Reading time ( words)
In this interview, Nolan Johnson and Gregor Dutkiewicz discuss Kemmer Praezision, their new working partnership with Insulectro, and some of the recent market challenges in mechanical drill bit technology.
Nolan Johnson: Gregor, as the director of Kemmer Praezision, for those readers who maybe aren’t familiar, start us off by telling us about the company.
Gregor Dutkiewicz: Kemmer Praezision was established in 1954 in Germany. Actually, that was a partnership between the founder of Kemmer Praezision, Paul Kemmer, and IBM Germany. At that time, IBM started manufacturing printed circuit boards in Germany, but all the tools came from the U.S. IBM was looking for a local supplier, and this is how the cooperation took place. IBM contacted Kemmer, and Kemmer started an order, on behalf of IBM manufacturing, of drills and routers for manufacturing of printed circuit boards. We were the first manufacturer of this kind of tools in Europe.
Johnson: And today?
Dutkiewicz: Today, we’ve extended our product range significantly. Our main focus is still on the printed circuit board industry, but meanwhile, we also are manufacturing tools for the nail and foot care industry. We are manufacturing tools for the dental industry, and especially micro tools for the metal cutting industry, because we are experts in the manufacturing of small tool diameters. Our product range is between 30 micrometers up to, in Germany, three millimeters, but we have also one manufacturing site in India; and in India, all products are being manufactured even up to the diameter of 12 millimeters. So, we are focused in Germany on the micro tools, and our manufacturing in India on all tools.
Johnson: You have some news for the U.S. market, in particular, based on a partnership with Insulectro, correct?
Dutkiewicz: Yes. The printed circuit board industry in North America is doing quite well. Business is slightly growing, and as I mentioned, we also would like to extend our market share in the North American market. We still have customers, but only a few, mostly for special tools and small diameters, but we decided to extend the market share by the partnership with Insulectro, because we believe that Insulectro, as a North American supply partner, will give us an outstanding foothold in this market.
Johnson: Kemmer is not new to the U.S. market. You’ve had a history here in the past, correct?
Dutkiewicz: That’s correct. We used to have even two manufacturing sites in the U.S. Actually in 1982, the founder of Kemmer Praezision, Paul Kemmer, decided to withdraw from the active business life and he transferred the shares of Kemmer Praezision to Federal-Mogul Corporation, so in 1982, Kemmer became more or less a U.S. company. The shares of Federal-Mogul sometime later were transferred to Greenfield Industries, and finally to Kennametal. We were the electronic division within the Kennametal group in the U.S., with two manufacturing sites: Chicago (Janesville) and Rogers, Arkansas.
Johnson: And now, with your partnership with Insulectro, you are making a strategic move to re-enter the marketplace.
Dutkiewicz: Yes. I think the philosophy of Insulectro and Kemmer Praezision is quite similar. We don’t only provide tools, we also provide excellent technical support and quick delivery. We offer more or less safety stock to our customers, so the products are available all the time for the customers. We believe this is the key to success, not only selling tools, but also providing very strong technical support and, of course, sales support. Kemmer Praezision has a lab in Germany, so we have the possibility to run tests. For example, if our customers have to machine a totally new base material, they have no experience, so usually they will send some test metals to Kemmer. We run several tests, design a DOE, and then, for example, choose the best cutting speed; then we can recommend parameters to the customer as a starting point for further optimization. The customer doesn’t have to do all the tests from the beginning, they just can start with our recommendation with our guidelines for a certain material and then they can just optimize the parameters.
Johnson: You’re bringing technical support and sales support, plus the manufacturing of very high precision mechanical drill bits to your relationship with Insulectro; what’s the value-add with Insulectro for you?
Dutkiewicz: Through Insulectro, we’ll be able to extend our foothold in the U.S. market. It is a very well-known, reputable company, and in our opinion, the best partner for us.
Johnson: What are the current challenges customers are facing in the mechanical drill bit marketplace?
Dutkiewicz: In my opinion, the biggest challenge is the new kinds of base materials on the market. To achieve certain parameters of a finished printed circuit board, the base material becomes tougher to drill and route because the base material contains more and more additives like ceramic particles, or the copper layers are becoming higher. The ceramic particles are the same particles we are using in our diamond wheels for manufacturing and grinding the drill, and this is exactly the same material in the printed circuit board you have to drill; so, this is a big challenge.
Johnson: Does that mean the new materials are shortening the useful life of a drill bit as they were a traditional drill bit?
Dutkiewicz: Yes, definitely.
Johnson: What do you do to extend the life and either get back to the useful life as before, or maybe even extending the life of the drill bit?
Dutkiewicz: We have some possibilities by changing the drill geometry, but the key point is the carbide and the material of the drill, because using the carbide provides higher tool life, and that higher wear resistance can increase the life of the tool. Also, for some applications we are using coatings on our tools, but the coatings are very limited application because coating means that you always run up the cutting edge of the tool, so it cannot do it for very small diameters because the tool will not work and will not cut properly. Coating is very popular, meanwhile, for routers and end mills, but for drills it’s not so popular; it has a different function on a drill. Its main purpose is not to increase the tool life or to reduce the wear of the cutting edge, but to make the surface smoother for better chip evacuation. Then you can also drill in higher stack height, so you will increase your productivity, even if the tool life is shorter.
Johnson: With all of this work to develop harder drill bits, does that also improve accuracy with regard to run out, misalignment, or bending, in the process of drilling holes? Do you get better overall performance out of these new drill bits?
Dutkiewicz: Yes, definitely. Fortunately, the tough base materials are quite hard, but also the chip evacuation on the hard materials works very well. There’s no high risk of clogging the flute of the drill, and that means that this hard material also increases the breakage behavior or breakage range of the drill, so we had to develop a totally new drill geometry. It’s really very crazy because this drill geometry has a variable web—a variable helix angle—meanwhile, this is called a single flute drill. At the tip, it starts with two flutes, with two cutting edges, and then the second flute goes over into the first flute, so it’s very crazy. It will increase the rigidity of the geometry significantly, and you don’t lose any chip room, which is very important for the chip evacuation. If you think of the typical drill geometry of the past, it’s really a crazy tool. It’s not a drill, but a super drill. Lots of things have changed on the drill geometry in the last 10-15 years.
Johnson: Does this then also roll back to a traditional, normal FR-4? Or does this mean that your customers now have one set of drills for doing FR-4 work and another set of rules for other materials? Or can you keep them all in one?
Dutkiewicz: We offer tools for different tool series for different base materials. Standard FR-4 material is not difficult to machine, so fortunately the new drills’ geometries will also work on FR-4. For some very special materials like Teflon or flexible printed circuit boards, or semi flexible, we need a different tool geometry because of the soft part of the printed circuit board, but for FR-4 there is no need to use the very special tool geometry. We can use the sophisticated drill geometry developed for the tough materials. It’s a big advantage for the customer.
Johnson: It makes a lot of sense because on the manufacturing floor and the drill department, bit change outs and bit accuracy are critical to the yield and quality of the product being produced.
Dutkiewicz: Of course.
Johnson: Laser drilling has become a viable option in the industry over the past few years, and now has its own place alongside mechanical drilling, but from the mechanical drilling point of view, what are the advantages today to mechanical drilling over the other technologies?
Dutkiewicz: Actually, laser drilling has a limited capability to drill very deep holes, so the diameter depth range is very limited. It’s very fast if you only drill through, let’s say, one layer; it’s fine. But we see that all the new printed circuit board layouts which have a lot of blind holes, because laser drilling gets mostly used on a blind hole, requires also a lot of through-holes with a very high aspect ratio to diameter, and for this application only mechanical drilling works properly. So even after the laser technology was introduced to the market, we saw that the number of true drill holes increased significantly. We do not see any disadvantage for us as a toolmaker through this technology, and it depends on the size of the company or the PCB manufacturer. Small companies cannot afford very expensive laser drilling machines; they still will use mechanical drilling to manufacture these layouts.
Johnson: Will you be participating in any of the U.S.-based technical trade shows? Will U.S. customers who are working with Insulectro be able to find you directly in the U.S. in 2021?
Dutkiewicz: As soon as we’re allowed to travel, we will definitely be participating in joint technical sales calls with Insulectro. Kemmer will partner with Insulectro to visit customers and provide any technical support needed. In conjunction with Insulectro, we would participate in industry shows as well as organize training and presentations on the latest product developments and application uses. This is an integral part of Kemmer’s philosophy, supporting our distribution partner along with our customers.
Johnson: Terrific. That sounds great. And it looks like Kemmer and Insulectro will be a great match. Thanks for spending the time with us, I really appreciate the insight, this has been intriguing.
Dutkiewicz: You’re welcome. Thank you.