Case Study – Ian Clarke Engineering

New EDM machine helps engineering start-up reach increased levels of accuracy

EDM Machine hits the target

Ian Clarke Engineering Solutions offers bespoke machining for clients, creating high precision components for such industries as the instrument and gun trades. The company is run by Managing Director Ian Clarke who has more than 30 years experience in high precision engineering.

While working for a different firm, Mr Clarke experienced first-hand the kind of pinpoint accuracy and fine surface finish that a Sodick-manufactured Wire Electrical Discharge Machine (EDM) offers. When it came to buying and installing a similar machine for his own business, Ian knew that he could rely on Sodi-Tech for a quality Sodick product that would not let him down. Wire cutting work previously had to be outsourced but with his own EDM machine, Mr Clarke can now offer such work in-house.

“I knew about the quality of Sodick machinery from my various contacts within the engineering trade,” says Mr Clarke. “And I needed a machine that offered accuracy, a great surface finish and that could operate independently. Sodick’s AQ400L Wire EDM machine fit the bill perfectly. Sodick already have an excellent reputation within the engineering trade for quality machinery so there was no other real option for me than them.”

The Sodick AQ400L EDM is a linear motor-driven, high precision machine. A development from the old AQ360L/AQ560L range, it allows for more accurate and speedy operation. Sodick’s AQ400L Wire EDM machine, like all the other products in their range, was developed using their own in-house technologies. Linear motors, ceramics, cast machine structures and NC controls are all developed by Sodick specifically for their own machines, meaning that should the user ever have any problems with a component, or need a replacement – they can return to Sodick for quick and easy replacement or advice. As a compact machine, the AQ400L allows for large set-up space and ergonomic accessibility. This was another important feature for Mr Clarke.

“Space is an issue for me. I only have a small workshop so I needed a machine that was fairly compact and streamlined, but which still had all of the features of larger machines. As part of Sodick’s compact range, the AQ400L was ideal. It has been designed with the end user in mind and tailored to fit busy workshops with multiple machines and small workspaces, without missing out any of the key features you would expect to find.”

The AQ400L Wire EDM from Sodick comes with plenty of accuracy credentials. Not only is it backed by Sodick’s 10-year Positioning Accuracy Guarantee but as its motor drives have no backlash and are vibration free, precision cutting and subsequently a fine surface finish, are guaranteed. The machine’s linear motor axes drives are coupled with 10 Nanometer Heidenhain absolute glass scale feedback on the X, Y, U and V axes, which makes precision cutting easier. With the Heidanhain ultra-precision absolute linear glass scales, the true machine position is always known and is easy to maintain.

“I make bespoke parts for clients so it is very important that when I do wire erosion, I get the accuracy spot on,” Mr Clarke explains. “The AQ400L allows me to do just that, with ease – and its repeatability makes sure that my axes are never out of place. As a result, I can use the machine independently at night and rest assured that the quality of my work will not be compromised. I only had the machine installed at the beginning of March but since then I have had it running all the time and am delighted with the results.”

Mr Clarke has been operating Wire EDM machines for the best part of 30 years so already had a wealth of knowledge when it came to controlling the AQ400L. However the machine comes with a simple, easy to understand, streamlined operating system built on the Windows XP operating system, so Mr Clarke believes that it would be simple to use even for engineers without his previous experience.

“I’ve spent decades using Wire EDM machines but have yet to operate one as user-friendly as Sodick’s AQ400L. It has an excellent work tank and travel area and its on-board NC controls allow me to create my own prototypes without the aid of a CAD/CAM system. This not only reduces work time for me, but saves me having to invest in a CAD/CAM machine too.”

The AQ400L Wire EDM is ideal for the kind of dies and moulds that Ian Clarke Engineering Solutions create. Mr Clarke works tirelessly to create close tolerances and fine surface finishes in order to produce the exact parts and components his clients require. With a new high speed, automatic, annealing wire threader, wire straightness on the AQ400L is improved, particularly at larger heights. Throughout the annealing process, the wire is heated, stretched and trimmed down to a sharp point, ensuring accurate wire re-thread every time.

It was not just the clinical precision and finish that the AQ400L EDM machine offered Ian Clarke Engineering that put Sodick at the top of Mr Clarke’s wire EDM wish list, he also knew that with any Sodick product sold by Sodi-Tech EDM, he would benefit from an excellent service from the initial sales enquiry right through to a complete aftersales service.

“Sodick have been great throughout my purchase of the AQ400L and are still in touch with me today, weeks after installing the product for me. When I initially approached Sodi-Tech about a Sodick Wire EDM machine, they demonstrated to me clearly the different machines in their product range and how each one would help an upcoming start up like mine. Their Sales Manager, Chris Hellyer came out to visit me to tell me about the machine and later invited me back to Sodi-Tech’s workshop to present demonstrations of the machine. Throughout the installation process they answered all my questions thoroughly and even now, weeks after the installation I feel comfortable that I can call them any time and receive help or guidance with the machine should I need it.”

Ian Clarke Engineering may be a new start up but it is one that benefits from Mr Clarke’s own experience within the engineering trade and his passion for it. As a result, the business is growing at a rapid rate, gaining new customers and contracts throughout the country. With the Sodick AQ400L Wire EDM machine in place, Mr Clarke has been able to dramatically increase his output and turnover jobs much more quickly and accurately than he was ever able to before. As the business continues to grow, Mr Clarke is considering adding to his existing Sodick machine with some more products.

“I think there will come a time soon when I will have to look at investing in another Wire EDM machine as my business grows. When I do need another, I will once again make Sodi-Tech my first port of call and invest in a Sodick machine. I have been really impressed with the AQ400L I ordered from them; not just by the machine but the way Sodick have conducted themselves as a company as well. They are very friendly and professional and definitely a company that you can easily build a strong working relationship with.”