Machining High Tolerance Aerospace Parts

Machining High Tolerance Aerospace Parts

Rapid DTM was founded as a one-man shop in 2002 by President, Tim Allard. Having worked for larger companies like Hitchiner Manufacturing, he had the opportunity to hone his skills as a machinist on an impressive array of equipment including a high-speed Roku Roku, 5-axis Hermle machines with Heidenhain Controls, and some high-end Makinos. But initially, at his own company, he was doing primarily engineering work and the first piece of equipment that he purchased was a CMM machine. Allard explains, “I figured I’d build the business from the quality side down which is sort of the opposite of the way that anyone else does it. That really kind of worked out well for me because we were able to get ISO Certified. For a shop the size that we are to have ISO Certification right out of the gate, you know not everybody has that, and very few companies our size have it at all. This is ideal for machining high tolerance aerospace parts.

By 2004, Allard was again researching high-speed machining technology because he saw opportunity in producing graphite for regional mold makers who had sinker machines and needed electrodes. He recalls, “So, I was looking for a machine that was well-suited to machining graphite and that’s when the DATRON came up on my radar through a web search. I went to DATRON and looked at the machine and ran the numbers but just couldn’t do it at the time. I knew it was a good fit it was just getting the timing worked out.”

High Tolerance Aerospace Parts? Tim Allard, President of Rapid DTM, Inc. who specializes in CMM Inspection, Reverse Engineering and Precision Machining.
Tim Allard, President of Rapid DTM, Inc. who specializes in CMM Inspection, Reverse Engineering and Precision Machining of High Tolerance Aerospace Parts. The company is ISO Certified and ITAR Registered.

So, in the meantime, Allard purchased a Haas VF-1 with a 30,000 RPM spindle and a BT 30 Taper and their high-speed machining package. He explains that the work they were getting was steady but not ideal. “In the early days, we were getting all of these big aluminum housings that we were hogging out with ¾ inch end mill. For a number of years, that’s the kind of work we were getting, but we never really made a ton of money doing it.”

But, things changed quickly when his previous employer Hitchiner Manufacturing closed the division he had worked at and the 25 employees who had worked for him went on to take jobs at other companies. Allard said, “They all became my customers and one of the guys went to BAE Systems and he’s the one who originally got us in there.”

Specializing in Machining High Tolerance Aerospace Parts

Today, BAE Systems and other aerospace industry customers like Fibertek in Herndon, VA represent 95% of Rapid DTM’s business and this has proven to be very profitable for the company. So much so that in 2016, Allard decided to narrow the focus of the company exclusively on the niche business or making these small parts to the exacting specifications demanded by the industry. “I wanted to focus on what we do well and get rid of some of this other stuff. I had two large vertical machining centers, a big Haas VF-5 and a big Doosan and I said let’s get rid of these two machines and get another machine that’s going to compliment our little Haas and stick with this little tiny niche-style work with these tiny cutters that are hanging out a mile, you know where you really need to be able to wind ‘em up and hold some accuracy.”

So, they purchased a DATRON M8Cube and also invested heavily in their metrology business by doubling their metrology capacity. In addition to their CMMs they now have a vision system and some of their jobs are straight metrology and CMM work. For example, DMG Mori has them checking demo parts made on their machines and they also measure parts for other machine shops. Allard has built such a reputation for his expertise in CMM that he even does CMM training for Hexagon Metrology, the company he purchases his CMM equipment from. One of Hexagon’s other customers is a large machine shop, and while he was training them to use their CMM he learned that they were struggling with a milling job where they had to use very small tools to cut steel. He explained to them that at a maximum RPM of 12,000 their milling machine was not up to the task. When he told them that he had a DATRON that could mill their part they asked, “What’s a DATRON?” He explained, “The problem with doing jobs like this is that the tools wear out very quickly because they can’t withstand the heat you’ve gotta get in there and get out especially with this type of steel that tends to work harden.” With that explanation, they suggested that Allard perform the work for them, and he responded by suggesting that they get their own DATRON machine. It’s not that I didn’t want to help out, it’s just that we’re not really looking for more business. We’re scheduled out 12 weeks right now and are busy. Our DATRON machine alone is running 10 hours a day Monday through Friday and 5 hours on Saturdays.”

DATRON M8Cube set up for machining high tolerance aerospace parts.
DATRON M8Cube’s solid polymer-concrete bed setup for one of the many aerospace jobs that Rapid DTM runs in aluminum.

In comparing the DATRON to other machines that he’s run Allard says, “Obviously, in terms of spindle speed, they’re higher than what most people are putting out there. Haas doesn’t offer anything higher than 15,000 RPM and other machines of this size aren’t running the kind of spindle speeds that DATRON is running. On top of that, the accuracy that DATRON has is really outstanding. You know, I check everything on the CMM, and I’ve posted videos showing us checking the roundness of parts that have come out of the DATRON and we’re at roughly 4 microns.”

Allard doesn’t feel that there’s much of a difference between a job shop and a prototyping shop because even when they are just prototyping a part, there is a good chance it will turn into a short-run production job down the road. As an example, he points out a BAE part that started as 5 prototypes 2 years ago, and on this day he is running 35 assemblies. “We made the original prototypes, so then when it came time for their production order, we were the only company qualified to do the job. Because of the nature of what the part is, and the fact that we had proven we could do it, they didn’t want to give it to anyone else. It’s a strange project, it’s a little out of the ordinary and that’s kind of what we do. This stuff might fall into the “no quote” pile for a lot of shops because it’s complex, it’s all 3D work, tight tolerances, low quantities, stuff that most people don’t want to touch, … and that’s what I like.”

Because of their focus on the aerospace industry, Rapid DTM’s DATRON machine is usually used to mill aluminum, but they also use it to machine 303 stainless, 17-4 stainless, 6AL-4V titanium, G10, and lots of Delrin according to Allard. For BAE Systems, the parts all vary somewhat but are similar in some ways – one being that they’re these little aluminum blocks of MIC-6 and that are about 5 inches by 3 inches and a half inch thick. Rapid DTM mills tiny vertical slots cut into them that are fairly deep. Allard explains, “So, we’re running really small tools that are hanging out way more than you should ever hang one of these tools out − but this is the kind of stuff that I’ve been doing for a long time.” Years ago, when they started making these parts, it was taking their Haas machine operator about 10 hours to produce a single unit. Through evolution in CAM technology, essentially being able to do more rest machining, they were able to get that cycle time to about 5 to 6 hours on their Haas machine. Allard says, “But when we moved the job over to the DATRON, we got the cycle time down to about 2.5 hours for more than a 50% improvement.”

This DATRON M8Cube is machining high tolerance aerospace parts in RapidDTM's shop.
Rapid DTM’s DATRON M8Cube is an industrial workhorse that runs 10 hrs./day Monday through Friday and 5 hrs. on Saturdays.

In the case of Rapid DTM’s prototyping and short-run production, many of the parts that they produce have short cycle times, so quick setup times are critical. Allard says, “I’m running low quantities of everything. On jobs over the last 4 days, our cycle time is 44 seconds, so, I’m loading parts in and out … which is not my favorite kind of work. The fact that setup on the M8Cube is quick and easy helps a lot.” The machining area on the DATRON M8Cube is an ample 40″ x 32″ which allows for multiple setups such as vices, pneumatic clamps and vacuum chucks. This provides manufacturers with the flexibility to adapt to changing needs and to change over quickly. Rapid DTM’s machine also has a cut out in the front of the bed that allows for vertical clamping to machine the ends of particularly long or tall workpieces.

Multiple setups provide the flexibility to respond to incoming orders.
Multiple setups for machining aerospace parts including pneumatic clamps, vacuum table and a trunnion rotary axis installed in the “cut out” of the bed.

Regarding the large work area of the M8Cube, Allard says, “Every couple of days there’s a different job that comes in to run on the DATRON and that’s the nature of what I do. That’s also part of the challenge in prototyping, you have to set up vices, vacuum chucks and tooling. When the guys from BAE Systems come through and look at the M8Cube, one of the first things they mention is that for a machine this size and this weight it’s got a ton of XY travel.”

Allard is also extremely impressed with the precision of the M8Cube and the quality of the integrated Renishaw probe. “As part of our metrology business, I’ve been using probing technology forever and there’s also Renishaw probing in the Haas. But I do a demonstration on the differences in how the two systems work and some of the advantages that the DATRON has. You can do everything that you do on the DATRON on the Haas but it might require a couple of different macros to do it. With the DATRON, there’s a much larger menu for probing because there’s so many more things you can do within that same cycle. For example, yesterday I was using soft jaws. So you’ve got two vice jaws set up with a gap in between them. So, I wanted to set a Z zero off the top of the back vice jaw. I wanted to set the X zero to the centerline of that back vice jaw and then my Y zero across the outside spanning the two jaws. With the Haas, I would have to do that as two different cycles. I could do a web X and a Z as one cycle and then I would have to move the spindle to the centerline in the Y direction and then do a web Y cycle. Whereas, with the DATRON, the way that menu is set up, you can offset X and Y to probe Z and you can offset Y to probe the X. You don’t have those options in the built-in Renishaw cycles for the Haas. There’s really no other probing system out there (that I’m aware of) that gives you the flexibility that DATRON probing does.”

Rapid DTM's CMM checking a high tolerance aerospace part (0.0003").
Rapid DTM’s CMM verifying a 0.0003″ tolerance for an aerospace part milled from MIC 6 aluminum on the M8Cube.
RapidDTM specializes in machining high-tolerance aerospace and complex components for other industries.
Machining Aerospace Parts and More! Here is one of the many shelves of parts on Rapid DTM’s “Wall of Fame”.

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Embossing Die Engraving Pros – DC Graphics, Inc.

Brass embossing die of a butterfly produced by DC graphics with a DATRON M8Cube.

DC Graphics, founded in 1994 by Kevin Brandon, is run today by Eugene Prohaske, President, and Cristine Brandon, Vice President, who have a long history in the engraving industry. Eugene is a passionate engraver who has over 30 years of experience in embossing die engraving for the packaging industry. He started at his father’s company, Styleart Engraving, back in 1983. After his father retired in 1994, Eugene started his own business, HAP Engraving, in Manhattan. In 2010, he came to DC Graphics and when founder and President, Kevin Brandon, passed away in 2012, Eugene succeeded him in leading the company.

Engraving Embossing Dies for the Packaging Industry

DC Graphics is an offset, flexographic pre-press die making and photoengraving facility that produces plates and dies from magnesium, brass, and copper. They specialize in engraving embossing dies and other engravings, as well as flat stamping and folding cards for the paper packaging and pre-press industry. They employ a staff of approximately 16 people.

Engraving embossing dies from sheet material held with a vacuum chuck allows DC Graphics to produce many dies in a single run.
Engraving embossing dies in batches adds to DC Graphics’ efficiency and helps them to provide a quick turnaround to customers.

Magnesium is a metal that can withstand high temperatures and is impact resistant, which makes it ideally suited to long press runs that include embossing and foil-stamping. Its durability provides the user with a long-lasting die or printable image. DC Graphics produces plates in various thicknesses including 16-gauge, 11-point, and 1/4 inch with the largest size being 18″x24″. Counters for their embossing and debossing dies are produced in both .030 and .060 thicknesses. DC Graphics also makes intricate copper plates and brass dies to their customers’ exact specifications and within tight timeframes.

Innovations for Embossing Die Engraving

Eugene Prohaske is constantly seeking new innovations and the company utilizes the most current technology in their industry for engraving embossing dies. Their state-of-the-art equipment allows them to provide their customers with high-quality products faster and less expensively than their competition … thereby giving them a competitive edge.

However, before the company purchased their first DATRON high-speed milling machine, everything was done by hand or gauging machines and etching. But, etching proved to be dirty and carried additional costs associated with disposal of the chemicals used in the process. They knew that they needed a change.

So, in 1996, DC Graphics purchased their first DATRON machine (an M4) and made the transition from everything being done by hand, gauging machines and etching to exclusively using CNC milling machines for engraving embossing dies. It was a big undertaking but proved to be a smart decision for DC Graphics to abandon chemical etching and “go green” with DATRON. Eugene says, “Once I saw these machines, I decided this was the wave of the future for us. If we didn’t make the change when we did, more than likely we wouldn’t be in business anymore.”

Embossing die engraver and President of DC Graphics, Eugene Prohaske shows off a DATRON M8Cube.
Embossing die engraving pro and President of DC Graphics, Eugene Prohaske in front of a DATRON M8Cube.

In 2008, DC Graphics purchased its first DATRON M8 high-speed milling machine. This was followed by two additional M8’s in 2012 and 2013 to add capacity for engraving embossing dies and to handle more business for their customers. The DATRON M8 features a 30” x 40” work area which allows it to accommodate large sheet material used to produce larger parts or batch machine many smaller ones in a single unattended process. Its integrated vacuum table and probe helped DC Graphics to reduce setup time and ensure the accuracy of their intricate workpieces. Additionally, the 60,000 RPM spindle on the M8 resulted in very impressive cycle times. Eugene reflects on the transition from handwork to machining, “In the beginning, it was a big learning curve because we needed to get the machines in and had to figure out how to run them. DATRON definitely walked us through it as a real partner would do.”

In fact, the initial DATRON investment served as a trial and a comparison to their experience owning a LANG engraving machine which was purchased around the same time. They took one year to evaluate the two machines and started weighing the pros and cons of both. Eugene felt that both were very reliable German-engineered machines that were great for engraving embossing dies. But, DATRON won the right to additional machine placements through exceptional service and support. He says, “DATRON has great support here in the States and whenever I have a problem, they help me and respond right away. Having a contact person and service over here is key because if I need a part, I can get it the next day; worst case scenario being two days. With LANG, sometimes it is very difficult to get an answer or a part and sometimes the machine is down for weeks.”

In 2017, DC Graphics continued to employ the latest technology and expanded their capacity for engraving embossing dies by purchasing DATRON’s “next generation” M8Cube. This machine differs from the M8 model in that it features a machine design with half as many parts, improved ergonomics, better accuracy, as well as faster rapids and feed rates. It is also structurally stronger than the legacy M8 model. The M8Cube has a new control system and uses 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 results in greater acceleration and deceleration rates that produce faster cycle times. The stronger design along with the new control software allowed DATRON to also develop an optimization filter they call “PerfectCut”. DC Graphics went with this optional software function because it 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. Eugene says, “It is just a very nice machine to work on. I do a lot of programming for creative engraving and I am very familiar with DATRON technology. My engraving creativity combined with the capabilities a DATRON machine offers is a good melding and all these different factors come together make a product that comes out quick, clean and reliable.”

The DATRON M8 and M8Cube are the primary embossing die engraving machines used by DC Graphics in Farmingdale, NY
Embossing die engraving machines such as the DATRON M8 and M8Cube in a line at DC Graphics’ Farmingdale, NY plant.

DC Graphics’ M8Cube also has a 30-station tool changer which satisfies Eugene’s penchant for using a lot of tools. This versatility helps him to achieve engraving effects he wouldn’t be able to produce if he didn’t have so many tools at his disposal. He has the engraving expertise and knowhow to apply the right tools for particular engraving challenges. He explains, “We really try to maintain good customer service through our engraving expertise. For certain types of engraving, you need to know what’s going work to get an effect and what it will take to make something look the way our customer wants it to look. When you do that, you build a good report with them because they know they can count on you. You are able to do something that other engravers can’t do. That is your edge! I never want to be known as the cheapest engraver … instead, I want to be known as the place to go when something is difficult. The reliability of DATRON machines and the fact that they provide me with such a versatile tool helps me provide a cutting-edge solution.”

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On the Rails with High-Speed Machining!

Haydon Kerk linear motion system with parts machined on a DATRON high-speed machining center.

Large Manufacturer Adds High-Speed Machining to Make Rails for Slide Assemblies. Haydon Kerk is an internal part of AMETEK’s Advanced Motion Solutions group focused on producing a full range of components and precision motion control systems. This includes linear actuators, lead screws and nuts, linear rails and guides, drives, motors and other components. The Kerk Products Division in Milford, NH was founded by brothers, Ken and Keith Erickson, in the 1970’s based on their patented improved anti-backlash lead screw design.

One of several buildings in the Kerk Products campus dedicated to manufacturing components for Haydon Kerk's line of precision motion control systems.
One of several buildings in the Kerk Products campus dedicated to manufacturing components for Haydon Kerk’s line of precision motion control systems.

Today, their products are used primarily in the industrial automation, medical, aerospace & defense, petrochemical, and semiconductor industries. Plant Manager, Stan Brown says, “Whether it’s lead screws going into high-tolerance precision automation systems or screws that go into parts for orthoscopic surgery (replacing heart valves), one thing we can almost count on is that there will be some level of customization required.” Jim Lamson, Manufacturing Engineering Manager, agrees saying, We joke that nobody ever orders anything out of our catalog, it’s more like a book of suggestions.”

To that end, just for screws alone, Haydon Kerk manufactures and stocks over 475 different combinations of diameter and advance per revolution thread types to use in their standard products and custom solutions. So logically, their business requires a lot of equipment to keep up with all of the variations requested by their customer base. Within several buildings on their campus, they house Swiss-type Machines, Doosan Turret Lathes, Thread Rolling Machines, Haas VMCs, OmniTurn CNC Lathes, Sinker EDMs, and Mori Seiki VMCs.

The Search for a Production Solution Leads to a High-Speed Machining Center

In 2011, it was their line of slide assemblies that lead them to search for another piece of equipment — specifically for milling rails from anodized aluminum extrusion stock. As with their other products, these parts also required a significant amount of customization to satisfy a range of customer requirements. Lamson says, “It may be a variation on number of mounting holes, size of mounting holes, whether they’re tapped or through holes, or the length of the rails, but there’s a level of customization on every order.”

At the time, Haydon Kerk was using various milling machines to produce these rails and Lamson says that there were problems. “The process was just too slow. We had multiple shifts with multiple operators per shift trying to keep up and they were buried and falling behind. We needed another solution and I began to research other milling machines that could handle these long aluminum extrusions.”

Precision motion system parts made with DATRON high-speed machining center
An array of high-precision linear motion systems manufactured by Haydon Kerk including stepper motors, linear actuators, lead screws and linear rails.

Ultimately, Lamson’s search didn’t take him very far because he found DATRON Dynamics, the North American distributor of DATRON high-speed milling machines, right down the street in Milford, NH. So he packed up a test rail, some extrusions, a completed rail, and some drawings and headed over to DATRON’s Technology Center to have them do a test cut. Lamson recalls, “An average rail of that size, was taking us over 15 minutes to make and there were multiple different setups to do it. DATRON accomplished the same rail, completed, in a fraction of the time with a single setup.”

The machine used for the test cut was the DATRON M85 which features a large 30″ x 40″ work envelope but has a comparatively small footprint. Haydon Kerk, Manufacturing Supervisor, Scott Ladue, says that this combination was eye-opening “If you look at our screw rail milling where we’re using a big VMC, the machine is as big as a sea crate out there – but that’s because we need the 60 inches of travel. With the DATRON we can still make a 60-inch rail, but its footprint is only 69” x 55”.

High-Speed Machining Results in 300% Increase in Production!

So, Haydon Kerk purchased the DATRON M85 for milling these rails and relegated the conventional milling machines to other work. Six years later, Ladue reflects on the impact of that decision in terms of time and manpower, “We were running multiple shifts at capacity and now we’re running the DATRON on one shift and we’re able to keep up with demand. Plus, the volume has increased since we got the DATRON in 2011, so we’ve basically increased our productivity by over 300%.

Rail for slide assembly milled on the DATRON high-speed machining center to add pockets and mounting holes to fill a custom order.
Rail for slide assembly milled on the DATRON high-speed machining center to add pockets and mounting holes to fill a custom order.

In terms of setup, Haydon Kerk integrated four Kurt double-lock vises on the M85 so they can put two rails in at a time, or if they’re running short rails, they load two rows of individual rails. Ladue says, “So, regardless of rail size it’s just a matter of loading the vise and running the program for that series of rails after using DATRON’s integrated probe for part location.”

Probing in High-Speed Machining Reduces Setup Time and Ensures Accuracy

DATRON’s integrated probe is mounted on the Z axis and the measurement is performed when the probe swivels from its home position to the measuring position. DATRON’s patented capacitive measuring principle ensures high repeatability as well as measurement accuracy. The probe is easily operated through menu-controlled software. After the measurement is performed, offsetting occurs directly in the control software, automatically adjusting the milling program to compensate for surface or positioning variance. This minimizes operator error and virtually eliminates waste.

Lamson says that the integrated probing is particularly useful when machining rails that are longer than 30 inches. “Often a customer’s requirement may be for a much longer rail and with the DATRON’s onboard measuring system we can fixture the part, machine a portion of the rail, move it, pick up a feature that we’ve put into the part and position to the end very accurately.”

Haydon Kerk Manufacturing Engineering Manager, Jim Lamson with rails made on the DATRON high-speed machining center.
Haydon Kerk Manufacturing Engineering Manager, Jim Lamson shows off some average size rails made on the DATRON.

High-Speed Machining with Evaporating Coolant Yields Clean Parts and Makes Secondary Operations Obsolete

Lamson also says that DATRON’s minimum quantity (evaporating) coolant was an added bonus that had an unexpected benefit. “When the parts come out of the machine, we don’t have to put them through a secondary cleaning process in order to go into our TFE coating process. The chips that end up in the chip bin are clean dry chips, they’re not gummy or oily. If parts are still wet when they come out of the machine, you can literally watch them dry in front of you. Plus, the coolant is actually a little bit of a solvent so the parts probably come out of the machine cleaner than when they went in. That was a completely new and inspired idea for us that we could have coolant that we didn’t have to clean up.”

A batch of smaller rails coming off the DATRON M85 high-speed machining center
A batch of smaller rails coming off the DATRON M85 high-speed milling machine.

Cutting Tools for High-Speed Machining

In addition to the DATRON machine, Haydon Kerk has also become a DATRON tool customer and Manufacturing Supervisor, Scott Ladue, says, “DATRON tools are excellent. We don’t buy a lot because they last a long time and the operator pushes them as fast as the machine will go. Plus, the parts that we’re machining have a hard coat anodize on them so they’re a little harder than raw aluminum.” Jim Lamson adds, “Using the DATRON led us to use our other machines a little differently, because you don’t tap anything on the DATRON, you threadmill, and we’re used to using taps. We’ve had parts being made on other machines where you couldn’t use a tap, so we went to DATRON’s tooling people and had them develop a custom threadmill for our other machines.”

During the six years of using the DATRON machine, Haydon Kerk has kept up with suggested preventative maintenance and as a result, their most stressful “service issue” involved running out of coolant. Plant Manager, Stan Brown recalls, “In terms of maintenance and reliability it’s been very reliable and very consistent. The only issue that I can recall is running out of coolant once, and in that case, DATRON provided outstanding service and support by providing additional coolant to keep production running.”

Haydon Kerk machinist operating the DATRON high-speed machining center.
Haydon Kerk’s DATRON machine operator initiates the milling program to run a batch of smaller rails.

Download DATRON High-Speed Machining Center Catalog

Be a Shark: Rowing & Milling at High Speed with MLCube!

Hudson Boat Works is a rowing racing shell manufacturer based in London, Ontario. Jack Coughlan and his brother-in-law, Hugh Hudson, founded the company in 1981. Hudson is an official boat manufacturer for the Canadian National Team and their boats have won 84 World and Olympic Medals since 1984.

In March 2007, Hudson began production of their “Shark” line of boats. Their Great White 1x and Hammerhead 8+ shells are currently designed by Steve Killing (Canadian Naval Architect). These sleek boats are faster, more stable, and more comfortable for rowers. Since 2005, Glen Burston, Operations Manager, has been the driving force behind Hudson’s innovation. Glen has applied his Master of Engineering knowledge and National-level rowing experience to transform the company into a cutting edge manufacturing success.

The official boat of the Canadian National Team, Hudson boats have won 84 World and Olympic Medals.
The official boat of the Canadian National Team, Hudson boats have won 84 World and Olympic Medals.

In 2015, plans were set to build a line of lighter, faster boats comprised of all carbon fiber components named Ultimate Super Predator (USP). Hudson’s ability to quickly bring this line to market would solidify their competitive advantage and their standing as industry leader. However, their ability to do this was being hindered by the slow turn-around and high costs associated with outsourcing 90% of their machined parts. In particular, the aluminum molds required to make all of the carbon fiber parts that comprise a rowing scull were projected to be completed over a 3-year period — and that time frame simply wouldn’t do.

Hudson’s Mechanical Engineering Technologist, Cam Fisher recalls, “We have a fairly large 3-axis CNC router that does all of the trimming for the boat hulls and all of the edge profiling of the boats, but it doesn’t have the accuracy needed for mold making.”

So, the search for new CNC machining technology began. It soon became apparent that standard CNC routers wouldn’t have the accuracy they needed for mold making, and with their largest part being on the order of 64 inches from tip to tip a conventional VMC probably wouldn’t have the amount of work area they needed. This was compounded by the fact that the space they had allocated for the machine was 20′ x 10′ (200 sq. feet). However, when Glen Burston found DATRON it seemed that all of Hudson’s “pain points” could be addressed. Cam Fisher remembers “In general, you look into your Haas machines because that name is always out there and we looked into some other larger mills. But, Glen came across DATRON and when Jack Coughlan talked to them their MLCube machine just seemed to kind of hit all of the points that we needed. Footprint was one of the big ones because we don’t have a lot of room in our shop to put a very large mill. The MLCube wouldn’t take up too much space and what we could do with a 60″ x 40″ work area would be unreal.”

DATRON MLCube large-format milling machine featuring a 60" x 40" machining envelope.
DATRON MLCube large-format milling machine featuring a 60″ x 40″ machining envelope.

It was decided that Hudson would send their largest model to DATRON for them to do a test fit at their Technology Center in New England. This curved part looked almost like a huge boomerang with a span of 64 inches between the two tips. This meant that DATRON had to get a little “creative” with the placement of the part and relocating a tool magazine on the machine bed. But, with this part representing a “worst case scenario” they were confident that they had the right solution for Hudson.

This large aluminum mold is 64 inches from tip to tip and is used to make the carbon fiber rigger mounted to Hudson's lightweight boats.
This large aluminum mold is 64 inches from tip to tip and is used to make the carbon fiber rigger mounted to Hudson’s lightweight boats.

In the end, this proved to be true and Hudson was very excited to purchase the DATRON MLCube. Now, just over a year later, Cam Fisher reports, “Bringing the DATRON machine in was a giant cost avoidance right off the bat. Originally, we were looking at the 2-3 year mark to get everything we needed through outsourcing and the cost of these very large molds was astronomical. With the DATRON, we’re already at the point where we’re ready to offer everything. In less than a year, we’re where we wouldn’t have been until about 4 years from now. Bringing this line of USP boats to market gave us a huge competitive advantage.”

In addition to the milling molds that they’ve completed, Hudson manufactures aluminum parts for the rigging on their boats and as planned they have moved on to this production phase for their new line. Fisher says, “Now, I’m coming out of making molds and I’m bringing in production parts. I still had a mold fixture on the machine last week and another part came in and I never took the other fixture off the machine. Because of the conicals, I positioned the new part where I wanted it and was off and running.”

A conical system that ensures the position of fixtures and facilitates repeatability.
A conical system that ensures the position of fixtures and facilitates repeatability.

Fisher is referring to a system of conicals integrated into the bed of the MLCube. These conicals are used to position workholding like clamps, pallets and vacuum chucks. The conical cavities are milled by the machine itself on the surface of the machining table. This results in a “boss-in-cavity” system that ensures location repeatability. So, if he’s in the middle of a batch of parts and an unexpected rush project comes in, he can remove one fixture and replace it with the one for the new job. When the rush job is complete, he returns the first fixture to its place and picks up where he left off. Because the MLCube has such a large work envelope, it can accommodate more than one
fixture or setup and in the case that Fisher mentioned he just found an empty space on the bed for the new part.

The aluminum rigging parts that Fisher is making now will be welded on the boat’s outriggers and he has been impressed by how the parts come off the machine “Going with ethanol as a coolant for these aluminum parts, they come off the machine and go straight to our welding – because the ethanol evaporates there’s no post work to be done to them. They’re just clean and ready to be welded. That’s a huge time saver.”

Custom fixture seated on the bed of the DATRON MLCube using a conical system that ensures position and repeatability.
Custom fixture seated on the bed of the DATRON MLCube using a conical system that ensures position and repeatability.

But aluminum is not the only metal that Hudson will be cutting on the DATRON machine and Fisher comments on additional plans, “We’ll be bringing in titanium as well. With all of the carbon fiber parts, all of the metal components that go in them are titanium. Titanium’s not a fun metal to cut, but for one part that I’ve done so far on the DATRON I was running at 200-220 ipm which is
incredibly fast and I’m still dialing in the feeds and speeds.”

In order to optimize the program for the titanium part, Fisher consulted with DATRON Application Technician, Dann Demazure, and recalls, “DATRON’s application techs have been great and have sent me a lot of information to help in my effort to dial in the titanium parts. Dann did a ton of research for me. Since I didn’t have a lot of experience with it, it would have been hard to figure out without a lot of trial and error, but the DATRON guys always come through.”

This kind of relationship between operators and DATRON Applications Technicians is common and is generally initiated during the sales process and solidified during machine installation and training. That is the case with Fisher and Demazure and Fisher says, “We had 3 days of training with Dann Demazure, here at our facility and that’s really all it took, a couple days and we were ready to go. It was pretty mind blowing to have the machine land and the next day we were cutting parts.”

Hudson's Mechanical Engineering Technologist, Cam Fisher with the DATRON MLCube that has been critical to the company's innovation and its ability to bring a next-generation line of boats to market.
Hudson’s Mechanical Engineering Technologist, Cam Fisher with the DATRON MLCube that has been critical to the company’s innovation and its ability to bring a next-generation line of boats to market.

The initial installation included the integration of HSMWORKS which Hudson had purchased at the same time as the DATRON machine. Fisher comments on the ease of integration, “In addition to bringing in the DATRON we also brought in 3D CAM software which we had never used before. We were outsourcing everything, so even if we did a mold in house we were still outsourcing all of the programming. We went with HSMWORKS because we’re heavily SolidWorks-based here. The post that came with HSMWORKS for DATRON couldn’t be better. I was coming in a bit green with just some experience with 2D flat parts, but after running it for a little bit, I think I could train somebody else in 2 days to use this machine even if they’d never seen a DATRON before … or never even seen a CNC machine before. It’s THAT easy!”

Download DATRON MLCube Large Format Milling Machine Brochure

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 <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

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

Sign Engraving with CNC Machine, Including ADA Braille!

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

Since the equipment our company offers is ideal for sign engraving and processing flat sheet material, we’ve seen the inside of a good number of sign companies over the years. But, walking into Ellis & Ellis Sign Systems in Sacramento, CA becomes a different experience as soon as you pass through the lobby and corporate office of this family-owned business. That’s because the overall size of the place is impressive. Well, it has to be really, considering the work they do – this includes billboards, architectural signage, landmark signs, amusement park signs and even those dazzling neon jobs enticing patrons at the many casinos in Reno. They even made a 16-foot tall Tyrannosaurus Rex, a gigantic Frankenstein and a not so menacing (but still sizable) Curious George for Universal Studios.

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

But not everything they do at Ellis & Ellis is so big. Take for example the Braille required for way-finding signs and architectural signage. This is intricate work often done on smaller signs that must be ADA compliant for elements like position and tactile height. Braille can be produced using a variety of different processes. For example, Photopolymer Braille uses UV light and a chemical process to remove negative space material. In contrast, Route-in-Place with Raster Braille is a process where small acrylic beads are mechanically pressed into predrilled holes.

Sign Engraving with ADA Compliant Braille

Having tried both of these processes, Ellis & Ellis experienced significant obstacles as follows:

Photopolymer Braille: First and foremost, the Braille was not completely round and was, therefore, subject to ADA liability. They also found the necessary raw materials to be expensive. Ellis & Ellis Director of Manufacturing, Bill Rogers, explained, “The excessive costs of the materials were compounded by costs associated with the human labor required for processing and finishing.”

Route-in-Place with Raster Braille: Similar to Photopolymer Braille, Ellis & Ellis found that additional human labor was required for finishing in the Raster Braille process because of the excessive glue that remains after tactile copy is placed and engraved. Bill Rogers said, “Additionally, the alcohol, solvents and cleaning products would cause crazing to occur on the acrylic beads which often shattered them.” Plus, they found this process to be limited in terms of surface finish possibilities.

Eventually, Ellis & Ellis decided to research other processes and equipment to produce the intricate ADA compliant Braille they needed to manufacture these way-finding signs. Ultimately, they decided on a DATRON M8 high-speed machining center after demonstrations proved that the machine was not only capable of producing spot-on Braille, but could also perform many other functions – thereby adding flexibility to their shop floor. (See aluminum and acrylic letters at bottom of Blog).

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

Plus, there were other factors involved in their decision. Rogers said, “Well clearly floor space in California has a premium cost associated with it and the DATRON’s footprint fit nicely into the small enclosed space that we designated for this process.” He added, “With the small footprint, it’s amazing that this machine provides such a large work envelope.”

Sign Engraving CNC Machine for Batch Machining

In fact, the DATRON M8 (as well as the newer M8Cube) has a 40” x 32” machining table made of solid polymer concrete that provides exceptional rigidity delivering the accuracy that Ellis & Ellis needs. The large work envelope is not diminished by the 15-station automatic tool changer located at the back of the table. This covered pneumatic unit includes a tool-length sensor which allows Ellis & Ellis to monitor tool life as a means of maintaining a high level of quality. In many cases, the signs that they manufacture are produced in batches and the tool length sensor helps in allowing them to run these parts unattended. Here’s how it works. Within the machine’s control software is a macro program that can be set up to run a tool check after executing a number of lines of code. For instance, a tool check macro can initiate a check after every 500 lines of code. This is known as an “if/then” statement, in other words, “Measure this tool; if the length is shorter than the listed parameter, then change the tool.” As a result, if a tool becomes dull in the middle of running a batch of signs, it is replaced automatically even if the machine operator is not present. This helps to maintain quality and minimize waste.

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

However, running batches of signs, whether unattended or with the operator present, requires the ability to accommodate and fixture sheet material from which the individual signs are milled. So, Ellis & Ellis was pleased to find that DATRON manufactures their own vacuum table workholding. In the case of their M8 machine, the vacuum chuck is affectionately known as a QuadraMate due to its four independently activated 12” x 18” segments – which can also be simultaneously activated providing a full 24” x 36” of workholding.

Bill Rogers said, “The vacuum table combined with the machine’s integrated probe makes it so easy to set up a job – it’s faster and takes out the element of human error.”

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

That’s because once the operator sets the material on the table, even if it is not situated perfectly straight, the probe takes measurements that compensate for that. In fact, even if there are irregularities in the material such as surface variance, the measurements are fed into the control software and the program is adjusted accordingly. Since Ellis & Ellis performs so much alphanumeric engraving and milling to produce their signs, this guarantees an even depth of those characters even if the material topography is not consistent. According to Rogers, “All of this equates to more efficiency, higher quality, less waste and ultimately cost reduction.”

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

The machining center itself is not the only area where DATRON has helped Ellis & Ellis add efficiency to their operation — and Bill Rogers says that they have become quite a proponent of DATRON solid carbide cutting tools. “We saw the exceptional performance of DATRON tools being used with the DATRON machine in terms of cut quality and tool life, so we decided that we’d give them a try on some of our larger machines.” Those larger machines include MultiCam CNC Routers, and as they anticipated, the DATRON tools did, in fact, improve the performance of those larger machines. Bill said, “In terms of tool life, we’re looking at an improvement of about 3 to 1 which is a big cost saving over time.”

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

In addition to using DATRON tooling with the MultiCams, they also decided to try DATRON’s coolant with these routers and that too helped to impact cutting quality.

Bill Rogers said, “Staying competitive means trying new things, new technology, and always looking for ways be more efficient.” To that end, Bill and his team are frequent visitors at the DATRON Technology Center in Livermore, CA. According to Rogers, “DATRON has informal events like TechDay at their facility where we can go see advancements in the technology. I can always count on their guys to get us the answers we need. It’s a great partnership.”

Download DATRON M8Cube Brochure:

Rapid Prototyping: Subtractive vs. Additive

Additive vs subtractive rapid prototyping may be a matter of knowing which process best suits your needs since both have their place

With additive manufacturing and 3D printers being such a hot topic these days, it’s important to remember why subtractive processes like milling are still incredibly important to rapid prototyping. But first, let’s examine some of the benefits and limitations of additive rapid prototyping (or direct digital manufacturing).

Benefits of Additive Rapid Prototyping

The process of additive rapid prototyping joins and fuses materials like liquid resins together, layer upon layer to produce a 3D object from model data. Additive rapid prototyping is generally simple, relatively inexpensive and fast. Additive rapid prototyping also allows for a substantial amount of complexity within cavities or internal areas of a part that would require undercuts and may even be impossible with subtractive processes like milling.

Limitations of Additive Rapid Prototyping

The primary drawback of additive rapid prototyping is that the resulting part usually is not made of an end-use material like metal … and even if it is, it lacks structural integrity. That’s because the point where one layer is joined to another lacks the physical strength exhibited by a solid block of the same material (with no layers or joints).

Subtractive Rapid Prototyping with End-Use Materials

Subtractive rapid prototyping provides the ability to prototype in end-use materials. Since milling or machining removes material from a larger piece of material, the finished part has a solid composition rather than a layered composition as seen in additive rapid prototyping with 3D printers. This yields a higher structural integrity which is critical if the prototype part is to be used in product testing. Product testing with a part made through subtractive prototyping allows for an accurate analysis of the part’s viability and even durability since it is made from the same material that will be used to manufacture production parts.

A Wider Range of Surface Finishes and Textures with Subtractive Prototyping

Subtractive rapid prototyping processes also offer a wider range of surface finishes for the completed prototype as opposed to the standard “stepped finish” often achieved in additive rapid prototyping with a 3D printer. This could range from a completely smooth surface with a mirror-like finish to ones with milled or engraved textures. In this way, subtractive rapid prototyping with a high speed CNC milling machine is capable of producing prototype parts with a repeatability suitable for end-use production. The smooth surface finish that can be achieved with high-speed machining can be functionally beneficial if the given part needs to slide and aesthetically beneficial if the prototype is going to be used in market testing.

Additive Rapid Prototyping vs. Subtractive Rapid Prototyping

To illustrate the points made above, we asked our applications engineers to quickly prototype a part using both additive and subtractive processes. Since our favorite after-hours (wink, wink) past time is foosball, they decided to make a “replacement” foosball man for testing. This decision was based on an actual real-life need – since we had recently broken one of the men that came with our vintage 1985 foosball table. Using additive rapid prototyping (3D printing), they were able to design a very rudimentary foosball man in about 90 minutes. From there, they began printing and in just over an hour the part seen below was complete.

 

Additive rapid prototype made with a 3D printer to compare to a similar subtractive rapid prototype made with a high speed milling machine.
Additive rapid prototype made with a 3D printer shows the typical stepped finish indicative of this process.

 

Using subtractive rapid prototyping (high-speed milling) programming the part took substantially longer and clocked in at 3 hrs. 45 minutes. However, milling the part below was considerably faster than 3D printing and took 28 minutes.

 

Subtractive rapid prototyping processes like machining tend to offer more flexibility in terms of surface finish as well as the ability to prototype in end-use materials that are superior for product testing.
Subtractive rapid prototype showing a smooth surface finish and a solid composition that delivered greater functionality.

 

Product Testing an Additive Rapid Prototype vs. a Subtractive Rapid Prototype

Well, you knew we had to “test” the part right? So, in a series of 4 rather heated games using each prototype, here’s what we found. In terms of functionality and durability, the subtractive prototype was the clear winner. Not only did it last through the 4 games, the solid composition of the part made for stronger shots with high velocity. Plus, it clearly would hold up for hundreds of more games. By comparison, the 3D printed part began to show signs of delamination on its right side half way through game 3 — and by the game 4 we had to mend it with a bit of scotch tape to get through the rest of our “product testing”. The damage to the part revealed the inside composition of the 3D printed part as seen below.

 

Additive rapid prototyping using 3D printing can be fast, but less functional in terms of product or market testing due to both aesthetics and their non-solid composition.
Cross section of 3D printing prototype shows internal construction.

 

The rather hollow nature of this part shined a bit of light on why we couldn’t achieve strong shots using this foosball man. In analyzing the resulting surface finish on both parts, we felt that the subtractive prototype was … well, simply more attractive. Plus, the milling process provided more flexibility to achieve different surface finishes. For example, we were able to make the majority of the subtractive prototype very smooth while giving the foot section a more textured finish for added “grip” or ball control. By contrast, the inherent “stepped” surface finish on the additive prototype served well in terms of ball control … but wasn’t very attractive over the entire part.

The Ultimate Subtractive Rapid Prototyping CNC Machine:

Last year’s introduction of the DATRON neo compact high-speed milling machine makes subtractive rapid prototyping more affordable and viable than ever. Plus it’s compact size and touchscreen operation make it easy to use and easy to fit in the tightest “lab-type” environment. To learn more download the brochure by filling out the form below:

AUTODESK Fusion 360 CAM Challenge – DATRON’s Adrian Montero Wins Best Surface Finish

Fusion 360 CAM Challenge won by DATRON's Adrian Montero using a DATRON neo high speed milling machine.

When an Autodesk Fusion 360 Product Manager put out a “key chain challenge” to see who could produce the best quality sample part, many CNC machinists on social media took note and got right to work.

Fusion 360 part being programmed with Autodesk Fusion 360 CAM software by Datron's Adrian Montero.
Fusion 360 Part being programmed by DATRON Application Technician, Adrian Montero.

Appropriately named the AUTODESK Fusion 360 CAM Challenge, participants were asked to produce a Fusion logo made into a key chain.  Autodesk supplied all participants with the same file in their software. There were only 3 requirements to the Autodesk Fusion 360 CAM Challenge:

  • Use Autodesk Fusion 360 to program
  • Take a photo of yourself programming the part
  • Supply a photo of the final end product
Fusion 360 CNC milling performed on DATRON neo high speed machining center.
Fusion 360 CNC milling challenge on DATRON neo, compact high-speed mill.

All participants of the Autodesk Fusion 360 CAM Challenge were given 1 week to complete their sample parts and submit their photos. In that week 56 people participated and tagged 152 photos that were viewed by 129,000 people.

Fusion 360 CNC machining challenge won by Adrian Montero who used a DATRON neo high speed milling machine.
Original Fusion 360 key chain next to the one milled in acrylic on a DATRON neo by Adrian Montero.

DATRON Dynamics Application Technician, Adrian Montero won the Autodesk Fusion 360 CAM Challenge in the Category of Best Surface Finish. His part was machined on the DATRON neo, compact high-speed milling machine.

Learn more DATRON neo download the brochure:

Nameplate Manufacturer Calls DATRON Source of Efficiency

Nameplate milling and engraving at Willington Nameplate is performed with DATRON high speed milling machines

Willington Nameplate in Stafford Springs, CT manufactures metal engraved nameplates and Identification tags for a wide range of customers from aerospace and defense to Gillette Stadium – they actually produced all of the seat tags for “Casa de Brady”. Their metal nameplates and ID tags are made from a range of materials including aluminum, brass and stainless steel.

Willington Nameplate was founded over 50 years ago by Marcel Goepfert and day-to-day operations have been run by his son, Mike Goepfert, since 1990. Since that time, there have been many changes and a lot of growth. This includes a critical decision in 1999 to purchase their first DATRON high-speed milling machine.

Nameplate milling including control panels, data plates and dials is performed at Willington Nameplate on their DATRON high speed machining centers.
Nameplate milling at Willington Nameplate includes control panels, data plates and dials.

Willington Nameplate’s Fabrication Group Leader, Jamie Vale Da Serra, recounts this story saying that, “Prior to installing the DATRON machine we used a manual kick process.” He goes on to say, “We needed to get away from that process because we needed a tolerance higher than .005”. Vale Da Serra refers to the DATRON milling machine as a “set it and forget it” piece of equipment that runs unattended freeing up staff to attend to other tasks.

Nameplate engraving and milling at Willington Nameplate is performed on DATRON high speed milling machines that can run unattended.
Nameplate machining by Willington Nameplate is optimized by DATRON features like vacuum chuck workholding, probing and automatic tool change – resulting in their ability to run this machine unattended.

Quick job setup and the ability of the DATRON machine to run unattended are the result of a number of integrated features – all operating in concert. This starts with integrated vacuum table or vacuum chuck technology that allows the operator to quickly setup the workpiece – for nameplates this is generally sheet material such as aluminum, stainless steel or Metalphoto®.  An integrated probe for part location and measurement also speeds up job setup and enables uniformity by automatically compensating for material irregularities like surface variance. An automatic tool changer with an integrated tool-length sensor provides a full stable (and wide variety) of necessary tooling that can automatically be changed at given intervals and/or when a tool is broken.

Nameplate machining by Willington Nameplate is done with their DATRON CNC mills and produces labels, tags and UID marked nameplates.
Willington’s nameplate machining yields labels, ID tags and UID marked tags.

Vale Da Serra says, “Consistency is there with the DATRONs from the first to the last they all measure the same, whereas with the manual process human error is possible that could give you a deviation.”

The growth at Willington Nameplate is not limited to adding DATRON machines, the company has recently purchased three other companies in New England, thereby expanding sales by 35% in five years. With a staff of more than 80 people, Willington Nameplate has now set their sights on additional acquisitions elsewhere in the United States.

Learn more about Nameplate Production download the White Paper: