Shorter Lead-Times and Lower Costs: Why WET Invested in an EDAF3 Sinker EDM for Moldmaking

WET in Sun Valley, Calif., designs, manufactures and installs some of the world’s most iconic fountains and engaging public displays of water, fire, fog and ice. The company’s well-known projects include the dancing fountains at the Bellagio luxury hotel and casino in Las Vegas and the 35-acre Dubai Fountain in front of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

WET employs engineers and machinists to bring these experiences to life. This team continuously strives to improve manufacturing processes to meet increasingly shorter delivery times and lower costs. Leaders of WET considered adding plastic injection molding equipment and electrical discharge machines (EDM) to the company’s capabilities to gain better control of lead-times, improve part quality and reduce per-part costs. While WET had one operator with previous sinker EDM experience, he was familiar only with older control systems. The company was essentially starting from scratch, so WET needed an EDM system that would enable operators to quickly and efficiently implement new machining technology and processes.

“Rapid time to market is absolutely essential when working alongside customers’ production schedules, so it is critical that we produce parts as efficiently as possible,” said John Borrego, vice president of production.  

In 2015, WET purchased its first injection machines while outsourcing moldmaking. Six months later the company’s leaders were ready to make a decision on EDM to enable WET to bring precision moldmaking processes in-house. They researched machines from five manufacturers and through that process began to focus on the Makino EDAF3 because of its Hyper-i control, which features a modern, Microsoft Windows 7-based operating system and easy-to-use 24-inch touch-screen interface.

The EDAF3 is designed with a robust and rigid structure that delivers sustained, long-term precision. With the dielectric reservoir built in to the base casting of the machine and chilled dielectric oil circulated through the axis structures, WET would benefit from enhanced thermal stability for sustained dynamic accuracy and a minimal machine footprint.

Makino’s proprietary generator and adaptive power control technologies ensure efficient machining while achieving the highest level of accuracy and surface integrity. Dedicated settings such as HyperCut, SuperSpark™ IV and ArcFree technology empower the operator with practical tools to accomplish a wide variety of work. But it was Makino’s Hyper-i control system and familiar interface that attracted WET.

The Hyper-i control contains intelligent, intuitive and interactive functions that are streamlined to assist the operator in every step of the machining process. It also enables easy access and selection of power settings to produce the most accurate results with the fastest possible cycle time. By providing answers to simple prompts, and inputting basic data, even novice operators can generate efficient burn routines. Operators of all experience levels also can benefit from the control’s E-Tech Doctor, a software feature that gives guidance for adjusting cutting conditions to create the intended result. E-Tech Doctor offers machine-setting optimization in sinker EDM applications to help reduce cycle times, improve surface finish and enhance form accuracy.

Combined, these features enable WET to run EDM processes overnight and during weekends, with an operator remotely logging in to the control to check on a job’s status. Unattended burn times reach 10 hours for some of WET’s parts, and the lead operator can log in remotely to check on the status of work.  
Today, WET burns its own P20 mold inserts in-house on the EDAF3 in as little as two to five weeks, cutting out several weeks from overall lead-times. In addition, the company benefits from faster turnarounds during design and process development, accommodating engineering changes to existing molds in a time frame as short as one week. This level of efficiency has helped the injection molding department produce lenses, reflectors and enclosures in time for final project installments.

Producing precision parts is a top requirement for WET, and the company chose the EDAF3 because it’s equipped with High-Quality Surface Finish (HQSF™) capability and a Z-axis stabilizer, another function critical to enabling WET to consistently produce the tolerances and surface quality the company’s designers specify. With the HQSF technology, WET achieves finer surface finishes with less cycle time, and the Z-Stabilizer function brings a core-cooled ballscrew that delivers 1-micron level Z-Depth tolerances even during high-speed-jump motions. Since bringing moldmaking in-house, WET has improved surface quality to 0.4 Ra, eliminating the need for most secondary polishing operations on lens molds.

When mold work was outsourced, final molded components would cost $3 to $4 each; some cost as much as $12 each. By producing the molds in-house on the EDAF3, WET lowered the cost of some parts to $1 each, and the most expensive parts are now $4 each. As a result, Borrego projects a return on the company’s investment in the EDAF3 to be achieved in less than two and a half years.