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A Look Inside Castle Creations

Join Dr. Dave as he takes you on the grand tour.

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Introduction

Olathe, Kansas is the home of Castle Creations . Olathe is a little town in the Kansas City metro area best known for trains. Lots of trains. It’s often easy to discount little towns in America, but many are home to leading edge technology companies, and Olathe is no exception. There are a number of avionics and GPS companies in the area, and Castle traces its roots to that industry. Castle makes brushless motor controllers for the RC hobby industry, and its products also find their way into a surprising number of industrial applications including SCUBA scooters, firefighting helicopter hopper pumps, military UAVs, NASCAR components and research medical equipment to name a few.

Castle strives to "provide superior products with unequaled service and support" and does so by "setting the standard for knowledgeable advice, troubleshooting hints and the most courteous customer service available anywhere". Castle does much of its manufacturing in Olathe using automated electronics production machines to populate the boards and skilled workers to add the wires and capacitors – tasks which the machinery can’t do.

The Tour

I was given an all-access pass to the facility led by Lee Estingoy (Lee is one guy very deep into this hobby we all love so much, and I'll talk more about Lee later). Castle works hard to stay on the cutting edge of innovation and manufacturing and is extremely diligent in quality control. They have 3 full time engineers who design and program the products and who are constantly evaluating the new components coming on the market.

Our tour begins in the same place that manufacturing begins. All Castle ESCs and receivers have a microprocessor, the heart and soul of the product, and they must be programmed with the Castle firmware prior to installation on the circuit board. One of the hallmarks of Castle’s products is that the firmware can be updated after the products are in the hands of the consumer. Most controllers can be updated to the latest standard whenever new features are added to the software via the Castle Link USB adapter.

The production of the circuit boards is automated, but be advised that this still takes quite a bit of human involvement. The circuit board panels are manufactured to Castle’s specifications off site. Most guys don’t realize that the green circuit boards are actually layers of circuits with connections that pass between layers to other portions of the circuit board. The panels typically hold a number of individual controller or receiver circuits; typically there are four rows of five on the panels which helps when you are making thousands of these products at a time. .

There are a few things that are done to prepare for the production process. Obviously wire is a major component, so one machine cuts the pieces to equal lengths and at the same time trims the end to expose the wire.

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Wires are tinned after they are stripped. This process applies solder to the wires so that they can be attached to the circuit board by hand.

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Panels begin the journey in a machine that uses a high tech silkscreen-like process to print solder paste onto the circuit board wherever a component will need to be soldered. Each type of panel has it’s very own screen screen.

The process of operating the soldering screen is computerized for accuracy, it’s critical that the panel be aligned to the screen within a few thousandths of an inch. The machine takes just a few seconds to do its job, and the board is then passed on a conveyor to the next station.

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The next , and perhaps most fascinating, step is the placement of the electronic components on the circuit board. Some parts are much smaller than the head of a pin. The parts may be tiny, but the machines are huge - about the size of a minivan - and they weigh about 6,000 pounds. Don’t even ask how much these things cost.

The machines have large moving turrets with tiny vacuum nozzles that pick the tiny parts from feeder reels and then place them on the boards (guess that’s why they are called Pick and Place machines). The turret on Castle’s faster machine weighs about 300 pounds with its drive mechanisms,. It rides on huge bearings driven by large worm screws. You really need to see this thing flying around to understand the complication and amazing accuracy. The head can pick up one part with each of its 32 nozzles. Each part is photographed by the machine as it is held by the nozzle in order to determine its exact position on the nozzle so that the head can place it exactly where it needs to go on the circuit panel. The machine has a resolution approaching one micron (1 micron = 0.00003937 inches!), and it can place components on the boards at a rate of almost 18,000 pieces per hour. The machine works in a blur, but when the circuits are made of hundreds of components, it still may take a little while to complete a panel. The machine operator really must get into a groove to keep things humming. The components need to be continually fed and the errors tended to. Imagine accidentally loading the wrong component into a feeder - you could very easily make several hundred bad controllers.

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Castle uses two pick in place machines in their line. The second machine is optimized for larger parts, like the microprocessor. It is a bit slower, operating at “only” 7,000 to 12,000 components per hour.

Both machines have some very unique features. First, they weigh more than three tons which helps keep them from wiggling or flexing as the head is thrown around. Consider as you watch the video the speed at which the wheels are moving back and forth, and the rigidity required to make sure the X,Y location on the circuit board is exact to within a micron!

Once the boards are complete, they are placed in an oven. This is similar to a pizza oven but with a belt that moves the boards through the carefully controlled heat to melt the solder and complete the circuit board build. You may notice that most of Castle’s boards have components on both sides. Once a panel is populated on the first side, the process is repeated to populate the second side. The boards go through the oven twice. The solder on the first side does melt a second time, but the surface tension holds the parts in place even though they are going through the oven upside down!

Quality Control

The first step after each circuit panel is complete is to electronically scan the panel for proper parts placement. Each panel is photographed by a very high resolution camera. That image is then scanned by the computer using a process much like OCR (optical character recognition) to make sure that all the parts are where they should be and that the parts are actually the right part in the right place. The system can actually recognize the writing on the components and alert the operator if something is amiss. The system also looks at the solder joints to determine if they are acceptable. Consider that there are hundreds of micro components on each circuit and that there are twenty or more circuits on a panel - good thing Castle doesn’t have to pay for the software by the individual part! If there is an error, the system displays a magnified photo of the circuit with a red arrow pointing to the problem area. The operator may then decide if the part is acceptable, or if necessary, he may then repair that component.

The process of fixing a circuit board is delicate. Technicians use a tool that emits a small jet of hot air to melt the solder so that the component may be repositioned or replaced. Soldering irons are simply too large to use with these tiny parts.

Quality control doesn’t end here, it will continue after the installation of the battery and receiver leads.

Finally, after all the parts and wires are added, the controllers are run. Castle uses computerized power supplies to provide the proper voltage for the controller. The controllers are connected to a carefully sized motor and load in order to run them at their designed performance level. They are pretty confident that the controllers that leave their facility are first class, well built products.

The final step is to place the label, shrink wrap and insert the component into the bag.

Berg Receivers

The Berg receiver is made in the Olathe facility too. The process is similar to the one used for the controllers, except the testing of the receivers takes place in a copper Faraday cage, serving to block unwanted RF noise. Each receiver is hooked up to an array of servos, and then the lowest acceptable amount of signal is “injected” into the receiver. This signal is many, many times weaker than the signal that the receiver will encounter in use. The test technician watches to make sure that all servo channels are operating properly. Nothing leaves the Castle factory without being tested.

Beyond production

Castle Creations prides itself on customer service and responsiveness to customer needs. Their R&D department is constantly working to accommodate every possible use of their products.

The customer service techs work the phones and e-mails that come from Castle’s customers.

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Lee Estingoy

All of the Castle staff are dedicated to their work, and most of them are hobbyists too. Castle is still a small operation, and the employees must be expert at a number of job descriptions. Lee Estingoy is just a part of the Castle team, but he’s one of the guys you’ll likely meet at the trade shows. I first met Lee at iHobby in 2007, and I was impressed with his knowledge of the industry. Little did I know just how addicted he is to the hobby. I also had the opportunity to visit his personal shop at his home in nearby Overland Park, KS. Lee is big into gliders, and I don’t mean just any gliders, I mean giant scale gliders. In fact, he designs the planes, makes his own molds, lays up the fiberglass and completes his own one-off designs.

Many of us have been in the RC hobby for a long time, others more recently, and with a background in corporate law, Lee is one of the latter. Aviation was always a love, but he only got into RC about ten years back. He got into (and I mean into) sail planes in a big way. By 2000, he was the AMA Unlimited Electric Sailplane National Champion flying a composite sailplane he made from scratch. Lee now averages two or three RC projects a month in his off-time.

Lee builds all types of planes, and as I could tell by looking around his shop he really never sits still. There are multiple projects going all time.

Lee, as you can imagine, travels the continent for Castle, and as the business continues to expand, more global jaunts are in the works. His wife and four year old son as he puts it, "are tolerant and supportive of his addiction." He loves all aspects of RC, and while the business has its demands, he still gets out and flies whenever he can. His love of the hobby gives him insight, and the many new directions for Castle products keep him excited for the future.

Conclusion

It is important to know where things come from. Located right in the heart of America, Castle Creations produces great products with a staff of dedicated people. Your satisfaction is key to their mission, and from design to production to user support, Castle works extremely hard to be competitive, innovative and user friendly. The future of the hobby will long be influenced by the work done in Olathe, Kansas.

Last edited by Angela H; Aug 14, 2008 at 07:20 PM..
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Aug 14, 2008, 09:08 PM
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theKM's Avatar
That's super interesting. There's a reason why they're the name brand, and it's great to see their efforts in detail.
Aug 15, 2008, 07:29 AM
iumop ap!sdn w,I
G.P.'s Avatar
Thank you, that was very cool! Makes me even more of a Castle fan now that I've seen what happens behind the scenes and have put some faces to the names that have helped me over the years.
Latest blog entry: Canola Huckin'
Aug 15, 2008, 07:46 AM
"Have Glue - Will Travel"
dawnron1's Avatar
Thank you Dave, this was an excellent 'virtual tour' and I really enjoyed it! John Ratzenberger("Made in America") has nothing on you!!

Ronnie
Aug 15, 2008, 12:26 PM
Registered User
I have only owned a mamba max system for a car
But I can tell you it was 200 + % better than ennything else on the market !!!
The product was absolutly supurb !!

Great tour
Aug 15, 2008, 01:04 PM
Dr. Dave
Thread OP
Thanks for the comments. It was cool to see it coming together. What's that show where they show you how things are built? Well this was the real deal. Really loved the shipping department. Wish I had some of that stuff.
Aug 15, 2008, 07:04 PM
Gravity is a harsh mistress.
Tim Wolff's Avatar
Interesting read and nicely done. A great change of pace. I've been a Castle user for a long time and never been disappointed.
Aug 15, 2008, 07:18 PM
Registered User
Now we know why Castle Creations is the industry leader in product and service.

Great report ... thanks for taking the time to share with everyone
Aug 15, 2008, 09:25 PM
Registered User
mecevans's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by 78dave
Thanks for the comments. It was cool to see it coming together. What's that show where they show you how things are built? Well this was the real deal. Really loved the shipping department. Wish I had some of that stuff.

How Its Made. it would be cool if they could do more aticles on rc stuff made here in america.

ive abused the heck out of my castle esc and it has never failed me.great products,great company.
Aug 16, 2008, 06:54 AM
Dr. Dave
Thread OP
I agree, I would like RC enthusiasts living nearby manufacturers to explore and post info about their process
Aug 16, 2008, 08:12 AM
Captain Fly Bye
Dreamtalker's Avatar
Because of the outstanding Customer support and Service, all my ESC's are either Phoenix or Thunderbird. Support Tech's are great!
Terry B
Aug 16, 2008, 03:32 PM
Registered User
Mike-A's Avatar
YOU CAN TRUST CASTLE CREATIONS Their products simply work! I have brushed controlers I bought as ealy as 2003 as well as brushless and swapped them into many planes and they NEVER had any problems. I have about 8 controlers from them to date and will continue to buy them. THANKS CASTLE!
Aug 16, 2008, 09:37 PM
Nitro Abuser
Amp Abuser's Avatar
Are there plans in the works for a HV 300A 20S I need a 26hp motor for my full scale ultra light
Aug 17, 2008, 08:38 AM
Dr. Dave
Thread OP
Amp Buster I wish I knew. You'll have to contact Lee. He is on RCG somewhere.
Aug 17, 2008, 09:23 AM
Lee Estingoy
Quote:
Originally Posted by Amp Abuser
Are there plans in the works for a HV 300A 20S I need a 26hp motor for my full scale ultra light
You haven't checked our website lately, have you?

www.castlecreations.com -- check the industrial section.

BTW, we can't recommend these controllers for manned aviation pursuits. Our insurers aren't thrilled about that sort of use.

Lee


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