Sixty Years in Perspective

This supplier has grown and changed along with the technology it provides.


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EDM (electrical discharge machining) got its start in 1952 when the Russian scientists, Boris and Natalya Lazarenko, first used electrical energy emitted by an energized electrode to remove metal in a controllable fashion. Two years later, a Swiss company introduced the earliest commercial machine tool using this metal removal process. Six decades later, GF AgieCharmilles (today’s corporate entity rooted in the original Swiss company) is still building die sinking, wire and hole-drilling EDM machines in Switzerland. It now also provides high-performance milling and laser ablation, technologies that complement and supplement EDM.

The company recently commemorated its 60-year history and evolution with an International Technology Show (ITS) in Losone, Switzerland. This event combined technical presentations, showroom and demos of new models and products, as well as tours of the nearby manufacturing plant.  More than 700 invited guests from around the world participated.

For those attending, this event was a good opportunity to consider the changes shaping the technology, technology developers and technology users. I came away with the observation that these changes have been mutually transformative.

GF AgieCharmilles is a prime example. Although its roots go back to the early days of EDM, the company’s product portfolio is much broader today. It includes the Mikron line of high speed, five-axis machining centers as well as machines using laser ablation to texture workpiece surfaces. Moving into these new areas has not only enabled the company to grow and diversify its customer base, but also to serve that base in new ways.

This is important because almost all of these customers have undergone transformations of their own. Mold and die shops, for example, now rely on solutions that are well integrated and highly automated—or are ready for integration and automation. All of the equipment on display at the ITS were of this nature. Many of the machines were the company’s latest offerings with innovative features such as:

• An Intelligent Tool Measurement (ITM) system on an HSM 200U LP, a five-axis milling machine for small, precise parts. ITM provides optical tool measurement at full spindle speed.

• A linear tool changer (LTC) on the Form 20 die sinker. This feature makes automatic electrode changing an economical, uncomplicated option.

• The AC Cut control interface on the Cut 200 MS/Sp wire EDM. This interface gives the operator an intuitive approach to balancing quality, productivity and part cost for results that best meet a production strategy.

• Nanosecond pulse control on the Drill 300B hole-drilling EDM to minimize electrode wear and the effected workpiece layer. 

It was interesting to trace the evolution of technology at the ITS. This showed the value of innovation. More instructive was to scan the transformations creating the GF AgieCharmilles of today. This showed the value of vision and more than a little courage. This is the main lesson for every visitor to this event. Innovation, vision and courage are how companies make history.