Brian Bernt shows off the latest acquisition by Extreme EDM that adds new capabilities to machining in metro Grand Rapids.

When you are carting around blocks of metal that weigh tons, it matters big time if the trip is a few miles or a few hundred miles.

So for tool and die shops in the metro Grand Rapids area, it’s good news that Extreme Wire EDM Service Inc. in Grandville has just commissioned the “tallest submerged wire EDM” in the United States.

Even if you don’t know what EDM is, Extreme’s investment means that local companies won’t need to transport some very heavy tools and molds outside of the Grand Rapids metro area to get them machined by the technique. Some local tool and mold makers even were turning down work that required big wire EDM machines because the heavy rough parts were “just too much of a hassle to transport outside of our area,” said Brian Bernt, vice president at Extreme that employs 8 full-time people.

It may take a truck driver two days round trip with an overnight stay to transport a rough part to the EDM company, then the same time and expense when it’s time to get the part back to Grand Rapids, said Bernt, who is a partner in Extreme with his brother, Karl. Karl founded Extreme in 1997 to provide EDM services, and the company just expanded into a 12,000-square-foot building at 3636 Busch Dr. SW.

With wire EDM -- electrical discharge machining -- a thin metal wire does the cutting in tool steels, brass, carbides or other materials that can conduct electricity. With Extreme’s method, the part to be cut generally has a hole drilled through it to allow passage of the wire, the wire is threaded from a spool through the hole, and the area to be cut is submerged in highly purified water. The wire is electrified with AC current and the part is grounded, so the electricity flows from the wire to the edge of the part to be cut.

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Oddly enough, machine operators could accidentally make contact with the water without getting a shock -- even though the current is 440 volts AC, Bernt said. The water is so pure that it acts as an insulator and a flushing fluid that constantly removes the fine debris.

About the size of a 3-person hot tub, the GF Machining Solutions machine that Extreme just commissioned can make a 30 degree taper to the full height of the spool head -- the type of capacity that is hard to find in the metro Grand Rapids area, Bernt said. The machine bed can handle big parts weighing about 13,000 pounds, which adds a much needed capability to the area.

With 10 wire EDM machines and 2 EDM drills, Extreme has shown slow and steady growth by “keeping ahead of the competition,” Bernt said. “It’s a little more expensive and there’s a steeper learning curve when you buy the latest equipment, but that’s what makes us different from everyone else.”