Silver lining

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Close tolerances and consistent part quality are crucial requirements for parts produced from aluminum, high-strength steel and coated materials like Galfan.

Fabricator grows using ingenuity, press technology and a passion for making parts

December 2015 - Any dermatologist will tell you that strength, pliability and elasticity are synonymous with youthful-looking skin. Aging on the other hand robs the skin of its ability to resume its normal shape after being stretched or flattened by pressure. For Tro Manufacturing Co., neither age nor the pressures of doing business has marred the face of the family-owned, third generation automotive supplier. Tro has borne the brunt of marketplace fluctuations and bounced back from the Great Recession to resume a steady growth rate that has hovered between 3 percent and 14 percent since 1992. President Scott Sanda credits the company’s longevity and resilience to good genes.

His grandfather and father, Lad Sanda Sr. and Lad Sanda Jr. started the Franklin, Illinois-based business in 1964. The tool and die shop has since evolved into a full-service stamping facility that can take customers from design to final part. Automotive brake booster components, ECU covers, deep-drawn parts and shells still make up the lion’s share of Tro’s business but it also makes components for the marine, electronics, railroad and appliance markets.

“My family on both sides is Czechoslovakian,” says Sanda. “We build things. We’re engineers and designers. We don’t carry debt; we’re frugal by nature. These principles have allowed us to maintain available cash flow to expand and to purchase equipment when we need it.”

FFJ 1215 stamping image1

Safety-critical internal brake booster components are an ideal application for this equipment.

Scott, who runs the company with his brother Chris, says the recession carried a silver lining for Tro. “When the automotive industry stalled, we had to downsize personnel and reduce our work schedule to three days a week,” he says. “But we weren’t servicing debt. We were able to weather the storm.” Tro also continued to pay health insurance premiums for its laid-off employees.

“In 2009 Tier 1 suppliers and OEMs that had put programs on hold, suddenly had to spring into action and begin processing jobs,” Sanda recalls. “But there were not that many metalformers left so we were flooded with work. We were able to bring back all of our employees and, because we had maintained their benefits, startup was seamless.”

Cash flow

At the time, Sanda says, Tro landed a job for which it didn’t have a punch press large enough to handle. “The customer said, ‘you either get all of it or none of it.’ I paid cash for a 1,000-ton press with a 204-in.-long bed. We started producing shells for TRW for the only all-aluminum brake boosters made in North America.” Later, Sanda was prompted to consider buying equipment when Tro received new jobs that were being tooled and prepped to run on its existing 600-ton transfer press. “We were very close to capacity on that machine and I didn’t want to add a third shift or overtime,” Sanda says. “I needed a 600-ton press with a 144-in. bed and a transfer mechanism.”

Tro considered several equivalent models. “Stamtec is a long-time supplier, and provided us with the best combination of pricing, service and quality,” he says. “Usually this size punch press carries a long lead time.” But Stamtec stocks mechanical and servo presses ranging from 25 ton to 600 tons, allowing Tro to take quick delivery. “Stamtec also modified the press to our requirements and integrated a 3-axis servo Wayne Trail Technologies transfer mechanism,” Sanda adds.

“We can configure our standard press to virtually any specification,” says Lee Ellard, national sales manager for Manchester, Tennessee-based Stamtec Inc. “We aren’t locked into a fixed series that doesn’t permit customization. For Scott we moved the machine’s control cabinets to accommodate his production process, which runs left to right instead of right to left. We also installed a new bolster, a quick die-change system and we modified the bed.”

This third press from Stamtec was installed in December 2013. “There was no real decision once we compared them all,” Sanda says. “My father has a saying that I agree with 100 percent: ‘Always go home with the girl you took to the prom.’ In other words, loyalty up and down.”

Tro runs a mix of parts including aluminum, high-strength steel and mild steel. One of the parts the press was built to manufacture, a transmission controller cover, requires Galfan, a specialty hot-dipped metal. Production on the cover is ramping up for early 2016 and will reach 1 million units.

“We’re seeing a growing trend for applications that use these types of materials, especially in the automotive market,” says Ellard. “We continue to design and build our presses to tolerances and deflection standards that are higher than JIS first class standards to support these demands.”

The press supports electronic applications, a new niche for Tro. Cleanliness and raw materials requirements make ECU covers a new class of production for an emerging market in North America. 

“Liability is driving the new requirement,” Sanda explains. “ECU engine controllers, infotainment systems and other systems are tied to safety critical systems. My customers are very cognizant of the fact that if a particle of dirt or a sliver of metal finds its way into a part and there is a problem in the field, the liability could be huge. A 64-cent part could result in a $5,000 insurance claim.”

Passenger vehicles have 40 to 50 separate computer modules tied into different systems. This drives cost for the carmaker and for their suppliers. “Using a press that can hold close tolerances and consistently produce a high quality part is critical,” says Sanda.

FFJ 1215 stamping image2

Equipped with a servo transfer mechanism, Stamtec’s 600-ton press can transition from transfer to traditional progressive dies for changing job profiles.

Package deal

Though most of the parts the Stamtec press runs are transfer components, its bed size accommodates progressive dies like the tooling needed to make an actuation unit cover that is 1 in. deep and approximately 10 in. by 12 in. “The part has considerable rib and stiffening detail,” Sanda explains. 

The machine’s ability to transition from transfer to punch press gives Tro the flexibility it needs when “you are a job shop.” “You have to buy equipment with an eye toward multiple types of products, even jobs you may not yet know about,” he adds. “The goal is to buy the largest, most adaptable package you can with the funds you have.”

Tro also has a long-standing rule about not beating up its equipment. “I have turned jobs down because I try not to use more than 80 percent of a press’s capacity,” Sanda says. “I want that machine to last for the next 20 years. I know people who push the limits regularly then wonder why their press breaks down.”

Early on, Tro would rebuild every machine it used. “We had a 100-ton press that we regularly ran 200-ton jobs on. The jobs ran well because of the machine’s robust construction. Today most punch presses are designed with some leeway but you can’t push them too far if you want to save cost and material. I wouldn’t have any issue running the Stamtec press at full tonnage capacity all day long because of its high-quality construction.”

Ellard confirms that Stamtec presses can be run at full capacity if used within the proper parameters. “We get questioned about this issue quite often,” he says. “If you stay within the tonnage rating point, working energy capacity of the press, spread the load out symmetrically and over at least two-thirds of the bed and slide area and avoid heavily loading the press off center, you can run a press at full capacity. It’s just a matter of keeping these guidelines in mind.”

The press is also proving a good match for Tro’s tooling designs. A competitor had been running the part in a 1,200-ton press with a 15-station progressive die. But Tro obtained a center plate for a brake booster and now runs the part “in the Stamtec press with an 8-station transfer die,” Sanda says. “Customers think it’s magic but the real secret is having a passion for the part you are making. After that everything else falls into place.” FFJ



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