Duckworth & Kent introduces unmanned machining

New wire-cut EDM machine helps machining sub-contractor achieve some of its ambitions

Posted on 12 Feb 2020 and read 890 times
Duckworth & Kent introduces unmanned machiningThe precision-machining sub-contractor Duckworth & Kent (Reading) Ltd has bought its first Sodick wire-cut EDM machine — a VL600Q model.

The Berkshire-based company is using the machine to advance its wire erosion capabilities, reduce the number of set-ups required, improve quality and repeatability, and introduce unmanned overnight operations.

With 52 years’ experience, Duckworth & Kent can undertake everything from prototype projects and the development and manufacture of special purpose machinery through to small-batch and full-production piece-part machining.

Quality is paramount for the company, where tolerances are typically 20-25µm; it is also accredited to AS 9100 and ISO 9001:2008, as well the ISO 14001:2004 environmental management standard.

Sectors served by the business include defence, aerospace, motor-sport, medical, personal care and food.

Formerly apprentice-trained with the MoD as a precision fitter, sales director Stuart Gleeson (son of the company’s co-founder David and brother of the current managing director Terry) said: “Our speciality is low-volume high-quality precision components, often manufactured from a variety of difficult materials and with complex shapes — parts that few others want to attempt.”

The 15-employee business has been using wire EDM for many years, particularly for the extremely high-accuracy cutting of precision parts.

However, when one of the company’s three wire EDMs recently required replacement, the company evaluated a range of potential suppliers before choosing the Sodick VL600Q from Warwick-based Sodi-Tech EDM Ltd (www.sodi-techedm.co.uk), as it seemed “a natural fit with the type of work” undertaken by the sub-contractor.

Installed in June 2019, the machine has axis travels in X, Y and Z of 600, 400 and 270mm respectively, along with 90mm of travel for both the U and V axes.

Generator technology


Stuart Gleeson added: “Unlike certain other machines, the generator on the Sodick model featured ‘state of the art’ technology.

“In addition, we liked the rotary axis, which we knew would help with complex parts.

“We did some capability trials and promptly ordered the machine.

“We have since been putting the rotary axis to good use.

“For instance, it is making light work of a toughened-steel lifting rod for the defence industry.

“This part features a series of diameters and squares that have to be concentric and straight to one another.

“There is also a thread and a yoke at the top for lifting. The rod is about 150mm long and we recently produced a batch of 58 in a single set-up.

“Previously, this part would have required two EDM operations, or one EDM operation followed by milling and/or grinding. Saving a set-up probably equates to a cycle time reduction of 1hr per part.

“That is 58hr saved on one job alone — and the quality is better, as we avoid picking up the component and re-setting.”

Another defence-related job at Duckworth & Kent involves the wire eroding of discs from ‘exotic’ plate materials such as vanadium, tantalum and molybdenum.

Some 50mm in diameter and 2mm thick, the plates are used as test samples.

“The versatility of the Sodick machine is such that we have also used it to cut through assemblies intended for special-purpose machinery.

“These assemblies comprise a hard-steel part featuring a titanium nitride coating, magnets and conductive adhesive.

“The Sodick cuts through the lot — wire-finishing the entire face in one set-up. In fact, using the rotary axis allows us to hit more faces in one go, preventing inaccuracy through re-setting.

“Prior to installing the Sodick machine, this work required several set-ups per assembly.”

In conclusion, Mr Gleeson said: “We sell on quality. For us, investing in the Sodick machine was not about saving time, it was about making parts right first time, every time.

“However, not only have we further improved our quality, accuracy and repeatability, the rotary axis in particular means we now look at components in a different way.

“This has increased our capability and reduced the number of set-ups required.

“In addition, the machine has allowed us to introduce unmanned operations overnight, which is hugely beneficial.

“We will certainly look at Sodick again when our other two wire EDMs approach the end of their working life.”

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