Tool & Die

Tools for the trade

By Stephanie Andrews

Tailored turret tooling keeps production flowing with the help of short setup time

April 2013 - When we flush a toilet or wash our hands we don’t often contemplate where that water goes. With the flick of a handle, the water disappears down the drain and it’s easy to not consider the environmental ramifications. But in the water reclamation industry, the focus is on biologically and chemically treating residential and business wastewater and then allowing the post-treated water to safely return to the environment with minimal impact. The goal is to protect bodies of water from pollution and decrease diverging waters from impacting sensitive ecosystems teeming with life. Serving the reclamation business is a challenge—a challenge CE Tooling, Las Vegas, was willing to undertake. 

“We did a die set for a water reclamation [project] in California, making dies for a new thing they’re trying to come out with,” says Mike Bivens, engineer at CE Tooling. In wastewater reclamation, the reclaimed water travels through a series of underground pipelines tapped with occasional ground-level spigots. Should one of those spigots become damaged, a specialized internal part keeps the water from rushing out. That specialized part was created by CE Tooling.


CE Tooling says every die it makes, in a way, is custom, but the most unique tooling project to date was for the water reclamation project. “That was probably our trickiest [project] we’ve had to work on. It was a challenge to get the bends and the cuts that were so small into this part and make it progressive and come out correct,” says Bivens. 

CE Tooling now can add water reclamation to the never-ending list of industries it caters to. Now operating as a full-service machine shop, the company’s humble beginnings go back to 1966 as a tool and die company in Chicago. It was in the 1970s that the company directed its attention to punch tool manufacturing. “We can pretty much do anything here between the EDM, grinding and machining, but the main thing is tooling, punch press tooling, whether it be turret or die sets,” says Bivens. 

“CE Tooling is unique in that it is a full punch and die manufacturer, which also offers a full range of die accessories, as well as finished progressive, compound and hand die sets,” says Glenn Cole, president of CE Tooling. The company’s versatility allows it to span many industries, from large appliance manufacturers to small fabrication shops. “We service a lot of small shops, but we’ve got shops doing small run parts to parts where they are doing thousands and thousands. Most of the tooling we build is for parts utilizing steel, stainless steel and ffj-0413-tool-image2aluminum, and the occasional brass and spring steel,” he says. It also makes small parts for the electronics industry. 

“We do a lot of single station and die set tooling for the spring industries, which make small springs for electronics,” Bivens says. “We cover many different industries.”

Tool time

Dabbling in as many industries as CE Tooling does, it must consider the unique tooling needs for each. The company decides what’s best for its customers by the jobs they perform rather than industry standard. “It’s pretty much by application,” says Bivens. “We might recommend going one way versus another depending on the thickness of material. Also, depending on the parts being made, materials may be fed manually, one at a time, or by large coils of material with feeders.” When designing parts to use in a die set, CE Tooling examines the different needs and functions of each component. Bivens says the speed at which the tool is running may also dictate which components are used.

CE Tooling keeps setup time down and production flowing for its customers. For fabrication shops using turret punch presses, time is of the essence. “We manufacture custom tools to be used in turret presses to perform operations that may have to be performed in separate operations, helping to speed production,” says Bivens. Improving tool changeover time is highly valued by any fabrication shop.  

As many companies will attest, there has been an increase in low-volume, highly variable, short lead-time orders. To combat these industry challenges, fabricators have had to make changes, both to their tooling and production, to achieve greater punching efficiencies. Cole certainly has noticed how these trends affect his customers’ current demands. “We have gotten greater demand for lower costing hand die sets over progressive die sets,” he says. “We attribute this to smaller production runs being done in the U.S., while larger runs, where higher cost of progressive die sets are warranted, are more commonly sourced to Asia.” 

Life expectancy 

An ever-growing demand in the punching industry is tool life longevity. Longer tool life gives way to an increase in production and savings, which are assets to any business. “Longer tool life is always a concern,” says Bivens. “Consideration must be given to type of material and processes performed.” While some recommend tool coatings as a solution, for CE Tooling, tool life is improved through using high-quality steel. “We have had some success getting customers to upgrade to a greater offering of specialty steels, like M4, and self-lube bronze graphite bushings,” says Cole. 

“We’re not big on tool coatings,” says Bivens, “CE Tooling chooses the best steels for the operation beingffj-0413-tool-image3 performed, a harder steel that’s going to wear better than a tool coating. Coatings can start coming off and scraping off.” And while tool coatings have come a long way, it may not always be the best option for certain applications, says Bivens. “For certain things [the coating] helps with galling, but your better steel, like powder steels that have a finer grain structure, wear really good and last a lot longer,” he says.

 While coatings boast protection against heat buildup, there are certain metals that coatings can’t always protect. “Aluminum galls very easily, and I’ve had people try the coatings and say it didn’t work,” says Bivens. However, if a CE Tooling customer requests tool coating, they will provide it. “We don’t push it, but we can do it. We offer it if [the customer] wants it, but we don’t do it in-house.” 

With more than 45 years in the industry, it’s clear that CE Tooling appreciates the value and reliability of a turret press. “It’s nice for shorter runs,” says Bivens. “If there’s a change made you don’t have to change a whole die set, you can make a change in just the position of where you’re putting it because you program that. There is a big advantage in that.” 

The advantage of working with CE Tooling is that it’s more than just a full-service source for its customers’ stamping needs. It also realizes the importance of establishing strong partnerships with other manufacturers and providing its customers with quality and value. FFJ

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