What does a wire EDM shop look like in 2007? What does a wire EDM shop look for in 2007?
I called Milt Thomas, president and founder of Wire Cut Company, Inc., in Buena Park, California, to find out. Milt started his shop almost 30 years ago to specialize in wire EDM. I’ve known Milt for many years and wrote about his shop in 1997 (read Reaching New Heights With Wire EDM). At the time, I considered Wire Cut a good “role model” for other shops interested in EDM.
Milt has always taken EDM very seriously. When he started his shop in 1978, EDM was not the mainstream process it is today. Milt not only mastered the technical complexities of wire EDM, but he also pioneered new applications for it, especially those involving very tall workpieces. Milt soon added ram EDM and CNC machining, but has kept his focus on the wirecut process and its expanding capabilities.
Given his background and history in this technology, I was interested in Milt’s thoughts on the current prospects for wire EDM and in his outlook for the coming year. First, I checked his shop’s Web site (www.wirecut-co.com) and then had a nice chat. Here are some of the observations that I took away from this conversation.
Wire EDM still has unique capabilities that make it indispensable as a manufacturing solution. Engineers are designing parts (especially in aerospace) to take advantage of what wire EDM can do. He expects this trend to continue.
That said, a shop such as Milt’s has to have complementary processes that leverage creative use of EDM. He’s added four-axis CNC machining, small hole EDM drilling, several more sinker machines and a large coordinate measuring machine just in the last year. Because wire EDM lends itself to complex, close-tolerance parts, having advanced machining and inspection capability naturally follows.
Palletizing workpieces to move seamlessly from process to process is important. Wire Cut is investing in this area and emphasizing the necessary shop disciplines to leverage the benefits. “It’s the way forward,” Milt says.
Further gains in wire cutting speed don’t get Milt very excited, but he highly values the extreme accuracy that today’s wire machines can deliver. “We can split a tenth but keeping the entire shop environment exactly right is the challenge,” he says. “That includes air temperature, water condition, de-ionzing and most of all, having machines that are clean and well maintained.”
Milt is pleased to see EDM builders introducing wire machines for larger and heavier workpieces. Wire cutting very small workpieces is a growth area but Milt sees unexplored territory and radical possibilities in large, monolithic workpiece applications. Looking for new frontiers is still a key part of his EDM experience.
Running all of his machines around the clock and mostly without much operator attention is a routine fact of life for a shop such as Wire Cut. It has to be, he says.
Milt keeps his work in diversified applications. Medical, aerospace, and semi-conductor make most of the current mix. He’s particularly vigilant about this because he got caught when a bubble in lucrative semi-conductor jobs burst a few years ago. Technical prowess has to be guided by good business sense, he says.
High speed EDM hole drilling is a capability that Milt is going to grow in 2007. He’s looked at laser and waterjet cutting but would rather pursue high-end machining center capability as an asset. He thinks it will do more to attract more profitable work in less crowded markets.
Because wire EDM is a technology that keeps changing, looking ahead has to be a habit for shop owners such as Milt. That has made him mindful of the on-going need to develop new talent for the industry. Over the years, he’s maintained an in-house apprenticeship program and has been a strong supporter of training efforts, both on the local and the national level. He won’t let up in 2007, he says.
I’d say Milt is still a good role model for shops committed to making the most of wire EDM.