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Stamping

Transfer technology

By Lynn Stanley

A tool and die shop equips its straightside presses to perform transfer work

May 2012 USA Today recently compared cars to “rolling computers” as automakers scramble to keep up with digital technology that is making it possible for vehicles to perform maneuvers like self-parking. Automotive manufacturers also are looking at ways to integrate performance-boosting technologies on the press room floor.

One Tier 2 supplier opted to marry specialized high-speed robot technology with existing capital equipment to turn its straightside progressive die presses into fully programmable transfer systems. The move has allowed the manufacturer to increase material savings, produce complex parts and gain the flexibility to respond easily to OEM and Tier 1 engineering changes.

As a manufacturer of stamping dies, production stampings and welded assemblies, Egar Tool and Die Ltd., Cambridge, Ontario, has been supplying complex progressive and transfer dies to the Tier 1 automotive industry in North America for more than 30 years. The Tier 2 manufacturer also produces inner sheet metal reinforcement parts and structural components. Volumes can range from 2,000 to 500,000 annually.

“This is a very competitive business,” says Doug Levasseur, business development manager for Egar Tool and Die. “Every day, you have to be more competitive and look for ways to find that edge. We’ve ridden out the downturn by being innovative.”

The manufacturer saw opportunities for transfer work but was limited to producing parts with its progressive dies. “We couldn’t participate because we didn’t have a transfer system,” Levasseur says. Instead of investing in a dedicated transfer press, Egar Tool and Die chose to outfit its 1,200-ton straightside standard crank and 1,100-ton straightside link motion presses with linear servo transfer system technology from Barrie, Ontario-based Linear Transfer Automation Inc.

“As a Tier 2, we run a lot of dies from different customers as well as our own dies,” Levasseur says. “We might get a tool with an 8-in. pitch or tools with a pitch of 24 in. We liked the flexibility and programmable lift and pitch of the Linear servo transfer system. We wanted to be able to accommodate as many scenarios as possible. The servo transfer system also allowed us to retain our coil feeds. Most dedicated transfer presses run blank feeders.”

A new niche
After evaluating Egar Tool and Die’s press and die requirements and the scope of work the fabricator wanted to run on the press, Linear Transfer Automation custom built and installed the first servo transfer system on the company’s 1,200-ton straightside in 2004. “We’re able to take any press and turn it into a fully programmable machine,” says Paul Stirrett, Linear Transfer’s vice president of sales. “In this case, we tailored the system to accommodate as many different-size tools as possible.”

Linear Transfer Automation has more than 300 servo transfer systems in the field. The supplier specializes in in-press transfer, blank feed, press-to-press and part-stacking systems for a range of industries from automotive, appliance and HVAC to renewable energy, construction and consumer goods.

With the servo transfer system, Egar Tool and Die could take on production of structural parts like cross members for frames, suspension components and body mounts from materials like mild steel and dual-phased high-strength steel 1⁄2 mm to 41⁄2 mm thick. “The servo transfer system really opened the door for us in terms of new work,” says Levasseur. “There’s quite a niche for the parts we make. Our book of business went up dramatically.”

Egar Tool and Die also found the servo transfer system supported the company’s lean business practices by helping it optimize material utilization. The manufacturer stamps parts on a just-in-time basis.

“We get steel in the door and parts out as quickly as possible,” says Levasseur. “It’s vital to meet customers’ turnaround times. You don’t get a lot of chances. Customers’ turnaround times have gotten shorter because no one wants to keep inventory on the floor. Steel mills don’t want to keep steel on hand, we don’t want to run an inventory of stampings and customers don’t want to shelve and keep components.”

While material utilization is dictated by part shape, Egar Tool and Die uses the servo transfer system to gain key advantages.

“In order to win work, we need to have the best piece price,” says Levasseur. “We identify the optimum nesting pattern for a part then we achieve that pattern by manipulating the blank or blanking on an angle then re-orienting the part and presenting it to the servo transfer system, which loads the blank into the first station of the transfer die. The part is then carried through the various operations of the transfer die. In some cases, we can rotate the part in the transfer itself to gain a better die condition, which helps us reduce die costs and adds to the robustness of the dies. Servo fingers are tied into the transfer system using Linear’s transfer control.”

Stirrett says Linear Transfer Automation fully synchronizes its system to mirror press movements by slowing down and speeding up with the press. “We design the servo fingers with the capability to turn the part to any orientation to enhance the next process in the application,” he says. Since we never want to be the bottleneck in the stamping process, we find out up front what the biggest part profile is and the heaviest part. We scale the drivetrain around those parameters so that anything else the stamper produces will fall under that.”

Flexibility
The manufacturer also found the servo transfer system could nest parts with complex shapes. Triangular-shaped parts, for example, nest well together in a line but the application is difficult in a transfer press, making the transfer much longer than it needs to be.

“The servo transfer system made the process practical by allowing us to manipulate parts in a side-by-side configuration,” says Levasseur. “In a conventional setup, you would grip the parts on both sides. With the servo transfer system, one part is in front of the other coming out of the blanking process. We pull them apart, reorient them side by side and move them by just gripping the parts on one side. The big advantage is we can fit the entire process inside our existing bed size. We don’t have to buy a bunch of presses with different bed sizes in order to take these jobs.”

The servo transfer system is equipped with an independent head control and infinite passline adjustment. “The passline is the elevation a part gets processed at in the die,” says Stirrett. “If the stamper gets a customer die that does not have the same passline, the system is able to adjust for that. The system’s front and rear mount make it easy to retrofit with bars and servo fingers to handle emergency work from Tier 1 and Tier 2 customers as well.”

Egar Tool and Die added a second servo transfer system to its 1,100-ton link motion press in 2007. “We were running out of capacity and wanted a back-up,” says Levasseur. The manufacturer also can perform progressive work in the same presses without using the servo transfer system. “We can move the system out of the way and run smaller progressive dies just as easily as we can run semi-progressive or transfer work with the servo transfer system.”

Egar Tool and Die’s customer base includes businesses in Ontario, Alabama, Michigan, Mexico and Poland. “The servo transfer system has helped reduce die costs by giving us the flexibility to reposition the part during transfer,” says Levasseur. “It’s allowed us to win work where we would not have won it before. It’s also allowed us to achieve maximum material utilization. Automotive designs are trending toward use of more exotic materials. The cost per pound for those materials also is increasing. Material utilization is becoming more important than ever and often is the driving factor of getting sourced for work. With the servo transfer systems, we’re equipped to handle whatever comes through the door.” FFJ

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Sources

  • Egar Tool and Die Ltd.
    Cambridge, Ontario 
    phone; 519/623-6813
    fax: 519/623-3023
    www.egartool.com
  • Linear Transfer Automation Inc.
    Barrie, Ontario
    phone: 705/735-0000
    fax: 705/735-4688
    www.lineartransfer.com
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