Based at Halesowen in the West Midlands, HLP Engineering supplies a number of tier-one automotive suppliers with multi-stage progression tools.
Founded in 2009 by experienced toolmakers Luke Hobbs and his business partner Phil Littlewood, HLP has quickly grown to become a respected industry name in presstool manufacture.
“We started with no premises, machines or money, and would simply cold-call to get work,” explains Mr Hobbs. “A friend offered us some space in his unit and we bought a few pre-owned Sodick wire EDMs from auction. We were familiar with Sodick machines from previous employment and they are tried and tested as far as we’re concerned. We also know the guys at Sodi-Tech and the level of support they provide.”
Progress at HLP soon accelerated. After a brief stint in a rented unit the company acquired its own premises in Halesowen, with three pre-owned Sodick wire EDMs in place. However, faced with yet more demand for its services, the company recently sought to expand its capacity even further.
“We needed to extend the size envelope of what we could offer customers,” explains Mr Hobbs. “In addition, we knew that bringing in another Sodick would also release capacity on some of our other machines.”
HLP was particularly interested in a AQ750L Premium at Sodi-Tech EDM, a machine that was developed by Sodick in response to growing demand for large dies. The AQ750L Premium can handle a maximum workpiece 1050mm long, by 750mm deep, by 400mm high. In addition, up to 3000kg can be accommodated on the work table.
“Along with the size, the AQ750L Premium has introduced us to new-generation technologies such as linear drives, which compare favourably against our other machines that feature ballscrews,” says Mr Hobbs. “It means that surface quality is enhanced and energy consumption is reduced. The machine has become the showpiece of our facility.”
Installed in February 2018, the AQ750L Premium has been set to work producing parts for automotive press tools, such as forming and cutting steels. All are one-off items, with most manufactured from D2 tool steel to micron-level tolerances. Run times vary from 30-45 minutes for smaller parts, up to 20-30 hours for a large punch block.
“The Jumbo feeder on the AQ750L Premium means we can load large spools of wire and run some of our longer jobs unmanned, out of normal working hours, which we are insured to do,” says Mr Hobbs. “This is one example where the new machine has moved us on the next level, along with precision and speed. I would estimate the new machine is 25-30% faster than the machine it replaced.”
Upon installing the AQ750L Premium, HLP ‘retired’ one of its older models, leaving three Sodick wire EDMs operational. Beyond press tools for the automotive industry, today the company has diversified into the manufacture of jigs and fixtures, as well as subcontract wire EDM work and general subcontract CNC machining.
Today there are eight employees at the company, which says it has not had to advertise for work since 2009, such has been the satisfaction and repeat orders from existing customers.
“Quality and customer service are our USPs,” concludes Mr Hobbs. “With the Sodick machines we know the parts will be first class, which supports our ethos of ensuring the press tools we make function as intended by the customer. There is an intensive tooling buy-off process involved with every press tool that involves production rate trials from coil at both our premises and the customer facility. There is nowhere to hide if the tool doesn’t work correctly, which is why we work hard to ensure full satisfaction with press tools manufactured by HLP.”