Press Brake Tooling

Bon appétit

By FFJournal staff

Above: To process this specialty bullnose part housing the knobs on Sub-Zero’s dual fuel ranges, Wilson Tool engineered custom tooling with a special radius and a unique form.

Pursuit of perfect stainless surfaces leads appliance manufacturer to invest in custom, coated tooling

March 2016 - Smartphones and tablets are doubling as under-chefs for millennials who experts say are surfing the Internet for recipes and cooking tutorials. Baby Boomers also use the Web and social media, but their searches tend to focus on identifying ingredients that can contribute to their health. 

One thing that remains constant is the need for high-performance appliances with the flexibility to support the demands of today’s professional chefs and home cooking enthusiasts. Just ask Sub-Zero Group Inc. The 70-year-old company, headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, has seen a lot of changes in culinary equipment since it introduced the first system for preserving food at sub-zero temperatures in 1945. 

The appliance line expanded substantially along with the manufacturing space that’s required to build wall ovens, built-in-cabinet ovens, gas ranges, refrigerators, wine storage and more. The cooking and food preservation implements are produced in Madison, nearby Fitchburg and Goodyear, Arizona.

Sub-Zero employs rigorous standards for both function and aesthetics, and that led the fabricator to evolve how it bends, forms and punches components from stainless steel.

Tooling sometimes left marks on finished parts and required frequent replacement. “For many years we used basic planer tooling,” says Garrett Rass, manufacturing engineer for Sub-Zero’s fabrication division. “We had issues bending stainless. It was difficult to find two punches that would match up well enough to provide a length of tooling that wouldn’t leave tool marks on the finished part.” 

If the tool fits

The company found the answers it needed at Wilson Tool in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Wilson Tool provides custom options, coatings and tooling systems for punch presses, press brakes and punch and die components for the stamping industry. 

“Sub-Zero had tried a couple of different tooling styles and just wasn’t seeing the cosmetic results required for their high-end consumer products,” says Mark Collins, sales engineer for Wilson Tool. “We discussed the challenges and determined that American Precision style tooling was the best solution because it matched up correctly and provided the proper length needed to preserve an aesthetic finish.”

Versatility, durability and longer tool life can be attributed to the American Precision style tooling, which comes with a standard Nitrex treatment. The patented heat-treat process has a surface hardness of HRC-70.

“We laser-harden the punch tip, then add the Nitrex,” says Mark Collins, sales engineer for Wilson Tool. “This process gives the tool a high degree of lubricity, which translates into less friction. Less friction means longer lasting tools and fewer tooling marks on parts.” 

Staged bending is helping Sub-Zero’s fabrication division reclaim lost time and labor costs.

“Rather than handling a part multiple times, the staged bending feature allows operators to handle the part just once and only use one press brake,” Collins says. “This feature provides faster, easier processing throughout all stages of part fabrication and reduces the need for multiple setups on the press brake.”

FFJ 0316 press image1

Custom tooling designed to manufacture specific parts help fabricators achieve required cosmetic and production standards.

Cooking up coatings

Wilson’s punch press tooling and coatings are especially suited to processing challenging stainless steel and specialty parts found on such appliances as Sub-Zero’s Wolf dual fuel range, which combines a gas cooktop with an electric convection oven. 

“Our dual fuel ranges require a specialty bullnose part,” Rass says. “The bullnose is the piece that houses the knobs at the top of the unit. For the dual fuel unit, the bullnose requires a special radius and unique form.” 

Using Wilson’s Metric style small station HPX assembly and EXP punch technology, the thick turret tooling provides the ability to accept round or shaped punches. Combined with Wilson’s proprietary Optima tool coating, Sub-Zero experienced reduced galling and improved tooling performance.

“The Optima coating has a high lubricity so it produces less friction and less heat buildup,” Collins says. “This helps maintain the cutting edge on the punches longer, reduces galling buildup on the tools and reduces stripping pressures. Overall, Sub-Zero was able to achieve an entirely better process by using a coated tool on an application like the bullnose part.”

A custom-engineered TiCN coating developed by Wilson Tool engineers, the Optima coating offers a surface hardness of 95 Rockwell C, which exceeds the hardness levels typically achieved with conventional tool steels. Longer tool life and more hits between sharpenings also means less downtime.

“The coated tooling was much more durable than the planer tooling we used in the past for the bullnose part,” Sub-Zero’s Rass says. “We’ve had it for years now, use it a few days every week and it holds up—we haven’t needed to replace any of the tooling. We have to refurbish it now and again, but that’s it.” 

Serving up help

For new or challenging parts Sub-Zero orders tooling on a regular basis. When the need for custom tooling arises, the two companies begin by discussing the application. Complex or new applications can involve drawing reviews, discussion about tooling options and close interaction with Wilson’s internal sales and design team to quote the order and develop the tooling.

“We try to do whatever is most helpful for our customers,” Collins says. “If Sub-Zero is looking for a large tool package or they have technical questions about producing a complex part, we’ll discuss the application in detail to match the right tool with the job. If the need is a smaller tooling package or more basic application, Sub-Zero can simply call our inside sales desk and place an order.” 

While Wilson’s inside sales desk can quickly place a standard order, those representatives also have the technical expertise to manage the complex challenges associated with custom tooling development.

Combining custom press brake tooling with engineered tooling coatings for the punch press helps the Sub-Zero fabrication division achieve required cosmetic and production standards. With the range of parts manufactured for so many different appliances, Sub-Zero has come to depend on custom tooling. 

“When I run into a challenge for a part where we may not have the right tooling, I can order custom tooling, and it’s cut perfectly to length, shipped to our facility and arrives in just a few days,” says Rass. “The entire process helps our bending and punching processes run smoothly and profitably while maintaining our cosmetic standards.” FFJ



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