A close cooperation across generations: this is characteristic for the collaboration between Stepper and GF Machining Solutions. Now, the tool maker was involved in the development of the prototype machine AgieCharmilles CUT X 350.
The history of Fritz Stepper GmbH & Co. KG is the story of a family business. Michael Stepper, son of Fritz Stepper, who founded the company in 1965, has been managing director since 1977 and company owner since 2004. However, it is not only tradition that is important to Stepper, but also innovation: for three years in a row, from 2019 to 2021, the company has been awarded the certificate "Germany's Innovation Leader". The company vision of building the best tool with the best employees and the best technologies in order to achieve the best production successes still drives Stepper and its employees today. To achieve this goal, the choice of partners is also crucial. The decades-long partnership between GF Machining Solutions and Stepper is evidence of a trusting collaboration that spans generations. Stepper was already a reference customer for other GF Machining Solutions wire-cutting EDM machines, such as the AgieCharmilles Vertex in the late 1990s. The company recently acquired a Mikron MILL S 400 U in order to achieve further advances in milling and to advance automation.
The German toolmaker has been setting standards for years: Fritz Stepper invented the STEPPER-MODUL-SYSTEM, the first modularly designed punching tool, which became the worldwide standard. The company coats the punching tools itself, which results in an optimization of the service life. Their portfolio ranges from high-performance micro-stamped parts to stamped grids and precision stamped parts. These are used, for example, in the automotive industry, in plastics, in electrical engineering or in medical technology. Wire-cutting EDM has always played a major role for the company: right from the start, Stepper was convinced that wire-cutting EDM provides the best tool life. "Downtimes are a huge issue in the industry, and therefore also for us, of course," Michael Stepper tells us.
"Downtimes are a huge issue in the industry, and therefore also for us”
Stepper is active in the contact parts market, e.g. for automotive contacts. Whereas simple cars had around 300-400 contact parts in the past, today more than 10,000 are installed, and even around 20,000 in higher vehicle classes. Automated driving is a driver for the development to more contact parts in the car - the more functions a car has, the more control units have to be installed in it. However, contact parts are also needed for other products such as consumer electronics and mobile phones. In this market, the parts have to be very precise, and some of them are very complex. In addition, precise stamped parts are needed in large quantities, for example for medical technology.
While Stepper manufactures about 50 punching tools a year, it produces over 5 billion punched parts. Quality is an important factor here. "This is the only way to produce parts that are consistent by the billions," Stepper explains. "There are more than a thousand individually manufactured parts in a tool - many of which are produced by wire-cutting EDM." Another important factor is the exact compliance with deadlines. "The processes at Stepper are very closely timed. This allows us to meet very tight tooling deadlines, even if the customer has to be quick," says Stepper.
"The processes at Stepper are very closely timed. This allows us to meet very tight tooling deadlines, even if the customer has to be quick”
Bernd Rexroth, Technical Director and with Stepper for over 30 years, was heavily involved in the development of the prototype AgieCharmilles CUT X 350 machine. "The impetus for this project was the drive to push the boundaries of wire-cutting EDM further and provide customers with even better component quality," he says. "We are always interested in having the latest from GF Machining Solutions in-house," says Stepper, explaining the collaboration. "The prototype machine is being replaced by a new one, and it will definitely not be the last for us. We are thrilled with the quality!!!"
"The prototype machine is being replaced by a new one, and it will definitely not be the last for us. We are thrilled with the quality!!!"
Stepper used the CUT-X prototype machine to produce tool components with the highest precision such as cutting inserts, cutting punches, bending and embossing inserts as well as so-called module plates (frame plates for tools). A big advantage was the flexible machine control. Thus, the machine could be optimized for the desired part spectrum. Stepper was also impressed by the user interface. "The machine has a user interface that fits into today's world. It is easily linked to the programming system, so the user quickly feels at home," says Stepper. The tests carried out showed that production with the CUT X with the same or higher quality was approximately 25% faster than before. "This even exceeds the expectations we had for the machine," says Stepper. "The quality and the speed are decisive technical advantages of the new CUT X series."
- High-performance punching tool produced by Stepper
- The CUT X 350 was used to make modular panels like this one