Well-oiled workpieces

By Lynn Stanley

Stamper saves costs and raises production efficiencies with an updated fluid delivery system

February 2012 - When you stamp and ship parts on a just-in-time basis, maintaining an outdated lubrication system for metal strip stock is a slippery slope that can lead to part defects, idle presses and stalled throughput. ARJ Mfg. LLC, Jackson, Tenn., replaced its lube-to-lube application with Unist Inc.’s Uni-Roller system and found the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company’s product cleaned up its press room floor and saves the company $20,000 a month.

ARJ is a manufacturer of stamped and welded components for the automotive industry. The fabricator runs eight press production lines supported by nearly 600 tools to provide just-in-time parts for major automotive companies. “We’ve been running seven days a week for the last year,” says Brian Lamb, assistant manager for ARJ’s stamping department. “We ship parts to 40 different customers every day, so we can’t afford to have press downtime.”

The plant had inherited much of its equipment, including its lubrication system. The stamping department houses six mechanical presses and two servo presses ranging in size from 300 tons to 1,200 tons. Each press is fed a metal strip from a coil feeder. ARJ’s petroleum-based lube-to-lube application, installed on the feeder of each production line, was set to coat the top and bottom of the metal strip as it left the feeder before it entered the press and die.

“We had a drip method but I liked to call it a pour method,” says Lamb. “We would fill the oil pumps and the unit’s motor would filter the oil and send it through lines connected to a round pipe positioned over the steel strip. Settings controlling lubrication frequency and duration depended on the type of tool we were running. Once initiated, rollers were supposed to evenly distribute the oil over the steel strip, but when the pipe came on, oil would pour onto the steel and everywhere else.”

Taking control
Proper lubrication is an essential ingredient to keeping press production lines running at optimal performance. Without it, part quality can deteriorate and press and tooling performance suffer. “If you don’t lube your metal strip, you can gall your forms and punches and make parts that have burrs or splits,” says Lamb. “If a part has burrs or galling, it can be reworked but you aren’t making any money that way. If a part splits, it’s scrap.”

ARJ primarily uses high-strength steel to form components for every aspect of a car seat. Some parts receive secondary operations like welding for frame assemblies. Parts can range from the track a car seat slides backward and forward on to side members, back and head supports and components for seat belts.

“High-strength steel is difficult to form,” says Lamb. “We do a lot of transfer and extrusion work as well as some progressive die work, so from both a tooling and material standpoint, we have to have the right lubrication system in place.”

If a punch is impacted by inefficient lubrication, it can’t always be replaced. Instead, the die has to be pulled and sent to the shop for maintenance. “If a die is pulled, press production stops,” says Lamb. “As a just-in-time stamper, if tooling has to come out of the press, it has to be turned around quickly to go back in.”

When the fabricator began researching lubrication systems, the choice came down to two companies. “Unist offered a unique roller lubrication system with a programmable fluid controller,” says Lamb. “The other company offered a spray method.”

ARJ took on both companies in a 30-day trial. The spray method required ARJ to set up sprayers on each press for each die change. “We perform about 40 die changes in a shift,” says Lamb. “We use rolling bolsters to keep die changes to five minutes or less. Having to set up sprayers twice for every die changeover quickly added up to a lot of time that impacted die changes and productivity. Sprayers were also mounted on feeders much like our old system for a couple of the lines and made a worse mess than what we had with our old system. When we completed the trial, the caliber and performance of the Unist equipment was clearly superior.”

Parts saved from the trial also were inspected and revealed no rust. In June 2011, ARJ purchased eight Unist Uni-Roller lubrication systems in widths of 23 in. to 46 in. equipped with the company’s SPR-2000 programmable fluid controllers. The systems initially were installed on three presses with the additional systems being added to a press line every two to three months.

The Uni-Roller, installed near the feeder, has a pressurized tank for lubrication. The SPR-2000 controller allows operators to program and save job recipes. “The system evenly distributed a soap-based synthetic lubrication across the top and bottom of the steel,” says Lamb. “There were no puddles or dripping, and for the first time in eight years, we were able to coat the bottom of the strip just like the top.”

In 1957, Unist designed and patented a low-volume, low-pressure lubrication spray system. Since then, the company has continued to develop lubrication system technology to support stamping, machining and cutting operations. The company also understands today’s metal formers are required to meet more stringent environmental regulations while looking for ways to reduce costs such as waste disposal.

Raising efficiencies
“Unlike conventional lubrication systems, we created a patented internally fed roller design to support precision fluid delivery,” says Nate Pegman, marketing and communications manager for Unist. “The system’s primary advantage is its ability to provide a consistent application of the exact amount of lubricant. As a result, our systems are able to eliminate the mess and waste of traditional spray systems and less-sophisticated externally lubricated roller designs.”

The dependability of the stationary system allows operators to focus their attention on parts production and shipment deadlines. “With the old system, the lines would clog up about every two to three hours,” says Lamb. “When this happened, we would have to stop the press and blow out the lines. That was time the press should have been running, making parts. With the Unist system, we don’t have to worry about that. Once the system is turned on, you can forget about it because it’s not causing problems downstream in your production line.”

The fluid controller for the Uni-Roller allows an operator to create individual setups for specific jobs but also has been designed to monitor critical parameters such as fluid levels, pressure and flow. “We’ve taken the extra step to develop low-volume nozzles, which feature an integrated valve at the nozzle tip for instant on/off control to eliminate drips. Precision needle valves allow the operator to fine-tune the lubricant spray,” Pegman says. “These nozzles are especially useful for supplemental lubrication for progressive die or extrusion work where extra lubricant is required.”

For ARJ, the ability to control lubrication overspray and ensure lubricant is dispensed only where needed has delivered several key advantages. “We are saving $20,000 a month on lube costs with the Unist system,” says Lamb. “Our tooling guys like the coating the material is getting because proper lubrication adds to longer die and tooling life and less maintenance. Our operators’ glove usage also has been reduced because the parts they are stacking coming off the presses are cleaner. But the biggest visual difference is our floors. They are no longer like walking on ice. It’s really the difference of night and day in terms of how much cleaner the floors and the work environment is for our employees.”

In addition to equipment support, Unist has provided ARJ with key training on how to properly program its 1,000-ton and 1,200-ton servo presses. “Anytime I need something, their response is instant,” says Lamb. “That means a lot.”

ARJ is evaluated regularly on production efficiency using a system that factors in statistics like number of employees, labor and parts produced. “Since we’ve had the Unist system, our PEFF numbers have gone up,” says Lamb. “We’re able to be more efficient.” FFJ

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  • ARJ Mfg. LLC
    Jackson, Tenn.
    phone: 731/927-8000
    fax: 731/927-8080
  • Unist Inc.
    Grand Rapids, Mich.
    phone: 616/949-0853
    fax: 616/949-9503

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