Neptune Engineering, a Hertford-based injection moulding and toolmaking specialist has invested in the latest Sodick wire and die sink technology from Sodick to help spur growth at the manufacturing business. A Sodick AD30L die sink EDM has replaced a 20-year-old model, while a Sodick VZ300L wire EDM has eliminated the need for subcontracting, reducing both lead-times and costs. The company’s medical sector customers are among those set to benefit – medical work accounts for the largest proportion of business at Neptune, commanding around a third of total business revenue.
Although boasting 40 years of history, the outlook changed for Neptune Engineering in 2010 when Gary Statham took over the business from his father. He relocated the company almost immediately to much larger premises (double the size) and in the subsequent two years invested in new CNC machining centre technology along with the latest CADCAM software. In late 2013 this was following by a project to source new wire and die sink EDMs. The investments have certainly paid off – in the time since Statham took the reins at Neptune Engineering the company has tripled its turnover.
“Before coming here in 2010 I worked for a successful mouldmaking business in Buckinghamshire which was benefiting from the use of Sodick EDM technology,” says Statham. “Because the existing die sink machine at Neptune was 20 years old we had to subcontract our wire requirements. This situation couldn’t continue if we were to meet increasing demand for shorter lead-times and ever-greater precision – I knew a pair of new Sodick machines would help us move forward.”
“The finer the finish, the more electrode wear you expect,” says Statham. “However, the electrode wear using our new AD30L is around five times less than what we achieved using our older machine. Some of the moulded parts we make for the medical industry are the size of a thumbnail or smaller, and customers here ask for what is known as ‘zero surface finish’. But the finish on the AD30L is so good that there is no need for polishing operations.
“We manufacture single impression prototype moulds for some of our medical industry customers and need to respond to demands for short lead-times, typically four weeks or less, which means our Sodick machines are kept extremely busy. In fact, since they were installed in October 2013, we’ve only had one day of downtime. Of course, we have also seen part complexity increase dramatically in recent years with customers asking for more curves, angles and radii, but none of this is a problem for the Sodick machines.”
Among the medical sector tools produced at Neptune Engineering are devices to help patients get the most from their PMDI (Pressurised Metered Dose Inhaler).
“If you have an inferior EDM it is probably still possible to make basic tooling using manual skills,” says Statham. “However, for more complex moulds it is difficult to hold accuracy of 0.01mm. This is one of the main reasons we invested in Sodick technology – because precision is guaranteed. As a result, we no longer only produce single-impression prototype tools, but multi-impression moulds for large, blue chip organisations.”
The Sodick machines at Neptune are largely programmed offline, although Statham says online programming is also used because the “Q&A style of programming on the Sodick control is very good”. In total, three operators at the company are trained to use both Sodick machines.
“The market remains tough but we are busy with good visibility looking forward, which is a real success this industry,” says Statham. “Ultimately, if you produce good work and hit delivery dates, customers will come back – customer satisfaction is paramount and has helped the company earn its reputation. Our new Sodick machines are now a vital part of this ethos.”