The world leader in kettle controls, Strix Ltd, has invested in the latest Sodick ALC600G wire erosion technology from Sodi-Tech EDM. As a result of its investment, the company has improved cutting speeds by 20-30%, saved significant sums in consumables and achieved far higher levels of reliability.
A tier one supplier of kettle controls to virtually all of the world’s major kettle OEMs, Strix estimates that its products are used around 1 billion times a day worldwide. In total, the company has a 38% share of the global kettle controls market, a fact that has helped it grow into an 800-employee organisation.
Global headquarters is near Castletown on the Isle of Man, which is supported by a manufacturing site just up the road, at Ramsey, and a manufacturing/assembly facility in Guangzhou, China. Since 1982, when Strix was formed, the company has made many millions of kettle controls. In fact, the 2 billion mark was reached in November 2017.
With such a vast number of controls to make, the company is reliant not just on efficient production technology, but on class-leading toolmaking capability. With this thought in mind, Strix recently sought to upgrade its wire EDM machinery, which is used to make press tools for the myriad of electrical switch parts contained within the company’s kettle controls.
“We’ve had two wire EDMs working 24-7 for the past 18 years, so the time had come to consider making the leap to the latest technology,” explains Toolroom Manager John Roy. “All of our press tooling is made from carbide, so wire EDM is the only realistic way of manufacturing.”
Mr Roy and his team “looked at all the market suppliers of EDM machinery”, scrutinising factors such as speed, finishing capability, running costs and price. After whittling the contenders down to a shortlist of two, the Sodick ALC600G emerged as the company’s machine of choice.
Based on the latest digital innovations in generator technologies, and the use of advanced electrode materials, the Sodick ALC range demonstrates considerable advances in cutting speed, accuracy and surface finish, at a cost-competitive price.
Duly installed, the new ALC600G has replaced one of the older wire EDMs on site at Strix, and been set to work producing the press tooling – punches and dies – required to produce electrical components such as the bi-metal discs that respond to steam and switch off the kettle. The press tools are often manufactured to produce two or three different components simultaneously.
“Our new Sodick wire EDM is also used to produce replacement punch and die inserts for existing press tools,” says Mr Roy. “We certainly have no shortage of work for the machine. It now runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although we only run a two-shift pattern (06:00-14:00 and 14:00-22:00), the machine is reliable enough to leave running unattended overnight and at weekends.”
The press tools produced on the ALC600G come in many different shapes and sizes, and typically feature high levels of complexity and tight tolerances, often 0.005mm. Strix usually produces punches and dies in sets of five, ensuring it has a good level of stock so that production lines are not left waiting for tools. In terms of key performance measures, OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) is measured on both the presses and the tooling, so quality is paramount.
“Our new Sodick has benefitted the toolmaking operation at Strix in so many ways,” states Mr Roy. “Not only is the cutting speed 20-30% faster than our previous machine, but it is a lot more reliable and uses far less wire. The Sodick was quite a bit different to our old machine, but the excellent training delivered by Sodi-Tech EDM meant we became familiar in no time. In fact, the support has been really good in general. Being located on an island we rely on effective telephone support if we have a query, and Sodi-Tech have not let us down.”