Time for school

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by Kip Hanson

The Problem: Outsourced wire EDM work increases costs and lead-time

The Solution: Invest in EDM technology

Ontario mouldmaker takes a lesson on wire EDM

Mathew Stoer always wanted to teach, but any educational aspirations have been put on the back-burner in favour of mould design and production, never mind the day to day minutiae of shop ownership. Stoer and his wife Erica are owners of Master Tool and Machine Inc. in Barrie, ON, a successful mouldmaking business they have operated for the past 15 years. When Stoer heard about an opening for a part-time machining technology instructor at Ontario’s Georgian College, he jumped on the opportunity.

No one expected it would lead him to the purchase of a Mitsubishi wire EDM machine, especially considering he didn’t know how to run one at the time.

All in the family
Like many of us, Stoer has metalworking is in his blood. “My great-grandfather was a blacksmith in Germany,” he says. “My uncle and cousin are both toolmakers, so I went into tool and die after school. Then I married a girl whose father was a mouldmaker. I switched trades and started working for him. It’s become a family business.”

Since assuming ownership, the husband and wife team has been on a path of steady growth, increasing headcount and adding equipment every year. Today they have 11 employees and a handful of manual and CNC machines, including three V700 First CNC machining centers from Heinman Machinery, Mississauaga, ON, a pair of Matsuura RA-II VMCs, one of which has a pallet changer, a Nakamura-Tome SC-450 turning centre, both from Elliott-Matsuura Canada, Oakville, ON, and a Spinner TC-series universal lathe. They do custom machining for a number of automotive, medical, and industrial customers, focusing on complex, close tolerance work, and also design and build plastic injection moulds for the window and door hardware industry.

Master Tool  and Machine is  now able to do a variety of wire work that had previously been outsourced.As with any mouldmaking shop, wire EDM is used to cut core and ejector pin holes, hog out cavities, machine electrodes and generate complex shapes on mould inserts. The problem was, Master Tool and Machine didn’t have its own machine, and the Stoers were subcontracting their wire work to local shops.

Learning curves
That’s when Stoer went back to school. One day early in the fall semester, he walked in to the college machine shop to find a technician from MC Machinery Systems installing a Mitsubishi MV1200-R Advance Plus wire EDM machine. The two began talking and Stoer learned the school had just purchased the new equipment for the apprenticeship program there. The following week, the college hosted an open house, where Stoer met another MC Machinery employee, sales manager Darren Carroll.

“We talked about the new machine and I gave him some literature,” Carroll says. “It was a pretty big step for them, jumping into wire EDM like that, but the MV1200-R Advance has M700 series control and uses a touchscreen, and is very intuitive. Also, Mitsubishi has done a lot of work recently on machine efficiency, and the operating costs for wire and other consumables are about 60 per cent lower than other models. It was a good choice for them.”

Stoer’s interest was piqued. When not teaching students how to machine parts and design moulds, he started playing with the school’s new machine. “It was very easy to use,” he says. “We were spending enough money at the shop to justify buying our own machine, so I did more investigation, and eventually narrowed it down to two EDM companies. After going back and forth with Darren a few times, we decided to go with Mitsubishi.”

Master’s new Mitsubishi EDM arrived shortly after the holidays in 2014. Stoer says the installation went as planned and the service has been top notch since. The machine was put to work immediately. Even though he already had a good handle on machine operation, he and one of his employees attended a training seminar at the local MC Machinery facility. Since then, they’ve kept the machine quite busy.

“We’ve been very pleased with our decision. The machine takes a lot of the guesswork out of the EDM process. For example, I just finished a mould for a medical part and we were able to burn a high end mirror finish on the cores, with very little effort. Mitsubishi is known for that, at a price range we were able to work with. The machine runs on its own, is accurate, and best of all, we keep all the cost in-house. To a small business, everything revolves around the dollar.”

The company  operates a number of CNC machines, including three First CNC machining centres.Now that he has his own machine, Stoer says he’s finding new uses for it every day. In fact, he’s already thinking about his second Mitsubishi. “Stuff that we used to mill, send out for heat treating, and then bring back for form grinding can now be wire cut from a hardened blank. We’re talking to two potential customers for some medical parts, and there’s another shop we work with that was doing some form grinding on some carbide parts. We gave him a price on wire cutting them, and ended up less expensive than doing the parts in-house.”

Stoer’s part-time teaching career is also going well. The apprenticeship program through Georgian College is four years long, with three eight-week sessions at the college to cover mathematics, metallurgy, and other technical aspects of the trade. Students graduate as machinists, mouldmakers, or tool and die makers, and come to industry with hands-on experience. Ultimately, it offers young people (or those not so young, but looking for a fresh start) a promising career path. “It’s good for them, and good for the employer,” Stoer points out.

“Teaching has been a nice life change,” he says. “Between the college and the shop, it keeps me pretty busy, but it’s good to meet different people, and make new friends. Best of all, it gives me a chance to pass on what I know to others.” SMT

Kip Hanson is a contributing editor.

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