Flexible EDM Machines Keep Customers Coming Back For More
Manufacturing during troubled economic times is an uphill battle. To stay afloat, manufacturers must be willing to take on challenging applications. Moon Tool & Die of Meadville, PA has built a loyal customer base, relying on their unique manufacturing solutions and flexible EDM machines to deliver for their customers.
"Our customers constantly challenge us to do things we've never done before--because they know we're the guys to go to when a part has to be made," says Jack Moyers, director of operations. "When a customer required fine hole threading beyond our equipment's abilities, we purchased a Makino U32j wire EDM with PICO wire guide system. The machine allowed us to continuously thread over two thousand holes and cut the part perfectly, proving that we were up to the challenge. This is just one example of how we are an extension of our customer's production--which is exactly why we've been growing with our customers for nearly 30 years."
Moon Tool & Die uses a team of EDM machines―Ram EDMs and wire EDMs—and vertical mills to meet the diverse needs of their customers. But it all started in Jim Moon's garage.
In 1979 Jim Moon was busy in his garage producing die and mold components with a single manual machine. Two years later he moved into a 1,400 square-foot rented space. In 1994 the company purchased a building, which was later expanded to 8,500 square feet.
In September of 2008, Moon Tool & Die moved into their current 17,000 square foot location. Today the company has 25 employees and operates two shifts a day. Their shop floor consists of just over 30 machines, including vertical machining centers, wire EDMs, sinker EDMs and turning centers. Even their current space is full, so they are considering building on in the near future into the four acres of land they purchased for later expansion.
"We've doubled the space we need about every 10 years," says Jim Moon. "From struggling in my garage, to earning over 3.5 million in sales today, we succeed by growing with our customers, and constantly taking on new jobs that push our capabilities."
An example of this growth is Moon's recent move to diversify their business. In 2008, about half of the company's revenue comes from production parts, not the die and mold components they began producing nearly 30 years ago. The company utilizes their flexible equipment and experienced staff of machinists to take on the work others might not, even when it's out of their usual area of expertise, allowing them to grow in new directions based on their customers' needs.
"Production requires the same equipment and many of the same skills of die and mold work," explains Moon. "Our customers trust us with their die/mold work, so when a production part is needed, we don't feel it's necessary to limit ourselves, and the result has been increased growth and a closer connection to our customers."
The markets they serve have also expanded as their customers have grown into energy, electronics, consumer products, and mold/die repair. These diverse customer needs led Moon Tool & Die to seek out machines that could provide flexibility. Their search led them to several Makino machines, including wire EDMs with a variety of wire guide options.
Flexible Wire Guide Options
In 2004, Moon Tool & Die purchased a Makino SP43 wire EDM machine equipped with C-guides for parts requiring tapers up to 34 degrees and V-guides for fast production work.
"The C-guides allow us to produce parts with serious tapers, not often seen in wire EDM work, like these rotors," says Doug Wilcox, Moon Tool & Die EDM operator, holding a part that looks like a turbine blade. "We use the V-guides for speed. It's the fastest EDM machine that we've ever had on our shop floor. It cuts 20 percent faster in a single pass, and 15 percent faster producing a finished part, while using about half as much wire. Anytime you can combine decreased wire consumption with faster machining, you know you're saving money.
"In five years of near-continuous operation we haven't replaced a SP43 wire guide yet. They're self-cleaning and don't wear like round guides, making maintenance fast-- it literally takes me five minutes a week to clean. These EDM machines make my life a lot easier. From wire break protection to the intuitive touch screen controller and operator manual, it's obvious that Makino builds their equipment with the operator in mind."
In 2006, a customer needed a job to be completed with literally thousands of small holes. They turned to Makino for an EDM machine that was built to handle this type of challenge.
"Early adoption is nothing new to our shop, in fact we were one of the first 50 SP43 owners in the U.S.," explains Moyers. "When we went back to Makino asking for a wire EDM machine capable of quick and accurate small hole burning, the PICO Precision wire guides were described to us as ideal for automatic threading of holes smaller than 0.025 inches in diameter in tight pitch matrices. This, in addition to the assurance of accurate wire threading, led us to the purchase of a U32j with PICO Precision guides."
The PICO guide system enabled the company to complete a project featuring 2,500 holes, each 0.02177 inch by 0.0397 inch with only 0.0395 inch spacing equally across the X- and Y-axes. The machining process took several days, frequently running unattended, without a single auto-thread error.
"I was very impressed when the job ran without the machine missing a single hole. On top of this, all the new technologies in the U32j make it our go-to machine for high tolerances and smooth surface finishes," says Wilcox. "This EDM machine leaves us with excellent surface finishes that don't require benching-- even without pushing the settings to the ultra-fine modes. When we finish a job in the U32j, there's no question of the quality we can expect."
Team of Makino Machines
That same year, Moon Tool & Die purchased a Makino S56 vertical machining center for graphite machining and hardmilling, and an EDGE2S Ram EDM.
"Despite the unique features in each machine, they work together as a team flawlessly," says Moyers. "The S56 provides the ability to machine graphite to feed our EDGE2S, while allowing us to hardmill up to 65 HRc that had previously required EDM processing. And when a part has a feature that is best suited for wire EDM, we turn to our SP43 or U32j, depending on the requirement."
Moon Tool & Die's EDGE2S is used to produce cavity blocks, molds, and production parts, with square corners and other features that demand the accuracies of a sinker EDM. The EDGE2S tool changer provided the company with unattended machining capabilities for night and weekend operation.
"With these technologies, we can create products using the best processes available, whether it be milling, Ram or wire EDM, and achieve demanding accuracies quickly," says Moyers. "We can produce products beginning with the fast-paced hardmilling of the S56, pass the tool on to the SP43 or U32j to wire out the details, and finally move to the EDGE2S to complete thin ribs and other features.
"Our Makino machines have become a microcosm of our shop by providing flexible options that impact nearly every order. They allow us to machine graphite, steel, bronze, aluminum, copper, titanium, and of course tool steels, all with high precision. Between both of our wire EDM machines we are able to utilize a variety of wires, including four, six, eight, ten and twelve thousandths of an inch diameter. The flexibility of these technologies allow them to work efficiently on their own, and perfectly together. They all operate with the same level of precision, and the flexibility of this equipment allows us to meet the needs of our customers, and why they always come back to us when they have a job they know needs to be done right--even if it's not the normal sort of thing we do for them."
Serving the Customer
"Flexibility and a willingness to work with the end goal in mind are critical," says Moon. "No two customer's needs are exactly the same. Each project is unique, possessing its own challenges. Fulfilling individual needs requires communication of the part's purpose and implementation."
"Accepting difficult projects allows us to build relationships with potential customers," adds Moyers. "We recently received a sub-contracted order for a locomotive part that required extensive trial cuts using the U32j and the S56. It took us 35 cuts and many hours of CAD programming and customer communication, but it all paid off when they came directly to us for new models."
Another customer order involved the creation of an experimental tool with the smallest terminal size and spacing ever used on a specific connector type. Through extensive customer collaboration, Moon recommended altering and relocating several features of the tooling to ensure consistency and repeatability. The project involved operators and engineers at Moon and several types of machining in order to achieve a reproducible tooling design. Upon engineering approval, Moon Tool & Die was awarded the contract to proceed. They utilized their team of machines to produce the part, and are still challenged with new parts from this customer today.
"We've built up a loyal customer base that challenges us and our machines," says Moon. "Many projects combine the talents of various departments to create cutting edge production techniques that often require new machining techniques with little time for experimentation. That's why we value Makino's user friendly machines and the fact that they are fast to help. Makino treats their customers like we treat ours, understanding our needs and helping us succeed.
"Our company is always growing, but the direction depends on our customers. As customers continue to challenge us, we'll look to Makino to expand our team of flexible equipment."