Technology Solutions

Duo of Wire EDM Machines Open Up Opportunities for Master Cut

Cutting cycle times and saving on consumable costs with Makino U86 and DUO43

Growing a business is difficult, and success often does not come quickly. Master Cut of Schaumburg, Ill., knows the struggle to grow all too well.

"It's a fight--working long days, searching for every possible new business opportunity," says Master Cut co-owner Harold Bartman. "It takes time for a new company to build customer confidence and pull in business, and once it's there it takes just as much work to build a relationship. You have to prove that you're working for their well being as much as your own. To do this, it's important for small businesses to invest in technologies that can increase efficiency, while lowering costs."

When Master Cut found themselves turning away orders due to machinery limitations, they decided that investing in new equipment could give them two advantages--deepening their relationship with current customers and opening up options with new customers. The cornerstones of this investment were two Makino wire EDM machines, a U86 for large jobs and the new DUO43, Makino's newest wire EDM.

A Reputation for EDM

Master Cut began as a two man operation in 2000 just outside of Chicago. Company owners Harold Bartman and Scott Phillips started simply with non-auto-threading machines that required full-time operator presence, forcing them to work 80 to 100 hours each week. Initial jobs were generally die and mold applications.

In 2001, Bartman and Phillips began investing in newer CNC wire EDM machines that enabled faster cycle times.

"The faster cycle times allowed us to chase more work, and growth became steady," said Phillips. "This gave us the ability to save and make sound business decisions based on business coming in, not on crazy projections."

Master Cut grew to five employees with two running the night shift, producing parts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The company diversified its customer base, applying their knowledge to applications in the medical, aerospace, tool and die, mold, and automotive industries. This growth led to a building expansion that doubled floor space. Still, Harold and Scott knew that to keep their business growing, they'd need to invest for the next stage of their development.

"We were being held back by what our wire EDM machines could do, so we needed technologies that could open up business opportunities, much like auto-threading machines did when we first started," said Bartman. "There's nothing worse than turning down a job because you can't handle the part's size or accuracy."

Harold and Scott felt that finding an EDM wire machine capable of accurately producing large jobs, and another that could handle small, very precise holes, would fill the needs of several of their current customers that were going elsewhere for that type of work. They also knew that in the industry they were in, these two requirements were becoming more important. Master Cut's newly hired employees suggested Makino wire EDM machines, based on their experiences in other shops.

First: The Big One

Their first purchase was a Makino U86 in April 2008. With its maximum fully submerged work piece size of 50.0 x 36 x 20 inches and even larger not submerged, the machine would allow Master Cut to handle nearly any size job, a solution for their large part needs and a gateway to other possible large part industries, such as off-road vehicle, energy, and industrial equipment.

"Not many EDM shops load parts with a 10,000 pound forklift--but our customers needed these big parts. The U86 EDM wire machine provided everything we needed for large jobs that we previously turned down and was up and running from the moment it hit the floor," adds Bartman. "It was impressively user-friendly, allowing us to machine a 4,500 pound block with a twenty inch tall cut on the first day. A 0.0002-inch tolerance was achieved on first run."

Eric Christensen, EDM operator at Master Cut, was quick to emphasize that the bigger work zone couldn't sacrifice accuracy.

"Makino builds their wire EDM machines with their milling experience in mind," says Christensen. "Some people ask how that's beneficial in EDM, but an EDM machine that's built heavily with solid engineering will retain stable and consistent accuracy. Our U-86 is massive and weighs 26000 pounds. When machines get big, many people assume that big parts don't require high accuracy. That's not true in the work we do."

The company found surprisingly accurate results when pushing even their largest orders onto the U86, including a recent die cast tool that measured in at 18 x 24 x 19.5-inches and weighed almost 2500 lbs. The operation required accurate threading to cut through the 19.5-inch part thickness. Results reported by operators applauded the U86 for holding tight, consistent accuracies despite the thick cut and achieved a 0.0003-inch tolerance with just one rough cut and one skim cut.

Once their need for large jobs was satisfied, Master Cut set their sights on their second need—an EDM wire machine that could handle high precision, small holes.

The DUO EDM Wire Machine

"We knew we needed round guides for the small holes we needed to thread, so we went to Makino to see if they offered smaller wire EDM machines with round guides," explains Bartman. "They told us they had a brand new EDM wire machine coming out--the DUO--which allowed you to choose if you wanted V or round guides. We were thrilled and asked if we could get one."

Though V-guides are superior for most applications, providing much longer guide life, fast-cutting features such as HEAT (High Energy Applied Technology), and better threading accuracy, Makino's PICO Precision guides (round guides), aid in threading of small diameter holes. Since this was the application Master Cut needed, they opted for the PICO guides on their DUO43.

The PICO system is developed specifically for applications that feature small holes in tight pitch matrices, holes smaller than 0.025-inch diameter. It is also well suited for accurate threading of holes, as well as variable land cuts for stamping and fine blanking dies. The PICO system was a familiar transition for the operators, due to their familiarity with the round guides of other wire EDM machines in their shop. This guide system also provides a guarantee that during manual threading, the wire will not miss the lower guide, even if the lower head cannot be seen. Using this system, Master Cut is able to perform high accuracy taper angles of up to 12-degrees and precision control over land height and taper angle transitions. In addition to dual wire guide options, the DUO-series of Makino Wire EDMs include several dual features such as a dual spark generator, dual filtration and dual high-pressure flush pumps.

Makino’s patented dual spark generator emits two spark pulses simultaneously, creating a waveform that cuts up to 30% faster while improving part accuracy and finish. In addition, the DUO-series of machines has been shown to reduce wire consumption by as much as 40 percent with standard wire, and up to 62 percent using 0.012-inch wire.

"We were intrigued by the DUO's features, small hole precision, and versatility," says Phillips. "A one-to-one test was performed between the DUO43 and one of our other late model wire EDMs on a die plate with multiple 0.288-inch diameter round holes and a 3/16-inch die life or land with a quarter-degree taper relief for the balance. The customer requested that the part be completed in as few passes possible, so we decided to operate with a single pass for the die land and one for the taper relief. Both machines achieved an accuracy of plus two-tenths minus nothing, but the time differences were staggering. In our previous machine, the plate was completed in 360 minutes, but in the DUO43 it took 170--less than half the time. Needless to say, the customer was extremely pleased with our quote for the job."

Another recent job was a cell phone part, which required 23 holes of 0.023-inch diameter. The popped holes started at 0.015-inch, making threading a concern. The DUO43 threaded flawlessly, finishing the job without a miss-thread.

"The DUO43 is a solid machine from the ground up," says Christensen. "We've never seen a wire machine with pick-up sensors as accurate or repeatable. The guide would literally fly straight to the pick up point’s wall without any hesitation or error. Overall, the machine's speed, agility, and repeatability have decreased cycle times by as much as 60 percent."

As an added benefit, the speed of the DUO allows Master Cut to take on tight-margin jobs and still turn a profit due to fast cycle times and reduced manual finishing. Bartman notes that the DUO43 is now the first machine they ensure is running because it is their most productive.

“We just finished a set of replacement carbide die inserts for the canning industry and shaved 20 percent off the times we previously thought were respectable from our other EDMs," he says. They also estimate that the reduced wire consumption of the Makino EDMs will save the company thousands each year.

"Just watching the spool spin on the Makinos versus our other machines--it's obvious it's using significantly less wire--I'd guess half as much or less. Not to mention parts are finishing faster," comments Bartman. "When you're running 170 versus 360 minutes, you're saving 53 percent on wire, regardless of the speed the spool is running. We're estimating we'll save about $26,000 in our first year with the Makinos in wire alone."

Looking Ahead

Master Cut plans to optimize Makino applications with advanced training on Makino's controls, as well as connections to the shop network.

"The support and training for applications and service that we have received from Makino have been nothing short of amazing," says Phillips. "The transition from our old controls has grown easier with the in-house training to date. That being said, we plan to attend training sessions at Makino where there won't be any interruptions from the daily shop routine. Everything we need is available on the Makino EDM machines; it's simply a matter of learning the appropriate functions that best suit our job orders."

"Our investments in high quality machinery are not just a temporary tactic to gain new business at the moment, but an investment in the future of our company," says Bartman. "Our goal is to consistently gather new equity in technology that can provide future business opportunities, just as it has with our latest new business in large part and small hole threading operations. We've solved our two concerns--deepening our relationship with current customers by not turning away the work we couldn't do, and opening up opportunities for new work with new customers, with our duo of Makino EDMs."

Master Cut
Schaumburg, IL 60193
(847) 534-0343