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Caron Engineering in Wells announced a partnership with Nashua, N.H., startup Datanomix to jointly develop data-driven solutions for production and machine tool monitoring.
Founded in 1986, Caron develops advanced sensor and monitoring technology for CNC machines that interface with controls to automate manufacturing processes. The company's “smart factory” solutions focus on unattended operation, machine health and process diagnostics, tool wear and breakage detection, automatic tool offsetting, cycle time reduction and eliminating operator error.
Datanomix is an automated production intelligence platform. It uses advanced analytics and machine learning so manufacturers can understand the state of their production in real time.
The partnership will use Datanomix’s dashboard platform to aggregate and display data from all Caron devices deployed in a factory, to help manufacturers visualize production from raw material to machining to finished parts.
“This partnership lets us offer our installed base of thousands of customers worldwide an analytics and intelligence solution that spans from the cutting tools and machine health all the way to the executive suite,” said Rob Caron, founder and president of Caron Engineering.
Mainebiz asked Caron what drew him to the business and how the partnership unfolded.
Here’s an edited transcript.
Mainebiz: What’s the origin story of your company?
Rob Caron: I was an engineer in the machine tool industry. I started to come up with ideas to make the machines better. The company I worked for went out of business in 1986. So I decided to take those ideas and start a company.
MB: What was the idea behind making the machines better?
RC: When the company I worked for sold a machine, I’d go to the customer’s plant and spend a lot of time with the people who were running the machines. A common thing kept happening — the tools would break. I said, 'It seems like there should be a way to figure out when a tool is worn — before it breaks.' Another problem was the operator would measure a part and make an adjustment, type in the numbers and make a mistake. I said, 'There must a way to accommodate that.' I started looking at putting in sensors and I started developing software.
MB: Could you provide an example of your product and how it works?
RC: A couple of years ago, we developed DTect-IT — software that uses sensors that can measure vibrations on a machine. The original motivation for that product was that, for example, a customer might feed 12-foot-long bars into a machine to cut into tiny bars. The bars tend to vibrate when something’s wrong. If they’re vibrating too much, that can cause the machine to create bad parts. DTect-IT measures vibrations and tell the machine it’s vibrating too much, so the machine can slow down the speed of the bar to reduce the vibration — and can do that automatically and unattended.
MB: What other performance parameters does your technology monitor?
RC: Horsepower, pressure, strain, coolant flow. For example, coolant is pumped into a machine to keep the tools cool. But if the pump gets clogged, the coolant won’t be delivered at the right rate and the tools will degrade. The earlier you know there’s a problem, the better chance there is to fix it before it becomes catastrophic.
MB: To what extent are you preventing machines from breaking down — before they break down?
RC: They’re going to break down, because they’re mechanical. What we’re doing is letting the customer know that it’s getting near breaking. Certain factors demonstrate that there’s a problem and it’s going to become catastrophic if something’s not done. For example, a spindle rotates to the tool can cut. There are bearings in the spindle. The way it used to work — the bearings degrade and, one day, the customer goes to run the machine and the bearings seize up. There was nothing to tell them it was headed to that failure.
With our product, the customers can see how much the bearings are degrading, so they can predict when the spindle is going to fail and put a plan in place to replace it prior to when it stops working. A shop that’s making a thousand widgets a day on a machine to meet a production schedule — and all of a sudden the machine seizes up and they can’t make widgets that day — they’ve got an upset customer. If they can predict ahead of time, they can buy the repair parts and get the maintenance department scheduled. They can make more widgets a couple of weeks beforehand to get ready for the machine being down for that repair. The spindles are still going to go bad — they’re mechanical. But to know when they’re going to go bad is the important part.
MB: You’re at 116 Willie Hill Road. How has your physical plant unfolded?
RC: We started at 1931 Sanford Road, in Wells, and were there for 30 years. We expanded there probably five times. Finally there wasn’t enough space to grow. We found land in an industrial area and built the new building here. When we left Sanford Road, we had about 5,800 square feet. Now we have about 12,000 square feet. We also ran out of parking at the old spot. If too many customers came to visit, there wasn’t enough room. We went from 20 spots to about 60.
MB: How many employees do you have?
RC: We’re at 31. We have seven to eight software developers; some are electrical engineers as well. We have service technicians to install and train customers on how to use our software and products. And we have sales, marketing and office staff.
We had about 37 just before COVID. We had to reduce a little bit due to lack of business. But we’re growing. In the near future we need to add a couple more back on.
MB: What’s inside your facility?
RC: One room is a controls lab that has variations of CNC controls that we add our technology to. The main room is our showroom, to demonstrate to customers how this technology works on real machines, and also to train customers. We do classroom and on-machine training to apply the technology in a real-world environment.
MB: How big is your market?
RC: We have thousands of and thousands of systems out in the world. Probably 95% of our business is in the United States. We sell to South America, Asia and Europe. General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, John Deere and Smith & Wesson are large customers of ours.
MB: You became am ESOP in 2018. Why?
RC: We have a lot of people who have been here for a long time and we were looking for a way to compensate them and give them something to move toward. It also helps to motivate people to look at areas of the company that can be improved.
MB: How does the partnership with Datanomix work?
RC: Datanomix makes production monitoring software that looks at how well everything is running. We help each machine work better and be more productive. We developed the partnership because we have a lot of data, locally on each machine, and we want to bring that data up to the supervisory level. The goal is to take the data we provide, combine that with Datanomix’s system and do advanced machine learning, analytics and, potentially, artificial intelligence, to start predicting problems before they happen.
MB: Who approached whom?
RC: We met at an open house at a machine tool sales facility. We each demonstrated our products separately and Greg McHale, a co-owner, and I started talking. This was three years ago. We started testing the waters, and then when COVID came around, that stopped. They came back to me this summer as we all started getting back to normal business.
MB: Terms of the deal?
RC: We’re going to offer their product to our customer base and vice versa. We’re still discussing financials.