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Rodmatic Multico has invested in wire EDM technology, which has enabled special tool costs to be reduced by half.

The volume production operation of the Rodmatic Group, based in Reading, has been able to reduce its stockholding of tools while improving is response to customers on new components and revert away from subcontract tool manufacture.

Brian Steatham, managing director, said: ‘The GBP80,000 investment in the installation of a Fanuc 0Ii wire EDM is easily the best purchase Rodmatic has ever made when judged against an immediate return on investment.

‘As our setter/operators get more familiar with the process and technology, bearing in mind it was totally new to us all having moved from around-the-clock tool production using three optical profile grinders [OPGs], new opportunities for savings are now being continuously uncovered,’ he added.

The machine was installed at Rodmatic Hytek – the CNC smaller-batch, fast-response operation on the same site in Reading – in September 2008.

Since then, almost 450 different programs have been created for form tools, internal and external recess and special tools made from both high-speed steel (HSS) and brazed carbide for the production of fittings, fasteners, connectors, special studs and locking devices.

Rodmatic supplies the automotive, medical, fluid-power, oil-and-gas, energy and environmental sectors.

As a result of the changes in process, the initial monitoring of tools on each machine has also seen in the in-cut life improved by around 10 per cent thanks to higher accuracy of form and the cutting action created by the automatic wire processing that does not degrade the cutting surface of the tool.

Further savings have been made thanks to the flexibility of the process, which is able to provide a fast response when an urgent tool is required, such as when a tool is chipped or broken.

This can now be cut using an automatic cycle by calling up the existing program, meaning that reserve tooling no longer has to be stocked in the stores.

Almost as a sideline, the machine has also been designated to cut ring gauges as well as gauges for groove, form and width checks widely used for components on the production line.

‘They are considerably cheaper to produce in house, with the benefit of higher accuracy being achieved through wire cutting than previous grinding methods and sourcing from external tool-room suppliers,’ added Steatham.

Programming is mainly being carried out offline using the company’s PEPS NC computer-aided-manufacturing (CAM) programming system, with the tooling module accounting for the appropriate tooling geometry while speeds and feeds are set at the machine control.

Up to 12 tools tend to be mounted on the machine table at a time, taking advantage of the flexibility of the process, giving the choice of producing a range of different tools and/or multiple versions of the same tool mixed in the same run cycle.

The machine is set to run during the day, while new programs are created or tool blanks prepared.

At the moment, an OPG is still used for regrinds, reserving the wire machine for new tools.

It is reset late in the afternoon, ready for unmanned production between shifts and through the night.

Here, the advantage of the automatic wire feed eliminates any need for attendance and the adaptive control adjusts the process to maintain optimised rates of feed.

Often, as the wire process is a lot faster than the OPG methods, tools are set on the table that will not totally take up a complete night’s available production time.

Here, the setter will input the self timer so that the machine starts and then switches off with the job complete as he or she arrives for work in the morning.

As Rodmatic produces more than a million components a month via its installed base of multi-autos supplying the fluid-power, hydraulic, automotive-related and off-road sectors, form tools are critical in creating competitive cycle times and the maintenance of dimensions of relative features of a component into a single tool.

As the company has also introduced thread rolling wherever possible on the multi-autos in place of tapping, die boxing or chasing, this creates further savings and contributes to higher quality and productivity, with the form tools providing a higher security of process.

Over the last 18 months, Rodmatic has been working through the machine shop rebuilding and updating its machines and switching, where economically viable, from HSS flat-form tools to solid-carbide tool setups.

As a result, the overall productivity and utilisation of each machine has been improved by around a third as each is recommissioned, while dimensional consistency with lower levels of setter involvement has also improved.

Steatham describes one area of spin-off within the Hytek division where the company has installed two Star CNC sliding-head lathes, a nine-axis SV-32 and seven-axis SR-20 Rlll.

Among the contracts being completed on both machines is the production of some 40 different types of suspension piston rod for an auto-sport customer.

The parts up to 16mm in diameter and 280mm in length are turned and threaded at each end with special flats milled in the single-cycle operation.

Hytek engineers were able to experiment potential savings by incorporating wire-cut flat-form tools in the sliding-head process.

As a result, it has enabled them to cut the overall cycle time by almost 30 per cent.

With a working capacity of 700 x 600 x 255mm, the Fanuc machine has adequate volume to produce a range of components.

It has even been employed to wire-cut a special coolant manifold for an unusual application on one of its machines, which was cheaper and more convenient to produce than the tool room.

Plans have already been laid for the future to expand its tool service capability.

With the addition of a further C axis to give a rotary motion, the wire-cut machine will be used to cut circular form tools and multi-diameter-combination form cutters for internal forms.

‘By drawing together a plan of re-engineering our volume-production machines, adding a smaller-batch CNC capability and adding the capability to be almost self sufficient on tooling that involves complex forms, we have become significantly more competitive when quoting for new work and are now able to react very quickly to customer needs,’ said Steatham.

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