As the gaps in quality from one OEM to another begin to narrow, the slightest competitive edge can make a big difference, especially in automotive, aerospace, electronic and medical device industries where quality is highly regulated. Because manufacturers in the United States are operating on the same regulatory page, they have to find other ways to incrementally raise the bar and offer a superior product – or better yet, a superior product at a better price than competitors.
“We make machines used in the aerospace, medical and technology industries, such as communications,” says Gisbert Ledvon, director of business development at GF AgieCharmilles. “But because our machines are very automated and very sophisticated, we are able to help U.S. manufacturers be more competitive in the global market, namely with Asian counterparts.
“Our machines are very fast and we are able to move parts through the machine without having a second or third operator,” Ledvon adds. “Also, because of the accuracy we provide, our technology allows our customers to streamline their process. All of this fits into our main mission to help customers in the United States become more competitive with the rest of the world and with our technology we are changing that.”
Based in Geneva, Switzerland, GF AgieCharmilles manufactures wire, diesinking and hole drilling electric discharge machine (EDM) tools. It also makes three and five-axis high-speed and high-performance machining centers including laser texturing machines for tools used for texturizing, engraving, microstructuring, marking and labeling of 2-D and 3-D geometries, which complements its EDM and milling machine tool product line. The company manufactures the machines in Switzerland but operates four service and support operations in Illinois, North Carolina, Massachusetts and California for repairs and technical support. Employing more than 100 service and application engineers in the United States alone, GF AgieCharmilles maintains a robust parts department and competence center where it offers customer training.
The local support gives U.S. clients easy access to GF AgieCharmilles’ European technology. The company manufactures equipment to order but develops machines with key concepts in mind – producing high-quality parts with greater accuracy and with less manpower.
Ledvon says the company got its start 60 years ago in EDM products and the company still enjoys a strong position in this arena, however, it is also growing its milling division partly in response to the growing aerospace industry. “A few years ago we developed a 2015 strategy at the global level and appointed market segment managers for each key industry segment,” Ledvon says. “In the U.S., one of our focuses is on aerospace. It’s our biggest growth penitential for EDM and milling products.”
For its EDM machines, GF AgieCharmilles integrates in-process inspection and process monitoring features, which Ledvon says helps ensure consistent quality during the cutting process and minimizes quality risk for aerospace companies. The machines allow companies to measure and inspect parts as they are manufactured, as opposed to after the work has already been done.
“Our e-monitoring software regulates the manufacturing process,” Ledvon explains. “It tracks and records as it cuts, giving customers a full report of the finished product, including insight into any trouble areas, especially in EDM applications.”
For its growing milling division, GF AgieCharmilles has developed high-speed cutting technology that provides a higher accuracy and better finishes on complex parts. As opposed to the three-axis vertical or horizontal milling machines in wide use today, GF AgieCharmilles also manufactures five-axis milling machines. While three-axis milling machines require operators to reposition and re-clamp parts to reach all sides of a particular part, a five-axis milling machine can reach all sides of a part without labor-intensive machine resets.
GF AgieCharmilles’ milling machines also feature automated solutions. Ledvon explains that the automated technology is in direct response to the shortage of qualified C&C operators in the manufacturing field. “If you have multiple parts to mill, operators have to change the system and change the work pieces,” Ledvon says. “We offer an integrated system that changes tools and parts without the assistance of an operator, allowing 24/7, lights-out operation. That’s another feature that differentiates us from our competitors.”
GF AgieCharmilles has also built innovation into its laser texturing machines. The company says its laser texturing machine tools supplement and extend the technologies offered by its EDM and milling machines. Laser texturing, compared to conventional surface treatment using manual etching processes, offers economic, ecological and design advantages.
To prove the benefits of laser texturing over other surface treatment methods, Ledvon uses an example from the automotive industry, where molds often undergo a chemical bath to remove some of the surface for finishing at the end of the process.
“If you hold the mold under for even a few seconds more, it won’t look exactly the same as the other molds,” Ledvon says. “It will be close, which is fine, but as the auto industry becomes more competitive manufacturers strive to offer high-end finishes with a consistent look and feel, which is exactly what our laser technology delivers.”
GF AgieCharmilles developed a laser texturing process that utilizes a 3-D digital model and applies any type of texture onto the 3D surface. It duplicates the same surface texture on all mold components, such as the dashboard, steering wheel and door panels. Because it’s done digitally, companies can transfer the files to its facilities around the world for a consistent finish on all products, whether they’re manufactured in Michigan or Mexico.
“Laser texturing technology allows customers to be much more competitive, unique and flexible while making a more consistent product,” according to Ledvon.
The benefits to using a GF AgieCharmilles machine tool are well documented. The company’s EDM, milling and laser texturing solutions deliver great accuracy and high quality, giving customers a leg up on the competition. The benefits, however, don’t just lie in the tools themselves but in working with GF AgieCharmilles as a whole.
“We can provide a complete solution for customers,” Ledvon explains. “GF AgieCharmilles is more than just EDM machines. By providing EDM – as well as three and five-axis milling machines, automation and now laser texturing solutions – we offer a comprehensive partnership for our customers’ manufacturing processes. Instead of coordinating with three or four different vendors, it’s best to partner with one company that can support you throughout the whole process.”