Top 10 Reasons to Buy a DATRON Milling Machine

When interviewing potential candidates to join our DATRON team, I am usually faced with a mix of common questions like: “Why did you start DATRON?”, “Who are your competitors?”, “Do you offer a 401K plan?” The one common question, that is somewhat challenging to answer is “Why would a company buy a DATRON?” This is a very good question … but the answer is complex. When I look at our customers who have purchased systems over the past 22 years, in most cases, they have decided on our technology for not just one, but a number of reasons. This got me thinking, what are the top ten reasons you should consider buying a DATRON milling machine? Everyone loves a top ten list, so here goes:

Top 10 DATRON Milling Machine Advantages

DATRON milling machine high-speed spindles up to 60,000 RPM for high feed rates and short cycle times.
DATRON Milling Machine High Speed: Featuring high-frequency spindles between 40,000 – 60,000 RPM for rapid rates up to 30 meters per minute.
  • High Speed. This is the heart and soul of DATRON milling machines. Not every customer of ours has purchased because of how fast we can machine a part, but most often this is one of the main reasons. If the application fit is right, meaning you need to machine parts with intricate detail, we likely are a very good solution. In a lot of benchmarks (test cuts of the customer’s part), it is commonplace that we are between 4 – 6 times faster in reduced cycle times over a conventional CNC machine tool.
DATRON milling machine with integrated probe and camera combination that reduces job setup and minimizes operator error.
DATRON Milling Machine Probe: Our newest machines are equipped with a camera/probe combination that greatly reduces setup time and minimizes error.
  • Our Probe. This unique and fully integrated option on DATRON milling machines allows you to reduce set-up times and can reduce part rejection rates. The automatic edge measuring allows you to get started on a job quickly and can also be used to measure a surface, compensating for surface variances. This is great for large parts (like sheet material) that is difficult to mount perfectly flat. It is also helpful for materials that vary in surface thickness, such as plastic. Whatever the case, our customers have stated that our probe can virtually eliminate part rejection rates or allow them to machine jobs that were not even possible, before having this feature.
DATRON milling machine support including free application engineering.
DATRON Milling Machine Support: We support our North American customers with world-class, 24/7 support.
  • Our Support. It goes without saying that almost all machine suppliers offer exceptional service and of course we do as well. We have built a team that takes great pride in the expertise they offer and the relationships they have fostered with our customers. We also take it to another level by offering free application support for the entire lifetime of the machine. No service contracts, no billing by the hour, we are simply just there when you need us and often within minutes of your call. We view support as a partnership, not a means to generate more revenue.
DATRON milling machines have a large work area compared to a small footprint.
DATRON Milling Machine Footprint: Small Footprint. Large Traverse Area up to 60″x40″.
  • Large Traverse Area/Small Footprint. In this vast world of wide open spaces, we are often approached that there is not enough floor space for another machine tool in their manufacturing operation. Crazy to think but often obtaining more floor space translates to building additions or relocating. This can be very expensive or cost prohibitive. With the DATRON milling machine, the large machining area relative to the overall physical machine size, means our customers get significantly more machining capacity in a fraction of the floor space required for a typical machine tool.
DATRON milling machine coolant system with minimal volume application.
DATRON Milling Machine Coolant: No messy flood coolants, and since it evaporates your parts are left clean and dry with no degreasing necessary.
  • Oil-less Coolant: Can you imagine machining a part that comes off the machine with zero, yes zero, oil residue. No part washing required with the DATRON milling machine. Our high-pressure, minimal-mist system evaporates clean as it meets the cutting tool. This also allows for more creative approaches to workholding, when you are not dealing with a flood-based system. Not to mention it saves on maintenance costs, oil coolant recycling fees, cleaning filtration systems and downtime associated with flood coolant, based systems.
DATRON Milling machine featuring an integrated vacuum table for workholding.
DATRON Milling Machine Vacuum Tables: Ideal for sheet material, batch machining, and holding small parts (to 1-inch square) even when they’ve been milled free from the sheet.
  • Vacuum Tables: Unfortunately, vacuum tables seem to have a bad rap. So often machinists have struggled to get them to work and have been unsuccessful for many different reasons. Due to the oil-less coolant and low cutting forces of our high-speed spindles, we have developed a vacuum-based work holding system that can successfully hold tiny small parts that our customers had no chance of securing before. Our unique design allows you to profile cut (batch machine) small parts that can fit in the palm of your hand. Always one of the most fun, jaw-dropping capabilities witnessed by our customers when seeing for the first time.
DATRON milling machine with linear scales for tight-tolerance applications.
DATRON Milling Machine Accuracy: From precision-ground ball screws and rigid granite or polymer-concrete tables to linear scales on some models, DATRON machines are great for tight-tolerance applications.
  • Accuracy: Yes, there are more accurate machine tools on the market. So why mention accuracy? Because of the gantry-style design, we are commonly recognized as a “router” which is viewed as a low-accuracy machine. With the DATRON however, we use ground ball screws, linear scales, thermally matching materials and X, Y compensation in the control software that allow us to achieve impressive accuracies, comparable to much larger and heavier machining centers. This is particularly important when you consider the cost of the equipment required to produce a large-scale part, in a tight-tolerance range.
DATRON milling machine automation can include a custom pick and place system like this.
DATRON MIlling Machine Automation: An example of a pick & place system that picks parts from a pallet, machines them, and returns them to the pallet.
  • Automation: In today’s manufacturing world, the need for automation to reduce labor cost is often a key consideration in the buying decision. Our large machining area allows us room to configure very simple, automated, pick and place systems, without involving expensive, external third party robotic or pallet changing add-ons. Our self-contained system, operated from our machine software, permits you to place a part in a clamp, perform the machining operation and then place it back in a simple tray. No extra floor space or additional systems to install and learn are required. Now you can let the DATRON milling machine run for hours, without any operator interfacing, only to magically drop by at the end of a shift and claim your multitude of parts.
DATRON milling machines have robust functionality with an easy touch-screen control.
DATRON Milling Machine Software: Robust functionality served up in an intuitive control.
  • Operational Software: One of our best-kept secrets. Spending a day at DATRON usually never shows off the power of what our operating software can do, and I certainly won’t be able to pull this off in a short paragraph. Quite simply, taking G code from any CAD/CAM software combined with the ability to customize it, has enabled a lot of our customers to achieve production flows they could never do before. Asking custom questions to the machine operator, interfacing with bar-code scanners, serialization or importing data from Excel files are just a few examples of how our customers have leveraged our systems to automate and reduce costs.
DATRON milling machine with a unique touch-screen control.
DATRON Milling Machine Cool Factor: from the ergonomics of a touch-screen control to status lights on the gantry and monitor, DATRON machines look different … because they are different.
  • The Cool Factor: All you need to do is take one look at our award-winning design to realize our technology is different. Many of our customers have chosen to showcase our systems front and center of their facility and are very proud of their DATRON milling machine. Our unconventional approach to the machining mainstream has become very disruptive to the manufacturing world. A new breed, a new look and an uncommon approach to machining parts gives our customers a unique competitive advantage. A very common expression that is stated after seeing our technology is simply that “it is really cool”.

So, the next time someone is in for a job interview and asks, “Why would a company buy a DATRON”, I will simply have this blog printed and ready to hand it to them.

Bill King
President of DATRON Dynamics, Inc.

Download the DATRON Milling Machines Catalog:

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,
DATRON Dynamics, Inc.

Learn More about How DATRON Handles Customer Care:

 Download Customer Care Brochure

How to Machine the End of a Long Part with Vertical Clamping

Vertical clamping for CNC machining on the end of long parts such as aluminum extrusions, enclosures and housings using a pneumatic clamping system integrated on a DATRON high speed milling machine.

It is always a challenge when faced with a long part that requires machining on the end or ends. Equally challenging is when you have to machine the side of a large part. Unless your facility is equipped with a machine tool that is large enough to mount such a part within the working volume above the machine bed, you are pretty much out of luck. Even if you have a machine that is physically large enough to accommodate the over-sized part, often securing or mounting the part can be very challenging. Traditionally any gantry-style machine or router-style machine would immediately be disqualified due to the limited clearance under the bridge. Unless that machine is a DATRON M8Cube.

The German-engineered gantry style M8Cube has a machining area of 1,020mm (40”) x 830mm (32 ½”) x 245mm (9 ½”). This is a good solution when having to machine large, precision parts not larger than 9” tall or deep. What if you are faced with a large mold or electronic housing that is 12” tall? The M8Cube offers an open area in the front portion of the machine table that allows you to mount taller parts that would not normally fit under the gantry. This is sort of like a trap door opening with vertical mounting holes on the front face of the opening to securely mount your over-sized parts. Often parts can be mounted while still remaining within the machining area. You could even mount a long extrusion (for example 36” long) vertically within this open area with the end slightly above the table surface. This allows you to keep the end of the extrusion to a minimum above the clamp, reducing vibrations in the work piece. Now all you need to do is machine the end of the part while the rest of the linear piece extends far below the table surface. This is a unique feature that is built-in to their standard machine. This feature offers a lot of flexibility and diversity for the job shop that never knows what kind of project they will be facing next.

Pneumatic vertical clamping system for securing long or tall parts that need to be machined on the end.
Pneumatic vertical clamping system for use in the “cut-away” area available as an option on many DATRON milling machines.

DATRON also offers a unique line of pneumatic vertical clamping systems to make it easier to mount linear or over-sized parts within the open area. These vertical clamping systems were designed specifically for the M8Cube open area. The work holding solution quickly mounts to the M6 threaded holes located on the front face of the open area. This vertical clamping system is pneumatically driven for quick clamping and release of work pieces by the touch of a button. For parts that have a short cycle time, this vertical clamping system is ideal because a part can be removed with a new part inserted and clamped again within seconds. You can also devise your own vertical clamping system and mount it to the provided mounting holes.

Vertical clamping system on a DATRON ML-1500 high speed CNC machining center is used as workholding for long or tall parts such as aluminum housings and enclosures that need to be machined on the end.
Vertical clamping system integrated on the front of the machining bed on a DATRON large format milling machine.

If you are faced with an unusual work piece that cannot fit in your conventional CNC machine, we would be happy to consult with you to see if this unique, simple design accommodation could be the answer to your most challenging part.

Download the DATRON Pneumatic Vertical Clamping System Brochure:

DATRON’s M8Cube the Next Generation High-Speed CNC Machining System

DATRON M8Cube high speed CNC milling machine.

DATRON M8 versus DATRON M8Cube

DATRON M8 vs the next-generation M8Cube high speed milling machine
DATRON M8 and the Next Generation M8Cube High Speed Milling Machine.

For over 10 years, DATRON has had a very successful history with installations of their M8 gantry-style machining systems. This revolutionary machine had an install base of nearly 1,000 machines and was responsible for making DATRON an industry leader in high-speed machining systems. DATRON’s talented research and development team in Germany, in close cooperation with their install base of M8 customers developed a comprehensive wish list for the next generation of machines. In autumn of 2012, the introduction of the new M8Cube answered all the hard work of these collaborated efforts.

When the machine was first introduced to me in the summer of 2012, Matthias Reck, Director of Research and Development at DATRON AG told me, “We were successful at developing a machine with half as many parts, improved ergonomics, better accuracy, faster rapids and feed rates and that’s structurally stronger than the prior M8 model”. The main reasons for this achievement was changing to a new control system and using direct drive AC brushless motors. Additionally, the gantry was completely redesigned with a stronger Z Axis to secure larger horsepower, high-frequency spindles while providing more stiffness for the higher power drive motors. This achieved greater acceleration and deceleration rates producing faster cycle times. The stronger design along with the new control software allowed them to also develop an optimization filter they call “PerfectCut”. This optional software function creates a powerful look-ahead combined with sophisticated algorithm calculations that can improve three- dimensional contour machining by as much as 30% compared to the previous control software. In some sample parts, cycle times were cut almost in half compared to the already impressive M8 cycle times.

Winner of the Red Dot award in 2013, this revolutionary new design not only had a new improved appearance but as well, an easier user interface for the operator. Improvements such as an elongated touch sensitive LCD panel for improved interaction and readability. Additionally, a chip-proof keypad located directly below the display offers better reliability and functionality. A more rugged and self-contained door, hinges upward without having the operator stepping backwards, like found on previous models. The cabin interior has more light to better see your work pieces. An integrated, three-color LED indirect lighting system for indicating machine status is built directly into the gantry that replaces the need for an external light stick. Vacuum ports molded directly into the polymeric table allow for quick and easy installation of modular vacuum tables. With thanks to our customers and design team, the new M8Cube is a much improved machine to use and operate.

The stronger, faster and more accurate M8Cube now has opened up many new applications that were not as attainable with the older M8 Model. Having the possibility for a heavier spindle and larger tool capacity with HSK tooling are two important factors for a broader market appeal. New applications in three-dimensional molds such as thermoforming, heavier and deeper machining operations found in electronic housings and tighter accuracies required in applications such as waveguides are a few examples that make the M8Cube a much more diverse solution in general machining facilities or job shops. Many existing M8 customers have added or replaced their older machines with the new M8Cube for the increased capabilities but more importantly, to reduce manufacturing costs from the faster cycle times and improved ease of use.

For me personally, I am very proud to be working with an organization that has such a strong commitment to research and development. This is the main reason why DATRON AG has been voted a “Top 100 Company” in Germany for innovation. An honor and recognition for this size of manufacturer in a leading country of machine tool producers is truly remarkable. The involvement of the existing M8 customer base along with the talented team of designers and engineers at DATRON have succeeded in making this next generation machine tool, the M8Cube, a monumental successor.

Bill King
President of Datron Dynamics

Download the M8Cube Brochure:

Datron Fell Into the Machine Tool Business by Accident

How did we find our way into the machine tool industry was dictated by our need as an electronics company to produce electro-mechanical parts

As the President of DATRON Dynamics, I often get asked how DATRON got started. A company’s history or origin defines a company’s character and is key information when deciding to invest in their products. The short answer is DATRON fell into the machine tool business by accident.

In 1969, DATRON AG (or Datron Electronic back then) was incepted as a manufacturer of electronic sensor and measurement systems. They produced a line of automotive non-contact optical speed and acceleration devices in conjunction with flow measurement of fuel consumption. As well, they produced printed circuit board designs, control systems and axis movement devices.

By the late 1980’s they realized they needed the ability to machine small electromechanical devices such as front panels, electronic housings, heat sinks, etc. for their completed assemblies. Looking for a machine tool to produce these types of parts became quite an undertaking.

Machine tool parts like these needed by DATRON Electronic back in the 80's led them to design and build their own CNC machine tool.
Machine tool parts like the ones required by DATRON Electronic in the early days … leading to the development of their own CNC machine tool.

They quickly learned they needed a machine tool with a high speed spindle because most of the machined components were quite small and intricate. They also had a lab type environment and really did not have the type of facility to accommodate a large, heavy conventional machine tool. Therefore they had no choice at the time but to purchase a small, lighter weight router style machine tool and install their own high-speed spindle.

Over the years they made many modifications to the router to work more efficiently for their needs. Some of these modifications included a mechanical probe that could measure and map the surface of a large plate for precise engraving depths. Pneumatic clamping systems that allows for quick part turn-over compared to traditional vices. Additionally, they rewrote the control software to have the ability to program sophisticated electronic type parts right at the machine console. That is when the revelation struck them; there must be a lot of other electronic based manufacturers that could use a piece of equipment like this reconfigured, router-style machining center.

By the early 1990’s, as a test they started to produce a small line of router-style machine tools for the electronics industry. They did this in addition to their sensor and measurement system production. By the mid 90’s, the majority of their electronic production was just for internal components of the machine tools. Today they are no longer in the electronics industry and are a world leader in machine tools for electronic based and other high-tech manufacturing applications.

DATRON CNC machine tools for high speed milling - then and now.
DATRON CNC machine tools for high speed milling – then and now.

Datron’s original roots in understanding the requirements of electronic industry allowed them to cater the machine specific to the industry’s needs. Coming from an engineering and manufacturing background for high-tech products gave them a very unconventional approach in the design of a very conventional machining world. This history and foundation is a big reason for the tremendous success DATRON has achieved in selling machine tools in these high-tech industries. Now we have expanded our machine tool line in many other applications and industries, while still keeping the unique approach and fundamentals of knowing what high-tech manufacturers need today in machining.

Bill King
President DATRON Dynamics, Inc.

Milling, Drilling and Serial Number Engraving On One CNC Machine

Serial number engraving on parts milled with the same machining center designed for milling, drilling engraving and serializing.

It’s amazing how technology has changed our lives in the past decade. From accessing endless amounts of information on our portable devices to checking out at the grocery store. The ability to code and scan has become such a part of lives now that our needs and demands are ever increasing of this technology. This is particularly true in the manufacturing world. The invention of bar code scanning happened over 50 years ago but today we are reinventing our applications due to new technologies, increased Internet speeds and more advanced networks. DATRON has developed some very unique and revolutionary solutions for machining and marking or identifying components.

A simple bar code, QR code or serial number can be created in many different ways. Anywhere from a sticker to screen printing. In the case of directly marking into a metal part; often laser, roll marking or dot peen technologies are used. Having a secondary manufacturing process to create the marking does open up challenges. For instance in the Firearm Industry, the ATF have strict guidelines that any misidentified gun components or missed serial numbers can incur substantial fines. It often discredits the manufacturer that could even lead to the loss of their license. Whenever a part is relocated from one manufacturing process to another, it opens up itself to incorrectly marking a component. What would be the impact on your business be if you were able to mill, drill, engrave and serialize all in one process?

Serial number engraving on firearms according to ATF mandates requires .005" depth of engraving as well as proper documentation of parts produced.
Serial number engraving on firearms is strictly governed by the ATF and proper coding is critical.

There are many advantages to having one machine perform multiple machining operations including serialization. Having just one piece of equipment on the floor saves valuable and costly production space. The maintenance, training and support for one piece of equipment can be far less costly than two or more machines. Whenever secondary operations are performed and a part or component is relocated introduces lag time and more chances for alignment or tolerance issues. In the critical example of components under ATF guidelines, potential missed or incorrect coding in weapons could shut your business down.

Serial number engraving of name plates and identification tags that are batch machined from sheet material and metal photo on the same machining center .
Serial number engraving of a nameplate that was batch machined moments before on the same milling machine.

DATRON with their high speed spindles offer the ability to machine or engrave very fine detail work effectively in a wide variety of materials from aluminum to hardened steel, as used in the Firearm industry. Detail work such as serial numbers, 2D and 3D bar codes can be done very efficiently. Additionally, serialization of firearms have regulated depths which often is difficult for laser systems to achieve efficiently. DATRON machining systems can drill QR codes or engrave serial numbers in one pass, very quickly, with excellent quality compared to many laser systems. The Windows based PC control allow for a very easy interface of standard bar coding systems right at the machine. You can even have a program automatically or sequentially engrave a series of numbers, including alpha characters. The ability to easily connect the standard PC control to Ethernet based networks is also a huge advantage. The real kicker though is DATRON offers a DLL interface that allows you to customize and extract data from almost any form of interface. It could be as simple as extracting data from an Excel or ASCII based file to even extracting the code from the name of a file dropped into a folder on your desktop. There has not been an interface presented to date we have not been able to connect or communicate.

Serial number engraving using the same CNC milling machine that is then used to machine the parts with through holes and other features.
Serial number engraving of parts that are then milled on the same machining center.

Imagine how powerful it would be to place a part into a machine, bar code scan a work order and have the CNC system automatically machine the part to that work order specifications, including marking the part with a serial number or bar code. No chance for misalignment, wrong serial numbers or down time from moving parts from machine to machine. Your operator does not even have to touch or interface with a keyboard. Alternatively, imagine a camera mounted next to the spindle that identifies a temporary code on a part, extracts data from a network and perform machining operations on the part including engraving a permanent code or serial number. DATRON has performed numerous turnkey installations like this that have streamlined operations, reduced production times and most important, introduced nearly 100% error free marking of identification codes or serial numbers. From the Automotive to Defense Industries, DATRON has provided stream-lined cell manufacturing systems that have substantially reduced production costs and improved part quality.

Download DATRON’s DLL Interface Data Sheet by filling out the form below:

How Chip Evacuation in Machining is Like Cutting the Lawn

Chip evacuation during milling processes impacts efficiency and quality and single flute end mills featuring a large chip room allow for better chip evacuation yielding a better cut, longer tool life and making high feed rates possible.

Whenever a machinist is trying to improve the quality of a part or decrease cycle time, often the focus is on the program. This is the obvious and natural course of action to take but often a change in cutting tools can also have a dramatic effect. The old adage of having the right tools for the job absolutely applies in machining. Dramatically reducing cycle times particularly holds true when machining non-ferrous metals such as aluminum with single flute cutters.

For over 25 years, DATRON has produced high speed machining systems. They also have produced their own line of cutting tools that leverage the high range (up to 60,000 rpm) of spindle speed they offer. For example, using conventional cutting tools designed for machining steel often has mixed results when machining in aluminum. The reason for this varies but the key factor in obtaining a better quality of cut and improved feed rates can be achieved with improved chip evacuation.

Through my ten plus years of teaching and training on DATRON high-speed machining systems, I learned a very simple analogy about chip evacuation. If you have ever cut your lawn and the grass clippings have clogged your lawnmowers exhaust opening, did you notice what happened to the quality of cut of your grass? Terrible right. The grass seems more torn that cut, there are uneven lengths and you likely had to slow your pace way down. If the grass clippings start to get caught up inside, this starts to interfere with the new grass being cut, the grass clippings keep getting recut almost into a paste. This creates a real mess that could even stall your lawnmower. This is very similar to what happens in machining, if you do not properly evacuate the chips. The only difference is instead of stalling the lawnmower, you likely will break the cutting tool. Therefore your goal for optimum speed or feed rate is to get the chip clear of the cutting tool.

One distinct advantage of using a high speed spindle means, you do not necessarily need to use a multi-fluted end mill. The rotation speed of the tool is so fast, often just two flutes or even a single flute tool will suffice. Using just a single fluted tool means there is a lot of open space or clearance around the back side of the tool.

Chip evacuation in CNC machining facilitates high feed rates, better cutting quality and reduced tool breakage.
Chip evacuation is facilitated by a large “chip room” (open space) .

This space provides a much larger opening for the chip to evacuate sending a rooster tail effect of chips away from your part (see the video above). The lawnmower with a very small opening for the grass to exhaust is like using a four fluted tool. The larger the opening, the better the grass clippings or aluminum chips will evacuate. Getting the already machined chips out of the path of your cutting edge will have a significant improvement on your cutting quality and allows you to walk faster, I mean machine faster for a shorter overall cycle time.

Machining your parts better and more quickly should give you a lot more time to do other things, including cutting the lawn.

Bill King
President of Datron Dynamics

Vacuum Tables for CNC Machining Centers and Milling Machines

Vacuum table for CNC milling machines features a vacuum chuck, an air permeable substrate and a vacuum pump.

Finding a method to secure parts on the table of a machining center has been a challenge since before CNC was invented in the 1940’s. For years, there has been a very keen interest in vacuum table or vacuum chuck technology for securing material. Traditional vacuum systems, however, have a lot of limitations that often disqualify the technology for part holding.

Limitations of the Traditional Vacuum Table:

  • Small parts don’t have enough surface area for the vacuum to hold them
  • Parts with through cuts cause the loss of vacuum suction
  • Parts that are not flat either can’t be held or require additional setup time – which is often too long, particularly in short run or low volume scenarios

Successful CNC Vacuum Table Design:


Vacuum table design is critical to its ability to hold very small parts securely during the high speed milling process on a CNC machining center
Vacuum table design consists of a the vacuum chuck, an air-permeable sacrificial layer and a powerful vacuum pump.


Fortunately, DATRON has developed a unique vacuum table that solves all these traditional vacuum table limitations. Here’s how each of the limitations mentioned above have been overcome.

Holding Small Parts with a Vacuum Table

One of the biggest limitations with traditional vacuum table technology is that parts are often too small or don’t have enough surface area for the vacuum to hold them securely on the table. This exact situation was presented to DATRON when a knife manufacturer contacted us with a requirement for both a high-speed machining center and efficient means of holding knife handles during the milling process. Adding to the challenge was the fact that the product line had many different sizes and shapes and was constantly changing.


Vacuum table for CNC machining centers made by DATRON allow for batch machining of many small parts from a single sheet of material.
Vacuum table with a batch of Harley knife handles milled from aluminum sheet material.


The vacuum table solution that we delivered was inspired by elements used on vacuum tables for much larger router-type table formats. These large scale systems use a permeable wood fiber board with a large flow vacuum to hold or secure large sheets for machining. Our smaller vacuum table, made from aluminum, features a dense grid of small holes in the top plate. A special thin permeable substrate sits on top to distribute the vacuum evenly and allows us to hold much smaller parts than the conventional or larger scale vacuum tables. In cases, where the parts are particularly small, we have a special version of the permeable substrate with a light tacky surface (kind of like the adhesive on a Post-It note) which is enough to secure the parts. The combination of our vacuum table design, the substrate material and a powerful vacuum pump – all developed to secure knife parts for one customer, has ultimately become an integral CNC accessory for many other customers and different applications in the years that followed.


Vacuum tables held aluminum sheet material during machining on a high speed milling machine to produce a batch of Harley Davidson knife handles.
Harley Davidson knife with handles made on DATRON milling machine equipped with vacuum table workholding.

Milling Through Holes on Parts Held with a Vacuum Table

Another common problem associated with conventional vacuum tables is that when you cut through sheet material, you get a loss of vacuum. If open holes allow too much loss of vacuum and the parts let go, often damaging the cutting tool, the machined part and even the CNC equipment. With DATRON vacuum tables, you can have up to a 40% open area and still hold your parts. This of course varies depending on the part, but typically, you have no problem with through holes or profile cuts. This allows for the flexibility and efficiency of cookie cutting each of part out without special tabs, screws or second operations to remove the parts from the sheet. In the case of the knife manufacturer, they would typically lay down a 24” x 36” sheet of 1/8” aluminum, start the machine, and within a couple of hours, they’d harvest over a 100 pieces of finished parts simply by sliding the permeable sheet off the vacuum table. The permeable substrate also allows you to cut completely through the material without machining into the vacuum table top. The swapping out of sheets was usually less than a minute, so almost no production time was lost due to new material change-overs.


Vacuum table holding small parts machined from sheet material using a high speed CNC milling machine.
Vacuum table holding small parts that have been milled free from a large sheet of material.

Holding Non-flat Parts with a Vacuum Table

But, not all materials are perfectly flat. Most machinists would never consider holding slightly warped material or objects like an aluminum extrusion with a protruding lip with a conventional vacuum system. However, the DATRON vacuum tables also accommodate a thicker version of the permeable substrate material that we call Magic Board. With a thickness of 1/8”, the Magic Board still allows for adequate vacuum suction while providing the flexibility to mill special pockets or contours into it that accommodate non-flat parts. Milling pockets or cavities in the material can also be a technique to secure or locate a nesting of preexisting parts. Additionally, the added thickness of this substrate also provides reduces the risk of cutting into the vacuum table when using cutting tools like drills or thread mills that need to penetrate through the work piece further than normal.


Vacuum table permeable substrate called Magic Board distributes vacuum flow evenly and allows for cutting through holes without damaging the top of the vacuum table.
Vacuum table diffuser (called Magic Board) – an air permeable sacrificial layer between material and vacuum chuck.

Reduce Setup Time with Vacuum Table Workholding

It is common with traditional vacuum table systems to spend a great deal of time setting up a job before getting started with the machining cycle. Dealing with cutting gasket material and having to place it correctly for your corresponding parts is often a very time consuming and tedious practice. In some cases, special custom tables need to be designed with supplementary screws, locating pins, guides, extra clamps, etc. to hold parts down properly or in the correct locations. In cases when a conventional vacuum table will not work, countless hours of applying double-sided tape is sometimes a method used to secure parts. This can create all sorts of issues such as coolant attacking the adhesive, glue getting on parts, or the tape simply letting go.


Vacuum table made for DATRON high speed CNC machines provides 24" x 26" of vacuum workholding.
Vacuum table called QuadraMate combines four 12″ x 18″ segments for 24″ x 36″ of vacuum workholding.


With the permeable substrate system, usually there is no setup involved. Quite often you simply load in the desired material, turn on the vacuum pump, and start machining right away. This saves many hours of setup time over a production week and reduces part rejection resulting from improper setups. The DATRON vacuum table is a revolutionary and unique design that reduces production time significantly in many applications. It also allows a greater flexibility and in some cases the capability to machine parts that otherwise were impossible. It often reduces part rejection rates and improves part quality. From small thin parts that cannot be mechanically mounted, to parts with free-form outside contours, the DATRON vacuum table offers unique machining advantages that provide a competitive edge.

Here’s a video showing how the DATRON vacuum table works:

Fill out the form below to read a real-world vacuum table case study:

How a Custom Longboard Became a High-Speed CNC Machining Sample

Custom longboard machined from aluminum with a DATRON high speed CNC machining center.

“What made you decide to mill an aluminum longboard?”  That’s a question we’ve been asked countless times by people who see our most popular high-speed machining demonstration. So, I decided to write a blog that explains the origin of this unique sample.

How the Idea Was Born

I was enjoying the sunny skies and sites of Key West with my family, and my 15 year old daughter had yet to put both feet on the ground because she was using a beat-up, wooden longboard to transport herself through the narrow streets of the historic city. Out of the blue, a boy whizzed by on a custom longboard and disappeared down a side street. She yelled, “Dad, did you see his aluminum longboard!?”  Visiting Ernest Hemingway’s house or deep sea diving were no longer the highlights of my daughter’s vacation.

As we explored the plethora of tacky tourist shops, we came upon the shop that would change how DATRON demonstrates its CNC machines for years to come.  Apparently, the boy with the shiny, homemade longboard worked there. He had conveniently parked the longboard upright next to the entrance for my daughter to see and drool over, to which she implored, “Dad, would you make one for my birthday?!”  Upon examination, it was obvious that the boy knew someone with a CNC machine. Since I had access to DATRON high-speed machining centers, which excel in milling aluminum, I was not about to bow down to the challenge.

The Custom Longboard Design

When we returned home (and unbeknownst to my daughter), I began designing and programming her sixteenth birthday present. It wasn’t until I started to machine the longboard that I realized how well it demonstrates the capabilities of DATRON high-speed machining centers. For example, the deep pocketing on the underside, designed to reduce the weight of the longboard, shows off the efficiency of our 60,000 RPM spindle for rapid material removal.  The diamond pattern on the top, designed to replace grip tape and ensure firm footing, demonstrates the machine’s ability to mill fine cuts and intricate patterns with small tools.

Custom longboard milling for a longboard made of aluminum can require various processes including rapid material removal, radius milling and milling of intricate patterns such as the diamond pattern machined on the top of this longboard to serve as a grip tape replacement.
Milling processes used in machining a custom longboard from aluminum.

The Custom Longboard Milling Process

When it was time to mill the custom longboard, we put our arsenal of unique high-speed machining features to good use. Aluminum sheet material was fixed to the solid granite machine bed using a vacuum table (or vacuum chuck) for workholding.

Custom longboard machined from aluminum sheet material held with an integrated vacuum table on a DATON high speed CNC machining center.
A vacuum table was used to secure this custom longboard during machining.

Our integrated probe was used for part location and surface scanning, also known as surface mapping. During this process, the probe takes a series of measurements along the surface of the aluminum sheet material and feeds that data into the control software. Any surface variance is automatically compensated for in the milling program. This ensures accuracy and the machined quality of the custom longboard.

Custom longboard machining uses probing or surface scanning to map the material surface feeding data into the control software so that irregularities can be compensated for dynamically before the machining begins.
Probing (surface scanning) helps ensure accuracy when machining a custom longboard.

When milling the custom longboard from aluminum sheet material, a spray-mist coolant provides optimal cooling and quickly evaporates so that no degreasing is required once the part is completed. The micro-volume or minimum-quantity coolant is sprayed with multi-directional nozzles so that it is continuously applied to the cutting edge of the tool. This helps produce a superior cut as well as surface and edge finishes – all while minimizing tool breakage.

Custom longboard milling using materials like aluminum can benefit from a spray-mist coolant that minimizes tool breakage and maximizes milling performance and quality of cut.
A fine spray-mist coolant is directed at the cutting edge during the milling of the custom longboard.

The Finished Product

This custom longboard was a huge surprise on my daughter’s sweet sixteen. Watching your child open the gift she wished for on her birthday is one of those special moments that a parent gets to experience. Years later, the same expression comes to my face when I think about it.  And, I get to see that facial expression on another parent when we give them a similar longboard to bring home to their child. It’s funny how some of the simplest moments in your life can bring new direction and purpose.

Custom longboard machined with DATRON high speed milling machines as a trade show demonstration.
Custom longboard milled on a DATRON high-speed machining center

When is the Right Time to Stop Outsourcing Machined Parts?

Outsourcing machined parts vs. milling those parts in house is a question that every manufacturer faces and the key to success is knowing when it's time to bring the outsourced work in house.

Many manufacturers produce products using a family of machined parts manufactured by outside vendors. As the success of a product grows, manufacturers are often faced with the decision should they start machining the parts in-house to save costs. There are many considerations when determining if it is the right time to produce a family of parts in house. We have narrowed this down to eight simple points to help you determine if the time is now.

In-House vs. Outsourced Machined Parts? 8 Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. What is the anticipated number of parts to be machined over the life of the product or project?
  2. What size inventory levels do you currently maintain to meet your deliveries?
  3. Do you have the proper CNC equipment to efficiently produce the parts?
  4. What kind of upfront investment on tooling, materials and set-up costs will be required?
  5. What is the importance of having parts completed on time and the parts meet your quality standards?
  6. What is the possibility of design changes during the life of the product?
  7. Do you have the capacity including floor space and labor to machine the parts in house?
  8. Do you have the in-house skill level required to produce the parts effectively?

All eight of these points are important considerations when deciding if it is the right time to bring outsourced machined parts in-house. If you have answered these 8 questions and feel that your organization may indeed be leaning toward machining your own parts, you’ll want to download our complete guide: “When is the Right Time to Stop Outsourcing Machined Parts?” by filling out the form below. You’ll learn about other considerations in the “outsourcing vs. machining in-house” debate, as well as ways of navigating through this important decision process. This 5-section document shares ways to examine factors like inventory requirements, CNC equipment costs, management of quality and turn-around, maximizing use of floor space and staffing requirements.

Get our Guide, “When is the Right Time to Stop Outsourcing Machined Parts?”