The wire electrical discharge machining (wire EDM) process is a CNC cutting method used for removing excess material from the part. This cutting method requires very little force to remove material, and it is ideal for smaller parts that do not require a lot of force to cut. The electrical discharge machining process has been around since the 1960s, but it was not until the 1980s that it became popular among industrial users.
In this article, you will learn how to wire electrical discharge machining works and how it functions in manufacturing parts. You will also learn about its advantages and disadvantages compared to other types of machining processes.
What is Wire EDM?
Wire Electrical Discharge Machining (Wire EDM) is a plasma machining process that uses an electrical discharge between a wire and a conductive workpiece. The process, often used in manufacturing components and tools, is similar to cogging and grinding. However, it differs because it uses an electric current rather than abrasive particles to perform the process.
Machinists use Wire EDM to create parts from various materials, including metals, composites, and plastics. The process creates precision machined components with intricate features and small tolerances. Wire EDM is particularly suitable for manufacturing high-performance parts with intricate geometries and minor size differences.
How Does the Wire EDM Process Work?
The wire EDM process uses an electrical current to melt a thin metal wire, which is then used to cut through a workpiece. This process is typically used for hard metals that are difficult to machine using traditional methods. The melted metal wire is guided by a computer-controlled system and can cut very precise shapes and patterns.
Wire EDM is also an alternative to the traditional grinding process and is a more efficient, economical way to machine surfaces than grinding. Because it uses less energy and lasts longer. This allows you to run more machines at once without worrying about overheating them or running out of power for cooling systems.
The other advantage of Wire cut EDM is creating multiple threads in one pass instead of doing multiple passes with a grindstone or other tooling method.
What Types of Materials Can Wire EDM Cut?
Wire EDM can cut any conductive material, including steel, titanium, aluminum, brass, alloys, and superalloys. Due to its accuracy, the EDM wire cut technology has established itself as a standard cutting method across all industries.
EDM wire simplifies cutting and creating metal machine parts, logos, and other objects. The thickness, dimension, and length of the item you want to cut will determine how much EDM wire is needed to produce the part or its prototype.
Differences Between EDM Wire Cutting and Conventional EDM
The cutting technique is a major difference between EDM wire cutting and conventional EDM. In wire EDM, a CNC device that can move the wire on a three-dimensional axis controls the EDM machine.
This allows wire-cut EDM to create more intricate patterns and smaller angles than conventional EDM. The wire EDM machine can cut metal up to around 0.004 inches thick. At smaller thicknesses, the wire EDM only evaporates the metal, avoiding potential debris.
However, the cut must be thicker than the wire itself in Conventional EDM because of the sparks produced. So, wire EDM can achieve the smallest and most precise cutting path because the current loop encircles the wire.
The Advantages of Wire EDM Cutting
Due to its cost-effective properties, electrical discharge machining is a common procedure used among machinists. However, apart from its cost-efficiency, there are various other advantages that come with the process. We’ve highlighted a few of them below:
Improve Production Efficiency
Electrical discharge machining can achieve high production efficiency with the same accuracy and precision as manual machining. The equipment is easy to operate, and the cutting process is simple, which makes it suitable for the mass production of complex products.
Electrical discharge machining can reduce labor costs by reducing the number of workers needed to achieve similar results. To increase efficiency, machinists stack batches of parts to be cut together.
No Impact Cutting
Just like laser cutting, EDM has no impact cutting, which makes it safer and more controllable than other machining processes. A computer-controlled tool can ensure the machining of the part correctly without damage. In addition, there will be no impact on the part’s surface or structure during cutting, making it easier to maintain smoothness and roundness after machining.
Wide Processing Range
The electrical discharge machining process works on all kinds of materials with different hardness levels, including aluminum and titanium alloys. It also works well in non-ferrous materials such as quartz and glass.
Low Requirements on Product Shape
The electrical discharge machining technology can produce various products in various shapes and sizes. Because the production process is so simple and easy to operate, you can reduce the requirement on product shape.
Obtain High Tolerances
Electrical discharge machining can obtain high tolerances in complicated products such as electronic components, medical devices, and aircraft parts. The high-speed motor inside the machine can move quickly and accurately, ensuring that the finished product is of good quality.
The Limitations of Wire EDM Machining
Despite its numerous applications and advantages, wire EDM has its own shortcomings. While they aren’t as many as the latter, they could be a major hindrance. Some of these disadvantages include:
Only Work on Conductive Materials
Due to the method of cutting (use of electrical charges to remove material) used in wire EDM, it can only work on conductive materials. This means that any material that cannot allow the free flow of charges is not suitable for this procedure.
Process is Slow
One discouraging factor about the wire EDM process is the slow speed at which it occurs. The problem is due to the wire used in the procedure. A standard brass wire can deliver just a regular amount of energy to the workpiece, hence, limiting the speed at which the machining process can occur.
Not Suitable for Cutting Off Tubings
The use of machining procedures in making parts such as medical tubings is quite commonplace. However, the use of wire EDM in such processes isn’t so advisable. This is because the process poses a huge risk to the integrity of the tubing. Using wire EDM could cause a dent in the tubing and leave the whole part with a rough end finish, rendering the part unusable in some cases.
Applications of Wire Cut EDM
Wire cut EDM is a cutting procedure considered a standard in the machining industry. This is because of its suitability to work on a wide range of materials and its numerous applications. Examples of its applications include:
Manufacture of Thick Parts
The wire discharge machining is especially suited for the manufacture of thick parts. For example, in the manufacture of large sheets, a large number of weldments can be cut with low energy consumption. This allows time and money to be saved on a large scale.
Cutting of Complex Shapes and Narrow Slots
In addition to manufacturing thick parts, the wire discharge machine can cut complex shapes and narrow slots with high accuracy. For example, if you want to cut a hole in a sheet metal product, it is necessary to accurately measure the thickness and width of your product before starting your work.
Then you need to calculate how much material you need for cutting out, which will lead to considerable losses in production efficiency. To avoid this problem, computer-aided design (CAD) software designs them and makes them using a wire discharge machine.
Shaping of Delicate Materials
Wire cut EDM is ideal for shaping delicate materials due to its extreme precision and repeatability. The high degree of control provided by the machine allows the operator to manipulate the tool path to provide a variety of shapes and patterns.
Shaping of Parts that Require Extreme Tolerance
Wire-cut electrical discharge machining is applicable to large numbers of parts with extreme tolerances. The machine can produce highly accurate and repeatable patterns with high repeatability, which means that production costs are minimal while quality is maximized.
Wire EDM is a versatile and precise machining process that can be used to create complex shapes and geometries. It is often used in the aerospace and medical industries, where parts need to meet tight tolerances. Wire EDM can also be used to create prototypes or one-off parts. In this article, we hope that you now have a better understanding of wire EDM.
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What are the advantages of wire EDM over conventional EDM?
Wire EDM creates patterns or designs that would be difficult to make with traditional cutting tools. Because there is no direct physical contact between the tool and the work piece, this technique can work on delicate parts and soft materials.
What’s the difference between wire EDM and laser cutting?
Laser cutting uses a high-powered thermal beam to cut materials, while a wire EDM uses electrical erosion from a wire.
Why has wire EDM become so popular in the industry?
It is popular for various reasons. First, EDM can cut electrically conductive material and can machine heat-treated and hardened workpieces. Also, it can quickly cut and cheaply create complex and sophisticated features. Finally, it can create easy and burr-free construction of thin and fragile pieces.
Is wire EDM a CNC machine?
CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control and refers to machining tools controlled through a computer. Wire EDM fits this description and therefore qualifies as a CNC machine.