Pressing on

Taking a look at the future for the stamping and metalforming market

stamped parts for the new car in the car factory.
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Metalforming is at a critical junction today as the long-emerging servo press technology has taken hold, providing trackable improvements in press performance, product complexity and output, not to mention reductions in noise and energy.

In something of a “perfect storm” type scenario, however, many press shops continue to run older equipment at capacity, making a shutdown for retrofit, repair and the desired transition to newer press technology seemingly impossible. Currently, press shop equipment is at its oldest average age since 1938. Meanwhile, newer press and control technology has evolved to a point where the retrofit or even a new press purchase makes “perfect” business sense. 

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Newer press and control technology is far ranging – from today’s servo motors, which feature radically improved accuracy and provide the ability to apply maximum torque at any point in the ram descent to bottom dead center (BDC), to regenerative drives, which can apply cycle ram action power savings to other components or back to the grid. Additional new press and control technology includes positioning encoders, which signal power and positioning requirements more accurately than ever, and advanced motion control/PLC/HMI units that control and display all press operations including advanced automation devices.

Truly, modern press controls offer shops of all sizes demonstrable benefits and efficiencies. While retrofitting a mechanical press to be a servo press is not commercially favorable, updating an existing press with the latest drives and controls can provide measureable production and reliability improvements.

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Help is on the way

Your engineering team is probably short on bandwidth these days as staff become more and more lean, so it can often be difficult to assign a team to review the current conditions at your shop, its equipment, personnel and level of available automation utilization. Fortunately, help is available. 

Enter the system integrator. These professionals can assess your shop, then determine the best course for retrofits, upgrades and additional automation components, such as quick die change systems, robotic handling, transfer mechanisms and more. Once a system integrator has helped you to make those initial assessments, he can also help you execute on those improvements in less time than you think. 

Potential improvements can run the gamut. An improvement might involve servo motor technology, quieter hydraulic power units or additional controllers with advanced HMI. It could also be as simple as applying dry film lubricants to your coils to reduce safety issues on your press operations.

The result? Better shop performance, more flexibility in production schedules, the ability to be competitive on jobs that were out of reach previously and, through data capture and analysis software, more insight into your equipment’s performance plus predictive maintenance protocols that will help you anticipate and control press downtime. You can move into the age of the optimized work environment or digital factory for a considerably lower investment. 

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Smart factories

Speaking of that digital factory, we all hear about big data, Industry 4.0, digitalization and other concepts. Often, the first question is, how do these ideas relate to my operation? The cloud and platform-as-a-service ideas are simple ways shops can manage data. 

As companies look to transition to a digital factory environment, you can be that first piece in their puzzle by bringing such concepts to their door as a part of your value proposition. 

Additionally, a collateral benefit to your shop will be better operation and control of your process on a daily, instantly accessible basis. And, it won’t take the proverbial rocket scientist to capture and analyze the data because the technology is available in easy-to-implement modules, allowing your shop to build its network in stages. Best of all, such technology offers selectable criteria you can prioritize to get the most important data on your machinery and equipment, even remotely on mobile devices. 

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Today’s stronger partnerships between press builders, controls manufacturers and these system integrators can ultimately benefit any shop. That’s true whether you do contract work or serve as the in-house press operation for a major automotive manufacturer or tier vendor.

Determine your best course of action by contacting those partners to help your operation improve performance and stay more competitive in this changing landscape. That way, whatever comes around the bend, you’ll be prepared.

Siemens

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