My son had just graduated from Cubs and gone onto Scouts when I was introduced to his new Scout Troop during a camping trip at Pawtucaway State Park in New Hampshire. I volunteered to assist with a weekend outing and thought it would be a great experience, spend time with my son and meet the troop he just joined. I was not expecting that I would learn some valuable leadership skills that would impact how I manage my business today.
Soon after we arrived, I was told by the parental leaders to set my tent up over in this flat area by some Birch trees. My son will set-up camp with the other scouts on top of a hill, a few hundred yards away. I asked if I should help my son out and they said, “he will be fine, the other kids will show him what he needs to do to get set-up”. So, reluctantly I proceeded to pitch my tent and get organized while my nine-year old trudged up the steep hill with all his gear to the other site.
After a few hours of conversing with some of the parents, I broke away and climbed the challenging hill to see how my son was doing. He was in the middle of cleaning and peeling some potatoes that was assigned to him and was getting ready to help cook dinner. He had his tent pitched, his sleeping gear all set-up and was very quick to point out to me that he was fine, and that I should join the other parents. I was quite amazed to see this since when I wasn’t even sure he knew how to make a bed, let alone peel a potato. So, I worked my way down the hill to the other parents.
A little while later I asked the parents during our dinner what the plans were that night. I was surprised to find out that we would just be doing our own thing and the kids were left on their own. They all knew how to chop wood, build a fire, make dinner, wash the dishes, clean-up and safely shut down the site for the night. I asked should we not go up make sure everything is okay, to which they replied with a slight chuckle, “they will call us if they need help, but they rarely do”. I said I was very impressed how responsible and knowledgeable the kids all were to which the Head Scout Master stated “When we took over the troop a few years ago, we all decided we would invest a lot of time into the kids, so that they would become self-sufficient. This was the only way they could truly learn how to camp. The investment really paid off. Now when we arrive, we really don’t have to do anything. They know what to do and we only help if there is an emergency. Today it is at a point, we have taught the older experienced scouts how to train the new scouts. The troop essentially runs itself with only some minor guidance.”
After the weekend was over, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to spend more time with my son, but I did however learn a very valuable life lesson as a leader. Invest time into your employees! Mentor them, train them, share your experiences, give them the tools they need to do their job and the dividends will be exponential. If you must stop your business and run up that hill every time there is a problem that needs to be resolved, then you are choking your business and doing your employees a disservice. Empower them, let them show you how to get the job done and you will be amazed with the results you will achieve. A business cannot grow and be healthy if the leaders at the top make all the decisions and do all the work. It demotivates your employees, your customers will feel it and it will affect your bottom line.
Today when we go camping as a family, my 19-year old son shows me a lot of tricks and techniques that I would have never known, including how to cook an 18-pound turkey in a tinfoil oven.
Hytech provides solutions for thermoforming, embossing and trimming thin film plastics. Their focus is primarily on thin film plastic parts requiring precise graphic registration. There are also non-graphic applications where the Hytech forming processes provide benefits over other traditional forming processes. Their patented technologies are utilized by OEMs in the Automotive, Appliance, Medical,Aerospace and Military industries.
Developing Patented Processes & Advancing Thermoforming and Match Metal Trim Dies
But the forming of this industry leader was not a straight line or the execution of an entrepreneur’s finely-crafted business plan − and that’s what makes this such an interesting story. When the company was founded in 1980 the primary focus was on selling patented hydro form embossing equipment. The first machines were sold to nameplate and membrane switch manufacturers. One of their big customers was the Rogers corporation in Phoenix, AZ. At the time, Rogers was a really big electronics company who did automation for circuit boards and electronics assembly and one of their customers was Coleco. Through Rogers, the owners of Hytech got wind of a problem with the Coleco Baseball Game which was a hand-held game (precursor to a unit like the GameBoy) that simulated sports games with a series of LED lights. On that game, to advance the runner, the user pressed a tactile button that had a tactile dome underneath it that provided a snap and a response so that it would push the key back up. When those games were first launched, they had stamped out metal domes and users were getting damage to their thumbs and the domes were cracking and not lasting long.
Hytech asked Rogers why the dome wasn’t made out of plastic. They found out that nobody was making the dome out of plastic. So, the first thing they did was invent a specialized thermoforming technology for embossing a dome in polyester and proceeded to sell millions of these domes to the Rogers Corporation and then went on to sell tens of millions of them to Hewlett Packard for their line of financial or scientific calculators. The production advantages (compared to the metal domes) on parts like membrane switches is that you could lay down 100 plastic domes in a single sheet whereas with the metal domes you had to pick and place all 100 into the location.
When Hytech started to sell these dome layers to membrane switch makers, the membrane switch makers said, “This is really great, but I’m having problems embossing my overlays to go over your domes.” So, the Hytech founders invented another forming technology called hydroforming where they embossed the overlays. At that point, they had a technology for embossing the overlay of a membrane switch and they had a technology for embossing the tactile layer that goes beneath the overlay.
In the mid-90’s, the technology of in-mold decoration (IMD) or in-mold-labeling (IML) or film-insert molding (FIM) came along that takes a flat screen-printed plastic (typically polycarbonate) and forms it into the 3D shape of an injection mold. The decorative film is placed into the mold, the mold is injected, and when the mold opens, the part is decorated.
This coincided with the time when Hytech had the hydroforming and polydome processes. Customers came to them and asked them to emboss plastic for this new film-insert molding technology. They quickly found that neither of their processes were suitable for doing anything deeper than 1mm. The advantage of in-mold decoration is that you can do complex 3D parts with registered graphics. So, the founders, along with another newly hired engineer, developed Accuform − a high-pressure air-forming technology that allows them to do up to 50mm draw depth with registered graphics. Now, they can maintain the position, location, and size of different graphics over complex 3-dimensional surfaces.
This resulted in Hytech building parts for the IMD industry. They quickly found out that even though they could easily and continuously build the form tools, they struggled with building match-metal trim dies. At the time, nobody in the world built 3-dimensional match-metal cutting tools for thin-film plastics. So, Hytech had to develop that technology themselves.
Early on, they were outsourcing the hardened steel components to vendors who produced them with sinker EDMs. This led Hytech to believe that they needed to invest in a sinker EDM and bring the work in-house. So, along with the sinker EDM, they also invested in a wire EDM and all new software and started to build their own trim tools. As good as they got at the process, they knew that it would be much better if they could take another tenth off the perimeter of the hardened steel. They knew they couldn’t do it on their current machining centers because they couldn’t hold that kind of tolerance. Hytech CEO, Fred Himmelein, explains, “Over the years we got better and better and then maxed out at how much better we could get. We just couldn’t get the precision, the tenths that we wanted. We wanted to have a clearance between the mating hardened steel components of +/- .0003” but we just couldn’t get there with the sinker EDM and VMC equipment that we had. That’s what led us to DATRON.”
Researching Advanced Technologies for Thermoforming and the Perfect Surface Finish
The head of Hytech’s tool shop, Dave Blandino, did very thorough research and analysis of available machining centers and presented several different industry-leading solutions to the management team. Ultimately, it was decided that they would purchase a DATRON M10 Pro high-speed machining center. Himmelein reflects, “For a combination of reasons like precision, control software (NC programming), the cost of spindle maintenance, the support, and location of support, Dave broke it down to a matrix of about 10 or 12 elements, and it clearly showed us that DATRON was the right choice.”
But the choice to purchase the DATRON was not just based on this matrix. There was also a runoff or benchmarking process that each machine manufacturer had to complete – each producing the exact same part for a competitive comparison. While the ability to mill steel IMD applications was one of the parameters, surface finish for the forming side of their business was of paramount importance in this test. That’s because their high-pressure forming technology is so precise that any tool marks will be seen in the form sheet even if they have been sandblasted over. Himmelein explains, “You could look at a form core that we’re going to form over, it’s been sandblasted and it looks beautiful and the finish looks great, but when we form it, you’ll see a tool mark that you can’t believe.” At the time, a lot of the work they were doing was very precise 3-dimensional company logos over the top of a formed part. Clearly, the look of each logo was of great importance to the customer contracting them for the work. Himmelein elaborates, “Thatform part is the insert that goes into the injection mold. It’s a formed appliqué or film that goes into the injection mold and gets back molded so that when the mold opens the part is decorated. The cosmetics on these parts are absolutely critical and it’s as stringent a cosmetic requirement as exists in manufacturing.”
Hytech Tooling Manager, Dave Blandino, further explains their experience with the CNC vendors and the competitive benchmarking test, “We did some extensive research and gave several CNC manufacturers an opportunity to cut a part for us. I asked them to put a part in front of me that would sell their machine and nobody came close to the part that DATRON produced. I received parts from other machine tool manufacturers, and the quality did not meet my expectations. But within 2 weeks of sending DATRON the model, I flew to Germany, and not only was the hospitality great, but DATRON put a part in front of me that I really didn’t expect given the short timeframe. It was the best by far of what all the CNC vendors produced. When I came back to the States and showed the DATRON sample to the other vendors, they said, ‘Oh they polished this.’ and I said, ‘No they didn’t, that’s right off the machine!’ but they didn’t believe me. The fact is, we meticulously inspected each part on a RAM Optical comparator with 200+ magnification, so it’s not just what you see with your eyes or a magnifying glass. Our process shows everything and anything. In thermoforming, if you have even the slightest tool mark it’s going to show up in the film. So, it’s extremely critical to have the surface finish that the DATRON gives us.”
Aside from quality, there is a corresponding cost savings associated with eliminating secondary operations like handwork, sanding, and polishing and Himmelein credits DATRON with a resulting 90% reduction in hand time. There are also limitations to sanding as Blandino explains, “You can always do handwork with sandpaper, but when you have a tool that’s multiple cavity, you’re not going to sand the part the same way twice. If you have 15 to 20 cavities, you’re going to get variation and that variation translates into forming, trimming and molding. What we’re essentially doing is pulling the part off the DATRON and we’re not touching it and that’s our goal. The parts are ready to assemble into our tooling assemblies right off the machine. Sometimes a light bead blast texture is a customer requirement, but no sanding or polishing is needed.”
High Tolerance Required for Producing Match Metal Trim Dies (Stamping Dies)
So now, Hytech uses their wire EDM to make the A-side hardened steel component which represents their fixed tolerance. Then they fabricate the B-side hardened steel component which is the mating component to the A-side piece. They typically leave the die core between .0005” and .0008” heavy and they use the DATRON M10 Pro to take a tenth of at a time until it fits. Himmelein says, “This is where the DATRON really shines because we can do a tenth at a time relatively quickly, open the door leaving everything mounted and test our fit and if it’s not there, we close the door and run another tenth.”
The combination of the wire EDM and the DATRON machine has truly made the difference for Hytech Forming and they have become the global expert for 3-dimensional match metal trim dies for thin-film plastic.
Blandino explains, “We used to have to sub out these components to shops that had the equipment to be able to handle that and since we purchased the DATRON we brought all that work in-house. We’re doing light finish passes to hold tight tolerances on our heat-treated A2 steel parts. These parts are tooling components that we design and fabricate here. One of the visions of our company is trimming. We’re into thermoforming of thin-film plastics, but the other side of that is that we need to trim the plastic once it’s formed and these trimmed shapes have to fit exactly into the mold with tight tolerances of +/- a couple thousandths of an inch. But, in order for the trimming to actually occur, the tolerances of the components we machine have to be +/- a couple tenths of an inch. These are the components we’re using to build our trim dies with.”
Blandino also credits the DATRON technology with adding flexibility to their design process. “It’s allowed us also to design our tooling a lot more efficiently. Before, the only equipment we could use to maintain those tight tolerances was our EDM wire. Of course, the problem with EDM wire is that everything is not a through pocket. So, that limited our design flexibility because we had to design around that limitation. With the DATRON we’re able to design more freely and do things the way we wanted to do them.”
The DATRON M10 Pro has become so critical to the quality of their end product and Blandino says that they are reminded of this any time the DATRON is backlogged with work and they are forced to move work to other CNC equipment. “Even with the handwork, you can’t come close to the surface finish that we get on the DATRON. Plus, we’re maxed out on spindle speed at 15k 12k and 10k on the other CNC equipment, so we have to cut our feeds by a good 100%. Because of the spindle vibration and backlash on the ballscrew with our other machining centers, the finishing we have to do is heavy sanding. That’s why I’m really pushing for a second DATRON machine. We use the other machining centers as our ‘Op One machine’ where we rough all the meat off the back and all the non-critical surfaces. These machines handle that task well.”
Opening Doors to a New Revenue Stream and a 25% Increase in Annual Revenue
CEO, Fred Himmelein gives credit to DATRON for the quality it’s helped Hytech to deliver to a wide range of industries including automotive and aerospace. Himmelein is also impressed with the flexibility of the DATRON and the other ancillary processes that it’s impacted and improved since it was installed. For example, they have a project that they’ve been doing for a customer for a decade where they cut .25” acrylic with a CO2 laser which does a great job producing a beautifully polished edge. But, after a decade the customer decided that they wanted to switch materials and use polycarbonate to reduce the risk of damage to the parts through their lifecycle. Since .25” polycarbonate cannot be cut with a laser without it burning and presenting a health hazard, they had to find an alternative process. So, they did a test cut on the DATRON M10 Pro using a DATRON end mill that is specifically designed for milling acrylic. The result was a big win for both Hytech and their customer. The DATRON actually cut the parts out of polycarbonate faster than the laser had cut them out of acrylic, the surface finish was comparable, and the customer was able to switch to the preferred material.
The DATRON M10 Pro is compatible with a wide range of CAM software packages and Hytech has invested in several of them and has done extensive testing to maximize performance and surface finish. Blandino says, “We’ve probably done more software testing than most shops. We use the DATRON software’s contour smoothing, but it’s also a combination of the dynamics and the programming strategies that all contribute to a perfect surface finish. We’ve done some testing with different programming software including SolidCam, SOLIDWORKS, FeatureCAM, Fusion 360 and PowerMill and we’re comparing apples to apples with different cutters, speeds, and feeds. So, we use a combination of what the software has to offer combined with what DATRON has to offer, and we came up with a formula for the best surface finish you can achieve with 3-axis milling. Fusion has a really good post for DATRON and provides excellent surface finishes in conjunction with Dynamics and Contour Smoothing that the M10 has to offer. Currently, our primary CAM
solution lies with Autodesk. Testing is done continuously, and the DATRON compliments all software’s post processors extremely well.”
They have to be tight-lipped about it, but Hytech could tell us that they are just entering an existing industry with a new way of making components that requires extremely precise machining. Manufacturers within that industry actually came to Hytech because they have a photo of their DATRON M10 Pro on their website. During the latest round of test cuts for this industry, the part ran for over 200 hours. That’s because the part requires very small cutters taking a small stepover to do 3D contouring and can even go dozens of hours without a tool change. With the machine currently running 24/7 adding and additional M10 Pro is imminent. This new business is projected to result in a 25% increase in revenue for the company.
Over the past 30+ years Expographiq in Gatineau, Quebec Canada has designed and built cultural, corporate and branded experiences working with museums, marketing agencies, public institutions, government departments, exhibit and industrial designers, and charitable foundations across a wide spectrum of industries. Their custom displays are featured in many museums in Canada and the United States and the trade show booths that they’ve produced for their customers have been exhibited in cities around the world.
The company employs over 60 employees and houses an arsenal of equipment including flatbed printers, UV roll-to-roll printers, edge benders, table saws and drum sanders. The fabrication of many of the large-format graphics and panels that they produce involves cutting a wide variety of substrates often in the form of sheet material. So, in the late 1980’s they were the first company in their region to purchase a CNC machine. That machine was a gantry-style Cybermation that was originally designed for plasma cutting so it was extremely rigid and satisfied Expographiq’s need for industrial durability. In the early 2000’s they looked at an Axes CNC machine as a possible replacement for the 25-year-old Cybermation. However, when the Axes salesperson came to visit, he told them that the machining table on the Cybermation was much better than what the new Axes machine could offer. So, they decided to retrofit the Cybermation with two Axes machining heads. This kept the Cybermation going for another 5 years until the bearings finally went and they decided to replace it with an Italian-made Biesse CNC which was regarded as a great machine for woodworking. The Biesse has a 24,000 RPM spindle and an ample 5’ x 10’ table with 7” in Z travel making it well suited to milling sheet material.
Site Supervisor, Glenn Parent, who had been the operator of the Cybermation for 10 years before he moving to the installation side of the business, decided to come back to the machining side to run the Biesse. Logically, he chose to use the Onsrud cutting tools that had worked effectively on the Cybermation. However, he noticed that those tools were not performing well particularly when milling the plexiglass sheet material that was a common material selected by Expographiq’s graphic designers and 3D designers. To make up for the unsatisfactory milling results, they were using their staff in carpentry or graphics to flame polish the finished parts – and this secondary operation was costing them time and money.
So, Parent decided to research other tooling alternatives and a Google search brought up a DATRON video showing the milling of a bluish-green acrylic part (see above) with intricate detail and virtually glass-like surface finishes. He found out that DATRON offered an entire line of tools specifically designed for milling acrylic and he decided that despite the higher cost of the tools they were worth a try. He explains, “I started with a 6mm polished single flute end mill and it was just amazing. I was going through 5-6 per sheet of plexiglass and brand new the quality of the cut from the Onsrud tools is nowhere near the quality that I got from the DATRON tools … and I’m wasn’t even using coolant! So, I explained to management that even though the DATRON tools are double in price, I’ve been able to do as many as 76 4’ x 8’ sheets of plexiglass using the same router bit and the quality was almost as good from the first to last. With a ¼” Onsurd tool I would do 7-8 sheets of acrylic and then I’d have to change tools. The cut would not be nice at all, it would start bunching up and then melt.”
Aluminum is not used as much as acrylic in Expographiq’s designs, but the need to mill aluminum does come up frequently. Knowing that DATRON technology is designed for machining aluminum, the decision to use DATRON tools for his aluminum milling applications was logical. He says, “The aluminum router bits that I’ve gotten from DATRON are just out of this world. The edging is unbelievable, and the quality just speaks for itself. So now, I’m just playing around with RPM and speeds and I just love them. I will never go back. Again, they are more expensive, but they last 5 to 6 times longer and have a better-quality cut during their entire tool life than other tools.”
Parent is also pleased with the performance they’ve gotten from the Biesse CNC and notes that Expographiq was the first company to order the high-speed version of this machine. He elaborates, “I can do 60” per min feed rate which is really fast for woodworking. That was a 19mm router bit on ¾ inch plywood. We held it with two vacuum chucks and nothing moved. We do plexiglass letters, aluminum letters, HDPE (high-density polyethylene) and virtually any kind of material and I use the DATRON tools for almost all of it.”
In fact, Parent is so enthusiastic and experience with DATRON tools that he calls out part numbers from memory. “I go from 3mm or 6mm to 3/8” ½” and ¾” tools 78330E, 78360E, 68191E, Ball Mills (68406) and you’re the only ones who have extended tools like the 781035 which is a 4-5” tapered router bit where the 1st inch is 6mm and then it’s tapered smaller going down. I called every tool manufacturer trying to find something like this and they all told me, ‘Oh no you can’t do that, it’s too long, it doesn’t exist.’ But I needed it for 78mm thick solid wood where I had to go down 60mm but I had to have the smallest radius possible. That tool works really good! I’m finding more and more tools on the DATRON website, that I’ve been needing for years. I have a 068020 and 068004 which is a very small 4mm diameter tool that I can’t even see with my naked eye but there’s actually two flutes on there. I bought four of them and I’ve used three so far. The first one broke immediately, but now I’ve got the feeds and speeds dialed in. I used these for engraving. I had to put plexiglass parts into Sintra sheet material.“
Another challenging material that Expographiq uses a lot is Corian – so much so, that they have a Corian expert on staff and they have purchased an oven that allows them to heat and bend their Corian designs. As a result, they produce cubes and other parts with 45-degree cuts. Parent says, “Our Corian expert loves the finish we’re getting with the DATRON double-flute tools. Our ability to process this material creatively and efficiently has extended our capabilities and product offering which is something that the guys in sales are really happy about.”
Currently, Expographiq is running their CNC machine for a minimum of 40 hours per week, but sometimes over 100 hours per week and they are using DATRON tools 70% of the time. Parent explains, “Anything that has to do with graphics has to be done with DATRON tools because when we direct print our graphics the quality of the edges is critical. It has to be beautiful and I get that quality with DATRON tools.” He has on occasion met resistance from the folks at holding the purse strings at Expographiq because the DATRON tools average $46 -55 and the Onsrude tools were $28 – 32. But he explains to them, “Yeah, but I’m doing 5, 6, 7 times the work with each one the DATRON tools. Value-wise it’s not even a question and the end product that we’re producing is so much better with DATRON tools.”
When interviewing potential candidates to join our DATRON team, I am usually faced with a mix of common questions like: “Why did you start DATRON?”, “Who are your competitors?”, “Do you offer a 401K plan?” The one common question, that is somewhat challenging to answer is “Why would a company buy a DATRON?” This is a very good question … but the answer is complex. When I look at our customers who have purchased systems over the past 22 years, in most cases, they have decided on our technology for not just one, but a number of reasons. This got me thinking, what are the top ten reasons you should consider buying a DATRON milling machine? Everyone loves a top ten list, so here goes:
Top 10 DATRON Milling Machine Advantages
High Speed. This is the heart and soul of DATRON milling machines. Not every customer of ours has purchased because of how fast we can machine a part, but most often this is one of the main reasons. If the application fit is right, meaning you need to machine parts with intricate detail, we likely are a very good solution. In a lot of benchmarks (test cuts of the customer’s part), it is commonplace that we are between 4 – 6 times faster in reduced cycle times over a conventional CNC machine tool.
Our Probe. This unique and fully integrated option on DATRON milling machines allows you to reduce set-up times and can reduce part rejection rates. The automatic edge measuring allows you to get started on a job quickly and can also be used to measure a surface, compensating for surface variances. This is great for large parts (like sheet material) that is difficult to mount perfectly flat. It is also helpful for materials that vary in surface thickness, such as plastic. Whatever the case, our customers have stated that our probe can virtually eliminate part rejection rates or allow them to machine jobs that were not even possible, before having this feature.
Our Support. It goes without saying that almost all machine suppliers offer exceptional service and of course we do as well. We have built a team that takes great pride in the expertise they offer and the relationships they have fostered with our customers. We also take it to another level by offering free application support for the entire lifetime of the machine. No service contracts, no billing by the hour, we are simply just there when you need us and often within minutes of your call. We view support as a partnership, not a means to generate more revenue.
Large Traverse Area/Small Footprint. In this vast world of wide open spaces, we are often approached that there is not enough floor space for another machine tool in their manufacturing operation. Crazy to think but often obtaining more floor space translates to building additions or relocating. This can be very expensive or cost prohibitive. With the DATRON milling machine, the large machining area relative to the overall physical machine size, means our customers get significantly more machining capacity in a fraction of the floor space required for a typical machine tool.
Oil-less Coolant: Can you imagine machining a part that comes off the machine with zero, yes zero, oil residue. No part washing required with the DATRON milling machine. Our high-pressure, minimal-mist system evaporates clean as it meets the cutting tool. This also allows for more creative approaches to workholding, when you are not dealing with a flood-based system. Not to mention it saves on maintenance costs, oil coolant recycling fees, cleaning filtration systems and downtime associated with flood coolant, based systems.
Vacuum Tables: Unfortunately, vacuum tables seem to have a bad rap. So often machinists have struggled to get them to work and have been unsuccessful for many different reasons. Due to the oil-less coolant and low cutting forces of our high-speed spindles, we have developed a vacuum-based work holding system that can successfully hold tiny small parts that our customers had no chance of securing before. Our unique design allows you to profile cut (batch machine) small parts that can fit in the palm of your hand. Always one of the most fun, jaw-dropping capabilities witnessed by our customers when seeing for the first time.
Accuracy: Yes, there are more accurate machine tools on the market. So why mention accuracy? Because of the gantry-style design, we are commonly recognized as a “router” which is viewed as a low-accuracy machine. With the DATRON however, we use ground ball screws, linear scales, thermally matching materials and X, Y compensation in the control software that allow us to achieve impressive accuracies, comparable to much larger and heavier machining centers. This is particularly important when you consider the cost of the equipment required to produce a large-scale part, in a tight-tolerance range.
Automation: In today’s manufacturing world, the need for automation to reduce labor cost is often a key consideration in the buying decision. Our large machining area allows us room to configure very simple, automated, pick and place systems, without involving expensive, external third party robotic or pallet changing add-ons. Our self-contained system, operated from our machine software, permits you to place a part in a clamp, perform the machining operation and then place it back in a simple tray. No extra floor space or additional systems to install and learn are required. Now you can let the DATRON milling machine run for hours, without any operator interfacing, only to magically drop by at the end of a shift and claim your multitude of parts.
Operational Software: One of our best-kept secrets. Spending a day at DATRON usually never shows off the power of what our operating software can do, and I certainly won’t be able to pull this off in a short paragraph. Quite simply, taking G code from any CAD/CAM software combined with the ability to customize it, has enabled a lot of our customers to achieve production flows they could never do before. Asking custom questions to the machine operator, interfacing with bar-code scanners, serialization or importing data from Excel files are just a few examples of how our customers have leveraged our systems to automate and reduce costs.
The Cool Factor: All you need to do is take one look at our award-winning design to realize our technology is different. Many of our customers have chosen to showcase our systems front and center of their facility and are very proud of their DATRON milling machine. Our unconventional approach to the machining mainstream has become very disruptive to the manufacturing world. A new breed, a new look and an uncommon approach to machining parts gives our customers a unique competitive advantage. A very common expression that is stated after seeing our technology is simply that “it is really cool”.
So, the next time someone is in for a job interview and asks, “Why would a company buy a DATRON”, I will simply have this blog printed and ready to hand it to them.
Frank Xydias works in the Department of Engineering running Advanced Manufacturing and Computer Aided Design at Milford High School’s Applied Technology Center in Milford, NH. In this educational setting, the group often accepts “live jobs” acting like a job shop within the community. That was the case when they agreed to do a one-off part in a material they thought would be acrylic. The part was a pick-guard for a Danelectro Wild Thing Baritone electric guitar. But when the material came in they found out that it was in fact, PVC. Ultimately, this would be a milling PVC application.
Milling PVC Electric Guitar Pickguard
Xydias and his team had intended to use a laser to cut the part, but since the material turned out to be PVC, this process posed safety issues. When they turned to their CNC router, it delivered poor results in the 3-ply PVC. Knowing that DATRON Dynamics, Inc., North American Distributor for DATRON high-speed milling machines was just down the road, he decided to consult the application technicians over there.
Application Technician, Kyle Newman, was assigned to the project and he was immediately confident that the job was a nice fit for DATRON technology. First, flat stock like this is ideally suited to the use of vacuum table workholding which is an option with DATRON machines. Secondly, a wide range of DATRON customers use their machines to mill and engrave engineered plastics including Delrin, Torlon, G10, FR4, Durastone, military-grade acrylic … you name it. So, milling PVC was not going to be an issue. As for the cuts required, there was nothing complex about the part – although Newman did have some concerns about potential delamination (due to the 3-ply construction of the supplied PVC stock) that might impact the edge finish.
CNC Programming and Tools for Milling PVC
The Mastercam file provided by the school didn’t include toolpaths or speeds. So, Newman brought it into Autodesk Inventor and used HSMWorks to create tool paths. A single tool change would be required with the contour cut being done with a standard DATRON 3mm single flute end mill and a smaller 1.5mm single flute would be used to make the mounting holes used to attach the pickguard to the guitar.
Operation: Contour around profile of guitar, slot and larger through holes.
Tool p/n: 0068430E
Tool Type: 3mm dia. single flute
Width of Cut: 100% (3mm/0.11811″)
@ 25,000 RPM: 118.11 inch/min feed
Operation: Bore milling small mounting holes
Tool p/n: 0068015E
Tool Type: 1.5mm dia. single flute
Width of Cut: 100% (1.5mm/0.0590551″)
@ 25,000 RPM: 118.11 inch/min feed
Results of Milling PVC Pickguard
Regardless of the concerns about the construction of the supplied 3-ply PVC, the end result was perfect including the edge finish on the contour cuts and no delamination occurred. Newman was able to present the part to Frank Xydias who in turn, presented it to a very happy end customer.
In the manufacturing world, when a CNC machine goes down it often means that operations have come to a standstill. This is frustrating and sometimes scary for business owners. So, who do you call when your DATRON machine goes down, or is making weird noises, or is no longer displaying the English language on the controller? DATRON Service of course! I would like to use this Blog to explain how the DATRON Service Team works to get your machine back in business so that you can Maximize CNC Uptime.
The Most Important Number to Maximize CNC Uptime
The most important number you should have when owning a DATRON machine is the Service Hotline. This is your lifeline when your machine encounters an issue. I tell my customers all the time to call this number when their machine is acting up. It sends you directly to the Service Department (no filtering through the main line or talking to “Peggy” in Siberia). So, grab your cell phone or rolodex (I know some of you still use them like it’s 1992) and enter this number: 603-215-5870.
When you dial this number, it rings directly to our Service Department. Either myself or the Service Manager, Chris Gordon will answer the phone. We will most likely ask you if it’s a Service or Applications related issue. If it’s Applications related (i.e. questions on speeds and feeds, recommended tooling etc.), we will get you over to our Applications Department where they can assist. If it’s Service related, we will ask you for a brief description of the issue you’re encountering and what company you’re calling from so our technicians can get a quick look at your account and machine type(s). We will then transfer you over to the next available technician.
Help Us to Help You to Maximize CNC Uptime
Once you’re in the capable hands of a Service Technician, a case will be opened on your behalf which will allow DATRON to track the issue and keep on top of what is happening with your machine. There are some initial questions that you can expect to be asked. So, if you have this information ahead of time, it will make the diagnosis process that much faster and easier for us to help you maximize CNC uptime.
Do you know your ABCs?
To get a temperature on your DATRON, a Service Technician will most likely ask you for an ABC. What’s an ABC, you ask? It’s diagnostic file that allows technicians to see what your machine has been doing (i.e. it can show if the machine was improperly shut down or if there was a crash on one of the axes). See below how to get an ABC off your DATRON machine:
Take the saved ABC report from your USB and save it to your computer so you can email it email@example.com. I will see it and forward it to the technician assigned to your case. However, it doesn’t hurt to send this over prior to calling the hotline and getting a case assigned … wink, wink.
Generate Diagnosis File on DATRON neo
**Note: If you own a DATRON neo, you will not be able to obtain an ABC. Neo machines have a different type of file and software. See the quick steps below:
Once created, select “Copy to USB Stick” on bottom right corner of screen
Voila! You now have a saved the neo Diag. File on your USB and can be transferred to a computer to email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Once your assigned technician has diagnosed your machine, it is possible you will need to purchase parts to get your machine back to normal operation. This is where I come in. I will provide a quote for your needed part(s) and will let you know when it can ship. Once an order for the part(s) has been placed, I will process and get it out to you as soon as humanly possible.
Our priority in DATRON Service is to get your machine up and running and maximize CNC uptime that your business operations can continue as normal. Our dedicated Service Technicians will guide you every step of the way. Thanks for your patience and your help!
Download White Paper – Maximize CNC Uptime
This Blog on Machining Strategy is based on the Single Flute End Mill Webinar that I did with my brother Dann Demazure who is an Applications Project Manager here at DATRON. The video of that webinar is below, as is the part milled with the strategies detailed herein. The point of both the webinar and this post is to prove that the single flute end mill is really a “utility” cutting tool that should be in every machinist’s toolbox regardless of whether they are running a conventional VMC like a Haas or a high-speed machining center like a DATRON. To that end, the live milling demonstration done as part of the webinar, was performed at 15,000 RPM to emulate the results you might get with a conventional VMC, and also at 35,000 RPM to show the results you can expect with a high-speed milling machine. The intention was NOT to compare conventional machining with high-speed machining, but instead to present the single flute as a viable and ideal tool for both types of milling machines.
At the end of the video above you can see the milling strategies detailed in this blog used in a live milling demonstration that produced this aluminum part.
Machining Strategy – Slotting:
Tool p/n: 0068806A
Tool Type: 6mm dia. single flute, 4-in-1
Width of Cut: 100% (6mm/0.236″)
Depth of Cut: 0.0787″ per pass
@ 15,000 RPM: 94.5 inch/min feed
@ 35,000 RPM: 220 inch/min feed
Machining Strategy – Entry Angle:
Tool p/n: 0068806A
Tool Type: 6mm dia. single flute, 4-in-1
Width of Cut: 100% (6mm/0.245″)
Total Depth: 0.118″
Entry angles: 5, 15, 25, 90
Chipload: 0.0007″ – 0.0027″
I get the question all the time when someone is trying to wrap their head around how milling works without flood coolant – what about that chips? It’s a fair question, and an important one given how much havoc chip accumulation can be in a milling process, as well as how much work it can take to clean chips up or out of a machine tool. In this blog post, we’ll spell out exactly what happens with the swarf that’s created in a milling process where the coolant is sprayed in a fine mist and evaporates just as the cut is completed.
Chip Accumulation & It’s Effect on the Milling Process
One of the main functions of flood coolant, aside from the obvious cooling and lubricating the cut itself, is to wash the resulting chips away from the cutting process – and thereby preventing them from being re-cut or clogging up the cutting tool. Knowing this, many traditional machinists are concerned that with an evaporative coolant applied as a fine mist they’ll encounter significant interference in the milling process with the chips they’ve just created. Fortunately, this is not at all the case in the vast majority of milling situations.
The evaporative coolant used in DATRON equipment is applied using an atomizing system called a MicroJet. This system feeds pressurized air together with the coolant to the MicroJet nozzle, which atomizes and sprays the evaporative coolant directly at the cut. Since the cooling fluid evaporates upon contact with the cutting process (and wicks the majority of the heat away in the process) the resulting chips are perfectly dry as they clear the endmill flutes and are ejected away from the cutting tool.
Since the chips are dry by the time they land, clearing them away requires much less effort than it does when the chips are soaked in flood coolant. The chips do not stick to the inside of the machine cabin, to the fixture, to each other, or to anything really. As a result, should the machine head come to an area where chips have accumulated, the same high-pressure air/coolant blast that cools the cut will also blow the chips away before the cutting tool even comes in contact with the workpiece. For this reason, in the majority of cases, the chips do not pose any sort of risk to the milling process.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Even with evaporative coolant and a high-pressure air blast, it is possible for chips to have a hard time getting out of the way. In my experience this can happen when you have a very small diameter tool, that is milling at a depth that is several multiples of its diameter, in pocket that isn’t a whole lot bigger than the tool itself. Since you don’t have flood coolant to carry these chips out of the pocket, care must be taken to select a cutting tool with a properly designed chip channel to sufficiently eject the chip from such a pocket.
Chip Management & Disposal
Most machines with flood coolant either come standard with or have optional chip conveyors. Chip conveyors are systems that live at the bottom of a machine tool and actively move chips out of the machine cabin, either via an auger or a conveyor belt. From there they are brought up a few feet so that they can be dumped in a bin or barrel. For the machine operator used to this process, it can be a bit puzzling to look at a DATRON machine and see no chip conveyor of any sort.
While it should be noted that the flagship M10 Pro does have an optional chip conveyor, it is true that the majority of DATRON machines in the field do not. The reason for this comes back to the fact that the chips are dry by the time they leave the endmill flute, and are therefore much easier to manage.
If you look carefully at any DATRON you’ll find that there is a significant amount of area below the machining table but above the bottom of the machine. This area serves as the chip-tray and is designed to be a large space that chips can accumulate in without interfering with the machine operation or milling process. This chip-tray is removable in every DATRON so that when it comes time to dispose of the chips they can be shoveled, dumped, or vacuumed out. This area is large enough to accommodate the result of several days of continuous milling, yet still be accessible enough to dispose of its contents without difficulty. Much care is taken to design the inside of the machine cabin with little to no accumulation points so that the chips fall naturally down to the chip tray. Machine operators who have managed both flood coolant and evaporative-mist coolant machines commonly comment that cleaning up dry chips is no more easy or difficult than cleaning up wet chips, it’s just different.
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 of 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.”