GRANDVILLE — Sometimes in business a small ultimatum can make a world of difference.
Extreme Wire EDM Service Inc. recently learned that lesson firsthand after years of trying to convince its long-time equipment supplier to produce a machine large enough to accommodate customers’ orders.
The Grandville-based company, which offers electrical discharge machining (EDM) services, often turned away larger jobs simply because its equipment could not support the work.
“We’ve been bugging (our equipment supplier) for umpteen years,” said Vice President Brian Bernt. “Finally, we gave them an ultimatum and said we need a big machine for our customers and if you don’t tell us that something is coming, we’re going to buy a competitor’s machine even though we don’t want to.”
The prodding worked. GF Machining Solutions Ltd., a Switzerland-based manufacturer with a North American operation in Illinois, flew company representatives to Italy where it was prototyping one of the largest EDM machines on the market, the AgieCharmilles Cut P 1250 wire EDM.
Bernt jumped at the opportunity to purchase the machine, which is capable of handling 4-foot by 8-foot molds and uses electrical current to machine material to tolerances less than one-fifth the width of a human hair.
“It’s massive,” he said. “Ours is the first one in the United States. I’m not sure how long it will be until they offer it to anyone else. I think we are just such a good customer that they were willing to let it come here first.”
Extreme Wire invested just less than $1 million in the new machine, and Bernt said he intends to purchase another if the first one stays busy enough.
Despite the time it took to convince its equipment supplier to produce the machine, the extra capacity it created came at the right time, given that Extreme Wire entered February booked up with work.
“January has always been a slow month — it has been since we started,” Bernt said. “Then February came along and the floodgates just opened up. This has been our best February ever. We get our work from other machine shops, and we’re only busy when they’re busy. Everyone is extremely busy right now, which is great.”
During its early years, Extreme Wire focused primarily on the tool and die sector but gradually shifted to the mold industry amid mounting competition and as more equipment headed overseas. Even though much of that tool and die work has come back to the U.S., Extreme Wire plans to continue to focus on the mold industry, where it has found a niche in tackling challenging jobs, a move made possible because of its precision equipment.
Extreme Wire primarily offers finishing work on molds for its machine shop customers. That includes machining the ejector pins, core pins and lifter rods for the molds.
Judging by the volume of work coming down from its customers, Bernt expects his company’s busy February will carry through the rest of the year.
“A lot of mold shops usually project work out for at least three or four months,” he said. “By them knowing what they have coming for the months ahead, that gives me an idea of what I can expect.”
Overall, the global plastic-injection molding industry is expected to reach $162 billion by 2020, representing a compound annual growth rate of 4.9 percent since 2015, according to a report from Research and Markets, an Irish market research firm.
Bernt expects Extreme Wire to grow 20 percent this year, reaching $1.5 million in annual sales.
The company employs eight workers at its facility.
Bernt’s brother, Karl, founded Extreme Wire in 1997. Bernt joined as the fledgling company’s first employee. The pair launched the business from a 1,000-square-foot space in a strip mall. While it gradually expanded its operation, the company purchased its current 12,000-square-foot facility three years ago as it outgrew its first location.
To hedge against the fluctuations in the tool and die and injection-molding industries, Extreme Wire adheres to what Bernt describes as a relatively straightforward business strategy: Avoid going heavily into debt.
“We try to buy only when other things are paid off so we don’t carry much debt,” he said. “That’s pretty much the rule of thumb. If you don’t have the money, you don’t buy it.”
MADE IN MICHIGAN: Extreme Wire EDM Service Inc. hopes the purchase of a new machine — the largest of its kind in the United States — will allow it to capitalize on an increasing pipeline of work from its customers. The Grandville-based company provides electrical discharge machining services using an electrode to cut or drill material. With the capacity from the new machine and the increased workload from customers, Extreme Wire expects annual sales to grow by 20 percent this year to $1.5 million. The company employs eight workers at its 12,000-square-foot facility.