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Seal of approval for Sodick EDM at oil and gas specialist
Seal of approval for Sodick EDM at oil and gas specialist
Seal of approval for Sodick EDM at oil and gas specialist

Seal of approval for Sodick EDM at oil and gas specialist

Added to MTDCNC by Sodi-Tech on 30 October 2014

James Walker Moorflex, a Bingley-based manufacturer of high pressure metallic seals for the oil and gas industry has acquired a new Sodick AG60L die sink EDM to eliminate the cost of subcontracting its spark erosion requirements and promote improved project control for customers. Installed and commissioned by Sodi-Tech EDM, the machine is being used to hold tolerances of ±1 thousandth of an inch (0.025 mm) on complex, critical metal seals.

In the world of sealing technology, James Walker, Moorside and Metaflex are three of the most widely known and respected brand names, with an enviable reputation for quality and reliability. James Walker Moorflex was created by merging Moorside and James Walker Metaflex – two James Walker Group companies – to bring together over 100 years' experience at the forefront of sealing technology. Today, around 115 people work at the company’s Bingley facility.

'Until recently we were outsourcing our die sinking requirements,' explains the company’s Manufacturing Manager, Andrew Meredith. 'The idea of bringing it in-house was a new direction for James Walker Moorflex as we are predominantly a turning and milling shop. We had an EDM hole drill, a Sodick K1C, which has proved very successful over the years, so we didn’t look any further for a die sinker.'

Mr Meredith says that designers of metal seals for oil and gas applications are getting more creative, a factor that is imparting extra complexity into the manufacturing process. A typical seal produced at James Walker Moorflex is ring shaped with an inner diameter that allows oil or waste to pass through the centre. Applications are usually on rig platforms, on pipes over land, or on the sea bed. With regard to the latter, the pressures witnessed at depth mean that exotic seal materials such as Inconel are the norm.

'Difficult-to-machine alloys and complex designs mean EDM is an ideal solution for certain features,' says Mr Meredith. 'However, subcontracting was creating issues around lead-time. For instance, it can take two months to get hold of certain materials, and although we structure our operations to get on-time deliveries, having an external subcontractor in the loop could sometimes impact our schedules.'

As a result, Mr Meredith arranged die sinking trials at the facility of Sodi-Tech EDM in Coventry. The success witnessed when machining seals led the company to acquire a Sodick AG60L die sink EDM with linear motor technology in the X, Y and Z axes. The machine also offers glass scale feedback and a 10-year positioning accuracy guarantee.

'There was a small learning curve for us to overcome as no one here had ever used a die sink EDM before, except me,' says Mr Meredith. 'However, we’ve got skilled guys here and following a training course at Sodi-Tech in Coventry we were up and running in no time.'

The machine has been put to work producing a host of complex features on the company’s range of high pressure seals. For instance, the AG60L has alleviated the problem of producing steps with square corners, which are impossible to mill. Furthermore, drilling and tapping two holes in Inconel 625 previously took three hours on a milling machine, with a broken tap the frequent end result. Now, the process couldn’t be simpler on the new Sodick die sink.

'Tough alloys such as Inconel are no problem for the AG60L,' says Mr Meredith. 'This is a big benefit for us as it’s difficult to predict cycle times when milling and turning these materials due to problems such as the tooling insert creating ‘push-off’, rather than actually cutting the metal. However, we know the exact cycle time with EDM.'

Typically, seals at James Walker Moorflex are around 400 mm in diameter, although some measure up to 2.2 m. Exported all over the world, many are thin-walled as they are required to flex in order to create the necessary seal. Batches are small, with 2-off and 3-off commonplace. Due to the materials and the complexity of the machining operations, the parts are not cheap, a fact that demands utmost quality in production.

'EDM is the last operation in the manufacturing process,' says Mr Meredith. 'As a result, there is already plenty of added value, which means a scrap seal at this stage is highly undesirable. Furthermore, due to the intricate nature of the machining and the demanding tolerances involved, the potential for mistakes is high. However, since we’ve installed the Sodick AG60L, we’ve not experienced any problems. This is just as well because seals are often one of the last items specified by our customers – and stopping oil production because of a faulty seal can be very expensive.'

As a sealing product, surface quality is clearly vital. With this in mind, the company has experimented with both graphite and copper electrodes, currently preferring the latter. The company achieves a surface finish roughness height rating of 32 micro-inches.

Quality is clearly paramount at James Walker Moorflex, a company that is underpinned by its quality system approvals to ISO 9001:2008 and API Spec Q1-Standard 6A and 17D, which are supplemented by many company and independent authority approvals.

'There are many companies in the sealing industry, but very few can boast the quality of products, service and people found at James Walker Moorflex,' concludes Mr Meredith.

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