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issue: February 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine

Metalworking Equipment
Cutting to the Quick

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by David Simpson, Contributing Editor

Flexibility, speed, accuracy, reliability: These are some of the attributes valued in metalworking equipment at the core of many appliance production operations.

Frymaster installed an array of Trumpf metalworking equipment primarily for the production of commercial fryers. Models include an L3030 laser, V1700 press brakes, TruPunch 2020 CNC punch press with loader and unloader, and TruBend 5130 press brakes. Shown is the last stop in the fabrication process.

Despite the inroads made by plastics, sheet-metal parts are still vital in most appliances. Metals offer unique, desirable properties and, even with recent high commodity prices, can be cost-effective. Traditionally, makers of larger appliances have viewed stamping, notching, bending, drawing, cutting, and other metalworking operations as core competencies. This is often still the case, although some OEMs now work with supplied prepainted blanks or have high-volume parts produced off-site.

One of the words often heard when discussing today’s metalworking equipment is flexibility. Flexible equipment will allow quick changeover from one part to another, or produce a wide variety of parts. Flexibility can be critical when producing short runs, a number of different part configurations, or prototypes. Metalworking equipment achieves flexibility through advanced controls, automated loading and unloading, quick-change tooling, or other approaches.

In hydraulic press applications, “One of the trends to increase flexibility involves providing solutions for off-center–loading applications,” says Michael W. Riehn, director of sales and marketing, Beckwood Press Co. (Fenton, MO, U.S.). “Customers are pushing for an increase in off-center–loaded applications as they consolidate multiple dies or processes into a single machine in order to improve production efficiency.”

Riehn says manufacturers looking for a multipurpose machine to run multiple processes with varying load configurations will experience dynamic loading. “This type of off-center loading is best accommodated by an active leveling system,” he says. “These presses are equipped with a multiaxis high-speed motion controller, linear transducers to monitor ram position, and sophisticated proportional hydraulics. The motion controller provides closed-loop servo control of each individual press cylinder to maintain an accurate bed-to-ram parallelism.”

From Dennis Boerger’s perspective, significant developments in the last 10 or 15 years have come via controls. Boerger, product manager at AIDA-America Corp. (Dayton, OH, U.S.) notes that today’s controls have advanced to where they have the inherent flexibility and capacity to control not just a press, but much of the rest of the process, such as parts and scrap removal, and what happens downstream. “For instance,” he says, “a press might be part of a welding cell. All operations in the cell can be timed, and the equipment will ‘talk’ to each other to ensure a smooth workflow and a productive cell.”

Another key improvement has been much-quicker part changeovers. “In the past it might take up to half a day to make a part change,” Boerger says. “With new change systems you can make die changes and feed in new blanks in as little as five minutes.”

What follows is a look at how some appliance companies have addressed their needs with metalworking equipment. IMI Cornelius Inc. added a laser to produce short-run, often complicated parts for commercial beverage-dispensing and cooling appliances. Frymaster LLC has installed a range of metalworking equipment whose advantages include improved flexibility and stronger customer support from the supplier. Finally, appliance industry stamper E-Lite Tool and Manufacturing Co. has purchased gap-frame presses that offer versatility in handling high-precision and progressive die work.

Commercial appliance maker IMI Cornelius added three Bystronic laser cutters, most recently a ByVention unit such as the one pictured here, that allow it to better handle lower-volume, more-complicated parts.

Fabricating a Metalworking Array

Frymaster LLC, based in Shreveport, LA, U.S., was looking for new equipment to provide flexibility and precision in manufacturing. The company views itself as the global leader in commercial fryers, and the choice of the world’s largest foodservice chains. It believes that precision in manufacturing a superior design produces the level of performance, reliability, and durability its customers have come to expect.

Following a selection process, Trumpf (Farmington, CT, U.S.) became the supplier of choice to fabricate parts using laser, computer numerically controlled (CNC) punch presses, programmable press brakes, and robotic welders.

“We considered several selection criteria for the forming step in the fabrication process, including tonnage (or downward force) required, length of tool bed, CNC performance and user-friendliness, machine accuracy and repeatability, service, and programming capabilities,” reports Jesse Ford, Frymaster’s vice president of manufacturing. “Trumpf was chosen due to its ability to set industry standards for production and precision manufacturing by encompassing flexibility. This makes its equipment ideal for any size job shop or production facility.”

The equipment primarily cuts, punches, and forms the metal. Tight-tolerance parts are necessary for each step of the fabrication process. While the laser and CNC machines provide the templates, the press brake is the machine used to bend, form, or, in some cases, emboss the metal. This exerts a force on a set of upper and/or lower tooling dies. The force is created either by mechanical or hydraulic means.

Parts can be programmed at the machine or off-line. These programs are stored at the control or on the company network. Typically, the original part’s program is used each time, with very little modification to keep parts consistent.

The press brakes use a back gauging system to allow accurate metal positioning for forming various frypot fronts, backs, and/or sides. These formed components are then staged for welding where they are fixtured and finally robotically welded. “A benefit to this practice is less setup time and dependence on higher-skilled labor from a diminishing labor pool,” points out Ford.

“The perceived advantage over previous equipment was stronger customer support and overall equipment flexibility,” he continues. “Trumpf machines are faster and easier to set up. The company features a specialized tool bed allowing for twice the tool capacity of other competitors. Its proprietary software and equipment design allow single-source customer assistance. In addition, the equipment can be remotely accessed, monitored, and diagnosed. All things considered, this translates to machine accuracy, reduced downtime, and improved part mating. This enabled us to achieve our current and future production demands.”

Ford says a key factor in the relationship between the commercial foodservice equipment OEM and the equipment supplier is support. “Equipment installation has been very successful, with installation time from dock to production usually less than one working week. The equipment company makes support technicians available remotely and on-site to address startup concerns and provide any training Frymaster feels it needs.”

“Admittedly, no one is perfect and an entity as large as Trumpf cannot be everything to everyone. However, our perception is that the company attempts to listen to our needs and deliver practical solutions,” Ford says. “Fortunately, the relationship didn’t end once the check cleared. In fact, it’s grown stronger. We’ve actively engaged in identifying opportunities to do more with less, removing waste, and adding value to our customers, products, and employees.”

Three AIDA gap-frame presses have been added at E-Lite Tool and Manufacturing Co. The presses enable the company to use the whole bolster area, unlike with a straight-side press. The rigid construction permits tight clearance and angular deflection of 50% or less when compared with other presses on the market.

A Trade Show Challenge

IMI Cornelius Inc. has been using laser cutters for four or five years in its Glendale Heights, IL, U.S.-operation. The company, a UK-based maker of commercial beverage-dispensing and beverage-cooling equipment, began looking into using laser cutters about five years ago. “We went to a Chicago trade show with a DXF file of a part we produce,” explains Tom Foley, business unit manager of Cornelius. “A salesman for Bystronic Inc. (Hauppauge, NY, U.S.) had challenged us to take the file and have exhibitors prepare the part on their equipment. We were convinced when Bystronic was able to generate parts from our file in about 10 minutes. It was the only company able to make the part at the show.”

Cornelius started with a Bysprint model. The machine handles part sizes up to 120 × 60 in. The company mostly makes parts from 10- to 20-gauge cold-rolled galvanized and stainless steels. Interchangeable shuttle tables enhance machine speed. This means there is no delay in loading and unloading the machine.

The machine is fully integrated with Bysoft, a CAD/CAM software package developed for cutting and bending, and optimized for the Bystronic systems. As evidenced at the trade show, the appliance producer has found that the user-friendly software allows quick programming.

“Over the years, a lot of our high-volume fabrication parts work has gone overseas,” notes Foley. “We are left with the lower-volume, more-complicated parts. Lasers permit us to do short runs and to make parts on an as-needed basis. Also, engineering uses it a lot for prototype parts.

“A big advantage is that there is no tooling involved with a changeover,” he adds. “It’s mostly a matter of swapping out material. We especially like that there are no tooling costs. A lot of presses require custom tools, which we no longer need to order.”

The appliance producer reports that its supplier has been very responsive since Cornelius acquired its first laser. Due to the success of the first installation, the company purchased a second Bysprint about two years after the first.

Most recently, it acquired a Byvention model. “This has exactly the same cutting capabilities as the others,” points out Foley. “However, it is a more bare-bones model, with no bells and whistles. It has a smaller footprint, which was essential since we are short on space here. Loading is only semiautomatic. Operator training is particularly easy on this model, which is touchpad-controlled.”

By combining a turret punch press and an integrated right-angle shear, the Shear Genius is capable of turning a full-sized sheet into finished parts, including automated loading, punching, forming, shearing, and unloading. Finn-Power International designed the unit to eliminate wasteful skeletons and secondary operations such as deburring. Nibble edges on part exteriors were eliminated with integrated shear, and the same clamps hold the sheet for punching and shearing.

Help Wanted: Must Be Versatile and Reliable

E-Lite Tool and Manufacturing Co. (Belleville, IL, U.S.) is a stamper whose primary market is the appliance industry. After his company purchased three new gap-frame presses, says Rick Baltz, E-Lite production manager, “We needed equipment that was reliable enough to meet new customer delivery schedules but versatile enough to handle any future work that might come through the door.” While some manufacturers might overlook a gap-frame press for high-precision and progressive die work, the company says it chose the equipment for its flexibility.

Combining its capability to design and build tools with on-time production, E-Lite provides a wide variety of production processes such as draw, progressive, and multistation blank tooling. Materials range from copper and brass to aluminum, stainless, hot-rolled, and cold-rolled steel. In addition, the company’s total turnkey stamping solution includes a fully equipped tool room with CNC machining and wire EDM.

“We purchased the first AIDA NC2 160-ton gap press in 2000 because we needed a draw cushion with a large bed area,” says Baltz. “The job called for blower housings made from aluminized steel. We needed a die cushion with a large pressure area so we could vary the pressure from side to side. AIDA was willing to customize the cushion die application to meet our requirements. As a result we’re able to perform deep-draw operations.”

E-Lite added an AIDA NC2 110-ton gap-frame press in 2001 and a second AIDA NC2 160-ton gap frame in 2006 to perform secondary blanking operations for the part. Presses come from AIDA-America Corp.

While it produces the majority of its parts from lighter-gauge material, the manufacturer has the capability to run material ranging in thickness from 0.008 in. up to 0.200 in. “With the gap-frame presses, we found we didn’t have to restrict ourselves on the width of material we ran,” Baltz adds. “The open accessibility of the gap press to the die space allows us to use the full width of the bed area. With a straight-side press you are limited to the width of the window.”

In addition to allowing the company to take advantage of the entire bolster area, rigid construction reportedly gives the gap-frame press an angular deflection of 50% or less when compared with other presses on the market, and the tightest clearance available. The negative effects of working at a significant distance from the centerline of the bolster are minimized, tool life is extended, and part accuracy increased.

Lean stamping environments like E-Lite’s are seeing smaller unit volumes and increasingly shorter production runs. To keep track of parts, the company originally used an external counter. “If the mechanism broke during a production run, the operator would have to stop production and count parts manually,” Baltz says. “The touch screen setup and batch counters built into the AIDA control allow us to control container counting and eliminate the possibility of downtime due to a stopped production run. We’re also able to perform activities like setting the control for the number of parts we need to run before conducting an inspection. The electronic control has really helped us raise our efficiency levels.”

In addition to a convenient control, the manufacturer’s operators reportedly find press operation to be reliable, requiring only routine maintenance. The reliability of the gap-frame presses has also delivered other advantages. “We’re competing in a global economy,” Baltz says. “Foreign companies typically have cheaper labor. In the United States, we have to depend on better equipment that has the capability to make us more efficient.

“Being able to perform draw, progressive die and blanking operations all on one press is an advantage. This type of press versatility also means less equipment on the shop floor and less overall capital equipment cost. On a more fundamental level, press equipment that is dependable and well maintained allows stampers like us to avoid downtime due to unscheduled repairs. These factors—versatility and dependability—are key to a competitive stamping operation.”

Making Metalworking Successful

As these four companies demonstrate, many factors come into play in a successful metalworking operation. Hopefully, readers will see parallels with their operations, and draw their own conclusions about what works best for them.

Suppliers mentioned in this article:
Beckwood Press Co.
AIDA-America Corp.
Trumpf Inc.
Bystronic Inc.

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