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When Exactaform realised that its CBN insert production could not compete with cheap imports from multinational manufacturers, it decided to target niche markets with rotary diamond tooling.

And nine years after the company acquired the UK’s first Vollmer QWD760 five-axis wire erosion machine for the automatic measuring and erosion of tools, the company has grown to become one of the UK’s largest independent PCD tooling manufacturers.

When Asian and eventually global OEMs drove the price of CBN inserts from approximately GBP50 down to GBP15-20 more than ten years ago, the small Coventry-based tooling manufacturer had to evolve to survive.

The strategy of diversifying into rotary PCD and PCBN tooling has paid dividends for Exactaform.

Since acquiring its first manual Vollmer QWD760 for finishing the profiles on its cutting tools, the company has since purchased an additional five Vollmer machines with another currently on order.

This has enabled the strategy of diversification to thrive.

The company doubled its factory space to 10,000ft2 in January 2010 and has continually posted annual growth figures of 25-30 per cent.

The company’s customer base now encompasses military, aerospace, F1, automotive and the general subcontract market.

Exactaform’s first Vollmer QWD760 is a manual machine that requires operator intervention, so it runs for 40 hours a week.

The business has since grown and acquired three more QWD750H wire erosion machines, with robotic loading to automate the process.

The latest QWD750H arrived in January 2010 and the three machines each have a 12 station carousel that enables Exactaform to run the machines unmanned.

With each cutter taking anything from 45 minutes to 3 hours to machine, depending upon the cutter geometries, Exactaform can set the machines to run unmanned overnight.

The labour intensive aspect for Exactaform is tool building – it has 18 employees and most are building tools with only two operators running the six Vollmer machines.

The QWD’s run an average of 120 hours a week, every week.

Despite giving Exactaform a high level of automation, a key benefit to the company is the flexibility of the wire erosion machines.

All the QWD machines have access to a central server that stores a history of thousands of tool programs.

From this database, the machine operator can download the 12 required tool programs and select the order of the tools to be machined.

This flexibility allows Exactaform to meet the rapid turnaround times of its F1 customers, while enabling the company to offer end users an equally low price for one-off tools as for tools in a batch run.

It also allows Exactaform to turn tools around within 24 hours for customers with urgent requests.

The machine’s probe system automatically measures and orientates the tool to compensate for a tip that has been brazed out of position.

This reduces manual setting while ensuring the desired dimensions are achieved to within a tolerance of 0.001mm with repeatability within 5 microns for a batch of 12 tools.

Despite the high productivity levels of the Vollmer QWD machines, growth at Exactaform has required additional machines.

Vollmer then supplied its QXD200 rotary erosion machine.

Whereas the QWD machines would have the same cycle time regardless of whether they were removing 2 or 10mm, the QXD is specifically for removing small quantities of material at higher speeds.

The QXD200, acquired in 2009, accommodates 12 cutting tools and up to six wheels.

At Exactaform, the individual wheels are used for gashing operations and OD grinding, with large wheels used for roughing and smaller wheels for finishing.

The QXD200 has proven 20 to 30 per cent faster than the QWD machines at Exactaform.

However, this is only applicable to nominal material removal rates.

The six simultaneously controlled axes and ability to measure, erode, grind and polish has been complemented by new Vollmer software that enables Exactaform to complete cutting tools on the QXD200 machines in one set-up.

Like the QWD machines, the QXD is highly automated to improve cycle times and process capability.

This ream of benefits noted the company taking delivery of a second QXD200 in January 2011 with another on order.

The second QXD has a 29-tool changer, more than its predecessor.

The probing system on the QXD200 not only measures and orientates the tool but also probes the wheels.

This calibration corresponds with an automatic wheel dressing cycle that communicates any wheel deviations to the CNC for automatic path compensation.

The machines at Exactaform have a traffic light system, a wireless sender and a camera network.

This enables operators to remotely receive emails with video footage that informs them how many jobs are left in production or if a machine goes down.

This ensures that a machine is never down for any lengthy period of time.

Vollmer has also developed software that enables Exacaform to generate Vollmer program directly from a DXF file.

This system saves time in the office and on the shop floor.

The Vollmer Group specialises in the processing of tools in respect of both production and services. Its product range embraces the latest sharpening and eroding machines for saw blades and tools used in the metal and wood processing industries.

The Group's headquarters in Biberach, Germany, is the design and development centre for its products. Other production sites are located in Mörlenbach, Germany, and Taicang, China.

With 700 employees in nine branches and 30-plus agencies, the company works closely with customers at local level, thus ensuring the same high standard of consulting and customer care worldwide.

Product Range

  • Machines for precision sharpening of circular saws
  • Tooling industry: high-precision and performance wire EDM and grinding centres for manufacturing cutting tools 
  • Sawmill industry: tensioning, straightening and grinding of bandsaw blades

Company history

  • 1909 — Heinrich Vollmer develops the first patentable saw blade setting and filing machines
  • 1952 — Vollmer develops first machines for carbide-tipped circular saw blades
  • 1979 — subsidiaries open in France, Brazil, UK, Italy, US and Japan
  • 1988 — Vollmer develops erosion machine for diamond-tipped saw-blade machining
  • 1998 — wire erosion machine introduced for the metalworking industry
  • 2006 — Vollmer purchases Loroch GmbH to complete product range for processing of saw blades

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