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Stamping

Boosting the bottom line

By Lynn Stanley

Above: The conveyor’s oscillating motion removes scrap from under a progressive die on an Okay Industries straightside press.

Contract stamper gains efficiencies, saves costs with new conveyor system

September 2013 - Without the right scrap removal system, repairs and upkeep can prove to be an exercise in frustration for press room operators and maintenance staff. When stampers started asking Pax Products Inc. for an alternative to the shaker-style conveyors offered on the market, the Celina, Ohio, company did something experts say is becoming a lost art. It listened.

This soft skill is on the decline, according to career counselors like Tom Denham, founder of Careers in Transition, Albany, N.Y. Denham points to a fast-paced, digitally-driven culture as the culprit. A recent Forbes article agrees, specifically linking better listening skills to improved leadership.

For Pax Products, taking on the role of an active listener was a first, natural step to meeting stampers’ needs. Known for the durability and superior performance of its low-profile conveyors, Pax Products manufactures a wide range of ancillary pressroom equipment. The company was founded in 1980 by its sister company, Pax Machine Works. Oscar Pax established the business in 1948 as a farm and industrial repair enterprise. Today Pax Machine Works has evolved into a high-volume metal stamper. 

Gathering intelligence

“Customers like our low-profile conveyors because they hold up,” explains sales and marketing manager Pat Ontrop, “but they don’t want to be restricted to a specific width and length for each configuration.” To get a better understanding of requirements, the Pax team went into the field to talk with sales representatives, other stampers and prospects before starting development work on the new model in 2008.

“We found that users wanted a simple design so they could easily switch from job to job with minimal time and effort,” says Ontrop. “Many of our customers said they didn’t want the new conveyor to be air-driven due to the cost FFJ-0913-stmping-image1of air and the maintenance issues they were having with some of their current conveyors.”

The initial concept Pax Products considered was a straight linkage design but it couldn’t achieve the conveying speeds the company was looking for. A cam-driven approach delivered on conveying speed but the unit’s constant acceleration and deceleration caused the cam to move back and forth within its clearance and wear prematurely. The third idea used elliptical gears to create an oscillating motion. Pax Products brought its elliptical-gear-driven conveyor to market in 2009 and subsequently patented the rugged, self-contained design.

“Elliptical gears gave us the conveying speed we wanted,” says Ontrop. And placing the gears in a sealed oil bath eliminated issues with clearance, he adds. “The trays snap on and off, and also can pivot, so they don’t require perfect alignment. The crossbar is guided by widely spaced high-speed linear bearings to resist off-center loadings. Because the unit can achieve a high conveying speed at only 100 rpm, the bearings travel at low linear speeds for long life.”

In addition to design and engineering, Pax Products performs in-depth testing at its sister facility to ensure equipment can withstand the day-to-day demands of a press stamping room. “This capability gives us a valuable resource for the research and development of each product,” Ontrop says.

The Pax EGD conveyor proved to be exactly what Okay Industries was looking for. The New Britain, Conn.-based stamper engineers and manufactures components and subassemblies for OEMs in the medical, automotive, industrial, defense and firearms markets. In addition to its 100,000 sq. ft. headquarters facility, Okay Industries operates 63,000 sq. ft. of space for manufacturing medical products in nearby Berlin, Conn., and has a third, smaller location in Alajuela, Costa Rica.

Reducing maintenance costs

“We were using conveyor models that were difficult to change out and required constant maintenance,” says Ed Tremblay, maintenance supervisor for Okay Industries. “The labor and costs involved were high, not to mention press downtime. Even though we had a bank of spare conveyors ready to replace those we needed to swap out, we still experienced downtime on the presses.”

Manufacturing at the main Okay facility is performed with 20 straightside presses that stamp parts for automotive and medical applications from materials including stainless steels, implantable titanium and nitinol. “We had internal initiatives to achieve greater efficiencies and leaner manufacturing,” Tremblay says. “A key component of that objective was finding a better conveyor solution. I was familiar with the different models on the market and the maintenance issues associated with them.”

At Fabtech 2011, Tremblay made his way to the Pax Products booth and Ontrop. “We were familiar with the company’s reputation for reliable products and knew that anything they made would perform well,” Tremblay says, “so we talked with Pat and showed him what we were trying to do.”FFJ-0913-stmping-image2

While most would agree the largest capital equipment investment for a stamping line goes into the press, feed line and tooling, other items such as lubrication, automation and scrap removal can make or break production. “In the case of scrap removal, it’s important to look at your operation and make the right choice up front,” Ontrop says. “Otherwise you suddenly have a very small item affecting or stopping the output of a very large investment.”

To eliminate secondary operations Okay Industries uses progressive dies exclusively. “We generate some heavy slugs,” Tremblay says. “As a contract stamper, we might run 50,000 parts for one customer, then run a different progressive die for another customer the next day.” Okay Industries designs and builds its tooling in-house, fabricating progressive dies that can hold as many as 20 stations for processes like blanking, bending, forming and hole piercing. 

Installing its first Pax EGD oscillating conveyor in 2012, the company decided to start with its four largest straightsides, which are 150 tons to 400 tons. Work is evenly divided on these presses between automotive and medical parts. The presses typically run two shifts five days a week producing auto parts for engine controls, fuel injection and anti-lock braking systems as well as drivetrains and fuel pumps. Medical components are for surgical stapling and laparoscopic instruments. 

Flexibility

“Installation was very fast,” says Tremblay of the EGD oscillating conveyor. “And the nice thing about the Pax model is that you only need one unit per press but you can incorporate multiple trays that snap on and off.” Tremblay adds that his maintenance staff and tool designers also love the new units. “The trays just pop off the drive bar,” he says. “The setup people love them because they can easily and quickly remove the trays to access tooling if they have to do some die maintenance. Also, most companies don’t supply the trays. Typically you have to fabricate your own trays. With Pax Products we gave them the widths and lengths we needed and they fabricated our trays for us as well as the mounting brackets.”

Die changes on the presses are quicker and maintenance and repair costs have dropped dramatically with the EGD oscillating conveyors. “It’s very important that these units operate to remove scrap from under the die. Otherwise it can build up in the die and ultimately cause tooling failure,” Tremblay says. “We have not had to do any maintenance with the Pax EGD conveyors. They just run.”

Pax has designed three sizes for its EGD oscillating conveyor. “The two larger models have a variable frequency drive, which allows customers like Okay Industries to tie the system into a control for remote starting,” says Ontrop. Tremblay took advantage of this feature by timing the fabricator’s EGD conveyors to start and stop with the presses. “It gives us another way to trim costs and be more efficient because the conveyors aren’t sitting there running while the presses aren’t operating,” he says.

Like Pax Products, Okay Industries is known for tackling the hard jobs. “We don’t do a lot of generic stamping,” says Tremblay. “We look for the complex stuff. That’s what we’re good at.” Having a reliable conveyor solution means the fabricator can focus on the jobs at hand without worrying about the process. FFJ

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Sources

  • Okay Industries Inc.
    New Britain, Conn.
    phone: 860/225-8707
    fax: 860/225-7047
    www.okayind.com
  • PAX Products Inc.
    Celina, Ohio
    phone: 800/733-6930
    fax: 419/586-6932
    www.paxproducts.com
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