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Flight plan

By Lynn Stanley

Stamper supports smart mobility solutions by staying grounded with a stringent, quality controlled supply chain

March 2020 - “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” there were airspeeders. The repulsorlift vehicles—featured in the iconic Star Wars franchise created by George Lucas—used skylanes to move in and out of dense traffic and maneuver between towering buildings on urban planets like Coruscant.

The idea of people traveling highways in the sky is no longer fodder for science fiction and fantasy. On Jan. 6, 2020 Uber and Hyundai Motor Co. announced a new partnership to develop Uber air taxis for a future aerial ride share network at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020 in Las Vegas. As part of the media event, Hyundai unveiled its S-A1 prototype. The automaker will produce and deploy the all-electric personal air vehicles (PAV), and Uber will provide airspace support services, connections to ground transportation and a ridesharing app called uberAIR.

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Euisun Chung, left, executive vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Group and Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, announced a partnership to launch a fleet of flying taxis during the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show.

Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, told CES attendees, “Hyundai is our first vehicle partner with experience in manufacturing passenger cars on a global scale. We believe Hyundai has the potential to build Uber air vehicles at rates unseen in the current aerospace industry, producing high-quality, reliable aircraft at high volumes to drive down passenger costs per trip.”

According to a new market research report, the market space for urban air mobility is projected to grow to $15.2 billion by 2030.

New cityscapes

Banking on a new era of mobility, Hyundai also introduced concepts for a Purpose Built Vehicle (PBV) designed to provide services such as that of a restaurant during transit and the Hub, an ecosystem to connect air-based and ground-based transportation.

“Our vision of Urban Air Mobility (UAM) will transform the concept of urban transportation,” said Jaiwon Shin, executive vice president who leads Hyundai’s Urban Air Mobility division. “We expect UAM to vitalize urban communities, liberate people from gridlock and reclaim time for people to reinvest in activities they care about and enjoy.”

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CEP’s EMI/RFI shielding components meet a profile tolerance of 0.0015 in., a maximum burr size of 0.0005 in. and flatness tolerances of less than 0.003 in.

The carmaker engineered its concept for the S-A1 in part through Uber’s open design process, which mimics NASA’s practice of releasing design concepts to the public to spark innovation and incite research and investigation into such functions as wing design, noise, aerodynamics and simulation verification.

The S-A1—which employs electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) technology—is designed to take off vertically, convert to wing-borne lift in cruise and then revert to vertical flight for landing. It can hold up to four passengers and a pilot but Hyundai says the S-A1 will eventually become autonomous.

The PAV uses distributed electric propulsion to power multiple rotors and propellers installed around the airframe. The redundant system enhances safety and reduces noise. The S-A1 can cruise at up to 180 mph, attain a cruising altitude of 1,000 to 2,000 ft. and fly single trips up to 60 miles. Recharging the PAV during peak hours of operation is expected to take just five to seven minutes.

Uber estimates that commuters may be able to book an Uber air taxi as early as 2023 but among the hurdles it must overcome are standardization, certification, air traffic control, automating the pilot function and insurance liability. UberAIR also needs things like the vehicles themselves, skyports and batteries.

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EMI/RFI shielding components require CEP to design and build dies that can accommodate multiple forming operations.

Connectivity

Although PAVs are likely to be produced from carbon composites, that doesn’t mean the metalforming industry is grounded.

“Whether we are talking about air taxis, the electric vehicle market or the latest internal combustion engine car models, it all boils down to connectivity,” says Ken Kaufmann Jr., president of CEP Technologies Corp. “How fast we can communicate and how much data we can transfer to and from the vehicle in a short period of time.”

Printed circuit boards (PCB) are the brains that provide electricity and connectivity between the components of everything from smartwatches, phones and cell towers to vehicle GPS systems  0equipment aboard aircraft. Demand for PCBs—and the precision stamped parts needed to build them— is growing. Research and Markets estimates the value of the global PCB market will reach $89.7 billion by 2024.

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Above, left: To achieve critical flatness requirements when working with very thin gauges, CEP uses straightening machines prior to feeding material into the die.

Above, right: CEP’s technical cleaning methods meet ISO 16232 standards.

Below: CEP’s tape and reel process protects parts dimensionally and strict technical cleanliness levels.

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CEP is an IATF 16949:2016 certified medium- to high-volume progressive metal stamper headquartered in Yonkers, New York, with additional manufacturing facilities in San Antonio and Chengdu, China. The company provides end-to-end solutions for custom miniature to small progressive stampings for a wide range of industries. Kaufmann’s grandfather, Henry Kaufmann, founded the company in 1960 as Contact Electro Parts, which made primary electrical wire connectors. In 1996, Ken Kaufmann Sr. bought out the family interests, rebranded the company as CEP Technologies and expanded its product line to support a diverse group of industries from transportation, telecommunications and power protection to medical devices. Ken Kaufmann Jr. became president in 2010 and expanded the company’s product offering in 2015 with the ability to produce battery contacts and EMI/RFI shielding for PCB boards.

Motherboards make smart control and system monitoring possible on cars—or, it is hoped, air taxis—by carrying messages from different sections of the vehicle and relaying them to the dashboard. Copper lines etched into the board electrically link connectors and components that, in turn, run signals that allow circuit boards to perform simple and complex functions.

“The number of PCB boards being installed on cars bumper to bumper is pretty mind blowing,” Kaufmann says. “They control all facets of a driver’s experience from entertainment and navigation systems to warning sensors and features like autonomous parallel parking.” In order for these things to function without interruption, he says, “you have to protect the PCB boards and what is on them with a shielding frame and cover that is mounted around these components to encapsulate them.”

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Charles Davis sets up tool in a Bruderer press.

Preventing interference

CEP is on a short list of stampers capable of producing custom EMI/RFI shielding components for PCB boards. By definition, EMI/RFI shielding reduces electronic malfunction susceptibility by blocking unwanted external electromagnetic waves or preventing internal electromagnetic waves from emitting and interfering with other devices.

The company produces shielding components that suppress and prevent internally generated signals and external ambient temperatures from interfering with equipment operations. Its two-piece covers and frames protect a variety of PCB board components. Parts are produced from alloys such as copper-nickel-silver (bare and preplated with tin), cold-rolled steel and 300 series stainless in precision coil thicknesses ranging from 0.004 in. to 0.015 in.

“A strand of human hair is approximately 0.003 in to 0.004 in. thick,” notes Kaufmann. “Application and functionality dictate material type, temper and thickness.”

Parts are run on high-speed, straight-side stamping presses.“Tonnage isn’t a factor,” says Kaufmann, “it’s a matter of part complexity. If we are making a simple shield, we can make that part on a 15-ton to 20-ton press. For parts with complex features, we have to design and build longer dies to accommodate multiple forming operations. That calls for a longer bed length [and higher tonnage].”

Part feature and dimensional tolerances are critical, requiring numerous, meticulous profile cuts. In addition to ensuring that cuts and geometries are exact, part flatness is ultra-critical, as these frames are then soldered to a PCB board and sealed. CEP maintains a profile tolerance of 0.0015 in., a maximum part burr size of 0.0005 in. and flatness tolerances of less than 0.003 in.

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Carlos Baray inspects an EMI/RFI shielding part on a horizontal comparator.

Clean machines

The rigorous process doesn’t end with the stamping operation. CEP provides a range of technical cleaning methods that meet ISO 16232 standards.

“It used to be that prints for parts contained a general note that mentioned cleanliness,” says Kaufmann. “Over the last five years, technical cleanliness requirements are at the heart of both the stamping and automotive industries.”

Technical cleanliness refers to determining the maximum particle size for metallic and non-metallic particles as well as the number of particles for each particle size metallic and non-metallic. Each application, feature or section of a car may have its own set of specifications.

“A fuel pump may have cleanliness standards that are different from that of an electronic door locking system,” Kaufmann explains. “Once you get to EMI/RFI shielding, you reach one of the most stringent levels of cleanliness in a vehicle.

By the time a PCB board is fully assembled, “you are looking at an extremely expensive part that cannot lose functionality [short out], especially if you are talking about the type of artificial intelligence or autonomous operations that Uber and Hyundai are looking to achieve,” he says.

Current automotive specifications require CEP to hold particle sizes to less than 200µm but Kaufmann expects that to change with the introduction of 5G (the fifth generation wireless technology for digital cellular networks), which promises a wireless wide area network (WAN) with the ability to provide 24/7 connectivity for people, places and things.

“We’re working towards 100µm maximum particle size with the ultimate goal of 50µm for automotive requirements,” he says. To keep pace with customer expectations, CEP has continued to broaden its knowledge base around metal stamping and around value-added tangential tasks like technical cleanliness.

Employing cleaning methods at the end of a process, though, is not enough. According to Kaufmann, controlling particle count and size begins during the stamping process.

“This is where you make your biggest improvements in technical cleanliness standards,” Kaufmann says. “In order to achieve tighter and tighter technical cleanliness requirements, the total process needs to be controlled—from tooling, feeding material into the die and part ejection to part-on-part contact after the stamping process. Even your environment can be a culprit.”

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Ray Ramos, left, CEP President Ken Kaufmann Jr. and Roy Rincon discuss a tooling issue.

Fast forward

CEP monitors airborne particles at 10 ft., 5 ft., and 1 ft. above the floor during its stamping, cleaning and packaging operations. “Then we assess the impact of our findings on the cleanliness of the parts,” he says.

Until now, the stamper’s cleaning and packaging operations were housed in China. This year, CEP will expand its cleaning and tape-and-reel operations to San Antonio to support the EMI/RFI market in the United States and Mexico.

“Tape and reel is a value-added service that aids automated assembly,” Kaufmann explains. “It allows each part to be oriented in a specified manner and it provides a high level of protection to the part dimensionally and in terms of cleanliness.”

With Hyundai and Uber joining forces to launch a fleet of flying taxis, metalformers may need to take action to keep up. CEP, as a multifaceted, engineering-based stamper, offers one possible model. “Technology isn’t going to slow down,” Kaufmann says. “You have to adapt to marketplace changes by making sure your company is providing the value-added services your customers need.”  FFJ

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