Different Strokes

Stamping technology is changing rapidly. Are you ready?

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Visitors to last year’s Dimeco Days were treated to an impressive assortment of press feeding and material handling solutions, not to mention some tasty French cuisine. That’s because Dimeco, a global provider of coil handling lines, roll forming equipment, laser cutting systems and more, opened the doors of its headquarters in eastern France for a three-day open house that brought visitors from across Europe and beyond.

Addressing event attendees was Tobias Prataviera, a local area manager for stamping press manufacturer Sangiacomo Presse, based in Treviso, Italy. Prataviera had a great deal to say about the birth of Industry 4.0 and the ongoing evolution of the metalworking industry. He started by reminding everyone that the term is still in its infancy, having been formally introduced just 13 years ago at Germany’s Hannover Messe trade show.

The World Economic Forum might dispute that timeline, suggesting that economist Karl Schwab first coined the term, “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” at its 2007 meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Schwab went on to write a book about it. But no matter – Industry 4.0 is here to stay and manufacturers wishing to remain both relevant and profitable for the long haul are advised to grab hold now rather than later.

There’s much more to stamping than the press. All of its supporting equipment must be tightly integrated, especially as the industry moves into Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things.

Big results

For those who haven’t heard of Industry 4.0 or are skeptical of its ability to reshape manufacturing, there are many resources to learn about its vast potential. But rest assured that artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are just a few of the acronyms with which all of us must grapple – and in many cases embrace – over the coming years.

That said, Prataviera points to a more mundane and practical aspect of today’s industrial revolution: visibility. “One of the many benefits of Industry 4.0 is the ability to develop interconnectivity between the company network and the production floor. It provides transparency, so we know at all times what the machines are presently doing, how they are performing and when the optimal time is for maintenance on the equipment or tooling.”

He adds that the result is more efficient manufacturing planning and increased overall equipment effectiveness, offering this analogy. “How many times have you been stuck in traffic and the car in front can’t move forward. If the traffic lights could communicate with sensors in the cars and streets, they could more effectively regulate vehicle flow, avoiding the waste. Simply put, that’s just a small part of what Industry 4.0 and its greater interconnectivity offers us.”

To further illustrate the benefits of connectivity and how the ability to gather real-time production information can spell the difference between profitability and downtime, Prataviera provided an example more relevant to anyone who stamps parts for a living.

In it, two plants are running the same job. The first experiences a series of misfeeds during the day and suffers significant downtime, while the second has none. What’s the difference?

Maybe the operator of the first stamping press, in an attempt to beat quota, increased the strokes per minute without telling anyone. Perhaps the machine’s bearings are worn or the motor is running hotter than it should – in either case, maintenance is overdue. Unless the shop is gathering and analyzing data from the machine itself, it might never realize the root cause until it’s too late, increasing downtime and quite possibly damaging an expensive tool.

“Conversely, the shop could be missing out on opportunities to increase production rates,” Prataviera says. “This is why Sangiacomo has begun equipping its machines with smart sensors and integrating the control systems with the corporate network and its manufacturing software systems. Doing so not only gives us predictive maintenance capabilities but provides the data needed to analyze production activity. Further, connectivity to the company’s ERP and MES platforms allows management to share setup and job information with the machine operator, reducing the chance for mistakes.”

Open the cabinet door and you’ll find a clean, well-organized design that will provide years of dependable operation.

Changing minds

René Zwahlen, president of Sangiacomo Presses Americas LLC, the company’s North and South American sales and service representative, agrees that communication between manufacturing software systems and machines must be a two-way street. But machinery must also communicate with other machinery, particularly in the complex world of high-performance stamping.

“You have to look at the entire process,” Zwahlen says. “You have all these different pieces of equipment, such as decoilers, levelers and stackers as well as, increasingly, inline inspection systems and robots. Each is part of an integrated production system that needs to take directions from the brain of the process, a responsibility that most often falls to the press control.

“However, most stamping press manufacturers don’t want to develop software systems to monitor and gather data from all this peripheral equipment; they want to build presses,” he says. “Because of this and the fact that many manufacturers are reluctant to adopt new technologies, Industry 4.0 is lagging in the stamping world.”

This mindset also extends to the press itself. Consider a machine with an adjustable stroke, a technology that has been available for many years. Despite its obvious benefits, many manufacturers have yet to adopt it when investing in a new machine.

“Too many treat stamping presses like nothing more than big hammers,” Zwahlen says. “Therefore, they look for a longer stroke in order to accommodate a larger percentage of whatever work comes their way. We as an industry need to change that attitude.”

Adjustable stroke technology works just like it sounds – the operator can adjust and optimize the stroke length for each job. Shorter strokes for smaller parts mean faster cycles and greater throughput, while the ability to increase stroke lengths as needed for larger parts provides the flexibility that job shops and other high-mix, low-volume manufacturers require to remain competitive.

Other benefits include reduced wear and tear on the machine and tooling, which reduces maintenance costs and downtime. Energy consumption is similarly reduced, while part quality improves due to a more optimized process. Last but certainly not least is noise. Because stamping forces are lower, the strip bounces less, which reduces the chance of a misfeed. Also, the classic wham-wham-wham encountered in any stamping house decreases in volume.

Adjustable stroke press technology is the key to greater throughput, reduced maintenance costs, less noise and better part quality.

It’s up to Zwahlen and other industry experts to spread the good word on adjustable stroke technology, but with that comes a need for more education in general. One example of this comes from a shop that he visited recently.

“They wanted to replace an old press with a new machine, but wanted one with the exact same specifications,” he says. “I wouldn’t quote it.”

Why would any machine tool representative refuse to sell a machine to a willing customer? What better reason than because decades ago they purchased the wrong machine for their application and have struggled with it ever since.

Zwahlen explained to them that the bed size on their old press was far too large for the small tools they were running. This concentrates all the tonnage in the center, bending the ram. A conveyor underneath the bed weakens the machine structure. This is also wrong.

Sizing the press for its intended workload is a crucial first step for maximum productivity and tool life.

Like many shops, they originally invested in a longer stroke press for its greater capacity, only to run mostly small, flat parts. (Yet another reason for adjustable stroke capabilities.) And, the crankshaft in this instance was longitudinal. Zwahlen notes that it’s much better to have two transverse shafts because the sideways forces tend to cancel out on smaller tooling, reducing wear.

“I put together a lengthy presentation explaining all these issues,” he says. “I reiterated that the reason their old press has given them so many problems is because it was the wrong press to begin with. I explained how an adjustable stroke press could nearly double their production rates, reduce tooling and machine maintenance, and consistently deliver better results overall. Sadly, they made their purchase decision on price over performance.”

Frustrations like these are not unusual in the machine tool industry. All manufacturers must live within the constraints of their capital expenditure budgets, and unfortunately, these are often established without knowledge of current state-of-the-art technology and all that it can bring to the bottom line. Between advanced features like adjustable stroke press technology and Industry 4.0 making data-driven stamping a reality, it’s time to grab ahold of the future and run with it.

For more than 65 years, Sangiacomo Presse has been producing a wide range of C-frame and straight-side mechanical eccentric presses at its facility in Treviso, Italy.

“You have to ask the right questions when investing in new stamping equipment, but too many people don’t know what those are,” Zwahlen says. “We’re here to help.”

Sangiacomo Presses Americas LLC

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