Sheet Hydroforming

Shaping sheet metal

By Lynn Stanley

Fabricator uses advanced sheet hydroforming technology to expand capacity, support growth

December 2012 - Precise Metal Products Co. has weathered the economy’s recession and sluggish recovery by consolidating space and streamlining operations. The Phoenix-based fabricator builds tight tolerance, high-performance parts for the aerospace, defense, medical and industrial markets. With an eye to the future, president and CEO Ilene Price recognized signs of growth on the horizon for the aerospace market. To ready her company, Price implemented a plan of action that included pinpointing equipment that could help Precise Metal Products support the new work.  

“We were subcontracting out some of our fabrication jobs,” she says. “It was expensive and created quality and scheduling issues that were affecting our deliveries. We felt we could improve throughput and increase capacity by bringing production in-house. That meant modernizing our equipment.”

Precise Metal Products considered different options, including a traditional hydraulic press, but found an unconventional solution in Pryer Technology Group’s Triform sheet hydroforming technology. PTG is headquartered in Tulsa, Okla. The Triform sheet hydroforming press is manufactured by Beckwood Press Co., St. Louis.

ffj-1212-sheet-image1“It’s challenging these days to find skilled workers,” says Price. “It takes a special proficiency to run a traditional hydroform press. When we saw the Triform demonstrated at a trade show we were impressed with how easy it was to operate.”

Cost-effective installation

Precise Metal Products chose the cost-efficient Triform 24-10-5SC to expand its metalforming capabilities and perform deep draw work.  When the machine was delivered in April, the fabricator also found installation easy. Conventional hydroform presses have to be anchored to the floor, requiring a pit and underground thermal feed, as well as extra ceiling height. “We call them monuments because once they are in place, that’s where they stay,” says Scott Pryer, president of Pryer Technology Group. “Due to the cost involved with the installation, if someone tried to give you a used hydroform machine for free, you probably could not afford it. Our goal was to design and build compact, portable hydroform presses that attempt to eliminate the need for pits, special foundations or tall ceiling heights,” he continues. “You don’t have to re-engineer your plant to accommodate our machine. Most Triform models can be forklifted in and flush-floor installed without any special requirements.”

Precise Metal Products uses the Triform for short run, deep draw work on new components, such as heat shields and shroud covers, which it primarily makes for the aerospace and defense industries. Made from high temperature alloys, aluminum and stainless steel, these parts range from a diameter of 20 in. with a 5 in. draw to just 1-in. diameter with an exotic, asymmetrical draw. 

“Having the ability to respond to new parts requirements is crucial for our business,” says Steve Bangerter, sales manager for Precise Metal Products. “Once the Triform was installed, we were able to start production right away. That’s unusual, but it’s because we didn’t have the prep work involved with a conventional press,” he says. “PTG also helped eliminate the learning curve for our operators by training our employees at their facility two months before the machine was installed.”

Sheet metal in a flat pattern, such as a square or dome, in thicknesses ranging from 0.016 in. to 0.187 in., is fed into the Triform by hand or with a magnetic handling device. Formed parts are trimmed and sent to assembly where workers perform riveting, standard hardware assembly, seam welding and final machining operations. “Our core competence is precision sheet metal assemblies,” says Bangerter. “Keeping your product in-house allows you to control quality and cost. Our part quality and the variety of processes we’re able to handle are two key reasons why our company is still growing after 55 years of being in operation.” The Triform has increased Precise Metal Products’ capabilities, allowing the company to take on work it couldn’t do before.

Rubber pad or conventional hydraulic presses often are used to form sheet metal parts, including aerospace components. However, using traditional pad forming presses for complex geometries or deep draw work can cause wrinkles, resulting in secondary handwork or scrap—conditions that raise overall cost per part. Traditional hydraulic presses also require a new set of male/female dies for each part produced—an expensive proposition for a company like Precise Metal Products, which forms a variety of parts in short runs. Triform uses high-pressure hydraulic fluid in a flexible rubber bladder or diaphragm to shape sheet metal against a single tool. The machine’s universal female bladder allows the press to create a range of geometric shapes, shallow or deep drawn, from a variety of metals including high-strength steel. 


“Sheet hydroforming has been [and at many facilities still is] thought of as a ‘dark art,’ requiring a skilled artisan to effectively operate the machine,” says Pryer. “With Triform, we’ve engineered ‘the art’ into the machine itself. This expands process capabilities for greater redundancy and frees companies from having to rely on finding and retaining employees with special skills.”


For most parts, a flat blank can be loaded into the Triform press and after a single cycle, which is about 10 to 45 seconds depending on the model, a net shape part is removed. Unlike matched tooling, which  can compromise part quality by stretching and thinning material, sheet hydroforming allows the material to flow during the forming process. 

“The Triform press uses the downward action of a universal female bladder in tandem with the upward action of the punch cylinder,” says Pryer. “This multi-directional movement works in concert with a precision control system to support Precise Metal Products’ deep draw requirements while eliminating wrinkles, hand-finishing and the potential for scrap.”

Precise Metal Products formulates recipes for its parts based on part dimensions and other key parameters. The fabricator’s quality department checks the recipe to ensure it meets customer specifications. Once Precise Metal Products has certified the recipe, blanks are loaded and production is initiated.

“The ability to program the press and create job recipes gives us a repeatable process,” says Bangerter. “The operator puts the flat pattern blank in the press and pushes the button. It’s that easy.” 

Lower tooling costs

The machine’s ability to combine quick die change with cost-effective tooling supports Precise Metal Products’ short- to medium-volume part runs for its development work. Operating on a five-day, single-shift work schedule, tooling for the Triform can be made from cast epoxy, UHMW plastics, aluminum or a number of other easy-to-shape, nonmetallic materials. The male punch and draw ring also can be made quickly in most tool shops. These “soft” tools can form hard alloys and maintain tight tolerances because pressure on the part is generated by displaced oil in the chamber instead of the ram. 

“With conventional forming or spinning methods alone, the combination of low usage with male/female progressive dies would create tool costs high enough that some jobs would be prohibitive,” says Bangerter. “Low tooling costs and the capability to maintain stringent quality requirements and tolerances allow us to meet the needs of our aerospace and defense customers and still thrive as a business.” 

As part of its in-house quality program, the fabricator optimizes each manufacturing process from blueprint to shipping. “We’re a one-stop shop and we have to recertify annually to maintain our standing with the aerospace and defense markets,” says Price. “It’s very expensive, but we keep our certifications current through annual audits.” 


Precise Metal Products continues adding to the Triform’s workload. The ability to improve cycle times and part quality, as well as accuracy, contributes to cost efficiencies. However, the fabricator also has found a valuable resource in PTG’s technical support. “The team has been very responsive to us,” says Bangerter. “They worked with our engineer and mechanic to help them understand the cause and effect of part setups and gave them a good working knowledge that will help them continue to develop part recipes in the future. 

“In addition to adding new jobs, we’re also looking at converting some of our current jobs from our hand spinning and automatic spinning departments to the Triform,” he says.

Price says the employee-owned company understands the value of support and the need to embrace new technologies. “Taking care of employees, making sure they have the tools they need to do the work is important,” she says. “It’s something we don’t want to lose sight of.” Price adds that sales are up and plans are under way to move the plant’s operations into a bigger building. “The new building will double our space, allowing us to further streamline our processes and accommodate growth,” she says. “We hope to be in it by 2013.” FFJ


  • Precise Metal Products Co.
    phone: 607/272-2625
  • Pryer Technology Group
    Tulsa, Okla.
    phone: 855/864-4670
  • Beckwood Press Co.
    Fenton, Mo.
    phone: 636/343-4100
    fax: 636/343-4424


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