DATRON is known first for making award-winning high-speed milling machines. We are also known for producing high-quality machining videos. Ironically, the video that has garnered more than 50% of our YouTube watch time was not produced by DATRON, but instead by DATRON customer DataPro International. Here’s their story.
DataPro’s popular Online Plate Designer allows engineers and non-engineers alike to customize a wide variety of plates and panels through a simple web-based interface. Requiring no experience in CAD or 3D modeling, it shows a graphical representation of the final product, and orders can be placed immediately. On the back end, as soon as an order is placed, custom software automatically generates GNC code, and the plate is ready to be machined within minutes. For more complex projects, DataPro offers expert engineering and design services, working with customers on both initial design and manufacturing process development.
Today, DataPro offers a host of streamlined machining and design services, but it started out with more humble beginnings. Founded in a Seattle garage in 1985, DataPro began as a manufacturer of data cables, then grew to specialize in bulkhead-mount cables. Having noted the growth of this niche (manufacturing electronic devices), the logical next step was to produce the plates and panels that the cables were being mounted to. So in 2007, DataPro added CNC machining to their capabilities by purchasing a small countertop hobbyist mill, capable of producing basic wall plates. As demand grew for these services, DataPro began upgrading their machining equipment and software. After outgrowing a number of machines including a Sherline, and Haas TM1 and TM2s, DataPro began looking for a machine to help them overcome specific production bottlenecks.
They began their search at trade shows, investigating a range of devices for milling and engraving panels. Ironically, they were not even at a “machining” show when they had a very serendipitous encounter. Lead Machinist Ilya Pasumanskiy recalls, “At the NAB Show (a convention encompassing the convergence of media, entertainment and technology) we met with BTX, a company that utilizes DATRON. They had a booth at the show and we were asking them about their manufacturing processes and they were gracious enough to tell us that they were using DATRON.”
Pasumanskiy quickly scheduled a flight to visit DATRON Dynamics in Milford, NH, and after spending several days with their application engineers and machines, his hunch was confirmed. He says, “I was darn sure at that point that DATRON was the right technology for us so we went ahead with the purchase and we’ve been using it every day since then.”
The first benefit they noticed was that the clean-up time, required after each machining cycle, was cut to almost zero with the DATRON. DataPro’s machine prior to the DATRON used a vacuum table and an oil-based flood coolant, so the machined parts came out with an oily residue that had to be “degreased”. That was a secondary operation that had to be done by hand, which added significant time and labor costs. Additionally, the machine and vacuum table had to be cleaned. Since the basic premise of vacuum workholding is air intake, high volumes of oil used for flood coolant can jeopardize the functionality of the vacuum table if not managed carefully. Pasumanskiy says, “With the DATRON we have virtually eliminated cleanup because the lubricant simply evaporates leaving clean parts that don’t need to be degreased.”
The higher spindle speeds of the DATRON allowed DataPro to dramatically reduce the machining time of precision engraved panels and significantly reduced the number of units that had to be reworked. Before he found the DATRON, Pasumanskiy comments, “We got through the work that we had, but we definitely couldn’t step up to the next level because we were bottlenecked by the capabilities of the machinery.”
DataPro’s machinists also found that DATRON’s probing with Z-correction can dramatically speed up setup. “On other machines, if we had to engrave something large I would often need to sweep the entire engraving area with an indicator to be able to identify the variance, then compensate for it in my program. DATRON’s Z-correction does all of that automatically.”
DATRON’s Z-correction also results in less rework and less re-engraving areas because it maintains an even engraving depth (to 0.0005”). “We had integrated probing back then, but not with advanced probing capabilities like DATRON’s Z-correction field — which meant that we couldn’t control the depth of our engraving if there were surface irregularities in the material.”
For CAD/CAM software, DataPro uses HSMWORKS for SOLIDWORKS and Fusion 360. When asked about the ease of getting programming help or support for the DATRON machine, Pasumanskiy sums it up by saying, “We have had great experiences with DATRON’s service and I see a lot of your application guys as my friends. I like talking to them, they’re always really responsive and they always know how to solve my problem.”
With the DATRON, the possibilities are endless. DataPro is now specializing in panels for and modification of Pelican cases and other brands of ruggedized cases that are often customized to house electronics and other components. In addition to its core business, DataPro has begun offering general machining services and has used the DATRON to tackle a wide variety of projects. They even use the DATRON machine to make their own injection molds. Bringing this work in-house has reduced their costs and improved turnaround time since they are not relying on an outsourced vendor.
DataPro has streamlined their plate production and has been able to significantly grow their business thanks to the purchase of the DATRON machine.
After falling to 64th place out of 67 teams in their division, The Iron Panthers (The Burlingame Robotics Team) was slightly discouraged, but they were able to make a glorious comeback, ending in 21st place in the Newton Division competition.
Hard-Fought Battle of Robotics Competition World Champions
They were then selected by their division’s first seed alliance, comprised of Greybots, Madtown, and the Vitruvian Bots, and they arose to be the winner of their division. Going into the Einsteins round was in itself an amazing position to be in and their team was ecstatic. Despite early difficulties in this difficult competition, their team pushed through with extreme perseverance and managed to make it to the final championship round, where they won 2-1 against the opposing alliance.
DATRON Lends a Hand to Robotics Team
DATRON’s West Coast office was involved with the team, offering their high-speed machining equipment to help them make parts for their robot. Division Manager, Chris Hopkins reflects, “We were happy to provide the tools these future engineers needed to get the job done and turn their winning design into reality. We congratulate them on their victory and wish each of them great success in the future.”
Above: Short video clip of machining aluminum drive frame parts.
Robotics Champions Give DATRON the Thumbs Up!
The team coach and captains summed up their experience working with DATRON in the following thank you note:
“We would like to thank DATRON so much for all the support we have received from you these past few years. Thank you for enabling us to have such a great robot by milling our drive base parts with your incredible machinery. We couldn’t have done this without you. Our team has worked extremely hard to win the final round in the Houston Championships, and we believe that our success is the embodiment of our hard work from your support. The road to winning the FIRST Robotics Competition was not easy, but you have helped our team greatly. Not only does your support allow our team to grow, but also flourish and achieve great things. Without your sponsorship, our team would have never been able to become this successful, and it was your team that enabled our accomplishments to happen.”
Christina Wade – Robotics Coach
Darrion Chen & Katherine Mohr – Captains The Iron Panthers
In 1984, upon graduating from University with a degree in Industrial Design, I started working for the family business. We manufactured architectural signage and wayfinding systems for larger corporate offices and retail shopping malls. I was working on product development along with manufacturing practices used in production. In 1995, I was involved in a project that used an electronic touchscreen, housed in a public display. This housing required large format 1/8-inch aluminum sheets with a lot of small grooves, pockets, drilled and tapped holes, and engraving. This was a difficult manufacturing challenge that turned into an opportunity that changed my life forever.
We needed to accurately machine these large aluminum panels in a very efficient and fast manner that had enough flexibility for quick design changes. This ruled out punching, molding, and casting and it was clear that machining was the only option. Our research determined there was no large format, affordable machining center that could meet our needs. We decided to hop on a plane and attend a tradeshow in Germany called EMO in hopes that we could find a unique system that could meet our needs. That’s when we discovered DATRON.
We quickly realized this was the perfect machine to produce this assembly of flat aluminum parts. We learned that DATRON had no representation in North America for local service and support. This machining system, however, was just too perfect for our application so we rolled the dice and purchased one. It helped that we were assured that DATRON was already in the process of finding a local reseller and support partner. I just didn’t know at the time that it would end up being me.
Over the next months, we successfully implemented the system and through that process, I got to know the people at DATRON and the power of this machine. Amazed by the technology, I couldn’t help but wonder what impact it could have on North America manufacturers. After a long walk on a Florida beach with my wife, Debbie, and our first-born baby cradled in my arms, I got the courage to ask her “What do you think about me approaching DATRON about starting a business to sell their machines?” In her reply were the historic words that got this whole thing going, “If you are going to make a change, it would be easier to do it now before we have more kids and they are older.”
When I returned home, I agonized for hours typing a letter that I later faxed, only to receive a phone call just a few short minutes later. “What is this?” exclaimed Manfred Becker, machine developer at DATRON? I explained that I wanted to help DATRON bring their machine to North America. He asked, “How are you going to do this and work for your family business”? I said, “I wouldn’t, I would leave the family business and dedicate myself full-time.”
Three days later, I was on an airplane to Germany. Sitting at a round table and fueled by strong coffee, I joined an energized group to strategize how we were going to get this done. Six months later, DATRON Dynamics opened its doors for business with full support from my brothers, who continued to run the family business without me.
I often wonder how many employees lives that I may have never touched, the many customers that would have never benefited from this amazing technology, the friendships both home and abroad that would have never developed … and just how different my life would have been, if my wife had simply said “I don’t think it’s a good idea”. Thank you, Deb, for initiating and kick-starting this incredible journey that has impacted so many lives!
At DATRON, we have great admiration for Autodesk’s policy on post processors. Here’s why. Where most CAM providers place the responsibility for post processor creation on the shoulders of their resellers, Autodesk support post processors directly. This benefits the end user because the cost is not passed on to them and they get the best possible post processor.
In the case of DATRON, Autodesk worked directly with DATRON AG in Germany which has resulted in MCR and SIMPL posts for DATRON “next” control software used with machines like our M8Cube, as well as an ISO post and a dedicated post processor for the DATRON C5 5-axis machine.
This also the reason that many of the sample parts that we machine at trade shows and other demonstrations are done in Fusion 360. An example of this and a very popular hand-out is our gear-shaped bottle opener.
At IMTS, we machined this part on the DATRON neo to emphasize the speed of the machine, as well as how well it is suited to both rapid prototyping and short-run production applications. Get the Application Notes (Machining Strategies, Feeds, Speeds, Tools etc.) Here.
Post processors for CAM software isn’t the only area where DATRON has collaborated with Autodesk. In fact, DATRON technology has combined with Autodesk’s software innovation as part of the Autodesk Generative Design Field Lab located at the MxD (Manufacturing x Digital) facility in Chicago.
MxD is part of Manufacturing USA, a network of 14 institutes all focused on advancing individual technologies and revitalizing US manufacturing. Their goal is to bring together the processes that manufacturers employ, in a single digital manufacturing and design facility – equipped with the world’s most advanced technology. Ultimately, MxD is a place where companies of all sizes meet up with innovators to develop disruptive technologies and plot the future of manufacturing. MxD’s mission is to provide US factories with the tools, software, and expertise they need to build things more efficiently, less expensively, and faster, so manufacturers can win more business and bring jobs back to the United States.
Learn More about the DATRON neo Machine:
Get DATRON neo Brochure (fill out form to receive document)
DATRON’s mission is “To deliver complete solutions with a promise of quality and partnership that enriches the lives of our customers, employees, and the community around us.” For the last two years, that community aspect has included producing autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) parts for a Cornell University robotics team.
The Cornell University Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Team (CUAUV) is an entirely undergraduate-run student robotics team, consisting of over 45 students from numerous academic disciplines. Since its creation in 1999, the CUAUV team has created twenty-three unique vehicles and has competed in nineteen competitions.
Machining vs. WaterJet for AUV Manufacturing
During the production of parts for their most recent designs, the team felt that the waterjet process used to make them was both time-consuming and less accurate than they wanted. Cuyler Crandall, Co-lead of the Mechanical Submarine Team explains, “For the past three years we’d gotten the frames done on a waterjet and then manually drilled and tapped all their holes. But, the time that post-machining takes, combined with the more loose tolerances of waterjet, were holding back the frame’s design.”
Fusion 360 & DATRON for AUV Design & Production
Fortunately, at a robotics event, the CUAUV team found out about DATRON. Crandall says “I was introduced to DATRON by an alumnus of my high school robotics team and learned that they had made a number of parts for a local RoboSub team.” This inspired the CUAUV team to collaborate with DATRON on part designs using Autodesk’s Fusion 360 software. Fusion 360 was ideal for sharing files and updates in real-time.
Once parts were designed in Fusion 360, they were machined from aluminum sheet material on the DATRON MLCube. The sheet material was held with an integrated vacuum table with an air-permeable sacrificial sheet between the material and the top of the vacuum table. This allowed for multiple parts to be cut from a single sheet with through holes being milled and threaded all in one setup.
Crandall says “DATRON was particularly helpful in solving the most difficult part of the build cycle, which was manufacturing frame pieces for the vehicles. Our tolerance issues were alleviated by using the MLCube and the process was more efficient with the vacuum tables.”
Cornell AUV Design Competition Success!
Overall, the CUAUV team puts in 1,000 plus hours of in-house manufacturing each year on their autonomous underwater vehicles. Those efforts are put on display when the team competes in AUVSI’s International Robosub Competition which takes place at the Transdec Naval Facility in San Diego, California.
Robosub is comprised of over 50 teams, each of which designs and builds their own Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) which autonomously navigate through a series of tasks such as: ramming buoys, dropping weighted darts, firing torpedoes, and more. To date, the CUAUV team has successfully navigated those tasks to be crowned RoboSub Champions seven times.
Chris Hopkins, Division Manager at DATRON West says, “It has been great working with the CUAUV team. Cuyler is originally from our area and he’s very hands-on and passionate about manufacturing and making. Even with our day to day work, it’s important to take time to help the community and share our resources with the next generation of makers.”
Enriching the community isn’t just a saying for DATRON. We’re continuously working with local vendors, universities, and have recently partnered with Autodesk to advance American Manufacturing in the “factory of the future” at MxD in Chicago, IL.
To learn more about the Cornell University Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) team please click here.
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.