MMS Blog

By: Barry Rogers 21. September 2018

Buying a Wire EDM: How It Works

Wire electrical discharge machining (EDM) is widely used to create dies, punches, mold components, special tooling, extrusion dies, airfoils, gears, medical instruments, carbide cutters, toolholders, jewelry and thousands of workpieces too numerous to list.

Wire EDM can be used to cut electrically conductive materials to make parts that require a level of accuracy, intricacy and fine surface finish that traditional machining methods cannot achieve. A wire EDM unit can be programmed to cut complex shapes (small or large) to a dimensional tolerance of ±0.0001 inch and can be trusted to do so repeatedly and reliably. Unlike other types of machining, wire EDM exerts no cutting force on the workpiece and introduces no residual stress. There is little or no change in the mechanical properties of the material. Today’s wire EDM technology is capable of leaving virtually no thermal effects on the surface.

Flying S, an engineering consulting company that manufactures aviation and aerospace components, has been using machine tools from Haas Automation (Oxnard, California) since early in the history of its machine shop. Its first machine tool was a used, manual Bridgeport it converted into a CNC and dubbed “Bertha.” As they outgrew Bertha’s limitations, the shop purchased its first CNC, a used Haas VF-4SS. As the company expanded, it stuck with machines from that builder. This is a strategic decision that has some very specific benefits for Flying S:

Range of machines. Haas makes a wide variety of machine tools, so when Flying S wanted to add new types of machines, it did not need to go to another brand. Flying S has taken advantage of the company’s selection. Among its 26 machines are CNC vertical machining centers (VMCs) ranging from a small a VF-2YT to a VF-10, lathes like an ST-30SSY with a bar feeder, a GR-712 gantry router and multiple UMC-750 five-axis machines.

When 3D printing first appeared, production applications were not in the cards. The technology was thought of as a tool for rapid prototyping, one that could not be trusted to make end-use parts, and one that could not compete at scale.

As the technology has evolved, however, these assumptions have had to change. 3D printing has progressed beyond prototyping into the making of functional tooling and on to the additive manufacturing of end-use parts in increasingly larger quantities. Today, 3D printing can be a more cost-effective way of producing parts that would otherwise require prohibitively expensive or time-consuming tooling, setups or assembly.


Manufacturers today want to achieve higher machining productivity without compromise to machine or workpiece. This is why they have increasingly applied mass-damper devices to overcome vibration. A tuned-mass damper is a component suspended within a machine or structure that is designed to resonate out of phase with the unwanted vibration, absorb its energy and minimize the vibratory motion.

The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) offers a showcase for disruptive technology, but this year’s IMTS faced disruptions of a different sort. Indeed, this was the most harried and challenged installment of the biennial show I can recall. The approach of a hurricane compelled many from the Carolinas to leave the show early or not come at all. In Chicago where the show takes place, hotel employees on strike chanted and beat percussion instruments in front of major downtown hotels throughout the entire week. There were also the small challenges adding to the flavor of this year’s show. One was the failure to find graceful accord between cab lines and the positioning of rideshare stations, resulting in a confusion that prompted drivers to encourage attendees to find them at a nearby hotel instead. And inside the convention center, the debut of a new format for booth numbers required long-time attendees to recalibrate their navigation of the show (though not a difficult recalibration, as it turned out).

Yet if any of the challenges had any effect on the success of the show, you wouldn’t know it from the numbers. The largest manufacturing event in North America had its largest year yet—another point that, like all the points above, I do not need to tell you if you were there. The record attendance is the reason you often had such difficulty making your way down the show aisles.

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