by kip hanson
Calgary job shop owner attributes his shop’s rapid growth to EDM machining capabilities
In 2018, Shop Metalworking Technology profiled Fidelity Machine & Mould Solutions, a company that, after a series of investments in EDM technology and other machines tools, was on a fast-track to growth. Today, the company is still in expansion mode and a recent investment in new wire EDM technology has given Fidelity a competitive edge.
Jeff Litster, president of Fidelity Machine & Mould Solutions, never planned on having 50 employees and 2300 sq m (24,500 sq. ft.) of operating space. When he started in 2007, it was just him and a couple of others in a facility one-fourth that size. The plan then was to make small plastic injection moulds on a pair of manual sinker EDM machines that Litster expected would carry him through to retirement.
It turns out he was very wrong. In need of additional capacity, Fidelity soon picked up a third and larger sinker at auction—this one a CNC—along with its first wire EDM, a six-year-old Makino SP43. It was this second machine that most altered Litster’s “let’s keep things small” plans.
“We didn’t have the latest, greatest technology, but we were in a unique position with our knowledge and capabilities in EDM,” he says. “So we started attracting more work because people knew what we could do and didn’t have the volume to invest in equipment of their own. Eventually, we became known as the place to go for EDM work. It was incredibly powerful for our growth.”
The next big step
It wasn’t long before Fidelity needed to add even more equipment. After landing a big contract, they made significant investments across the shop, including another sinker.
Litster and his team decided they needed to make some changes and in 2017 decided to revamp the entire EDM department, investing $1 million in new equipment. That’s when Zane Weins, the technical sales representative for EDM technology at Single Source Technologies (SST) Canada, got involved. What impressed Lister then was the fact that SST and Makino took the time to evaluate Fidelity’s needs and develop a long-term solution to the rapid growth Litster and his team were facing.
“They didn’t just try to sell me a bunch of machines,” says Litster. “They came in and tried to understand our operation, our hurdles and restrictions, and they put together an equipment and tooling package that worked for us. We staged the machine deliveries over a comfortable time frame, and they were with us during the entire process to make sure that we were successful.” He laughs. “I had to write a big cheque to get rid of my other sinker, but I was glad to do it. The Makinos have made a night and day difference.”
After three years of working with Fidelity, Zane says Fidelity’s success comes from the team’s ability to work intimately with customers and suppliers, and to communicate and overcome challenges together.
Well beyond mouldmaking
Today, Fidelity owns nine Makino EDM machines, including EDNC6 and EDAF sinkers, SP43 and U6 Heat wires, and the newest, a U6 Heat Extreme, which is yet to be delivered.
The once two-machine mouldmaking shop has also developed into a full-fledged job shop, with business evenly spread across the aerospace, oil and gas, and mouldmaking sectors. There are OKK vertical machining centres, CNC mill-turn lathes from Okuma, and each of the shop’s machinists has a CAM station in front of his or her machine, one equipped with a Mastercam or Delcam programming system. The company recently upgraded its ERP system as well, choosing to go with software from Global Shop Solutions. The next step? Horizontal machining.
EDM continues to play a crucial role in Fidelity’s continued success, however. Litster notes that “practically everything we do here” either requires EDM, came to them from an EDM customer, or is machined in a creative way using EDM. “We definitely think outside the box here, and are always looking for ways to push the boundaries of what we can do with EDM,” he says.
In one recent example, Fidelity was tasked with sinker EDMing a tapered helical feature inside of a workpiece, and ended up asking Makino for help. “It was an application that the machine wasn’t intended to do,” notes Litster. “But they saw it as a challenge just as we did, and ended up walking us through altering some of the machine settings to get it working. To me, that was really cool, just seeing the collaboration and the interest they showed in helping us out. I have to say, we’re kind of head over heels with Single Source Technologies and Makino—not just for the product and its performance, but also the service and support from their team.”
Going to the extreme
As for the pending delivery of the U6 Heat Extreme, SST Canada’s Zane Wiens predicts that it will have a “seismic” impact on the Wire EDM industry. The Heat Extreme is breaking new ground with its ability to run 0.4 mm (0.016 in.) diameter wire, allowing for massive increases in rough cutting speeds. “With this new technology, it’s common to see roughing speed increases of two to three times when compared with regular 0.25 mm (0.010 in.) wire, particularly in poor flushing conditions and taller parts,” says Wiens. “Most importantly, the Extreme’s wire consumption rate is roughly equivalent to that of a machine running 0.25 mm (0.010 in.) wire, making the cycle time gains practical and economical.”
“Increased cutting speed means more machine capacity, lower cost per part, and faster delivery times,” he adds. “And for job shops like Fidelity that take in a wide variety of wire EDM work, the U6 Heat Extreme can be switched back to any 0.1 to 0.3 mm (0.004 to 0.012 in.) diameter wire and still deliver all of the high precision capabilities of a regular Makino U6 Heat wire EDM.” SMT