Expanding arsenal

By Lynn Stanley

Comprehensive tooling supports fabricator’s high part quality standards

February 2013 - Henry Ford said, “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.” For nearly 70 years Anderson Building Materials has been doing it right. The St. Joseph, Mich., structural steel fabricator cuts, punches and welds a wide range of products for customers that include small businesses and Fortune 500 companies.

Since 1984, Anderson also has manufactured cantilever rack systems, helping to change current design and fabrication standards for the home center industry. When the company needed to upgrade its tooling, Anderson’s foreman says he was asked to find high-performance tooling that also was cost-effective. His search for a new arsenal of punches, dies and shear blades led him to American Punch Co., Cleveland. The manufacturer supplies tooling to the structural steel and metal fabrication industries and precision die components to the stamping, rollforming and metalforming markets in both standard and made-to-order sizes.

ffj-0213-punch-image1Quality first

“The decision initially was dictated by the quality of American Punch’s tooling,” says the foreman. “We quickly found the company’s goals—their competitive pricing, fast shipping turnarounds and responsive customer service—was a good fit for us. We’ve been using their products ever since.” 

Today, Anderson has a wide variety of American Punch standard punches, dies and shear blades. The tooling is used on the fabricator’s two beam lines, one angle line, two ironworkers and eight stand-alone hydraulic punch presses. It’s a lot of tooling, agrees Anderson’s foreman, who says the products are used in a high-volume, complex production environment on each of the fabricator’s lines to punch and cut A36 and A50 steel sourced directly from the mill and cut to length. 

“We fabricate all of the parts for our cantilever rack system,” says the foreman. “We punch our upright columns on our beam lines, produce angles and plates on our angle line, cut and punch a variety of parts on our ironworkers and punch our base units on the hydraulic punch presses. We also make clips and structural arms.”  

One of its specifications for its cantilever rack system requires Anderson to punch hundreds of holes into every column. “We get as many done as we possibly can in an eight-hour shift,” says the foreman. “The machines don’t stop, they run continuously. We have a lot of product to get out the door in a short amount of time, so having robust tooling that can support our level of throughput and the high part quality standards we maintain is critical. If the tool quality wasn’t there, we would begin to experience burrs. We would have to remove the burrs, adding extra time to production with a secondary operation. We don’t have that problem with American Punch products. They just work. We don’t have to think about them except when we perform the occasional tool change-out.”

Longer tooling life

The fabricator also has noted prolonged punch and die life. The foreman explains that tooling life typically is evaluated by the number of holes they can punch or how many pieces they can cut and the cost per part. “We’ve experienced nearly twice the die life with American Punch products,” he adds. 

“Experiencing the kind of prolonged tooling life that Anderson has observed is difficult in today’s market,” says Jovan Vucenovic, vice president of sales for American Punch. “A lot of fabricators are getting dual-graded material, which actually is tougher, more difficult to punch and can shorten tool life. This is why we are always looking for ways to improve our tooling through design, chemistry and our processes. To make sure we maintain product consistency, our company just received recertification for ISO 9001:2008. We’re the only punch and die company in the structural market to be ISO certified.” 

Like American Punch products, Anderson’s cantilever rack systems also have to be consistent and durable. In addition to those in home centers, many of the innovative storage configurations being used by lumberyards and commercial and retail centers have resulted from use of the fabricator’s structural cantilever rack, which provides space-saving organization of bulk and long-length items. The system, which can be used both inside and outside, promotes efficient use of vertical space, provides easy access to products and permits storage on both sides.


“The capacity of the racking depends on the height and size of the beams, so our systems are built to customer specifications,” says the foreman. “We may be providing racking for a retail or industrial customer for storage of lumber, steel or palletized products. That’s why we stock such a large inventory of tooling so we can respond to the specifications a job calls for.”  Anderson is located in the southwest corner of Michigan, a little more than 200 miles from American Punch. The company’s ability to handle volume and ship quickly is an attractive feature for Anderson. “We buy standard tooling from American Punch,” the foreman adds. “If I call with a large tooling order, they can handle the volume and ship them to me the next day.”

Faster service

American Punch recently increased its inventory of stock tooling with 60 additional sizes of oblongs and squares. The company also can ship a stock tool with a customer-specified keyway faster. “The keyway, or groove in the punch head, allows the operator to line up the punch or tooling with the machine,” says Vucenovic. “For example, different ironworkers have different keyways even though they may use the same style of punch. In order to ship the same day, you would need to stock the same size punch with different keyways in it. In the past, it took up to two days to ship,” he continues. “We have now streamlined our process so that if we get an order by noon we can ship a stock tool with a customer-specified keyway the same day or in one day [if the order is submitted later]. We’re shipping this tooling a whole day faster than other tooling manufacturers can.”

American Punch also plans to offer a new line of precision tooling. The manufacturer’s ISO quality certification supports this product introduction. “We’ve found that a lot of shops have trimmed their operations so much that they no longer have the experience in-house to perform detail work,” says Duane Gardner, manager for precision tooling sales and quoting for American Punch. “That’s the niche this new line will serve. We want to eliminate the worry and time customers spend trying to figure out where they can get this kind of work done when they need to replace components. That’s where we come in. We’ll make it and make it right. The new precision line will support thinner material applications [0.010 in. to 1⁄4 in.] for the stamping and rollforming industries.”

The punch and die company helps customers in other ways. “Our sales associates are very knowledgeable,” says Vucenovic. “For us it’s not just about selling punches. We get to know our customers, so that if we see what appears to be an anomaly in their buying pattern we can ask them about it and perform an evaluation. Sometimes there’s a logical explanation, but sometimes there can be an underlying problem such as a setup that needs to be reset. We can help them identify the right solution.”  

Customer service also extends to analyzing tooling to determine if it can be re-sharpened. “The foreman for Anderson will send his shear blades to us and if we can re-sharpen them we do because that saves him money,”says Vucenovic. “He trusts our recommendations and knows we’re going to treat him right.”

Anderson has no interest in alternative tooling sources. The fabricator’s foreman adds that, “We’re going to continue using American Punch because their products are cost-effective, offer longer tool life, don’t leave burrs and help us eliminate the need for secondary operations.” FFJ


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