When engineers need to prototype a gear or a part and do it quickly, they can’t always drop thousands of dollars on a multi-ton machine to bring that prototype to reality.
To give those engineering ideas form as fast as possible, Bantam Tools offers machines to aid those world changers and skill builders, according to Bantam Tools CEO Bre Pettis.
“We’re taking something that’s really big, expensive, and heavy — usually like 10,000 pounds or more in the case of CNC machines — and that are really challenging to learn how to use, and we make it easier, more accessible, more affordable, and more portable and smaller,” he said. “And the thing that’s exciting about it is it’s not a hobbyist machine. Our smaller machine, the Explorer, runs at 23,000 RPM, and our bigger machine runs at 28,000 RPM. It’s optimized for making aluminum parts with a nice finish. It’s not as fast as a 12,000-pound machine, but you can make something and make multiple iterations in one day, which on the big machines, just the programming time alone can take a whole day, and if you have to send it out, you’re looking at weeks to get your part back.”
Optimizing iteration time
Bantam Tools’ goal is to optimize that iteration time, which is great for prototyping, and it allows people to innovate faster, make more mistakes faster, and get those mistakes out of the way to build better products, according to Pettis.
Bantam Tools’ machines aren’t necessarily used to prototype gears, but they can be used to prototype many of the parts needed to house those gears — an important part of the process.
“Everything around the gear is interesting to a Bantam Tools user,” Pettis said. “We sell machines to Tesla, SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, Draper — all the big boys. The people we sell to in those industries are the impatient engineers who want to get things done. When you have gears, you have to have the gears held by something. I would say you’re probably not prototyping gears on our machine, but you’re prototyping everything else. And if you’re having to wait for something else around your gear — whether it’s a housing, an enclosure, or some sort of plates that you have your gears going between —that’s where a Bantam Tools machine accelerates innovation.”
Bottom line is, Bantam Tools’ wheelhouse is literally right outside of the gears, according to Pettis.
“We want to hold the gears in place,” he said.
Prototyping — whether it’s gears or gear-adjacent — is an important part of the design process, according to Pettis.
“Our customers are world changers and skill builders,” he said. “We’re all about just trying to help people get from zero to one — to get a prototype done. We like knowing what people are doing. We like being helpful. We’re innovation oriented. We like to take advantage of other industries that have hit scale. We’re a scrappy company that likes to find solutions.”
Changing the industry
In addition to making sure prototypes can be made quickly and efficiently, Pettis emphasized that he and his company are on a mission to change the culture of manufacturing. Since the slow death of manufacturing education such as shop class in high schools, Pettis wants to change the conversation and bring on more workers. In order to do that, those future workers need to see how rewarding the work can be.
“Right now, in industry, just as a general concept, when people talk about machinists, machining, or gear making, they talk about it in such a way that it is not the coolest thing in the room,” he said. “Students are going to school, and they’re dreaming of becoming a social-media manager. The most important thing to happen in industry, I believe, is around telling a new story in manufacturing. We have to work collectively to find a new vocabulary and stories that showcase the excitement and innovation that is possible in industry. So Bantam Tools is obsessed with this. I’m obsessed with this. I think it’s the most important thing in the next 10 years that we reframe industry as a critical part of our culture, a critical part of our nation, and start to fill the skills gap as well.”
As part of that directive Bantam Tools has set for itself, Pettis said he likes to think of his company and what it can offer as a “gateway” into machining and industry.
“We’re a professional CNC company that makes professional CNCs, but they’re easy to use, and we’ve spent a lot of time on software so that it doesn’t take you two years to get up and running on it,” he said. “If you haven’t used a CNC before, you’re going to spend some time learning a lot of vocabulary to get up and running — going through our getting-started projects. But once you’re through those, your ability to train up on the more industrial, production side machines goes way up. Because you’ve learned all the vocabulary, you have an idea of how speeds and feeds work. You’ve entered the world. The skill-building side of our business and our ethos is just as important as supporting the innovators who are developing the next-generation products.”
From teachers to innovators
With its goal of pulling more workers into industry, it’s no surprise that much of Bantam Tools’ clientele are professors and teachers, according to Pettis.
“For them, they want to know that we have support materials; they want to know that there’s some educational infrastructure,” he said. “They usually buy one machine, and then they come back a few months later and buy a lot more, so their students get access to them. Their problem is the next generation needs to learn machining so they can get to those zero-to-one skills. We support them with that infrastructure. Those are the customers who come to us, and there are other customers that come to us who say, ‘Hey, I need to train my next level of machinists up, and I can’t spare production time to do it.’”
Pettis said another part of Bantam Tools’ customer base are innovators.
“Our machine is affordable enough that you can put it on a credit card; these innovators come to us wanting to solve a problem and want it shipped the next day; we put it in the mail to them, and they’re machining the next day,” he said. “And then there are customers who come to us with problems, and they don’t have experience in industry or machining. We have a solutions team that we just basically charge hourly for.”
As part of that innovative process, Pettis mentioned a company that came to Bantam Tools wanting to make a product with a waterproof seal containing rechargeable batteries. Through the Bantam Tools Turnkey Solutions program, the Bantam Tools team was able to program a CNC to machine six plastic cases at a time where the case could be removed without ruining the electronics.
“They can change out the batteries, and they refresh the product,” he said.
That’s just one example of the type of work that customers bring to Bantam Tools, according to Pettis.
“They’re like, ‘We think we need a machine to do this, but we need help,’” he said. “We put together a whole solution for them. It’s not just the machine, but it’s the programming, fixtures, and more to go along with it. Bantam Tools’ engineers are problem solvers. We just love hearing about problems and digging our teeth into it. We love problems where people come, and they say, ‘We think machining might be a solution here.’ And we’re like, OK, let’s dig in, so we created Bantam Tools Turnkey Solutions to provide custom packages for customers to make what they need on their CNC machine without any prior design experience. We create the G-code, workflow, custom fixtures, and more for them, saving them time and money.”
Bantam Tools is still on a high from its recent trip to IMTS in Chicago in September, according to Pettis.
“We just had an amazing experience at IMTS,” he said. “We really came with bells and whistles and launched a new product — the Bantam Tools Explorer CNC Milling Machine — which is a machine that runs at 23,000 RPM and has a build volume of 4 x 6 x 2 3/4 inches. We had three machines running three operations across the front of our booth, and we just ran those machines for six days straight, eight hours a day. Out of 1,100 booths there, we won top 10.”
During the show, Pettis said it was fun to watch attendees be mesmerized by Bantam Tools’ products.
“One of the things that is tricky in industry is, when there is a solution that works, people stick to that for decades; most people are used to thinking about a CNC as being something that’s a room-size machine, and we would just watch engineers walk by our booth, and they’d scrunch up their face with a ‘this does not compute’ look,” he said with a laugh. “They’d get a little bit closer, and you could tell who were the machinists, because they’d be like, ‘Wait, what’s the spindle speed right now?’ ‘We’re 23,000 RPM on this one, 28 on that one.’ They’re like, ‘OK, you’re not cutting air; you’re machining aluminum right now.’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah,’ and they’re like, ‘And, I’m not screaming at you over this. It’s not too loud.’ It was really fun to blow minds at IMTS.”
Looking toward the future
Pettis’ pride in Bantam Tools is infectious, and he expects his company to be at the forefront of industrial trends both now and in the future.
“Machining is an industry where machine shops are closing left and right, and it’s not because they don’t have work; it’s because they don’t have employees,” he said. “We rise to that challenge by supporting skill builders and to skill up the next generation of machinists. I think where Bantam Tools stands in all that is we help people get up and running and build the skills and solve problems quickly. For engineers, we’re a solution that gets you aluminum parts quickly. And in the gear industry, I think we’re the folks who can help you build the parts that are made out of aluminum around your gears to get your prototypes up and running, test things out, and save your production machines from having to make those parts.”