Case study Out with the old EDM machines, in with the new

Editor: Eric Culp

Neptune Engineering, a Hertford, UK-based injection moulding and toolmaking specialist, has invested in Sodick wire and die sink technology from the supplier’s British agent Sodi-Tech, a decision said to have spurred even greater growth.

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The manufacture of precision parts is the mainstay of the shop, and new EDM units have helped it eliminate the need for subcontracting.
The manufacture of precision parts is the mainstay of the shop, and new EDM units have helped it eliminate the need for subcontracting.
(Source: Sodick)

The company used a Sodick AD30L die sink EDM to replace a 20-year-old model, and a Sodick VZ300L wire EDM will be used to eliminate subcontracted jobs and thus cut lead-times and costs. Customers expected to benefit the most are in the medical sector, responsible for around a third of Neptune sales.

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The changing of the guard

The direction of the 40-year-old shop shifted in 2010 when Gary Statham took over the business from his father. He moved the company to premises double in size, and over the next two years invested in new CNC machining centre technology and the latest CADCAM software. In late 2013, he decided to buy new wire and die sink EDMs.

The investments are said to have already paid off: since Statham took the reins, the company has reportedly tripled its turnover. “Before coming here in 2010, I worked for a successful mould making business in Buckinghamshire,” Statham said. That shop used Sodick units, and at Neptune, the existing die sink was machine 20 years old, so the company had to subcontract wire work. This precluded the shop from meeting increasing demand for shorter lead-times and more precision.

The VZ300L is said to be a cost-friendly, entry level wire EDM with features such as linear motor drives, glass scale feedback, high speed AWT and a 10-year positioning guarantee. The Sodick AD30L die sinker also has these attributes, which can reportedly cut EDM time by up to 50%.

Less wear, faster production

The AD30L has impacted operations, Statham noted. “In short, the finer the finish, the more electrode wear you expect. However, the electrode wear using our new AD30L is around five times less than what we achieved using our older machine.” Some moulded parts for the medical industry are only the size of a thumbnail or smaller, and a number of customers ask for “zero surface finish”. The AD30L finishing is so good that no polishing is needed, he said.

The shop makes a range of products, including small, quick-change modular tooling and complex, multi-impression hot runner moulds up to 2 tonnes. “We manufacture single impression prototype moulds for some of our medical industry customers,” Statham said, adding that the shop faces typical lead times of four weeks or less.

Take a deep breath

Neptune also makes devices to help patients get the most from their PMDI (Pressurised Metered Dose Inhaler). These environmentally-friendly, placebo-like training devices are becoming essential tools for healthcare professionals to teach inhaler techniques.

While “inferior” EDMs can allow for production of basic tooling with manual skills, Statham said “for more complex moulds, it is difficult to hold accuracy of 0.01mm”. He cited this as the main reason the company upgraded.

The Sodick machines at Neptune are largely programmed offline, but Statham said online programming is also used due to the helpful Q&A style of programming on the units.

“The market remains tough, but we are busy with good visibility looking forward,” Statham said. “Ultimately, if you produce good work and hit delivery dates, customers will come back.”

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