Electrical discharge machining: 7 reasons to automate your EDM machine

Electrical discharge machining (EDM) is an established and in some cases irreplaceable process, although it has some limitations in terms of productivity and quality.

The emergence of new developments linked to automation are an opportunity to address these limitations, increasing process throughput and positioning it as a candidate to be strongly considered when introducing automation in the shop floor.

Close-up of an EDM machine
Automated production cell with EDM machine

If you want to learn more about EDM, the benefits of automation and where to start to improve the productivity of the entire EDM process, read on.

A history lesson

The global marketplace in which we live offers us the opportunity to reach new customers and markets, but it also presents significant challenges. Competition is also global and manufacturers from all over the world, including areas with much lower labor costs, are fighting to reach your customers.

In this context, technological innovation is the only way to position yourself better than other producers. It has been decades since many manufacturers realized the need to improve in order to remain competitive. 

For example, and speaking of the EDM process mentioned above, some manufacturers measured the operating time of the machines in the workshops and observed that it was only between 15 and 20%. The rest of the time was spent on non-productive tasks, such as part preparation and electrode changes.

Incorporating a parts and electrode charging system makes it easier for the machine to operate autonomously for longer hours.

Increased machine uptime translates into higher productivity. Currently, in this global context, machine uptimes below 50% are insufficient to maintain competitiveness. How to solve it?

How to solve the low productivity of a manufacturing process?

(🤫 betting on automation)

When thinking about process automation, some companies have mixed feelings. One of their main concerns is "how much will it cost? is now the right time?", and although it is important, these should not be the only issues to consider when thinking about an innovation process. It will also be necessary to consider what the innovation will bring to the organization, taking into account the short, medium and long term. 

Here are some of the benefits and solutions that EDM automation can bring to your shop floor. 

Benefits of EDM automation

Reduce lead times

EDM processes can be easily automated to become faster and more efficient. More complex jobs can be performed with higher finishes and using fewer electrodes, all thanks to automation and data analysis that reduces non-productive machine downtime, such as manual programming of the machine controller, set-up and start-up.

In addition, the system can automatically adapt to any incidents that may arise in production, ensuring efficient warehouse management and the availability of production resources at all times.

2. Increase productivity

Automation increases production hours by allowing the machine to operate for longer hours without the attention of an operator, thus eliminating the bottleneck of the human factor. It will also guarantee the availability of electrodes at all times since they are managed in an integral way with the rest of the processes.

Improve process repeatability

Once the process has been tested and automated it will offer high repeatability. This will mean a reduction in defective parts, reducing production costs while shortening lead time.

Wide plan of the cell with EDM machine.
Today, there are automation systems that are affordable and can be integrated in the workshop.

4. Reduce incidents due to human error

This repeatability offers other advantages as well. Depending on the sector, it is sometimes difficult to find good operators who want to work weekends or shifts. The automation of processes together with a good data analysis helps to solve this problem, since it allows the results to be similar regardless of the operator who is working .

It will also avoid human errors that introduce inefficiency in the process, such as misalignments, data entry issues, problems in the manual programming of the machine controller, etc.

5. Free up operator time to invest in continuous improvement.

Another important advantage derived from automation is the freeing up of operators' time. Repetitive and low-value tasks will be performed automatically, allowing people to devote their time, knowledge and experience to tasks that generate greater added value, such as process optimization and improvement.

6. Improve the manufacturing quality of parts and electrodes.

With better electrode management and reduced manual data entry, we can improve part and electrode manufacturing quality. Automatic data flow allows data capture for part and electrode dimensional inspection, reducing errors in dimensional inspections.

7. Increase flexibility in production

Another very important advantage obtained by automating this process is the increase in production flexibility. This makes it possible to meet the demand for increasingly customized products (smaller batches with more product variety) and to respond more quickly to possible incidents occurring in the EDM process, such as a change in the manufacturing process or the need for more electrodes than planned, for example.

Learn more about the importance of flexibility in production systems.

Steps to take to improve EDM productivity

Increasing throughput means increasing the machine's productive times. This often implies the need to create new work shifts, something that is not always easy due to personnel costs or lack of manpower. Alternatively, the solution is to allow the machine to produce unattended, thus extending its productive time.

Start walking 🚶‍♂️

To enable the machine to operate autonomously for longer hours, the first step is to incorporate a system for loading parts and electrodes. This also requires the standardization of all tools, tool holders and accessories, which will reduce set-up times. 

The second step 🧮

The next "small big" step is to get a management system that integrates both the production process and the company's other systems. Having the right data at the right time will allow better decisions to be made about production, making the entire workshop more flexible and dynamic.

Eye, key point 👇

This point of fact is key for all producers who want to automate their processes. Industry 4.0 is here and data management and analysis is a fundamental piece without which it is impossible to incorporate new technologies.

The data obtained by integrating the company's IT and OT systems makes it possible to optimize the entire production process by detecting and eliminating problems. Thus, both individual machines and cells as well as the shop floor as a whole can be configured to operate in the most efficient way.

Start improving productivity 🏃

Once the system is in place to enable all of the above, improving productivity is relatively simple by increasing productive working hours (i.e., reducing non-productive machine time). It may also be possible to increase time with double shifts or unattended production hours, such as weekends or nights. This will reduce production costs and increase competitiveness vis-à-vis producers in other parts of the world.

Measuring the result 👩‍💻

At this point, the justification for investing in technologies that enable automation is easier to understand, even from a purely financial point of view, when the result is a 2-fold increase in productive hours.

Today there are automation systems that are very affordable and can be integrated into the current reality of the workshop, and then expanded or extended to other production lines. In this way it is possible to incorporate these automation processes progressively, avoiding the risk of making large investments and adding more capacities according to the company's needs.

Need a partner for the road?

We hope that this article will give you a better understanding of the benefits of automating machining processes, such as EDM.

Improving through automation is now within the reach of any company. Although it is accessible, it requires the work of experts both in automation and in the manufacturing processes themselves. At SMARTPM we know both worlds well, so if you need help or advice, do not hesitate to contact us. contact us.