Much has been written about the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing, says AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology, but some experts see a reshoring trend due to the increasing demand for micro components produced by high precision EDM technology.
“The American machinist has higher expectations for quality, accuracy and productivity, and that attracts customers to the U.S. market,” says Gisbert Ledvon, director of business development with GF Machining Solutions LLC. “To find EDM technology that enables a machine shop to differentiate itself, I can think of no better place than IMTS – The International Manufacturing Technology Show.”
For IMTS 2016, which runs from September 12-17, 2016 at McCormick Place in Chicago, visitors can find EDM technology concentrated in the EDM pavilion, located in the center of the East Building. In addition, companies demonstrating EDM equipment along with other technologies are located throughout the show, including GF Machining Solutions.
“IMTS provides the perfect overview because a machine shop owner can evaluate the entire spectrum of EDM technology in one location,” says Ledvon. “That said, I don’t think shop owners want to be mainstream anymore. They want high-end EDM technology and seek customers that challenge them to deliver innovative solutions, such as 1-micron accuracy.”
AMT describes some of the EDM trends to be displayed at this year’s show.
1. MTConnect for EDM
“If you think of EDM as a mature technology, think again,” says Peter R. Eelman, vice president of exhibitions and business development with AMT. The show, he says, will expose attendees to “new machines capable of greater accuracy and enhanced surface finishes. We’re especially gratified to see the incorporation of the MTConnect communications protocol in EDM machines being demonstrated at the show.”
AMT and IMTS have played an integral role in the development and launch of MTConnect.
Protocols such as MTConnect enable faster and better communication between devices and software controls. The ability to monitor and analyze more data translates into tangible benefits, such as 1-micron accuracy, AMT says. By placing advanced temperature sensors in the casting, the dielectric and the work zone and connecting them to CNC controls, an EDM can maintain the casting at a consistent 68°F (20°C), the temperature at which dimensions are measured. By eliminating the variables related to thermal expansion or contraction, the machine can cut with greater accuracy and repeatability.
2. Automatic Wire Threading
In another trend shift, more EDM machines offer automatic wire-threading technology, AMT indicates. These machines make a first, faster cut with larger-diameter wire (e.g., 0.01 inch) and then automatically switch to a smaller wire diameter (e.g., 0.004 inch) for complex parts.
“Users can now purchase a single machine that runs unattended instead of one machine for a coarser cut and a second machine for a finer cut,” says Ledvon. “Operators are free to attend to other tasks, don’t have to transfer parts between machines and don’t have to worry about accuracy errors related to cutting on two different machines.”
3. In-process Inspection
Advances in vision systems incorporated into the EDM machine, also increase quality. These systems compare the shape of the just-cut contour with a 3D model of the part. If the system senses any deviation from the desired dimensions, it will automatically make adjustments to the next part.
“The current generation of wire EDM machines basically incorporates smart machine capabilities,” says Ledvon. “In-process inspection eliminates one step of the quality assurance process while minimizing scrap or rework.”
4. Enhanced Surface Finish Control
When it comes to die sinking EDM, “End users are now asking for enhanced surface finishes that enable them to make millions of plastic parts without maintenance on the mold,” says Ledvon. “We can accomplish this not by changing the RA value [roughness value], but by changing the shape of the surface texture.”
While a somewhat crude analogy, imagine how the surface shape affects removal of an ice cube; it will pop out of a bowl much more easily than from an ice cube tray, even though both pieces of ice are an inch high.
Attending the show? Set up meetings with exhibitors in the EDM Pavilion and search for other exhibitors with EDM systems on display using the MyShowPlanner tool at imts.com.