Innovate 2 Make is a leading proponent of the very latest additive manufacturing technology using direct metal laser sintering. However, the technology relies heavily on toolroom skills and knowledge supplied by James Camden Engineering, a Warwickshire-based tool and mould making specialist that has invested in three Excetek wire EDM machines, supplied by Warwick Machine Tools, to meet its business demands.
Innovate 2 Make (i2M) was initially set up in 2011 in Warwick, but moved to its current Birmingham facility in 2012 and established a focused additive manufacturing (AM) based facility that is the pinnacle of modern engineering in the area. As AM offered a new approach to manufacturing complex structures in a wide range of materials, such as aluminium, titanium, Inconel, stainless steel and so on, the company recognised the need to provide open access to this exciting new technology and has already helped a number of major manufacturing companies to adopt the technology into their production processes.
The AM process works directly from the Computer Aided Design model (3D CAD). It orientates the components and slices the CAD data into layers that are then drawn in the build chamber, in i2M’s case using a Ytterbium (Yb) fibre laser fired on to a powder bed containing fine metallic ‘powder’ particles. Each layer is ‘grown’ together to produce the final metallic component.
From its inception the company’s business plan was to target customers in the technically challenging spheres of motorsport and aerospace. “That said, the first part we produced was a titanium stiletto high-heel for a shoe designer. Since then we’ve done just about everything, jewellery, teeth, car and bike components, as well as aerospace parts,” recalls i2M co-director, Mike Kelly.
One of the significant advantages that many supporters of the AM process highlight is its ability to start producing parts without tooling. While i2M call it tool-less production, Mike Kelly is quick to point out that this is not strictly true. “People see it as casting; I like to think of it as elegant welding. As the parts are grown they will often require some form of support structure that can be grown at the same time as the component. While we can vary the density of the supporting elements, such that they can be removed by hand – peeled away from the finished component, sometimes the support is more intricate, requiring specialist knowledge and equipment,” he explains.
This is where James Camden Engineering comes in. Possessing both the precision engineering knowledge and the specialist equipment, in the form of three Excetek CNC wire EDM machine tools, the company works hand-in-glove with i2M to remove all of the supporting structures, protective shells and excess material, such as base plates, from the parts.
Dave Bloxham, managing director of James Camden Engineering, says: “The AM process allows design engineers to push the boundaries in industries looking for performance and also cost advantages. They can create components to fit exactly within very confined spaces, reducing weight without compromising performance. For example, we worked with i2M on components for an intricate motorsport cooling system. There was no way the design specification could have been achieved without using additive manufacturing.”
Complex components such as these will always require an element of post AM work, and the skilled toolmakers at James Camden work with i2M to finish parts to the customers’ specification. Most of this is achieved by CNC wire EDM machines from Excetek. Housed in the company’s 4,000 ft2 facility the three wire machines are surrounded by traditional and CNC machine tools, and a staff of 8 with a wealth of good, old fashion, British machining skills.
To meet the requirements of i2M the company initially purchased a V350G Excetek machine from WMT. An entry level machine that is not short of capacity the V350G provides comparative performance levels to Swiss and Japanese wire EDM machines, but with cost saving of between £20,000 and £25,000 against any equivalent size machine tool. Fitted with a 600 litre tank, it is capable of accommodating workpieces up to 700 x 500 x 215 mm and weighing up to 450 kg.
Dave Bloxham says: “With the growing demand from i2M we required more capacity, the ease of use and the faultless performance of the first Excetek machine resulted in us returning to WMT for a further two. So we selected two mid-sized V650G machines.”
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