool that has the correct cutting angles for the material you are working in, otherwise, the tool probably won’t last very long.
  3. 3. Minimize Runout / Vibration – When you’re tooling up for a job like this, take some time to inspect your collets/tool holders. If you are using an adaptor ring, double check that it is not introducing too much runout. If you don’t check, you will ultimately see the problem in the lack of clarity in the part. Also, ensure that the engravers you order have a short split shank, otherwise they may vibrate excessively at high RPM which will also lead to a poor finish.
  4. 4. High precision – When you are making letters and numbers that are only as high as two human hairs stacked together, you may want to consider dialing in your settings. Start by setting your cut tolerance in your CAM software to a tighter value (go overboard – don’t be afraid to set it at 0.0001”). Then set your machine values to match: Dynamics 1 and Contour Smoothing at 1.2x your cut tolerance.
  5. 5. Warmup your spindle – This is standard procedure, DATRON or not, but consider running an extended warmup to get your spindle thermally stable. This will mitigate the effects of thermal expansion during long periods of milling. Run a 5-10 minute warmup cycle at the peak RPM in your program. When that’s complete, measure all your tools, then get to work.
Marking dies with intricate detail machined with a DATRON high-speed milling machine.
A set of marking dies with intricate marking shown in detail.

This Blog just scratches the surface in the world of marking dies, but with some thoughtful implementation of these recommendations, you’ll be leaving your mark in no time.

Learn More: DATRON M8Cube for Marking Die Production
Download Brochure:

The Monoblock Cutting Tool for More Than Just Face Milling!

The Monoblock Cutting Tool from DATRON is multifunctional and can be used for face milling, roughing, finishing and contouring.

If you ask any DATRON application technician what their favorite cutting tool is, there’s a high probability that you’ll get this answer: The Monoblock Cutting Tool (aka. the Monoblock).

In our world of high RPM spindles, the Monoblock cutting tool is King. Co-Developed with industry leaders Big-Kaiser, the Monoblock is a 20mm, double-flute, indexable insert cutter, and is a tool of many talents.

What Sets the Monoblock Cutting Tool Apart?

1. Rigid design – The Monoblock cutting tool is different from our standard tooling in that there is no shank to clamp on – the tool and tool holder are one. By integrating the HSK-E25 taper into the tool itself, a very robust tool is provided.

2. Vibration free – Not only is it tough, but this clever design also allows for extremely minimal vibration, even at its recommended limit of 36,000 RPM! This allows for very smooth operation even under heavy load.

3. Clever cutter geometry – The cutting inserts have been engineered to provide a perfect all-around performer. A large edge radius and wiper flat provide excellent floor finish, while high radial and axial rake angles allow for lower cutting resistance for more efficient roughing.

4. Cost efficiency – The inserts for the Monoblock cutting tool come in two varieties – polished carbide for milling of plastics or non-ferrous metals, as well as specially treated inserts for milling of steel. Either way, the inserts are engineered to last, and can even be flipped 180 degrees for an entire second round of punishment. Once the inserts are depleted, simply replace them both and carry on.

Monoblock cutting tool made by DATRON is used in high-speed machining applications.
The Monoblock Cutting Tool from DATRON – provides true flexibility in high-speed machining applications.

What Can You Do With The Monoblock Cutting Tool?

    The question should be “What can’t you do with the Monoblock?”

Face milling – Combining three excellent characteristics: edge radius, wiper flat, and vibration free operation, results in some of the smoothest possible floor finishes.

Ramp/Helix milling – While the Monoblock isn’t center cutting (no straight plunging) you can accommodate a 3-5 degree ramp angle. Pair this with the high feed/speed capabilities of the DATRON and you can make quick work of most features.

Roughing – The previously mentioned cutter geometry allows for very aggressive depths of cut at very high feed rates, as can be seen clearly in one of our well-known demonstration videos. In this instance, a very heavy stepover was utilized (80% of tool diameter) with a smaller depth of cut (around 8% of tool diameter). You can also choose to utilize the entire 10mm of cutting flute to boost efficiency as seen in my Instagram post:

3D contouring – Since the edge radius on the Monoblock cutting tool is rather sizable (0.8mm) it can serve as a bull-nose cutter for doing some large scale 3D contours – and since the tool is rock-steady, the surface finish comes out gorgeous.

So, there you have it. Now you can understand why the Monoblock cutting tool is the King in the house of DATRON.

Learn More: Download DATRON Cutting Tool Catalog

4 Ways to Ensure Consistent Depth of Cut

Maintain a consistent depth of cut with these Blog tips!

4 Ways to Ensure Consistent Depth of Cut (even on surfaces that are anything but flat): As far as your CNC is concerned, the world is all sunshine and roses: your cutting tool never deflects or wears, your fixture is rigid and free of vibration, and the surface of your workpiece is perfectly flat. However, those of us with gray matter here in the real world, know that the truth of the situation is anything but perfect – tools wear, fixtures flex, and that surface you’re about to cut is about as flat as the good Earth itself.

The video above explains it all!
Video courtesy of #rapiddtm – visit them on Facebook!

Here at the DATRON blog, we’ve talked a bit about how to wrangle in tool deflection, and we’ve shared some tips about best practices for workholding. Today, we’re going to cover a few tricks you can use to maintain a consistent depth of cut when engraving, marking or milling surfaces that aren’t exactly the poster child of flatness.

Defining Flatness:
Simply put, the term “flatness” is used to describe an area between two parallel lines within which a surface must lie. This specification will often work in conjunction with other dimensional call outs on the print to describe the range of possible locations of a given surface:

Image credit: http://www.engineeringessentials.com/gdt/flatness/flatness.htm

As you may or may not have realized by now, no surface is perfectly flat – indeed very few surfaces even come close to perfect flatness – and when it comes to manufactured parts, flatness costs money. So, if it doesn’t have to be flat, or if the print doesn’t define it as flat, you have to assume that it really isn’t flat. Depending on what you need to do to a particular surface, it’s flatness (or lack thereof) will need to play a key role in your milling strategy.

Consistent Depth of Cut Method 1: Qualify the Surface

Qualify the surface to make it flatter prior to other milling or engraving processes.

If you are able to do so, qualifying the surface is far and away the easiest and most sure-fire way to make sure that the surface you’re about to work on is reasonably flat and true. Qualifying a surface is just fancy machinist talk for face milling the entire surface, taking off a few thousandths at a time until the whole surface is reasonably uniform in terms of flatness. A qualification pass is often the first step you will see when watching a milling process on a shop floor or online and this is for a number of reasons, not least of which is to ensure flatness of the surface in question.

When starting with a piece of billet or raw stock, qualifying a surface is almost always an option and in general is just good machinist practice. Sometimes, however, qualifying the surface simply is not an option – such as when working with die cast material, a forging, or with otherwise completed parts that simply need marking or serialization. In these cases, a different strategy will need to be employed in order to achieve a good result.

Consistent Depth of Cut Method 2: Use of a Spring-Loaded Engraving Tool

Spring-laoded engraving tools can be used to maintain depth of engraving.

If all you need to do is a basic engraving or part marking process, and your surface is a little “all over the map” a spring-loaded engraving tool may be just what the doctor ordered. Spring-loaded tools come in a few different varieties, with the most popular versions being a spring-loaded version of a traditional split shank engraving tool and a spring loaded “drag engraving bit”, also known as a “scribe” tool.

Spring-loaded engraving tool used for engraving on uneven surfaces.
Spring Loaded Engraving Tool: This tool can help keep you in the ballpark on basic engraving jobs.

Photo Credit: 2L Inc. – http://www.2linc.com/engraving.htm

Spring-loaded engraving tools incorporate a compressible mechanical system between the spindle interface and the cutting tool. These tool assemblies usually have anywhere from 0.20” to 0.40” of spring travel, so they can absorb a fairly dramatic change in Z height while still keeping a consistent downward pressure on the workpiece.  Spring loaded engraving bits utilize a tipped split shank engraving tool and as such can produce a variety of engraving widths and depths. Drag engraving or scribe tools literally only are dragged across a surface and are not designed to incorporate a rotational element into the process. As a result, scribe tools a truly only a good fit for very shallow part marking.

While these tools will not be of much assistance when it comes to milling or drilling applications, they perform very well for shallow to moderate depth part marking. However, there are some drawbacks to this type of tool: a common shank size for these tools is ¾”, which may be too large for some spindles. Also, since these tools are a mechanical assembly they are usually limited to 10,000 RPM max. This limitation may force you to slow your feed rate down, increasing your cycle time.

So, if you need to tool up to serialize a thousand cast aluminum parts, a spring-loaded tool will likely get the job done. However, if you are planning on completing a milling or drilling process, or if the job requires a deep, wide, or intricate/high-quality engraving, you may need to turn to other methods to get the job done.

Consistent Depth of Cut Method 3: Use of a Touch Probing System to Map an Irregular Surface

You can use touch probing to help maintain a consistent depth of cut in these applications.

Depending on what type of milling machine you have at your disposal, use of a probing system to touch off on the workpiece a number of times to “map” the surface may be possible. Surface mapping by way of a touch probe can be one of the faster, more elegant solutions to this problem – as it uses the technology within the CNC machine to compensate for irregularities in the Z height of the workpiece. This means you can really limit the introduction of new variables in your process and just stick with your tried and true cutting tools, fixturing, and feeds/speeds.

Integrated probing systems on CNC machines can be used to ensure a consistent depth of cut.
An integrated probe on a CNC machine is an ideal way to ensure a consistent depth of cut even on the most challenging workpieces.

Surface mapping via touch probing usually involves giving the machine several basic details about what you wish to probe: size of the probe area, pitch of the probing grid, and so on. From there the machine will touch off on the workpiece as many times as is necessary to probe the specified area to the desired grid pitch. Once the touch probing cycle is complete, the machine control will take the cut file that has been programmed to be cut on a flat 2D surface and modify it with the variation in Z of the workpiece that was found during the probing cycle. This way, when the cutter goes about the process of milling or engraving on the surface, it’s depth will vary automatically so you get a consistent depth of cut regardless of variation in the Z height of the surface.

Not all CNC machines offer touch probing, and surface mapping isn’t always an option when they do. But if your machine has probing and surface mapping it’s not a bad idea to get familiar with it – you never know when it might come in handy.

Consistent Depth of Cut Method 4: CMM Surface Mapping and Image Projection in CAM

When all else fails … when you can’t qualify the surface, when a spring-loaded tool won’t do what you need and your CNC machine doesn’t have touch probing, when you have a CMM laying around that’s available for use and you don’t mind doing a bunch of CAM work, there is an option of last resort.

CMM surface mapping can help with maintaining depth of cut but it requires additional CAM programming.
CMM surface mapping is an option for machinists who don’t mind a bit of extra CAM work.

Photo above courtesy of #rapiddtm – visit them on Facebook!

Using a CMM to map a surface in order to compensate for height irregularity is very similar to doing so on the CNC machine itself – however without the luxury of having the mapping, milling and NC integrated into one, the process becomes much more labor intensive.

This process is involved enough that an entire article could easily be written for this alone. In an effort to be concise I’ll reduce it down to a step-by-step summary:

  • 1. Load the workpiece onto the CMM
  • 2. Manually measure as many points as is necessary to realize the full surface variability within the working area
  • 3. Export the resulting point cloud into your CAD software
  • 4. Create splines linking the measured points to create a 3D surface map
  • 5. Export 3D surface map to CAM software
  • 6. Project artwork / milled features onto the 3D surface
  • 7. Generate needed tool paths and post the cut file out to your CNC
  • 8. Load workpiece onto CNC and run the part

To be clear: this process would need to be repeated 100% for each and every part run. As you can likely tell, having to use this method could easily take a job that would be done start-to-finish in about a day using touch probing in the machine, and stretch it out to take several days – simply due to the tedious nature of having to use a CMM to map the surface.

Nothing in this world is perfect – but the ability to manage imperfections to produce a good result no matter what is one of the things that separates good machinists from great ones. I hope the methods described in this post will give you an advantage next time you’re faced with a workpiece that looks more like a potato chip than a pancake.

Download Touch Probing System Brochure

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:

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