Technology Solutions

EDM Wire Saving Reduces Operational Cost at Vanderhorst Brothers

One of the highest operating costs for any wire EDM is the cost of the wire the machine consumes during a cut. Cutting this high operating cost by 40 percent to 50 percent equates to an EDM wire saving value of about $8,000 to $10,000 per machine, per shift, per year! However, if this cost saving in consumables is offset by high maintenance costs and lost production time, there is no advantage. The ability to improve EDM wire saving while increasing productivity through reliability can have a significant impact on overall profit.

Vanderhorst Brothers Inc. of Simi Valley, Calif., has found a solution to this balancing act in its Makino EDM machines. These machines can be relied upon to perform accurately and reliably, especially unattended. Their DUO43 WEDM, in particular, costs less to run because it consumes less wire than the company’s previous equipment.

Founded in 1973 by brothers Hank and Ed Vanderhorst, Vanderhorst Brothers is a mid-sized precision machine house that offers milling, turning, EDM, programming and assembly services to a variety of markets including aerospace, defense, medical, semiconductor and commercial. Their philosophy of quality, integrity, personal service and lean manufacturing methodologies drew a number of talented individuals from various backgrounds, including future owner and president Brian O’Rell. With decades of experience in the precision machining industry, O’Rell brought the dedication and insight to improve quality, productivity and profitability. Since purchasing the company in 2000, O’Rell has focused much of his attention on equipping Vanderhorst Brothers with state-of-the-art machinery, especially for its fast-growing EDM department.

“Before investing in the DUO43, we weren’t aware of our true running costs, subscribing to the idea that all wire machines were the same and EDM wire was just part of the cost of doing business,” admits Brian O’Rell, president and owner of Vanderhorst Brothers. “Everything changed, however, when Makino demonstrated that we could experience an EDM wire saving of a pound of wire per hour compared to our previous machines.”

Vanderhorst Brothers’ first partnership with Makino began in 2006. Without a sinker EDM, they were forced to outsource high volumes of valve body applications. The process was expensive and tedious, resulting in extended lead-times and inconsistent part quality. After one order came back with a recorded scrap rate of 30 percent, they knew something had to be done right away. Prior to this time, Makino sales engineers were frequently coming by to talk about business and offer assistance with the company’s wire EDM applications. “Although we didn’t own any Makino equipment at the time, our current EDM partner was providing us with little to no assistance. So when it came time to invest in a sinker EDM, the choice was fairly simple,” says O’Rell.

In 2006, Vanderhorst Brothers brought its valve body work back in-house with the purchase of a Makino EDGE2 sinker EDM. According to Josh Church, Vanderhorst Brothers’ quality assurance manager, the investment enabled the company to regain full control over its quality and lead-times.

Reliable Investing

“As a job shop, the flow of materials is critical in predicting accurate lead-times and the ability to prioritize applications. As such, each process must remain flexible, predictable and reliable,” explains O’Rell. “This hadn’t been the case with our EDM department previously.

“Recent investments in a Makino DUO43 wire EDM and an EDGE2 sinker EDM have allowed us to regain control over our EDM department,” says O’Rell. “Just six years ago, we were facing extended lead-times and part inconsistencies due to outsourcing and the unreliability of our two previous wire EDMs. Today our operations run unattended throughout the day, over nights and even weekends. We can ensure that quality is up to our standards and are saving money hand over fist on operational costs.”

EDM Wire Saving

In 2009, based upon its favorable experience with the Makino EDGE2, Vanderhorst Brothers continued its EDM enhancements by replacing two four-year-old wire EDMs with a Makino DUO43. According to O’Rell, they run the DUO43 about 2,000 hours per year, or one full shift.

“After dealing with unreliable auto-threaders, costly routine maintenance and lack of machine support, we wanted a wire EDM that could provide the same level of performance and predictability that we got from the EDGE2,” says O’Rell. “With the DUO43, we’re able to run a variety of applications, including aerospace, automotive, defense, medical and optics, completely unattended with little operator maintenance required. Additionally, we’re seeing significant EDM wire saving without reductions in speed or quality.”

Although wire consumption rarely appears as a topic of concern for most wire EDM users, the financial benefits of owning a low-wire-consumption machine can be critical to a manufacturer’s bottom line. According to Makino, the DUO43 and DUO64 reduce wire unspooling rates for an EDM wire saving of up to 50 percent in many applications.

Because Makino builds mechanical accuracy into these machines, the on-board computers are required to perform axis movement error compensations less frequently. This allows the control to address higher priorities, like activating Makino’s patented BellyWizard technology and performing the multitude of calculations required for it to work properly. As wire travels through a part, some of the wire is eroded away with the part material, creating taper in the wire from top to bottom of the cut. This becomes more apparent as parts become taller. Most modern WEDMs will compensate for this wear by positioning the upper and lower heads so that the taper is eliminated and the wire is parallel to the surface being cut. Some machines will increase wire feed rates to help control this wear. BellyWizard takes this a step further by adding a very small circular interpolation of the wire around the theoretical center of the cut path. This helps reduce wire lag, which causes belly or bow in tall parts. Not only does this allow Makino WEDMs to unspool wire at the slow rate of 0.6 pounds per hour, but it also allows the machines to finish jobs in fewer passes.

EDM wire, at its current cost of approximately $6 a pound, is the single highest cost related to the use of WEDM technology. The faster a machine unspools wire, the more it costs to operate that machine. For shops like Vanderhorst Brothers that run a WEDM for 2,000 hours per year, or one full shift, a DUO43 with “out of the box” technology settings can experience about $10,000 each year in EDM wire saving.

On average, most WEDMs unspool wire at a rate of 1.5 to 1.75 pounds per hour. And although these higher rates can be reduced by slowing the unspool speed, manufacturers must deal with increased breakage with additional adverse affects to speed, accuracy and surface finish. Under these unreliable conditions, increased cycle times and maintenance can oftentimes negate or even surpass the cost saving of slower wire feeds.

Unattended Reliability

Another benefit that Vanderhorst Brothers has obtained from the DUO43’s reduced wire consumption has been extended periods of unattended machining.

“There was no such thing as unattended machining on our previous equipment. If the machines were running, someone was there to babysit,” explained O’Rell. “With the DUO43, we can put those previous worries aside, thanks to its larger 32-pound wire-spool capacity, conservative wire consumption and reliable performance. During the day, our operators are able to take care of other responsibilities, improving the condition of our shop floor and overall efficiency. At night, we can run the machine extra hours, enabling us to improve productivity and reduce our cost per part.”

Vanderhorst Brothers runs the DUO43 unattended most evenings and occasionally through the weekends. On a recent order, O’Rell was able to run an application overnight for nine straight hours, completely unattended, without any hesitance or worry.

“Its liberating to know that jobs can still be completed without anyone having to sacrifice time that could be spent with loved ones,” says O’Rell. “And when everything is said and done, we can come back fresh and ready with a set of finished parts made perfectly to spec.”

Half the Equipment, Equal Productivity

Perhaps the greatest cost saving to Vanderhorst Brothers has been the replacement of two machines with just one, all while retaining the same level of production capacity. According to Church, even if wire consumption levels were the same, the company still would have eliminated the full operational cost required to run a second machinenot to mention the maintenance required to manage unreliable auto-threaders.

“Reliability has also been a major factor in the productivity of the DUO43,” explains Church. “With our previous machines, we were experiencing downtime resulting from a variety of frequently occurring issues, including damages to the power feeder chamber, pinch roller jamming and the most annoying of all, constant hand-threading. Eliminating these factors altogether has dramatically improved cycle times and given us a sense of security again.”

Vanderhorst Brothers also reports noticeably faster burn rates using the DUO43. “We’ve seen significant reductions in cycle times even with poor flushing conditionsa piston application reduced from 18 minutes to just 13 minutes, another slashed from 12 to 7 minutesacross the board we’re averaging about 30 percent faster processing.”

Custom Workholding Solution

The company also uses a custom workholding solution, known as “Raptor,” to further increase the DUO43’s efficiency. Developed by O’Rell and partners, Raptor workholding products feature a patented dovetail design that quickly locks parts in place for extreme clamping strength and rigidity without distortion or clamp creep. The Raptor clamp requires only 1/8 inch of material, providing manufacturers with extended part reach for fewer setups.

“Raptor’s ability to fit in a wide variety of machines has allowed us to transfer parts quickly and accurately between our mills and the DUO43,” says Church. “The process is simple and operator-friendly, eliminating any need to refixture and change parameters for different machines. We just pull it right out of the mill, tighten it in place on the DUO43, hit start and walk away.”

Industry Outlook

“If someone would have told me two years ago that we were about to have the third best year of business in our company history, I would have told them they were crazy,” says O’Rell. “However, this was exactly what happened! Our investments in reliable EDM equipment with low operational costs have paid off tremendously, eliminating outsourcing, cutting expenditures on consumables and improving productivity with less equipment.”

Because the cost of goods rarely declines, Vanderhorst Brothers also considers the low wire consumption features of the DUO43 to be a long-lasting benefit with cost saving that only continues to increase over time.

“If there’s one thing recent events have shown us, it’s that business can change sharply in an instant,” shares O’Rell. “To sustain the good times, you must prepare by investing in reliable, high performance technology that delivers low operational costs.”

Vanderhorst Brothers, Inc.
Simi Valley, CA
(805) 583-3580