Mitsubishi EDM Helps Boost Turnover 20% at Nicel

A new Mitsubishi SG12S EDM die sinking machine at motorsport subcontract machine shop, Nicel Precision Engineering is having a profound effect on productivity and throughput. The new EDM machine from the Engineering Technology Group (ETG) is reducing lead times and Nicel’s reliance upon external sources to an extent that the machine is largely responsible for increasing turnover by 20% since its installation at the end of 2021.

Located close to Northampton in ‘motorsport valley’ and founded in 1999, Nicel has become so successful that it now boasts a strong connection with many high-profile motorsport companies, directly supplying almost all of the F1 teams as well as teams in other motorsport classes.

Key to the success of the 13-employee business is its extensive manufacturing capability, the ability to deliver rapid-turnaround work and its investment in technology. Commenting upon why the ISO: 9001 and ISO: 14001 business is witnessing continued growth, Managing Director Kevin Banks says: “The motorsport segment and particularly F1 teams want their work turned around very quickly. F1 teams typically want parts in a window from 4 to 14 days – but fast-turnaround next-day service is also quite high on the agenda. To turn work around this quickly, you need a diverse range of highly capable machine tools, highly skilled staff and material availability, which we have. Many of our subcontract competitors are quoting the F1 industry 6 to 12 weeks – and this is why we are winning more work.”

Whilst some suppliers to the F1 sector can defy the extended lead times that are created by market forces such as material availability and supply chain issues, typically throughout all manufacturing sectors, lead times are extending. But this is F1, and what is acceptable in general industry is unacceptable in the fast-paced F1 world.

Whilst Nicel has enjoyed more than two decades of success in this arena, the ever-increasing complexity of components has seen the Northampton business rely upon an external subcontractor for die-sink EDM services. Alluding to this, Mr Kevin Banks says: “We produce a lot of intricate components for the F1 industry that requires die sinking, one example is special-purpose bolts that have either Torx ends or other unique bolt-ends. Whilst our external EDM supplier is first class, the typical lead time is over 2 weeks with a more expensive ‘fast-turnaround’ service available. The cost of £4 to £15 per part for die-sinking is not the issue for us – it’s the loss of 100% process control and also losing full control over our lead times.”

The company investigated the EDM market and spoke to fellow subcontract manufacturers and even F1 teams – the signs were all pointing towards Mitsubishi. Then, Nicel discussed the issue with one of its customers – a prominent F1 team that has a bank of Mitsubishi EDM machines. As Kevin recalls: “We were losing our flexibility and also the ability to react at speed due to not having our EDM capability. We thoroughly looked at the market and when we discussed our search with a major F1 customer, they kindly invited us in to see their EDM machines – a bank of Mitsubishi EDMs. They couldn’t speak highly enough of the machines that run long hours every day. That tipped the argument towards Mitsubishi. What won the day was the fact that the machines are supplied by ETG, and we have bought machines from them in the past – the service they provide is outstanding.”

The company opted for the Mitsubishi SG12S, as Kevin adds: “In a nutshell, the quality of the Mitsubishi brand and the ETG service is a given, but we bought the machine for a few simple reasons. It has a self-probing facility that ensures every job coming off the machine is 100% right. We also bought it for its ease of use and simplicity. Another key point was the built-in fire suppression system that means we can run the machine unmanned overnight and additionally; the generator technology means the machine has a very low power consumption.”

To simplify set-ups and ensure every job is 100% correct, the SG12S has intelligent automatic positional detection of the electrodes that enables manufacturers to work precisely, comfortably and quickly. The machine can also probe the workpieces, detecting the position of the part with the same simplicity as measuring the electrodes. Furthermore, the SG12S demonstrates intuitive operation with its large screen with gesture control and a configurable user interface that allows the main functional elements to be freely arranged during daily work. The graphically structured user interface for the set-up of the workpiece and electrode takes the effort out of preparation of upcoming EDM jobs. With step-by-step dialogue guidance, less experienced users are piloted through the entire process, from programming to the start of machining. Commenting upon this, Kevin says: “The CNC interface is extremely easy to use – as is the part and electrode probing to ensure everything is 100% correct. As this is our first EDM machine, we trained a CNC machinist from our milling department to use the new machine. With just one day of training, our machinist was comfortably setting up his jobs and creating programmes.”

The SG12S machine also incorporates the energy-efficient GV80 generator technology that is designed for a wide range of applications with maximum performance and minimum wear of electrodes. This provides efficient machining of carbide, titanium, PCD and also the different grades of steel, stainless and nickel alloys that Nicel machines daily. With remarkably low electrode wear, it is possible to create intricate details and high surface qualities. The GV-Generator is geared for minimal power loss and energy efficiency, incorporating Mitsubishi’s digital Power Master IDPM that is guided by Artificial Intelligence.

The Benefits

Whilst Nicel runs a day shift with weekend overtime, the Mitsubishi SG12S is set to run complex jobs that may require operator intervention during the day with simple jobs and batch projects set up to run through the nights. As Kevin adds: “We have created our fixturing systems, so we can clamp 40 to 50 parts on the table and these will be processed overnight. With a 25-position tool carousel and automatic probing, the EDM is perfect for lights-out running. We can set up a batch of parts, run the machine overnight and they will be finished the next day. Previously, we would have subbed these parts out for £4 to £15 per part with a lead time of a few weeks. The EDM has eliminated both the subcontracting costs and it has compressed our lead times to give us complete process control.”

The Results

With the time pressure of the F1 industry and the limited number of subcontractors with the competence and flexibility to react, Nicel has won significantly more business since investing in the new Mitsubishi SG12S. As Kevin concludes: “With the Mitsubishi machine compressing our lead times, we are continually winning more work whilst improving our throughput with the EDM technology. The EDM machine is bringing in more work and new types of work, which is increasing our turnover considerably. Added to this, F1 teams are reacting to our EDM capability and also our ability to turn jobs around in days whereas competitors are still quoting weeks. This is seeing us win more work from the racing teams that were previously using our competitors. However, the new work is not limited to our EDM machine, the upturn created by the Mitsubishi is seeing us win more business for all of our machining competencies. The result since the new year is a 20% increase in business – this is largely credit to the Mitsubishi EDM. The machine is opening doors for our business and we are likely to invest in another EDM machine from ETG before the next racing season starts.”