Hydroplane Wins with EDM | MC Machinery Systems

Hydroplane racing champion wins with EDM

December 11, 2013 11:20:49 AM

Sven Ellstrom founded Ellstrom Manufacturing in 1960 to make laminated products for the building industry. In 1967 Ellstrom Mfg was commissioned by the Boeing Company to build the largest wind tunnel blades in history, measuring 36 feet in diameter for the Boeing 747 project. Ever since, the company has specialized in making composite paneling for numerous applications, including interiors and exteriors of buildings and airplanes.

More than thirty years later, Sven’s son Erick ventured into a new manufacturing industry—race boat components. This stemmed from Erick’s lifelong hobby and passion for water and boating. While building their first hydroplane boat prototype, Erick and Sven discovered they couldn’t find parts made with the level of precision they were looking for. Thus, Five-Axis Industries was born.

The Seattle-based company was started to meet a specific need for high-precision machining. The company specializes in high-tolerance parts with complicated geometries machined from hard ferrous materials such as titanium and inconel. 

This allowed Ellstrom to create, test and modify racing components for his Unlimited Hydroplane Racing team. Today, the U-16 Unlimited hydroplane reigns as national champion, adding 2007 to its first national win in 2005. 



With its expertise in machining, Five-Axis Industries has become a primary supplier to the marine and aerospace industries. Some of the parts they regularly supply include propellers, case halves for gas turbines, engine struts and fold-out propulsion tubes for underwater components.


Many of the parts the company manufactures have complex geometries and require extremely tight tolerances, which made their existing multi-step process less than ideal. One part, with a 6-inch-deep tapered bore with keyways and splines, required turning and grinding and broaching of the keys.

“The process required multiple setups with tight tolerances, and the broaching was creating stressed finishes, which required a lot of hand work,” explains Erick Ellstrom, vice president of Five-Axis. “The whole process was really time consuming.” That’s when he began exploring EDM as a solution. 

“We talked to every key player and several users in the EDM industry. Mitsubishi EDM kept ranking at the top of the lists for both machine performance and support, which was important to us since we’d never used EDMs before,” says Ellstrom. 

Floyd Winters, regional sales manager for Mitsubishi EDM, and Chris Gendusa of North-South Machinery played an integral role in determining which machine was the best solution. Erick says they were both very knowledgeable and gave him a high level of comfort that he would be supported after the sale.


The company purchased an FA-20S Wire EDM with a b-axis. Integration of the b-axis provided indexing capabilities, meaning it could hold fixtures for multiple part setup. This eliminated the need for manual part re-positioning, preserving part accuracy and increasing machine cutting efficiency. 

“On the original part with the deep taper bore, we were grinding a surface finish of ±0.0008. The EDM has allowed us to hit a consistent finish of ±0.00025, so hitting spec for us isn’t an issue,” Ellstrom explains.

“One of the biggest benefits of the EDM is its cutting capacity,” Ellstrom says. “We were concerned that just having one machine would cause a bottleneck in our production. In reality, its ease of operation and the fact that it runs lights-out makes it more productive than we’d ever imagined.”

The Mitsubishi wire EDM has allowed Five-Axis Industries to take on work they previously couldn’t do. Gas turbine disks and blades, for example, have become one of their biggest growth markets. This year, they will supply most of the racing teams worldwide with these parts.

Today, Five-Axis Industries builds about 95 percent of the propellers for the national Unlimited Hydroplane race teams in addition to supplying most of the offshore market. With a reigning championship team, the right equipment, and capacity for continued growth, Five-Axis Industries has a flying start toward continued success.


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