Alpine Tools' Precision: Sodick VL600Q - Transforming Automotive Tool Production
With its own press shop serving the production facility of a major automotive plant in Eastern Europe, Essex-based Alpine Tools recently entered the market for a new wire EDM machine. Faced with a requirement to manufacture tools for its in-house press operations and various subcontract customers, the company selected a Sodick VL600Q CNC wire EDM machine from a shortlist of six.
Established in 1965, Alpine Tools is an ISO9001-accredited family-owned toolmaking business headquartered in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. The company maintains a fully equipped and qualified independent toolroom in support of its own press shop, as well as a broad spread of subcontract customers. The press shop houses both mechanical and hydraulic presses ranging from 12 to 120 tons in capacity, running progression and single-operation tooling for producing automotive parts. All components have full traceability that help Alpine Tools to maintain customer score cards of 100% for on-time delivery and quality.
This small but progressive toolmaker punches above its weight, particularly with a major long-running automotive contract that sees the company produce a range of pressed stainless steel brackets for vehicles assembled in Eastern Europe.
“Our previous wire EDM [not Sodick] was reaching the end of its useful life, so it was time to invest in another,” explains Managing Director Keith Chetland. “I used an Excel spreadsheet to cross-reference and benchmark six EDM machines. We chose the VL600Q from Sodi-Tech EDM for a number of reasons, notably the 10-year positioning accuracy guarantee, which shows confidence in the technology.”
The machine arrived in November 2022, with installation, commissioning and training passing off smoothly.
“Since then we’ve kept the machine busy with a variety of tasks, including the manufacture of high-precision press-tool punches and dies,” says Mr Chetland. “We also use our new Sodick wire EDM to undertake press-tool maintenance.”
In addition, the machine will serve the company’s subcontract toolroom operations. Here, the company produces fixtures for machining and welding, along with inspection gauges and other tools from materials such as tool steel, stainless steel and even aluminium. These tools end up in sectors such as medical, heating and lighting.
“We’re an independent toolroom so we’ll take on anything that comes through the door,” says Mr Chetland. “The new Sodick gives us greater accuracy, better economy and a somewhat larger working envelope than we had previously, providing us with a wider scope of work to pursue.”
The VL600Q is an advanced line of wire EDMs that features improved finishing circuitry and an upgraded automatic wire threader (AWT). With travels of 600 x 400 x 270 mm in the X, Y and Z axis respectively, the machine’s linear motor axes drives couple with glass scales to ensure precision cutting and positioning accuracy. Notably, the VL600Q features energy-saving technologies that reduce power consumption by up to 60% compared with conventional EDM machines.
Mr Chetland also singles out the machine’s ease-of-use, describing the control on the VL600Q as “intuitive and straightforward”. The Windows-based CNC comes with a large 15.1” LCD touchscreen, supported by Heart NC on-board programming software to help produce parts right first time, every time.
“The new machine provides us with higher accuracy, better finish and far more reliability,” says Mr Chetland “We’ve not run lights-out yet, but we plan to. It will be nice to go home at night knowing that we’ll arrive next morning and find the machine still running, without stoppages due to a failed wire re-threading operation, for example.”
Today's markets never stand still and it is always the aim of Alpine Tools to understand, and respond to, the needs of customers whenever they arise.
“Our diversity of skill and knowledge sets us apart from standard milling and turning shops,” concludes Mr Chetland. “We have a lot of toolmaking experience and understand the purpose of what we manufacture. Also, we often have customers come to us with a problem, so we set about designing a solution. Just like Sodi-Tech have solved a problem for us, a lot of our work involves problem-solving for customers.”