Costly machinery. Technical know-how. Time-consuming machining. With tighter deadlines being forced on moldmakers in today's competitive market, who has the time, smarts or the inclination to make their own electrodes? What is a moldmaker to do? Outsource them to a company that makes it their business to produce quality electrodes in no time at all.
According to Bob Ianitelli, vice president of Madison Heights, MI-based Belmont Equipment Co., the benefits of outsourcing EDM electrode fabrication are numerous. "There's no need to have machinery or accessories dedicated to graphite machining, it keeps the dirt factor out of the shop, there's no need to know the specifics of machining graphite versus other materials, it leaves this aspect of processing to those who specialize in it, and if using copper or other metallic electrode materials, it is still drawing on electrode fab experience," he explains.
Level the Playing Field
There are many degrees of electrode fabrication, Ianitelli points out, and a moldmaker's first step is to decide what level of participation he or she wants to have. He poses the following questions:
- Do you want blanks made for your shop so it can do its own form machining?
- Do you need a company to only supply the machining of your graphite to your specs?
- Do you want a company with full CAD/CAM capabilities?
- Do you want a company that cannot only do the machining, but help with the processing?
- Do you want a company that can do all of the above, plus walk you through your job, make suggestions on what graphites to use, what electrodes will be needed and what is the most efficient way to process?
According to Ianitelli, there are many companies that offer basic machining and blanks, but the list becomes shorter for companies that not only do basic machining, but also are capable of handling the mold-makers' needs at the next level.
Forming an Alliance
Ianitelli suggests that a moldmaker get a recommendation from a colleague in the industry when looking for an insert provider with which to align itself. "If that is not possible, check the EDM directories to see which companies supply fabricated electrodes," he comments. "Contact them and ask for the person in charge of quoting the electrode fabrication. Then, interview the person based on your defined needs to see if they are capable of what you want. Your need may be simple or it may be complex. Also, ask for a customer list so you can solicit some feedback on the electrode provider's dependability.
"A successful relationship is based on trust and needs, so it is best to align your shop with a company that not only gives you quality and dependability, but services your electrode needs fully - they need to understand how you want your work processed from the simplest to the most difficult job," he adds.
Building a relationship will take time. "Consistency of the fabricator will dictate how quickly you build the relationship," Ianitelli states. "The electrode fabricator you choose will be as much a part of you being successful in EDM as the EDM machining itself."