Please click on the cover to view
Laser & Waterjet Profiling
Register here for a free monthly edition of the magazine
Subscribe here to receive our free newsletter for a monthly round-up of the latest news and features
EDM Precision Technologies, a successful precision engineering business, has taken its eighth Mitsubishi EDM. Supplied by exclusive UK agent, HK Technologies, the Mitsubishi FA20S Advance provides much needed capacity at this progressive and ambitious precision engineering company. Solutions reports.
Based on the Technology Park at the Silverstone Circuit in Northamptonshire, EDM Precision’s association with the motorsport sector is clear. Interestingly, after its recent move to a larger unit at the Technology Park, the company is now housed in the very facility where Eddie Jordan built his first Formula One car in 1990.
And yet while motorsport constitutes around 60% of company revenue, EDM Precision is keen to build on its growing reputation in a number of other challenging sectors such as scientific equipment, medical, electronics, oil, defence and, importantly, aerospace. With regard to the latter, the company is currently undergoing accreditation to the BS EN 9100 (AS9100) aerospace quality management standard as part of its commitment to continual improvement.
Established in 1992, EDM Precision was acquired by its present managing director, Paul Waldron in 2006. Mr Waldron has since introduced a number of changes that have pushed the company into the UK’s vanguard of EDM service providers. For instance, an ethos of job ownership has employees taking responsibility for planning and inspecting their work and not just setting and running machines, while another new initiative sees important events and projects handled using a four stage philosophy of think/decide/plan to implement/implement, with particular emphasis on the ‘think’ part of the process. Indeed, this very formula was applied to the process of selecting a new wire EDM machine.
“We wanted a machine that would give us the extra capacity to meet growing demand, which meant it needed to be capable of reliable, unattended, overnight operation,” Mr Waldron explains. “After careful consideration we opted for a Mitsubishi FA20S Advance and due to the similarities with the seven other Mitsubishi machines already on site, we were up and running on day one.”
Precision and repeatability
EDM Precision enjoyed a strong 2010 with demand increasing across the board. A total of seven Formula One teams carried parts made by the company during the 2010 racing season, while other motorsport disciplines such as Le Mans, touring car and historic car racing also placed high demands on capacity. Furthermore, aerospace is becoming an increasing part of revenue generation.
“Precision for Formula One and repeatability for aerospace are key factors if you want to win contracts in these sectors, which is where the FA20S Advance comes into its own,” observes Mr Waldron.
Capable of handling workpieces up to 1,050mm x 800mm x 295mm, the FA20S Advance showcases Mitsubishi’s dedication to high precision. Functionality such as the M700 touchscreen control, anti-electrolysis technology and SL (Step-Less) control, all combine to make machining multiple parts with varying thicknesses and shapes faster and easier, saving up to 50% machining time over previous models.
“There are many advantages to EDM, but typically our customers like the fact that no stress is induced into the part due to the absence of heat or friction generated by conventional cutting processes such as milling or grinding,” says Mr Waldron. “Additionally, because of the high cost of the materials used in many of the sectors we serve, customers appreciate that EDM can often yield a higher number of parts per billet.”
Warp factor 10
As a company, speed of response is another real strength of EDM Precision and this relates to both quote turnaround and production supported by its seven wire EDMs, three die sink EDMs, as well as CNC milling, CNC turning, EDM hole drilling and grinding capabilities. Additionally, smart engineering through the use of Erowa tooling systems enables workpieces to be transferred from EDM machine to mill, and vice versa, without the need for lengthy set-up procedures.
“In Formula One we might be tendering for a job at 2pm with the order arriving at 4pm and delivery required within a week – and we might have to source material in that time,” Mr Waldron says. “From time to time we have orders with a next day delivery required. Formula One is essentially product development at warp factor 10 on a race-by-race basis. Some of the components we are asked to produce are extremely challenging, but we have a growing reputation for using the determination and ingenuity of our experienced engineers to solve seemingly impossible problems.”
In 2009, like many engineering companies, EDM Precision found the market tough-going. However, the business worked hard to make a modest profit and focused its energies on emerging from the recession in a strong position. The company took on two trainees at the beginning of 2010, refreshed its website and pledged to begin searching for a new high precision wire EDM, a process that commenced at the MACH 2010 exhibition in June. With the FA20S Advance now installed, this progressive strategy is already starting to pay dividends.
“We’re now seeing larger orders from existing customers plus a steady increase in new customers – in the past four months we have been adding new customers at the rate of two per month,” Mr Waldron reveals. “I feel we are well positioned to continue to grow with additional employees, extra capacity and continuous improvements in our processes and efficiency. The Mitsubishi FA20S Advance plays a big part in this.”
The company’s production manager, Roy Marks, continues the theme: “Our Mitsubishi machines are reliable, well made and accurate. For maintenance, we can call out one engineer to service eight machines and with many of the wear parts and consumables being interchangeable, we can keep running costs under control. Last but not least, HK Technologies offer a full-time, dedicated application engineering team. They have easy-to-access experts, and in addition to basic training this can add real value to a project by helping reduce machining time through with knowledge of the optimum machining settings to use for unusually shaped parts.”
Batch sizes at the company range from one-off to over 100 in some instances, although 20-25 is typical. At the time of writing, the machine was loaded with a flywheel for a motorsport customer that required the external tooth profile machined.
In terms of accuracy, Mr Waldron says the machine is easily good to ±5µm, often ±2µm, although he states this is usually only in cases where EDM precision is creating the datum. If the component is already part machined by another company, the subsequent EDM work will only be as accurate as the datum created.
As a point of note, the company also manufactures a small selection of its own products. A recent example is a titanium brake shim that reduces heat transfer from the brakes to the brake fluid. This effect can be disastrous in motor racing as heated brake fluid with compressible gas bubbles can suddenly reduce the effectiveness of braking.
Such is the growing reputation of EDM Precision that the company even hosts tours of its facilities for technical colleges and universities. In fact, the company recently hosted 25 design engineers from a Formula One team, who were keen to find out more about EDM and design for manufacturing. The knock-on benefit for EDM Precision is the arrival of designs that are more conducive to EDM processes, as well as new parts that were previously manufactured using other techniques.
“There is no escaping the fact that acquiring new plant and equipment represents a big commitment for small businesses, but to not invest is simply not an option,” concludes Mr Waldron. “Running any company is about making the right decisions at the right time. Taking a long term view in a small business can be challenging, as it’s easy to get overloaded with day to day work. However, if a small company is going to benefit from its particular mix of quality, service and value by using its own expertise, speed and agility, then time must be set the aside to make longer term plans. There is no doubt in my mind – the Mitsubishi is a good investment for our business.”
EDM Precision Technologies