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A hidden champion for the erosion of special metals

Jul 05, 2023Jul 05, 2023

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PLM, a tool and mould maker based in Neuhausen, has established itself as a leader in the machining of special metals. The company relies on the high precision and economical Sodick machines, such as the ALC400G Premium wire-cut EDM machine, to manage materials like tungsten, molybdenum, tantalum, and titanium.

PLM specialises in the machining of special metals. This is also the slogan of the tool and mould maker from the Swabian town of Neuhausen near Pforzheim: Precision in Special Metals. Thus PLM has carved out a manufacturing niche for itself for many years and is virtually a hidden champion when it comes to machining special metals. Despite the difficult-to-machine materials, the innovative toolmaker can always rely on the high precision and economical machining of the Sodick machines he uses. The most recent example: an ALC400G Premium wire-cut EDM machine.

At the medium-sized manufacturing company, pretty much everything that can be eroded from unusual materials has run through the EDM machines. “We mainly machine materials that are difficult to chip as well as refractory metals such as tungsten, molybdenum, tantalum, titanium and many more — everything that is still conductive and can therefore be produced with EDM,” specifies PLM managing director Patrick Lamprecht. These are materials that are rather rarely eroded. “The advantage of the Sodick machines is that we can intervene live in the parameters during the manufacturing process, whereby the safety of the manufacturing process is also partly due to the quality of the sintered raw material.” In the case of tungsten, for example, Patrick Lamprecht had changed suppliers for quality reasons.

The special materials have a high melting point and are used in a wide range of technical applications. Thus, customers for PLM products can be found in almost all industries. “We supply customers from industry, research and development institutions, automotive, microanalysis technology and medical technology with prototypes as well as small series assemblies made of the high-purity special materials,” says Managing Director Patrick Lamprecht, outlining the wide range of customers. “For us, special metal is not a special case, but an everyday occurrence — some of our special components eroded on Sodick machines have even made it into outer space,” he emphasises, not without pride.

Apart from the machining of exotic materials the tool and mould maker is characterised by its enormous vertical range of manufacture. The company covers a broad spectrum of manufacturing processes across the entire metalworking industry. To this end, they have all the common technologies in-house: 3-axis and 5-axis milling, CNC turning, CNC-controlled grinding, lapping and finally wire and die-sinking EDM on Sodick machines. Finally, the mould maker can laser cut up to 3 mm with a fineblanking laser and a laser in the hundredths range in the thin sheet sector.

The production of resistance welding electrodes for large automotive manufacturers accounts for about 25 percent of PLM’s turnover. In the meantime, however, the main customers are manufacturers of analysis equipment in X-ray analysis technology or in the ultra-high vacuum range, i.e. wherever high temperatures occur, high-melting materials in a high purity form are also needed, and molybdenum or tantalum etc. are also used here. “Other customers come from the aerospace industry or manufacturers of coating systems and specific machine components. Since there is basically nothing in special materials that we cannot do, the range of customers is quite broad”, says Lamprecht.

As a result, the company constantly produces electrodes in small batches of between 50 and 500. According to the managing director, Sodick is an efficient way of machining. “The EDM machines are loaded in a stack and run unmanned for one or more shifts, depending on the size of the batch, so that the operator can set up another machine during multi-machine operation,” he explains.

At peak times, any machine downtime means hard cash. So Lamprecht is happy with the robust, reliable and low-maintenance Sodick machines. With the right fixture in place, the parts clamped and the machines running smoothly, every night and every weekend. “We didn't have to worry about the wire either, the Sodick machines tell you exactly how long the wire will last. In the future we may also consider monitoring the machines via an app. Mr Günzel from Sodick has already shown us the advantages of the app,” says Lamprecht.

A big issue for future development is the further automation of the company's production. At the moment, the company is in the process of equipping its non-automated machines with industrial robots for automatic loading. “We are also planning to replace our oldest eroding machine with a new one with more powerful generators. In terms of automation, we are also looking at the ERC 80 compact robotic cell from Sodick's partner Erowa. This would also have the advantage that the operational safety and machine-robot interfaces have already been tested in practice. Last but not least, we are slowly approaching additive processes with the production of plastic parts on a small 3D printer,” says Lamprecht, summarising the company's plans.

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