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Stamping/Presses

Fluid forming

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Intricate parts can be formed with tight tolerances and trimmed in a single cycle with minimal post-press finishing.

Manufacturer’s high-pressure systems slash tooling costs and lead times for just-in-time and low-volume parts production

March 2017 - When Ed Williams got a call from a recruiter about a general manager position requiring international experience, a sales background and the skills to run a U.S.-based business, he was intrigued. “I was happy where I was,” he recalls, but the job offer from Quintus Technologies, Västerås, Sweden, piqued his interest. With more than 60 years in business, Quintus built its reputation as a manufacturer of high-pressure systems for metal forming and densification equipment. 

“I had experience in a previous role working with a Swedish company,” Williams says. “I traveled to Sweden to talk with CEO Jan Söderström. I wanted to gain a better understanding of their technology, their business strategies and their goals. I felt I was at a point in my career where I could make an impact.”

He took the GM job with Quintus Technologies Americas at its Columbus, Ohio, headquarters in 2015. Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. selected Quintus in October 2016 to design and build a 17,000-ton press force-fluid cell press for its Mexicali, Mexico, facility. Quintus’ Flexform technology is a sheet metal forming process used by manufacturers like Airbus, Ford, Boeing, Daimler-Benz, Bombardier, BMW and Volvo for prototyping and low-volume parts production. The Gulfstream plant produces wiring harnesses, sheet metal components, subassemblies and mechanical parts. The new Quintus press at Mexicali is able to provide 11,600 psi [800 bar] of pressure over a forming area of 27.6 in. by 72 in. “The machine’s efficiency and short cycle times support aircraft manufacturing requirements for just-in-time production,” says Williams.

FFJ 0317 stamping image1

Quintus Technologies’ fluid cell technology offers a robust yet low-cost alternative to rubber pad, mechanical and hydraulic stamping.

Takeoff

“Aerospace growth has been significant,” says Williams. “We’re engaged in a whole series of new conversations with aerospace OEMs and suppliers about different types of metals that would benefit from high-pressure forming technology. Aging fleets, expanding use of advanced alloys, the need to reduce fuel consumption and achieve higher energy efficiencies are prompting development of new products and pushing the industry to consider different types of solutions, especially in the high pressure forming arena.”

Airframe builders’ backlogs have impacted the supply chain. Tier 1 suppliers have evolved into integrators while Tier 2 and 3 shoulder increasing manufacturing demands that include stricter quality standards and shorter lead times. The need to scale up capacity and reduce costs has many fabricators looking at Flexform. 

Quintus’ fluid cell technology has been a staple for OEMs and their suppliers due to its ability to form a wide range of structural components and complex, defined shapes to very tight tolerances. Under ultra-high pressure, a flexible diaphragm forms sheet metal blanks over a cost-efficient single lower tool half. The Flexform product line has expanded to include next generation machines that can economically produce parts from 3 ft. to 6 ft. long at pressures up to 12,000 psi. Tooling advances also contribute to cost savings and higher throughput. 

“The most intricate parts can be formed to tight tolerances and trimmed in a single cycle with little to no post-press finishing required,” says Williams. “It’s a repeatable, versatile, fast process.”

FFJ 0317 stamping image2

Under high uniform pressure, a flexible diaphragm forms sheet blanks over a cost-efficient single lower tool half.

The advantages of fluid cell technology have also entrenched it in the automotive and general low-volume manufacturing markets. Flexform’s use of a single rigid tool half gives manufacturers shorter lead times, faster prototyping and the ability to easily modify tooling to adapt to component design changes. “The flexible, rubber diaphragm is able to form scratch-free parts with complex profiles including undercuts with different sheet thicknesses in any material,” Williams notes.

Automakers have reported a 50 to 90 percent savings in tooling costs. “Lead times can be cut by as much as 50 percent,” he continues. 

Pressure and cycle times

To boost performance, it’s important to match the technology with the desired application.  Quintus Flexform presses with rectangular forming tables are available in sizes up to 71 in. by 142 in. and pressures from 11,600 psi to 20,000 psi. Cycle times are one to three minutes based on press size, parts and selected pressure.

Flexform presses with circular forming tables feature a compact footprint and provide faster forming of smaller parts. Cycles average one minute with pressures up to 11,600 psi. These presses are also used for offloading and backup for Flexform’s larger rectangular tray presses and for rapid forming of smaller parts.

Quintus also carries a line of deep-draw (or hydroform) presses, with forming diameters from 22 in. to 43.3 in. Pressure ranges from 11,600 psi to 17,400 psi. Cycle times range from 30 seconds to two minutes are based on tool size and required pressures. The press can process tougher materials with less thinning and less stress.

FFJ 0317 stamping image3

“In addition to 60 years of engineering know-how and experience, what sets Quintus apart in the market of fluid cell technology is that we can provide higher pressures,” Williams says. “We’re looking at penetrating new core markets both from an application and geographic perspective. We want to grow organically as well by developing new products to meet new applications that fall outside our core industries. We’re already tailoring solutions to customers’ specific requirements.”

As companies continue to explore ways to trim expenses, raise part quality and meet short turnaround times, fluid cell technology offers a robust yet low-cost alternative to rubber pad pressing, mechanical or hydraulic stamping, says Williams. Near net shapes, multiple parts per cycle, short setup times and minimal secondary work are the “tools that companies need to be competitive,” he adds.

Quintus’ U.S. presence supports regional customers’ applications. “Our infrastructure allows us to respond to manufacturers’ requirements and the demands of a changing marketplace almost instantaneously,” says Williams. “We’re set up to help customers buy what they want and what they need with the most economical, reliable long-term results.” FFJ

Sources

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