In 1984, upon graduating from University with a degree in Industrial Design, I started working for the family business. We manufactured architectural signage and wayfinding systems for larger corporate offices and retail shopping malls. I was working on product development along with manufacturing practices used in production. In 1995, I was involved in a project that used an electronic touchscreen, housed in a public display. This housing required large format 1/8-inch aluminum sheets with a lot of small grooves, pockets, drilled and tapped holes, and engraving. This was a difficult manufacturing challenge that turned into an opportunity that changed my life forever.
We needed to accurately machine these large aluminum panels in a very efficient and fast manner that had enough flexibility for quick design changes. This ruled out punching, molding, and casting and it was clear that machining was the only option. Our research determined there was no large format, affordable machining center that could meet our needs. We decided to hop on a plane and attend a tradeshow in Germany called EMO in hopes that we could find a unique system that could meet our needs. That’s when we discovered DATRON.
We quickly realized this was the perfect machine to produce this assembly of flat aluminum parts. We learned that DATRON had no representation in North America for local service and support. This machining system, however, was just too perfect for our application so we rolled the dice and purchased one. It helped that we were assured that DATRON was already in the process of finding a local reseller and support partner. I just didn’t know at the time that it would end up being me.
Over the next months, we successfully implemented the system and through that process, I got to know the people at DATRON and the power of this machine. Amazed by the technology, I couldn’t help but wonder what impact it could have on North America manufacturers. After a long walk on a Florida beach with my wife, Debbie, and our first-born baby cradled in my arms, I got the courage to ask her “What do you think about me approaching DATRON about starting a business to sell their machines?” In her reply were the historic words that got this whole thing going, “If you are going to make a change, it would be easier to do it now before we have more kids and they are older.”
When I returned home, I agonized for hours typing a letter that I later faxed, only to receive a phone call just a few short minutes later. “What is this?” exclaimed Manfred Becker, machine developer at DATRON? I explained that I wanted to help DATRON bring their machine to North America. He asked, “How are you going to do this and work for your family business”? I said, “I wouldn’t, I would leave the family business and dedicate myself full-time.”
Three days later, I was on an airplane to Germany. Sitting at a round table and fueled by strong coffee, I joined an energized group to strategize how we were going to get this done. Six months later, DATRON Dynamics opened its doors for business with full support from my brothers, who continued to run the family business without me.
I often wonder how many employees lives that I may have never touched, the many customers that would have never benefited from this amazing technology, the friendships both home and abroad that would have never developed … and just how different my life would have been, if my wife had simply said “I don’t think it’s a good idea”. Thank you, Deb, for initiating and kick-starting this incredible journey that has impacted so many lives!
-Bill King, President
DATRON Dynamics, Inc.