CNC spindle repair or replacement? The answer might be neither. The way I see it, DATRON has a better solution in the form of a Spindle Exchange Program and I’d like to use this Blog to explain how it works.
CNC Spindle Repair is Time Consuming & Spindle Replacement is Expensive!
I think it is safe to say the spindle is the heart of a CNC milling machine. It “keeps the blood pumping” or at least the chips flying. Without a spindle, your machine is down … and a down machine often means precious time and money is being wasted. The money that’s being wasted is money you already made plus money that you could be making if your machine was cranking out parts. So, it’s critical to get it back up and running. What are your options? Your first option is to purchase a new one – an expensive endeavor ranging between $14k and $24K. Yikes! Your second option is to send it out for spindle repair, which will cause longer downtime due to lengthy repair lead-times. That’s why DATRON developed a Spindle Exchange Program.
CNC Spindle Exchange is Efficient & Cost Effective
This program is designed to lower spindle cost and lead-time all at once! Instead of receiving a brand new spindle, you will receive a refurbished spindle that was repaired and refurbished by the spindle OEM. The pricing is significantly less than a brand new spindle and best or all you can get your machine up and running within a day. The spindle that you return to DATRON is referred to as a “core.” The core must be returned to DATRON so the exchange cycle can keep moving. You will often see a “core charge” on your order – this charge will ONLY be invoiced if the core is not returned to DATRON. It’s our way of tracking the faulty spindle in our system.
The Spindle Exchange Program is a great option for spindle replacement, particularly when you are in a bind for time. Here at DATRON, we understand that when a machine is down, it is critical to get it up and running again. The DATRON Spindle Exchange is the best way to get the machine’s heart pumping again … and the chips flying.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
Not even a year out of college, and I’m working for a CNC manufacturer and serve as an ambassador to a university makerspace??? Don’t get me wrong, I’m both grateful and happy about this, but sometimes “I think, how did I get here?” Since I just returned from a meeting with that makerspace, I decided that I’d retrace my footsteps and blog about it for anyone who might find my path to this position an interesting story.
So, how did I find my way to a University Makerspace and then a CNC Machine Company?
When applying to colleges during my senior of high school, like many other students, I found it difficult to create a vision of what my future would be like. I was unable to picture myself outside of the brick walls of my high school and the borders of my hometown. Since I’m a New Hampshire resident, I decided to apply to the University of New Hampshire’s Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics. Even though I didn’t have a clear direction, I knew that a foundation in business would be useful in almost any pursuit.
I am forever grateful for UNH and the Paul College for accepting me into an incredible program that gave me the tools to become the professional business women I am today. In my senior year, I was looking for a second internship to wrap up my undergraduate education. An amazing opportunity in the marketing department of the UNH InterOperability Lab (UNH IOL), was presented to the marketing majors of Paul College. I jumped at the opportunity and successfully landed the position. The experience gained from the UNH IOL contributed to my qualifications and resulted in an offer to join the DATRON Dynamics, Inc. team as their Marketing Assistant after my graduation in May.
As an 18-year-old freshman back in 2013, if you told me that I would someday intern at an InterOperability Lab and then work for a CNC Milling Machine Distributor, I probably would have laughed in your face and definitely would have had a couple of questions. One, what does interoperability mean? And two, what is a CNC machine?
Why should a University Makerspace consider DATRON neo?
Yet, here I am and I have just returned from a visit to my alma mater and a meeting at the UNH IOL where they have just installed one of my company’s CNC machines to add capabilities to the university makerspace. In fact, it’s not just a machine, it is our newest machine, the DATRON neo, and one that has revolutionized the machining industry.
In fact, this machine is ideal for a makerspace and users who have no prior machining experience because it is entirely touch-screen controlled through app-based software kind of like using a smartphone. Aside from adding capabilities to the makerspace, we are confident that it will generate enthusiasm, spark innovation and add efficiency to the lab. Since this visit served sort of as a launch of the machine, our version of christening it (rather than smashing a bottle of champagne on the gantry) was to present the group with a custom longboard that was made on another one of our CNC machines, the M8Cube.
It was good to be back on campus at UNH and I am not surprised that UNH chose the DATRON neo to provide their students another resource to expand their knowledge and experience. This was an investment to broaden the educational borders of all UNH students. The university makerspace area is a student-run organization that offers inclusion and encourages all students – men and women – from all colleges and programs to come together to develop projects that are meaningful to them. The lab currently houses a laser cutter and engraver, 3D printers, a vinyl cutter, electronic tools and now, a DATRON neo. The entire DATRON team is excited for students to produce projects on the DATRON neo and to hear reports of how instrumental the machine has been in their projects
Get involved in a great University Makerspace at UNH
The final question you may have is, how can you get involved? No matter your college or your major, the university makerspace and its equipment is available to you. All students are encouraged to bring their educational or personal projects to the space to collaborate on solutions and ways to finish the projects effectively. You truly do not need a certain background to gain value out of using the machines. If you have an idea and you are driven, you are more than capable of learning how to use the machines, especially the DATRON neo. Check it out here: https://www.unh.edu/ecenter/makerspace
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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%.“
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.”
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.”
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.”
Download DATRON High-Speed Machining Center Catalog
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
Workpiece setup has come a long way in the CNC world. Edge finders and wigglers were once commonplace in every machine shop, but nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find any current-generation machinist using one. Touch probes have become the norm, be it an electronic Renishaw unit or a more basic Haimer dial indicator. But make no mistake, there is still a lot of skill involved in using these tools properly. Ask anyone in the trade and they can quickly tell you why graphics like this are around:
So does workpiece setup go from here? This is a question that DATRON has been answering for many years (see video below). It started many years back by integrating the probe as a Z-axis accessory, instead of a separate tool all together, and including a comprehensive probing utility in the software that made 3D-probing functions easy. Macros could easily be assembled by even the most plebian user to create fully automated solutions. The goal to make probing easier for everyone, without sacrificing functionality, is just getting started.
Camera for Workpiece Setup
But for DATRON, advancements for workpiece setup don’t end with probing. There is another accessory that is quite uncommon on most CNC machines: a camera. The common use for a camera in a CNC machine is to serve as a visual edge-finder, so-to-speak. Move your machine to a camera offset, and use it as a “bombsight”. This is especially useful in the graphics industry, where you can print a crosshair on the outer perimeter of your piece to quickly line things up.
However, this solution still lacks something – automation. Using a camera requires the user to pay very close attention to all the details in order to succeed. This gave way to DATRON Vision. By collaborating with MVTec Halcon, DATRON was able to create a solution for automated vision system in a CNC process.
There are several applications where using automated vision is critical. Apart from the aforementioned graphics industry, the most prevalent of them is the electronics industry. Being able to utilize the fiducial marks integrated onto a circuit board allows you to quickly register a part for milling or rework – something that no probe can touch (pun intended). Functionality is integrated so that two fiducials could be used to quickly determine a parts rotation about its zero point, which allows for a highly accurate and repeatable process.
Camera & Probe Combo for Workpiece Setup
As much as I love this tool, it is a bit of a niche product – only applying to certain applications. Though, the R&D department at DATRON AG saw the potential for more. By cleverly integrating a camera and a touch probe as standard features on the DATRON neo milling machine, DATRON pushed camera integration to the next level. Combining the functionality of the camera for workpiece recognition, as well as utilizing swipe gestures on the Next control’s touch screen allow for easy, seamless part probing that can be mastered by anyone, machinist or not, in a matter of minutes.
And voila! Machine Vision for the masses. Where does workpiece setup go from here? Only time will tell, but you can be certain that DATRON is focused on the task.
Learn More about the DATRON neo Machine with Integrated Camera & Probe for Easy Workpiece Setup:
I’ve had the distinct honor of working closely with a large company over the past few months to develop a highly-automated system for creating roll marking dies. Before I continue, you might be saying “what’s a roll marking die?”
What is a Roll Marking Die?
A marking die (roll or otherwise) is used to stamp information onto parts during the manufacturing process. They are used in all kinds of industries – from hardware and firearms to automotive. When a company needs their logo, part code and traceability code embossed on every part going out the door, but engraving or laser marking take too long, roll marking is the way to go.
Using High-Speed Milling to Produce Marking Dies
A big emphasis for this customer was in creating very small features, some less than 0.010”. There are a few features about DATRON that work especially well with creating dies like this that I’d like to share with you.
1. High RPM – When you’re working with extremely smaller letters, you work with even smaller tools. As the tip size of your tool drops, your SFM (surface feet per minute) drops accordingly. This can become a real issue once you need to utilize a “zero tipped” engraver since a tool that comes to a fine point and has virtually no SFM. This is where having a 60,000 RPM spindle comes in handy and can be very helpful. Being able to utilize all that RPM helps to keep the tip from getting overloaded and will prolong its life.
2. Proper tooling – Strangely enough, a good old-fashioned split shank engraver is the tool of choice in this arena, with some minor caveats. These tools work well with high-RPM engraving due in part to their ability to properly evacuate a chip. Also, be certain to spec a tool that has the correct cutting angles for the material you are working in, otherwise, the tool probably won’t last very long.
3. Minimize Runout / Vibration – When you’re tooling up for a job like this, take some time to inspect your collets/tool holders. If you are using an adaptor ring, double check that it is not introducing too much runout. If you don’t check, you will ultimately see the problem in the lack of clarity in the part. Also, ensure that the engravers you order have a short split shank, otherwise they may vibrate excessively at high RPM which will also lead to a poor finish.
4. High precision – When you are making letters and numbers that are only as high as two human hairs stacked together, you may want to consider dialing in your settings. Start by setting your cut tolerance in your CAM software to a tighter value (go overboard – don’t be afraid to set it at 0.0001”). Then set your machine values to match: Dynamics 1 and Contour Smoothing at 1.2x your cut tolerance.
5. Warmup your spindle – This is standard procedure, DATRON or not, but consider running an extended warmup to get your spindle thermally stable. This will mitigate the effects of thermal expansion during long periods of milling. Run a 5-10 minute warmup cycle at the peak RPM in your program. When that’s complete, measure all your tools, then get to work.
This Blog just scratches the surface in the world of marking dies, but with some thoughtful implementation of these recommendations, you’ll be leaving your mark in no time.
Learn More: DATRON M8Cube for Marking Die Production
If you ask any DATRON application technician what their favorite cutting tool is, there’s a high probability that you’ll get this answer: The Monoblock Cutting Tool (aka. the Monoblock).
In our world of high RPM spindles, the Monoblock cutting tool is King. Co-Developed with industry leaders Big-Kaiser, the Monoblock is a 20mm, double-flute, indexable insert cutter, and is a tool of many talents.
What Sets the Monoblock Cutting Tool Apart?
1. Rigid design – The Monoblock cutting tool is different from our standard tooling in that there is no shank to clamp on – the tool and tool holder are one. By integrating the HSK-E25 taper into the tool itself, a very robust tool is provided.
2. Vibration free – Not only is it tough, but this clever design also allows for extremely minimal vibration, even at its recommended limit of 36,000 RPM! This allows for very smooth operation even under heavy load.
3. Clever cutter geometry – The cutting inserts have been engineered to provide a perfect all-around performer. A large edge radius and wiper flat provide excellent floor finish, while high radial and axial rake angles allow for lower cutting resistance for more efficient roughing.
4. Cost efficiency – The inserts for the Monoblock cutting tool come in two varieties – polished carbide for milling of plastics or non-ferrous metals, as well as specially treated inserts for milling of steel. Either way, the inserts are engineered to last, and can even be flipped 180 degrees for an entire second round of punishment. Once the inserts are depleted, simply replace them both and carry on.
What Can You Do With The Monoblock Cutting Tool?
The question should be “What can’t you do with the Monoblock?”
Face milling – Combining three excellent characteristics: edge radius, wiper flat, and vibration free operation, results in some of the smoothest possible floor finishes.
Ramp/Helix milling – While the Monoblock isn’t center cutting (no straight plunging) you can accommodate a 3-5 degree ramp angle. Pair this with the high feed/speed capabilities of the DATRON and you can make quick work of most features.
Roughing – The previously mentioned cutter geometry allows for very aggressive depths of cut at very high feed rates, as can be seen clearly in one of our well-known demonstration videos. In this instance, a very heavy stepover was utilized (80% of tool diameter) with a smaller depth of cut (around 8% of tool diameter). You can also choose to utilize the entire 10mm of cutting flute to boost efficiency as seen in my Instagram post:
3D contouring – Since the edge radius on the Monoblock cutting tool is rather sizable (0.8mm) it can serve as a bull-nose cutter for doing some large scale 3D contours – and since the tool is rock-steady, the surface finish comes out gorgeous.
So, there you have it. Now you can understand why the Monoblock cutting tool is the King in the house of DATRON.
4 Ways to Ensure Consistent Depth of Cut (even on surfaces that are anything but flat): As far as your CNC is concerned, the world is all sunshine and roses: your cutting tool never deflects or wears, your fixture is rigid and free of vibration, and the surface of your workpiece is perfectly flat. However, those of us with gray matter here in the real world, know that the truth of the situation is anything but perfect – tools wear, fixtures flex, and that surface you’re about to cut is about as flat as the good Earth itself.
The video above explains it all! Video courtesy of #rapiddtm – visit them on Facebook!
Here at the DATRON blog, we’ve talked a bit about how to wrangle in tool deflection, and we’ve shared some tips about best practices for workholding. Today, we’re going to cover a few tricks you can use to maintain a consistent depth of cut when engraving, marking or milling surfaces that aren’t exactly the poster child of flatness.
Defining Flatness: Simply put, the term “flatness” is used to describe an area between two parallel lines within which a surface must lie. This specification will often work in conjunction with other dimensional call outs on the print to describe the range of possible locations of a given surface:
As you may or may not have realized by now, no surface is perfectly flat – indeed very few surfaces even come close to perfect flatness – and when it comes to manufactured parts, flatness costs money. So, if it doesn’t have to be flat, or if the print doesn’t define it as flat, you have to assume that it really isn’t flat. Depending on what you need to do to a particular surface, it’s flatness (or lack thereof) will need to play a key role in your milling strategy.
Consistent Depth of Cut Method 1: Qualify the Surface
If you are able to do so, qualifying the surface is far and away the easiest and most sure-fire way to make sure that the surface you’re about to work on is reasonably flat and true. Qualifying a surface is just fancy machinist talk for face milling the entire surface, taking off a few thousandths at a time until the whole surface is reasonably uniform in terms of flatness. A qualification pass is often the first step you will see when watching a milling process on a shop floor or online and this is for a number of reasons, not least of which is to ensure flatness of the surface in question.
When starting with a piece of billet or raw stock, qualifying a surface is almost always an option and in general is just good machinist practice. Sometimes, however, qualifying the surface simply is not an option – such as when working with die cast material, a forging, or with otherwise completed parts that simply need marking or serialization. In these cases, a different strategy will need to be employed in order to achieve a good result.
Consistent Depth of Cut Method 2: Use of a Spring-Loaded Engraving Tool
If all you need to do is a basic engraving or part marking process, and your surface is a little “all over the map” a spring-loaded engraving tool may be just what the doctor ordered. Spring-loaded tools come in a few different varieties, with the most popular versions being a spring-loaded version of a traditional split shank engraving tool and a spring loaded “drag engraving bit”, also known as a “scribe” tool.
Spring-loaded engraving tools incorporate a compressible mechanical system between the spindle interface and the cutting tool. These tool assemblies usually have anywhere from 0.20” to 0.40” of spring travel, so they can absorb a fairly dramatic change in Z height while still keeping a consistent downward pressure on the workpiece. Spring loaded engraving bits utilize a tipped split shank engraving tool and as such can produce a variety of engraving widths and depths. Drag engraving or scribe tools literally only are dragged across a surface and are not designed to incorporate a rotational element into the process. As a result, scribe tools a truly only a good fit for very shallow part marking.
While these tools will not be of much assistance when it comes to milling or drilling applications, they perform very well for shallow to moderate depth part marking. However, there are some drawbacks to this type of tool: a common shank size for these tools is ¾”, which may be too large for some spindles. Also, since these tools are a mechanical assembly they are usually limited to 10,000 RPM max. This limitation may force you to slow your feed rate down, increasing your cycle time.
So, if you need to tool up to serialize a thousand cast aluminum parts, a spring-loaded tool will likely get the job done. However, if you are planning on completing a milling or drilling process, or if the job requires a deep, wide, or intricate/high-quality engraving, you may need to turn to other methods to get the job done.
Consistent Depth of Cut Method 3: Use of a Touch Probing System to Map an Irregular Surface
Depending on what type of milling machine you have at your disposal, use of a probing system to touch off on the workpiece a number of times to “map” the surface may be possible. Surface mapping by way of a touch probe can be one of the faster, more elegant solutions to this problem – as it uses the technology within the CNC machine to compensate for irregularities in the Z height of the workpiece. This means you can really limit the introduction of new variables in your process and just stick with your tried and true cutting tools, fixturing, and feeds/speeds.
Surface mapping via touch probing usually involves giving the machine several basic details about what you wish to probe: size of the probe area, pitch of the probing grid, and so on. From there the machine will touch off on the workpiece as many times as is necessary to probe the specified area to the desired grid pitch. Once the touch probing cycle is complete, the machine control will take the cut file that has been programmed to be cut on a flat 2D surface and modify it with the variation in Z of the workpiece that was found during the probing cycle. This way, when the cutter goes about the process of milling or engraving on the surface, it’s depth will vary automatically so you get a consistent depth of cut regardless of variation in the Z height of the surface.
Not all CNC machines offer touch probing, and surface mapping isn’t always an option when they do. But if your machine has probing and surface mapping it’s not a bad idea to get familiar with it – you never know when it might come in handy.
Consistent Depth of Cut Method 4: CMM Surface Mapping and Image Projection in CAM
When all else fails … when you can’t qualify the surface, when a spring-loaded tool won’t do what you need and your CNC machine doesn’t have touch probing, when you have a CMM laying around that’s available for use and you don’t mind doing a bunch of CAM work, there is an option of last resort.
Photo above courtesy of #rapiddtm – visit them on Facebook!
Using a CMM to map a surface in order to compensate for height irregularity is very similar to doing so on the CNC machine itself – however without the luxury of having the mapping, milling and NC integrated into one, the process becomes much more labor intensive.
This process is involved enough that an entire article could easily be written for this alone. In an effort to be concise I’ll reduce it down to a step-by-step summary:
1. Load the workpiece onto the CMM
2. Manually measure as many points as is necessary to realize the full surface variability within the working area
3. Export the resulting point cloud into your CAD software
4. Create splines linking the measured points to create a 3D surface map
5. Export 3D surface map to CAM software
6. Project artwork / milled features onto the 3D surface
7. Generate needed tool paths and post the cut file out to your CNC
8. Load workpiece onto CNC and run the part
To be clear: this process would need to be repeated 100% for each and every part run. As you can likely tell, having to use this method could easily take a job that would be done start-to-finish in about a day using touch probing in the machine, and stretch it out to take several days – simply due to the tedious nature of having to use a CMM to map the surface.
Nothing in this world is perfect – but the ability to manage imperfections to produce a good result no matter what is one of the things that separates good machinists from great ones. I hope the methods described in this post will give you an advantage next time you’re faced with a workpiece that looks more like a potato chip than a pancake.