Franz Klarer Sr.’s history with Electric Discharge Machining (EDM) dates back to its inception. Born in Switzerland, he served his apprenticeship with Georg Fischer before coming to America to work as a service technician for Agie. “My dad spent a lot of time trying to explain EDM to guys back in the day,” describes Franz Klarer Jr. “It was new back then and people didn’t get it. Even today, those in the manufacturing business often misunderstand the EDM process. By discharging electricity in a controlled fashion, we create sparks that melt and vaporize the metal of the piece we are shaping. The wire or electrode never actually touches the material.” EDM customarily bridges the gap where traditional machining can’t get to. An example would be very sharp corners or boring a perfect square into the middle of a part. When you can’t mill it, the EDM Shop can probably still machine it. Many of The EDM Shop’s parts come in nearly complete and their job is to finish it off with an operation or two. “I think some shops turn away work because they can’t do it all in house and are not familiar with EDM capabilities,” add Franz Jr. “If it conducts electricity we can machine it.”
Franz Sr. parted ways with Agie to go into business for himself and opened several EDM manufacturing facilities in the area before pulling the trigger on The EDM Shop in 1994. Franz Jr. tells how his mom ran a day care out of the front of Swiss Wire in Costa Mesa, Ca. and how he grew up on the shop floor. “When I was big enough to push a broom I pushed, and when I could reach the tanks I cleaned out the sludge,” jokes Franz Jr. “I was running the hole poppers in Jr. High school and progressed up through the wire EDM and into the sinkers when I was in high school. My career literally started in my crib in the front office at Swiss Wire.”
While working full time at the EDM Shop, Franz Jr. graduated from Pepperdine with a degree in business. “After graduation I was doing my own thing, starting at the bottom,” explains Franz Jr. “My dad came to me and said he was going to retire to Wisconsin and asked if I wanted to take over the business. I’d already worked my way up in his business, so it was an easy decision. It seemed like a great opportunity for me to honor what he had built over the years and still give me the ability to create something uniquely mine.” Early 2012 Franz Jr. took the reigns of The EDM Shop and began the process of making it his own.
Franz Sr. was a master machinist, but EDM was his specialty. He could do everything from running the machine to taking it all apart and fixing a circuit board. He was also old school and new technology was not his forte. “My dad is the most brilliant machinist I know,” touts Franz Jr. “But he was a little behind the times in how he did things. He programmed by pushing older software to the limit instead of trying more user friendly and intuitive modern versions. All the paperwork was done by hand and stuffed in file cabinets.” Becoming digital and modernizing the company was a top priority for Franz Jr. He paid a person for months to come in and type everything into the computer. He purchased E2 shop management software and has begun the process of AS and ISO certification. “We are AS and ISO compliant, following all the guidelines,” tells Franz Jr. “Getting certified is a big part of my plan moving forward. We are in the market for a new CMM to help us step up the level of service we offer.”
The EDM Shop is a job shop all the way. Typical run lengths range from a single part up to tens of thousands. No one industry makes up more than 15% of the total sales and Franz Jr. is one who never turns away work. “We keep busy as the different industries have their ups and downs,” tells Franz Jr. “If we can do the job, I want to do it. Tool and die, medical, aerospace, automotive, electronics, and injection molding are some of industries we serve.” The EDM Shop has eight Mitsubishi wire EDMs and eight sinker EDMs from a variety of manufactures. They also have two hole-poppers and all the basic support equipment like mills, lathes and grinders.
As a job shop Franz Jr. is continuously upgrading machines to expand capabilities and be able to offer more to their customers. “Every couple of years we either add a new machine or replace an older one,” tells Franz Jr. “One of our latest acquisitions is a Mitsubishi MV2400 ST with 16.5” in Z. It is a wire machine offering a larger cut and bigger work envelope compared to our other machines. We had a customer who needed a deep cut and it fit the bill perfectly.” The EDM Shop uses Mitsubishi exclusively in their wire EDM department. Mitsubishi has proven to be a reliable brand for The EDM Shop over the years. They have the needed speed, accuracy and repeatability, but the new MV2400 ST has a feature that even impressed Franz Jr. “My guys know the Mitsubishi’s really well, elaborates Franz Jr. “The interface is great and they do the job without many problems, but what stands out to me is the re-threading on the new machine. Re-threading is limited by distance, and the new MV2400 ST will self thread at 12” no problem. The best part is say you are making a cut and the wire breaks. Normally it would have to go back and re-thread via the start hole, but now it will re-thread back into the cut and keep going. Mitsubishi makes a durable product, and they are always making improvements. We stick with them as a brand for those reasons. I have machines from the 90’s that are still going strong.”
Franz Sr. and Jr. share more than a name, they share a passion for EDM machining. One minute with Jr. and his pride for his father and the shop are apparent. Most people hear the name Franz and expect to see an old man, but at thirty-three Franz Jr. is far from that. He is young and eager to put his stamp on the company his dad worked so hard to build. “I’m excited to do what I do,” tells Franz Jr. “I love machining in general, but the accuracy and finishes off the EDMs are what most people are surprised by. It is a niche area of machining and I like that. Every shop has a lathe or mills, but we are a specialty supplier and can do what they can’t. I always like taking a chunk of metal and turning it into something that creates value. You take a block of steel, treat it, cut it, and the next thing you know it is being shot into space, or in a racecar on TV or in someone’s body. Our website says it best. The Klarer name continues to be synonymous with quality and expertise in the industry as Franz Klarer Jr. honors the past and embraces the future.”