Sixty years of EDM innovation; development continues

3 min read

Switzerland-headquartered GF AgieCharmilles is celebrating 60 years continuous product development and innovation in EDM technology.

The company first began research and development into EDM's potential in industrial applications back in 1952, with its first numerically-controlled wire EDM machine launched in 1969 and which revolutionised EDM technology and increased its acceptance and use amongst manufacturers Today, development of EDM technology is driven by what the company terms its innovation cluster. "On a regular basis, our innovation cluster organises specific Innovation Days where market representatives, product managers, R & D team members and application specialists get together to brainstorm ideas," explains Marco Boccadoro, head of EDM research and innovation with GF AgieCharmilles research and development. "These teams formulate problems that constitute the main topic of the sessions. Using creativity tools like brainstorming, Metaplan and morphological analysis, ideas are collected, structured and prioritised." In subsequent discussions, those ideas are harmonised with GF AgieCharmilles' corporate strategy, and innovation portfolios are established. Sergei Schurov, head of EDM research and development, stresses that any innovation is ultimately measured by the commercial success of the products that follow and it is recognised that even breakthrough ideas have to find their way to market. That being so, GF AgieCharmilles applies a ranking method, based on objective selection criteria. He adds: "It is important to consider both factors – feasibility and attractiveness – in the evaluation phase. In this context, we examine feasibility as a function of risk, affinity with core competencies, and product cost impact, and we look at attractiveness as a function of return on investment, business strategy affinity, and added value. The product of these two factors gives the score that we use to rank our projects." Projects requiring applied research draw on GF AgieCharmilles' network of university partners across Europe which are extensive and include: the Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering at RWTH Aachen University in Germany, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, University of Leoben in Austria and, in Switzerland, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and Inspire AG (the Swiss competence centre for production technology), the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, University of Geneva, Haute école du paysage, d'ingénierie et d'architecture, University of Applied Sciences of Western Switzerland, and University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland. The innovation cluster coordinates new projects up to the feasibility stage, where they flow into the R & D product development road map. "Our approach to innovation has yielded some important achievements not only for GF AgieCharmilles, but for EDM research in general. Our approach and processes made it possible for us to develop artificial intelligence, using fuzzy logic and neural networks, to bring to market our Hyperspark technology, which resulted in the doubling of material removal rates in die-sinking EDM, and to pioneer IQ Technology – Zero Electrode IQ Technology," Mr Schurov underlines. "It paved the way for us inventing a new orbiting strategy for die-sinking machines and to achieve a record surface quality of 26 nanometers. It helped us perfect in-process optical measuring for high-precision WEDM, and lead the way in high-precision drilling with special pulses." And in the past 12 years in wire-cut EDM, GF AgieCharmilles has reduced form tolerance by 50%, reduced surface roughness by 66%, and decreased internal radii by 40%. On the die-sinking side, the Group has reduced the spark gap from 20 micrometers to 5 micrometers, decreased surface roughness by 75%, achieved a 75% reduction in internal radii, and virtually eliminated wear on copper and graphite electrodes. In the same period, GF AgieCharmilles' human machine interface has become more user-friendly, machine precision has improved, and generator efficiency increased from 20 to 80%. Both Mr Schurov and Boccadoro agree that EDM will remain a key technology well into the future, due to socio-economic factors spurring growth in medical technologies, environmental factors that are driving the search for energy efficiencies, and technological factors like miniaturisation, new materials, and information and communications technology requiring micro EDM, greater precision and self-correcting machines. "Innovation also will come from the improvement of consumables, including new wires, electrode materials and technological liquids," Mr Boccadoro adds. "GF AgieCharmilles is already ahead of the innovation curve, in terms of anticipating trends and needs and bringing to market innovations that improve the EDM process. EDM as a basic technology is 60 years old, but it still represents fertile ground for discovery and innovation." Image:The Zero wear characteristics of IQ technology can be seen. The graphite electrode (not using IQ Technology - left) exhibits high 'frontal' electrode wea;, the electrode (subjected to IQ Technology - right) exhibits virtually nil wear