Today’s stamping presses quickly and accurately create metal parts for a range of industries. The process is highly versatile, reliable and affordable, creating everything from simple parts to complex products with exceptional consistency. The process is used in large- and small-scale production runs at large manufacturing facilities and small job shops alike.
The best stamping presses and equipment ensure the best results possible for the industry. FAB Shop Magazine spoke with three stamping companies to discuss stamping technology and how the industry keeps growing and developing. Unsurprisingly, these companies are adopting modern manufacturing strategies to help their customers compete today and in the future.
“Industry 4.0 is very integral in our growth plans,” says Stephan Robertson, general manager and vice president of sales and operations, Simpac America. “We realize we need to be able to help our customers grow with Industry 4.0. That becomes more important than ever these days with there being less and less qualified, quality people in the workforce. Yet we still have a higher demand for our equipment. By utilizing Industry 4.0, we are also expanding our company and our company footprint here in North America.
“There are many things that people refer to when they talk about Industry 4.0,” he continues, “but one of the key things we’re looking at is how we can properly automate our systems. That way, customers can gather more information on the uptime of the machine, its serviceability or how the machine is being built. With Industry 4.0, we are trying to make life easier and less complex for the manufacturers themselves. That to me is what Industry 4.0 means.”
Aida America’s Bob Southwell, vice president of sales, agrees, further punctuating the workforce issues that are plaguing the industry.
“There has always been a fair amount of automation in stamping, but we’re seeing the level of automation and the demand for total turnkey systems, increase,” he says. “A lot of that is
driven by the fact that it’s hard to find workers in the heavy industry sector. That’s driving the higher levels of automaton from beginning to end – loading materials, setup of the line and then parts sorting. We’re seeing more automation at the end of the line for gathering and palletizing the parts.”
Aida America offers a variety of Industry 4.0 features, including its AiCare machine information management system that updates press machine operation status and component service life information in real time. It’s currently geared for larger companies, but Aida is working to make it more of a modular system so that it works for smaller contract stampers, too.
“The basis is data collection,” Southwell says, “but the key thing is being able to analyze the data and use that to do predictive and preventative maintenance as well as optimize with production.”
Seyi’s Industry 4.0 Smart stamping solution also continues to evolve. Utilizing a central control system deployed through the press line via the Internet of Things, all the data about the conditions of the presses and peripherals can be collected and organized in one database. Additionally, tonnage monitoring, die protection, motor status, temperature, lubrication and power consumption can all be traced.
All the data collected is integrated into visualized statistics to display real-time production and stamping line status. For example, the system will automatically count the actual quantity produced, show the target quantity for comparison and the remaining time for a particular work order. Meanwhile, by using different colors, the system shows the status of different machines such as in process, downtime, die change or abnormality.
Trends in technology
Like many fabrication operations, stamping has been slow to change over the years, but there have been more recent advancements including servo technology, which continues to evolve and become more important in the marketplace.
“Some of the materials that manufacturers are trying to form today, such as high-strength steels and aluminums, are much more difficult to work with so the servo technology has really become a critical technology to meet those needs.” Southwell says. “High-strength steel is difficult to form so being able to program the motion profile as you form the material allows for the production of a more accurate precise part than you could with traditional stamping.”
Traditionally, a hydraulic press will be selected because of its better formability and the ability to dwell for an extended time. However, its power consumption and production efficiency result in higher production costs. This opens up the possibility for users to consider using servo presses to improve the production efficiency, according to Seyi America.
“There are specific processes and parts that benefit more from a servo press, others that benefit more from a standard mechanical press and still plenty of applications benefit from a using a hydraulic press,” Robertson says. “Some of it comes down to how many parts they have to make per minute, what kind of drawing or clamping force is needed, or the types of materials being processed.
“All of these technologies are still going to be used in the future, but they will be available in different forms and variations,” he adds. “What we are planning for the near future is more on the servo and mechanical side and not the hydraulic side. Some people probably wouldn’t agree with me, but servo and mechanical have a lot more advancement opportunity than hydraulic, especially when you couple it with die technology.”
Aida’s Southwell notes that servo technology has continued to grow for them and that most of the presses the company sells are servo driven.
“Once people realize the ROI and the quality they get from a servo press,” he says, “they understand that it is worth the additional money.”
Seyi also sees more and more demands from automotive, appliance and other industries for servo technology thanks to the impressive ROIs in terms of productivity and energy
Overall, Southwell says the key with stamping is to understand that customers have different needs.
“A stamper making an automotive part is going to have different needs than one making an appliance part, so the press features need to be different,” he says. “It’s important for a customer to find people to partner with who are willing to take the time to understand their application and sell them the right press model and features. It’s a matter of working with the right experts to find the right solution.
“For instance, we have a new press that came out a few months ago,” he adds. “There was a market area for what we call ‘medium high-speed presses’ where the customer couldn’t meet the need for 200 to 300 strokes per min. So, we worked for the last two or three years to develop that product and we released it a few months ago.”
According to Seyi, technological innovation is reshaping the machinery industry faster than ever before. The R&D on the mechanical design and advanced control systems is essential. Seyi noted its acquisition of more than 10 patents in the past five years on advanced stamping press-related sub systems or key parts and now has several new R&D projects underway.
Stamping manufacturers continue to expand their service, sales and technical support offerings, which has become even more critical over the last few years. The importance of maintenance and service is a large focus for the stamping press industry, perhaps more so than on other pieces of capital equipment.
“The stamping press only makes money if it’s going up and down and most presses run 24/7,” Roberston says. “If you don’t maintain your equipment, components will fall apart or break. Of course, the more moving parts that you have – and stamping presses have a ton of moving parts – the greater the chance something is going to break or there’s going to be an issue. Stamping presses also have a lot of electronics and controls, which are always the thing that wear out or need to be replaced first.
“Parts made out of rubber or plastic are wear parts that need to be replaced sooner rather than later,” he continues. “Things like bushings and other things made out of brass will wear over time and need to be replaced in five to 10 years.”
And that’s where preventative maintenance comes in. When a manufacturer buys a new piece of equipment, it’s recommended to do a PM inspection on the machine every six months or once a year to determine how the machine is running, what parts are wearing abnormally or are wearing incrementally as expected.
“When you see parts that shouldn’t be wearing that quickly, you can do a root cause analysis,” Robertson says. “Maybe the operators aren’t using the equipment properly – they might not even know they’re using it improperly. By doing the inspection, you can determine any issues and help with the longevity of the equipment and order parts for future replacement, preventing larger issues from occurring in the future.
“If you take care of your machine and have people that are smart and understand what they’re doing with that machine, it becomes nothing more than standard operating procedure,” he adds. “And that goes for press brakes, laser cutters and all capital equipment.”
Part of Simpac’s growth plan is to expand on service – with technicians and with spare parts, as well. The new XR technology features 3-D user views and interactions for all internal parts of a Simpac machine, providing a valuable tool for employees.
“As an example, a third-shift worker that experiences a problem can look for a part on a tablet or phone,” Robertson says. “He can touch the part he thinks is the problem and the system creates a work order so a first-shift operator can take a look at that part and see if they need to order it or determine what the problem is. The XR tool can also be used for remote diagnostics in real time, which can be incredibly beneficial.”
Aida’s Southwell agrees there is a fair amount of maintenance required simply because of the number of moving parts in a press. The force required is significantly high, as well.
“The key thing is trying to use Industry 4.0 technologies to get away from emergency service and move toward more preventative and predictive maintenance,” he says. “Using the capabilities to be able to see a potential issue before it actually occurs and scheduling that maintenance prior. There are many features such as die protection and load monitoring functionality that also help with overall press maintenance to a degree. We’re seeing a lot more customers do more contracted PM with the OEM manufacturer to maintain the equipment.”
As mentioned, bringing technology-based tools into stamping is important in an industry that’s a bit more traditional.
“The people in their mid-20s and early 30s are the future of the industry,” Robertson says. “Those are the people that are going to drive the industry forward, so we have to get them excited about the industry. There are a lot of companies that have a lot of great ideas and we all want to use technology to help the industry.”
Southwell notes the lack of workers is a challenge in all areas of manufacturing, but adds that there is still much that can be done to inspire the next generation.
“We work hard internally for retention of our workers, but overall, the key is getting people to consider manufacturing as a career path,” he says. “We are working to participate in more things like manufacturing days and working with local technical schools to try and introduce potential workers to Aida and the manufacturing sector as a whole, as well. We want them to know it’s not the same technology as 30 years ago. It’s much more interesting and rewarding than they think.”