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Servo Presses

Serving up savings

By Lynn Stanley

Above: A Matrix Metal tool at top of stroke is ready for continuous operation.

Manufacturer tames temperamental tooling, reduces operational costs with servoforming

November 2014 - Robert Hanson, president of Matrix Metal Products Inc., admits to an “I’m from Missouri,” Show-Me mindset. 

“I’m a practical person,” he says of the empirical approach he takes toward capital equipment investment. “When new technology is introduced I tend to wait to see how the equipment will perform in the field.”

The first time Hanson saw a servo press run, he says he was intrigued. “It was a new concept for us. The wheels started turning. I thought, ‘This is something we could grow into.”’

The opportunity to take that step came nearly eight years later when Matrix Metal needed a replacement for an older 45-ton straightside press. “It was the right time to consider servoforming,” Hanson says. “The technology had proved itself over the last decade. We didn’t have to wonder about reliability because Komatsu’s standard presses have been very solid machines for us, requiring little to no maintenance.” 

The manufacturer’s 22,000 sq. ft. facility is based in Attleboro, Massachusetts, about 45 minutes south of Boston near the Rhode Island border. Matrix Metal fabricates a wide range of safety discs for different applications including pressurized gas cylinders for customers in the U.S. and 10 other countries. The parts require close material tolerances, posing a challenge to keep production costs economical.

The Norking Co. Inc., a division co-located next door, is a supplier of furnace-brazed components and general metal stampings. Stamp One Inc., Cranston, Rhode Island, supplied Matrix Metal with a Komatsu 45-ton servo press with a 6 in. servo feed and built-in tonnage monitor and a Komatsu 35-ton servo press with a 6-in. servo feed for Norking in March 2012.

FFJ-1114-servo-image1

Window of time

“We aren’t running exotic materials or pursuing jobs specifically suited to servo,” Hanson explains. “If work comes down the line though, we know we have the flexibility to handle it. Servo is a tool in our tool box, albeit not just your average wrench.”

Specialty discs with formed features and tight pressure range requirements comprise the bulk of the current workload for Matrix Metal’s servos. Examples include one forming job with weld bumps and another with a tight flatness specification requiring a preformed flattening station. Materials include brass, copper, steel, some nickel and grade 302 and 316 stainless steel. Hanson says the servo presses have already proved a worthwhile investment and the company is seeing savings in areas it didn’t anticipate.

“There are so many advantages with servo right out of the box,” explains Jim Landowski, vice-president for Komatsu. “People often think that to add this technology to their arsenal, they have to be forming complex jobs from exotic materials. That isn’t the case. Even if you aren’t taking full advantage of its programmability, there are immediate benefits.”

Servos use less energy than conventional mechanical presses. Costs associated with maintenance and lubrication are also reduced. “Typically mechanical press coils have to be lubricated in progressive and transfer die operations,” Landowski explains. “Servo allows you to control velocity at the point of working the material. Friction is reduced, which in turn reduces heat. In many cases, heavy SAE oils can often be exchanged for water soluble lubricants or even food grade oils, which can be less expensive to use.”

Controlling velocity allows Matrix Metal to run its jobs faster, boosting capacity and part accuracy. “If you envision a 360-degree circle with 180 degrees bottom dead center, servo allows you to slow the punch at any point on that circle then regain speed at the top of the stroke,” says Hanson. “This is especially useful during draw operations, for example.”

No more black magic

The ability to dwell, pause or slow the stroke is helping Matrix Metal tame temperamental tooling.

“Tooling has its own personality,” says Hanson. “Some are good, some are bad.” Matrix Metal was looking at spending money to rework a tool that wouldn’t blank properly. “It was forcing us to run the job slower. The die operated OK at the slower speed but we were losing capacity. We decided to run the tool on the servo and add a small dwell. Pausing the stroke gave us the extra time we needed to clear part pieces out of the die. Now the job runs great, we don’t lose capacity and we didn’t have to spend money reworking the tool. All we needed was a little bit of extra time to get the tool to run properly,” he says.

“Digital technology takes the black magic out of die design—its interaction with the material and the press it is in,” says Landowski. “We can control the slide position within microns which allows us to see exactly what is going on in the die set.”

FFJ-1114-servo-image2

The ability to modify the press stroke by dwelling or slowing down the stroke is the feature Hanson says his operators use the most for preforming and blanking. “You can’t do this on a standard flywheel press because you need both speed and inertia,” Hanson notes. “Energy is generated by the rotation of the flywheel. If you slow the flywheel down, you lose energy. With servo we get maximum tonnage through the bottom of the stroke whether we slow the stroke or stop it. It’s a nice feature and we’re getting a lot of advantage out of it with current tooling. More so than I thought we would. We’re finding we can coax better performance out of our tools.”

The tonnage monitor built into the servo provides added protection for Matrix Metal’s older tooling. 

“Some of our tools for a few select jobs don’t have misfeed detectors,” Hanson explains. “A die can take an extra hit but it can’t take multiple hits. The tonnage monitor comes in handy for that. If an extra piece of material gets caught in the tool, the monitor picks that up. It’s generating a cost savings on tool repair.”

Servo’s ability to provide very fine ram adjustments—within less than 0.001 in.—allows for precise adjustments during forming. “Servo is a very visual technology,” says Landowski. “The application is right in front of you. You can see what’s going on and how to adjust it.”

The advantage to that, adds Landowski, is “making money. If the press isn’t going down and up you aren’t making money. And with the cost of material today, manufacturers can’t afford trial and error. The constraints of conventional mechanical press operation can sometimes make it hard for manufacturers to see past the blinders put in place by the traditional rules of stamping. If companies apply old rules to servo, its capability will be limited. With servoforming, it’s about what you can do, not what you can’t do.”

Farsighted

Focusing on the possibilities instead of the limitations is a mantra that Matrix Metal follows with its own forming operations. In fact, according to Hanson, Stamp One often uses the manufacturer as a servo showcase. 

“There’s nothing like seeing a machine run if you are looking to buy one,” he says. “I like to run a demo job in traditional mode first for visitors. Then I add a dwell and pause the stroke. You can see it in their faces. The concept of continuous stroke as far as speed is concerned goes out the window. “Their response is always the same: ‘Wow, what just happened? How did the press do that?’”

Hanson’s explanation is simple. “I tell them it’s because servo is driven by motors, not a flywheel. You can explain it—but it’s a technology you really have to see. With servo you know exactly what you are getting. These little features all add up when it comes to operational savings.” FFJ

Sources

  • Komatsu America Industries LLC
    Rolling Meadows, Ill.
    phone: 847/437-3888
    fax: 847/437-1811
    www.komatsupress.com
  • Matrix Metal Products Inc.
    Attleboro, Mass.
    phone: 508/223-0500
    fax: 508/222-4428
    www.matrixmetals.com
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