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Press Brake Tooling

Staking a claim

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Mate’s new SuperMax coating, applied to this punch with nano-layer technology, reduces heat buildup and prolongs life.

Tooling takes its rightful place with smart machines and advanced part design software

October 2015 - Fully integrated manufacturing facilities are on the horizon for fabricators. But Joe Schneider, vice-president of marketing for Mate Precision Tooling, predicts that Industry 4.0 (see our cover story, page 36) will in many respects make “the life of the tooling supplier easier.” 

For instance, the 21st century industrial revolution is pushing to the forefront issues that Mate often finds are overlooked when a manufacturer considers capital equipment expenses and a large IT investment. 

“More often than not tooling becomes a small line item on the budget,” says Frank Baeumler, vice president of Press Brake Tooling for Mate. “But choosing the right tooling is as important as choosing the right machine.”

In addition to elevating the value of tooling in the production chain, Baeumler sees technology trends paving the way toward greater cooperation between machine and tooling. “Base materials and the process of transforming raw material into a specific tool are improving,” he says. “Part designers, armed with more powerful software, have a better understanding of what it takes to make a component that is manufacturable. To improve productivity, a fabricator needs all three components—a good part design, the right machine and the right tooling.”

Schneider agrees that equipment improvements and programming technology will “only help to optimize machine usage and reduce process variables. What will become critical in the work environment of the future is tooling reliability. Tooling quality and dependability will be paramount because downtime will become more expensive.”

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Face to face

Headquartered in Anoka, Minnesota, Mate has 50-plus years of experience developing tooling and storage solutions for CNC punch presses and press brakes as well as providing a line of CO2₂ laser products. The company also houses a Customer Solution Center in its 300,000 sq. ft. facility. Mate opened the center in 2009 to help customers solve problems by understanding how its products operate in the work environment. 

“We use the center to develop and test new tool concepts and designs,” says Schneider. “We also work closely with leading sheet metal fabricators and punching machine manufacturers to advance tooling technology.”

For example, the company recently introduced a new tool coating for punch press tools that is applied with a nano-layer method. The coating, called SuperMax, has a harder, denser film that increases wear resistance and has a lower friction coefficient. Reduced heat buildup and less galling contribute to longer tool life. 

“With SuperMax, customers can literally run millions of work cycles without sharpening the tool,” Schneider says. 

In addition to longer life Mate also defines best tooling practices as those that effectively translate a customer’s individual needs to a tooling solution. The company first reviews customer prints to determine if a job requires standard or custom tooling. “It may also involve evaluating a customer’s processes to help them identify opportunities to eliminate secondary operations and reduce the number of tools needed to complete jobs. Other factors may include ways to reduce setup times and improve productivity, work piece quality and safety.”

Applications will continue to dictate tooling development. “The growing demand for decorative materials requires tooling that can eliminate workpiece marking,” he continues. “The introduction of higher tensile strength materials dictates the need for longer lasting tool steels, coatings and punch/die insert systems. Our metallurgical prowess allows us to offer the longest-lasting tool steels in the industry.”

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Here to stay

Standard tooling comprises nearly 75 percent of Mate’s business, with custom tools making up the remainder. “If we don’t do our job it can mean slower processes and less efficient, lower quality parts for metalworkers,” Baeumler says. 

A changing labor pool and the sheet metal fabrication industry’s growing embrace of automation are also factors Mate considers when looking at how tooling fits into the overall production chain. Satisfactory résumés will list computer, math and language skills. “Employers will need to invest in training to make sure their staff has a skill level that matches the tools and equipment they have in their factory,” Baeumler says. Proper storage, organization and record keeping will aid companies in building tribal knowledge and experience from which newer employees can benefit.

Harder to dispel is the notion that automation equals fewer people. “It will change the work profile for employees, but to optimize manufacturing processes companies will need to integrate machines with skilled labor and high-performance tools,” he adds. “Robotically served or integrated systems will have to be developed in cooperation with the equipment builder, software programmer, robot supplier and tooling expert. This is a production area where standardization has not yet evolved.”

Schneider and Baeumler agree that the relationship between machines, people and tooling will continue to influence how tools are made and the advances that are developed.

“We don’t talk about the tool as an object but rather its results,” Baeumler says. “Regardless of where technology takes the industry, the creation of a part out of sheet metal will be the result of machinery and tooling.” FFJ

Sources

  • Mate Precision Tooling
    Anoka, Minn.
    phone: 800/328-4492
    www.mate.com
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