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Stamping/Presses

Input output

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Installation of a Seyi-built direct-drive 440-ton servo press is a key puzzle piece in Mico's development of its smart die technology.

A quest to develop closed-loop process control pushes servo technology in a new direction

March 2016 - 2016 may be dubbed as the year for Big Data, automation and e-commerce but it wasn’t the lure of digital goodies that tipped the scales for Mico Industries Inc. when it chose Seyi’s servo press technology from among several press builders. “They were willing to partner with us and help facilitate a dream to develop a closed-loop process control for metalforming,” Mico Industries President Joe Meinke says. 

The Wyoming, Michigan-based engineering, welding, assembly and metal stamper is a tier 1, 2 and 3 supplier to automakers and is on a fast track for growth with an $8.1 million investment in a 125,000-sq.-ft. factory expansion.

“We’re currently operating in two locations but once construction is completed we will consolidate our activities under one roof to take advantage of efficiencies we can gain through value stream mapping,” Meinke explains. 

Machinery mover and rigger Lee Industrial Contracting of Pontiac, Michigan, is managing project logistics for the consolidation. Mico was to move into the new facility during first quarter. The building addition leaves room to expand up to 200,000 sq. ft.—space Mico may need sooner rather than later—as new project work is expected to raise revenues by 50 percent this year. 

“We’re undergoing a paradigm shift from contract manufacturer to a full-service supplier,” Meinke explains. 

Timing is everything

The company has the manufacturing chops to make the transition seamless. With more than 30 years invested in research and technology development, Mico survived the downturn, remained debt free and “just needed the right plan to grow,” Meinke explains. “The automotive industry is strong right now and the timing was right [for expansion].” 

Meinke, whose work experience has been honed in the automotive and plastics industries, says that closed-loop process control—also described as a “measure-decide-actuate sequence that can be repeated as often as necessary to achieve the desired process condition”—is well established in markets outside metals.  

“Metalforming hasn’t really made any quantum leaps,” he says. “Traditional metalforming typically is product control driven. You set the process and measure the part afterwards. We want to perform these tasks during forming.”

Certified to ISO/TS 16949:2009 and ISO 9001 standards, Mico relies on an engineering team that holds multiple patents. Outside consultant George Keremedjiev, who specializes in error-proofing manufacturing, is also working closely with the auto supplier on development of its smart die. With additional space and equipment soon to be established, Mico has created an internal training institute for its shop floor employees and managers. 

“If I want to roll out new technology onto the floor my associates need to be able to understand how to use it,” Meinke says. The company also tapped an expert to write the language the press, motion controller and die will need to talk to each other. “Purchasing the servo presses was one of the last pieces we needed.”

Distributor J.A. Rase Machinery, Hastings, Michigan, delivered a Seyi-built direct-drive 440-ton servo press with a 40-in. CWP feedline in February. A second Seyi direct-drive servo press, 176 tons with a 12-in. CWP feedline and a Seyi 440-ton mechanical press are each slated for installation this month. 

FFJ 0316 stamping image1

Connecting press, motion controller, die, part and material promises to deliver real time data that will allow Mico to make adjustments on the fly.

“If we can measure parts and control process parameters, we can control rates of speed, closure and distance with the motion profile of the servo press and the die,” Meinke says. “Everything can be adjusted if you’re able to link the critical elements of a closed feedback loop—in this case the press, motion controller, die, part and material—for information flow. We want to do this in real time.”

Competition is a key driver. “To maintain part stability you have to specify a higher grade of steel to minimize material variation. If we can use a closed-loop control process to communicate these variations to the press, we can adjust on the fly to accommodate a lesser grade of steel without sacrificing quality and be more competitive.”

Meinke credits Seyi for its willingness to commit its own engineering resources to Mico’s project. “Understanding what it takes to make a die that can sense material variation and communicate that to the press is what makes Seyi our servo partner.”

Dynamic response

The job compelled Seyi to challenge the capabilities of its servo technology and branch off in another direction, says Servo Press Division Manager Randy Kish. “We have to develop a new approach to a motion controller that is already engineered with dynamic response and tailor it to communicate with and respond to external devices in real time.” 

Seyi has become a key piece of Mico Industries’ training program to help operators gain a comfort level with the servo presses’ custom capabilities. “This job was not about what servo could do as a production machine but the steps it would need to take to advance Joe’s dream,” Kish says. “A lot of customers are expanding their facilities but few approach servo technology with a well-defined purpose.” 

Certain features are an easy sell. “For example, the servo pendulum is attractive because it allows parts to be processed nearly twice as fast,” he says. “Servo’s ability to slow the speed of the slide through bottom dead center or in parts of the press stroke to control snap-through is another advantage.” 

But the question companies should be asking is, once you become adept at applying the standard features of the press to your production flow, what’s next? “Because this is only a fraction of the servo press’capability,” Kish says.

Mico is performing test trials with the smart die on the 440-ton servo press. 

“It’s interesting,” notes Kish, “the majority of people look at servo as a means to effectively form high-strength steels and exotic alloys, but Mico is taking servo’s potential to a different level by looking at how they can get more value out of lesser-grade steel which can be made to perform equally well if you understand how to control material variation and chemistry. We all know that as metal deforms, its chemistry changes and it can become unpredictable. Mico is learning to use servo technology to control variation and solve the material challenges that can crop up from coil to coil.”

The servo press will primarily be used to form load floor components and produce 42,000 tap plates a day. Materials range from hot-rolled and cold-rolled carbon steel to stainless products. 

“The die for the tap plates is very complex and fragile,” says Meinke. “Speed and accuracy are critical. Because we can control speed and snap through we don’t have to worry about tearing up the die.”

Meinke is also looking at ways Mico can form lighter weight components. “He who produces the strongest, lightest product will win.” FFJ

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