EDM specialist introduces value-add machining capability

Mills CNC has recently supplied leading EDM precision subcontract specialist Erodatools with three new Doosan machine tools enabling the business to get its fledgeling machine shop up and running. PES reports.

The investment for Sheffield-based Erodatools comprised two compact, multi-tasking Lynx lathes (a Lynx 2100LSYB and a Lynx 2600Y) and a DNM 6700 vertical machining centre, supplied with a Nikken fourth axis unit, installed at the company’s 8,500ft² facility in Penistone, South Yorkshire in September 2020, April 2021 and May 2021 respectively.

The Doosan DNM 6700 supplied with a Nikken fourth axis unit installed at Erodatools’ facility in Sheffield
The Doosan DNM 6700 supplied with a Nikken fourth axis unit installed at Erodatools’ facility in Sheffield

The investment reflects a major strategic move by the company to augment its core and traditional wire and solid sink EDM operations through the rapid creation of a fully-functional, high-performance in-house CNC machine shop with state-of-the-art turning and milling capabilities.

Spearheading the development of the new resource is Jon Harper, Erodatools’ recently appointed machine shop manager: “The new machine shop complements the EDM side of the business,” he says. “It is run on the same business principles and company values that have served Erodatools so well for almost 50 years – namely a commitment to continuous improvement, best-in-class quality and unrivalled customer care.”

Rock solid foundations

Erodatools was created in 1972 by brothers Ken and Tony Rolfe as an EDM precision subcontract specialist company providing high-accuracy wire and die-sinking machining services to locally-based customers operating across a variety of industries such as mining and rail.

“Through the skill and dedication of its people, combined with regular and prudent investment in advanced EDM machine tools, the company built a strong and solid reputation in the market based on quality, lead-time fulfilment and cost-competitiveness,” Mr Harper advises. “As EDM became a more mainstream technology, Erodatools was able to take advantage of the situation and grow the business.”

Today the company serves a diverse range of customers operating in the aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, medical devices, marine and energy sectors.

Always on the cards

It was always Erodatools’ intention to augment its EDM operations by creating a CNC machine shop. The question was more ‘when’ as opposed to ‘if’ as works manager Caroline Healey explains: “Although EDM is our core business and we have a large number of loyal customers, we are essentially a jobbing shop. And, because EDM is often at the end of the process chain, it is often difficult to predict work volumes in advance.

“To add more certainty to the business and to strengthen our position within customers’ supply chains, we wanted to create an in-house CNC machine shop. The outbreak of the pandemic, and the uncertainty this created, made this need more acute.”

One of Erodatools’ first tasks in creating the machine shop was to appoint an experienced manager to head up the new resource: “We appointed Jon Harper in 2020 because, as a previous Erodatools’ customer, he already knew about and understood our business. We were confident that he possessed the requisite skills, experience and ‘can do ‘ attitude to make a success of the new venture,” Ms Healey explains.

Erodatools’ Caroline Healey (works manager) and Jon Harper (machine shop manager) with their first Doosan machine tool investment, the Lynx 2100LSYB multi-tasking lathe
Erodatools’ Caroline Healey (works manager) and Jon Harper (machine shop manager) with their first Doosan machine tool investment, the Lynx 2100LSYB multi-tasking lathe

Another step in establishing Erodatools’ machine shop involved the freeing up of physical space in the company’s facility: “We divested a number of our older EDM machines to create the real estate for the new resource. Our facility now has three distinct areas: wire EDM, solid sink EDM and the machine shop,” Ms Healey adds.

The customer profile for Erodatools’ CNC machining capabilities fall into two main categories – existing Erodatools EDM customers and new clients. “We wanted to offer a new value-added machining service, over and above our EDM services, to existing customers. From talking to these customers, we knew that as long as we could meet their quality, delivery and cost requirements, we would be in business,” Mr Harper says.

“We also wanted to expand our customer base to include non-EDM users, and offer them the same high-quality CNC milling and turning services. Our focus, for both types of customer, was on the machining of high-precision prototypes and one-offs, through to small-to-medium batch production.”

The right technology

To a large extent the success of Erodatools’ new CNC machine shop was dependent on the range and type of machine tools acquired by the company as Mr Harper reveals: “Before joining Erodatools I had some knowledge and experience of Doosan machine tools and Mills CNC gained from previous employment.

“Doosans are great performing machines. They are accurate and reliable and, in my experience, do not miss a beat. It’s a similar positive story with Mills whose aftersales service and support is recognised as being amongst the best in the business.”

The first Doosan acquired by Erodatools was a Lynx 2100LSYB which was installed in September 2020. The 8 inch chuck, Fanuc-controlled compact lathe is equipped with a 15kW/4,500rpm main spindle, a 5 inch chuck 6,000rpm sub-spindle, a 24 position 12 station turret, 6,000rpm driven tooling capability and a ±52.5mm Y-axis stroke.

“The Lynx 2100LSYB is a multi-tasking lathe that, with its live tooling and sub-spindle, can machine small parts to completion in a single set up. The Lynx operates as a de facto self-contained turning cell,” Mr Harper affirms. “The lathe represents cutting edge technology and makes us extremely competitive – exactly what we need to win new business.”

Since installation the machine has been put through its paces machining a range of components made from an equally diverse range of materials – steel, stainless, aluminium, aluminium bronze alloys, Monel and Inconel.

Erodatools was one of the first companies in the UK to invest in the new range of Lynx 2600 Y-axis lathes
Erodatools was one of the first companies in the UK to invest in the new range of Lynx 2600 Y-axis lathes

Jon Harper continues: “The machine is coping with everything we have thrown at it. Only recently it was being used for two days continuously to machine complex aluminium bronze parts to a 10µm tolerance.”

Subsequent Doosan machine tool investments occurred in April and May 2021 respectively with the arrival of a DNM 6700 VMC and a Lynx 2600Y lathe – one of the first to be installed in the UK.

The Fanuc-controlled DNM 6700 was installed with a Nikken CNC 260LFA fourth axis 260mm diameter rotary table and features a directly-coupled 12,000rpm spindle, 30 tool ATC and roller LM guideways. The Lynx 2600Y, again with the latest advanced Fanuc control, is a 12 inch chuck lathe with a 18.5kW/3,500rpm spindle, a 24 station turret, 5,000rpm mill/drill capability and a ±52.5mm Y-axis stroke.

“The new additions have significantly increased our machining capacity and capabilities. All three Doosans are what can be called ‘sophisticated’ machines. They help to differentiate us in what is a crowded marketplace and enable us to machine parts faster, better and more economically than our competitors,” says Mr Harper.

Next steps

According to Caroline Healey, although still early days, all indications are that the new machine shop is a roaring success: We are busy and the decision to set up the new resource and invest in the three new Doosan machines has been vindicated.

“We are now putting the finishing touches to the machine shop area – completing shelving and painting the floor – and will be recruiting another machine operator to help free up Jon’s time,” she states.

“As far as future investments are concerned we are monitoring the situation and, if demand continues, we could well be looking to automate our turning operations in the near future by investing a bar feeder.”

Mills CNC
www.millscnc.co.uk

Erodatools
www.erodatoolsltd.co.uk

Company

Mills CNC [**]

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