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Stamping

Equipment is key

By Russ Olexa

Stamping HSLA steels just got easier

Stamping 1/2 -in., high-strength, low-alloy steel (HSLA) is like stamping 1-in. mild steel, neither of which is easy on a stamping press or the tooling. Both present many difficult challenges.

But this type of stamping is what Hugh Taylor, vice president and director of operations at Taylor Press Products, Jarrell, Texas, faces on a daily basis. Roughly 60 percent of the company’s stamping mix is HSLA steel from 1/4 in. thick to 1/2 in. thick.

Taylor Press Products is a Tier 1 and 2 supplier to both the automotive and truck industries and also does stamped parts for military vehicles. Along with stamping services, the company produces non-standard stamping tooling and complete part assemblies using plasma cutting and welding. It also offers a painting service using its unique, state-of-the-art Autophoretic paint process. It has stamping capabilities from 65 tons to more than 1,000 tons and can handle coils up to 1/2 in. thick and 16 in. wide, weighing up to 5 tons.

Taylor Press Products started in Toledo, Ohio, producing complete products and then moved into part production for trucks and automobiles. It built many parts for Jeep as well as for military Hummer vehicles. Currently, the company has its third generation of owners running it.

As Taylor Press Products grew, it started to focus on medium- to short-run metal stampings and assemblies. It also gravitated to heavy stampings that used HSLA steels and steels up to 3/4 in. thick because of customer demand.

"This put us in a niche market," says Taylor. "Many companies can do thin-gauge steel stamping, but few can do heavy, thick material. Our customers are spread out from Canada to all over the United States and Mexico. We supply medium-duty and Class-8 truck component kits [made of stampings and assembled parts] for assemblers all over the world."

About 10 years ago, some of Taylor Press Products’ main automotive and truck customers realized their growth would be in the South. These companies were looking at transportation costs. Six or seven years ago, these costs weren’t that expensive, notes Taylor. But now, with heavy parts, the cost of shipping has risen dramatically.

"We started looking for a facility in the South and picked Jarrell, located just north of Austin, to better service our customers," Taylor remarks. "We built a facility and moved our families from Michigan and Ohio to Texas. It was either we move or face the possibility of not being in business within five years."

Challenges of HSLA steel
Taylor says the company’s customers in transportation started using, and are continuing to use, high-strength steels. "Trucks are also looking for weight savings," he says. "Instead of a 1-in. part, they’ll use a 1/2-in. one made from HSLA. These steels have been a huge learning curve for us. You can take your standard die shop or tool and die journeyman, and they can make tooling for just about any type of part. But when you start using HSLA, it’s a completely different ball game.

"All this work is primarily progressive stamping," he says. "The tooling and presses both have to be different. We’ve had problems feeding this heavy material, too. We invested heavily in the proper feed equipment that often costs us as much as the stamping press we were using."

To stamp these HSLA steels, which have twice the strength of commercial-quality steel, Taylor says the company must pre-level the coil stock and use a reverse loop in its coil cradles.

Another challenge was getting the right stamping press with the proper tonnage. "We were so restricted [in getting larger presses with higher tonnage] in our Ohio facility because of our physical space," Taylor says. "We started using hydraulic presses because they were physically smaller, and we didn’t need a looping pit. Also, with a hydraulic press, you can build up the pressure as needed. So we needed less space and could get by with a smaller building. It worked well for us at the time.

"Since we’ve been in Texas, we bought a 1,000-ton press line from Beckwood Press Co., [Fenton, Mo.], that uses a Dallas feeder/straightener/leveler/uncoiler combination unit that has opened new opportunities in stamping for us," he says. "With a hydraulic press, we can control the stamping process, but the cycle speeds aren’t as fast. However, when you’re making a 20-lb. part and you have a 500-ton press that does 1,500 strokes an hour compared to 1,000 per hour for a hydraulic press, the labor isn’t the major component--it’s the material costs. Also, we’re not talking huge volumes of parts. Our average run might be 500 to 5,000 parts; 20,000 is rare for us. If we run a job for more than two days, it’s unusual for us, so we do a lot of die changes."

Although the company is primarily a stamping house, it never had in-house tool and die personnel to build or repair tooling. A separate company from Ohio moved to Texas to do the tool and die work.

"We have a partnership with them, along with a fabricating company that does cutting, welding and component assembly work," Taylor explains. "We focus only on metal stamping and painting. We don’t have the personnel to handle these other processes. We did additional fabricating in Toledo and it got out of hand for us."

Tooling challenges
It’s hard to do predictive maintenance on HSLA steel, says Taylor. Because the steel is so tough on the tooling, it’s hard to tell when tools will need to be changed out or resharpened. This tooling is subject to a great deal of abuse with these steels, and catastrophic tool damage can happen at any time.

"Even the heat treating that’s required for the dies is a challenge," Taylor notes. "We experimented with all different types of tool coatings for longer life but kept coming back to using uncoated tool steels. Maybe it’s because of the extreme maintenance that’s required for these coatings."

Another challenge is getting the strip of metal through the press, Taylor says. "Some feeds require a 60-hp motor to move the metal strip. For most of our HSLA, we both level and straighten the strip twice. Depending on how good the roll was produced at the mill or service center, we might have to take the crossbow out of it, along with any dishing the coil strip might have."

Coil thickness is critical when stamping HSLA, mentions Taylor. A coil must be within ±0.002 in. in thickness. Anything beyond that can cause problems with the tooling.

Seventy-five percent of the company’s tooling will be used within a 36-in.-by-24-in. die. So depending on if it’s a progressive or a line die, the part might be 12 in. by 12 in. or 12 in. by 18 in. or even smaller. Taylor Press Products has about 600 regularly produced part numbers. The company will do forming, blanking and some coining, but little drawing.

For the company to keep stamping these tough HSLA steels, Dallas Industries Inc., Troy, Mich., has really helped, says Taylor.

"Our Dallas Industries connection fills a need for us for heavy steel stampings," he says. "We’ve been doing business with Dallas for about 20 years now, and Dallas makes the equipment for these thick steels. Having the proper construction includes bigger bearings for the coil-strip handling equipment, bigger-diameter rolls and larger-diameter shafts for the rolls. We typically specify our equipment to level 3/8-in.-thick HSLA with a 100,000-ksi minimum yield strength that’s 12 in. wide. Then we can also stamp 1/2-in. coil stock for parts, but with a smaller width. We can stamp 24-in.-wide coil stock, but only in a reduced thickness because 1/2-in. HSLA is twice the strength of commercial steel.

"We looked at other companies to supply our coil handling equipment, but it always came back to our relationship with Dallas and the quality of its products," says Taylor. "I don’t have just one coil handler; I have 20 Dallas coil handlers."

Asked if Dallas specializes in handling HSLA steels, Taylor says Dallas grew as Taylor Press Products grew and that Dallas was probably doing some HSLA applications before Taylor asked for equipment for the company’s applications. "I know that one of the feeds we have from them was a large one for them to produce," he says. "Not so much the width of it, but in the shear capacity of doing the leveling. That’s why they’ve gone into the big, heavy feeders and focused on them. Dallas also offered this equipment at competitive prices."

Taylor Press Products has 26 presses ranging from 25 tons to 1,000 tons, both mechanical and hydraulic. Dallas and Beckwood worked together for the company’s new 1,000-ton line to give Taylor a turnkey product.

"We were in the market for larger HSLA steel parts, and we were looking at big-bed sizes," Taylor remarks. "Some of the press manufacturers wanted millions of dollars for their presses. I talked to the people at Beckwood because they were building high-tonnage, custom bed/frame, high-speed presses with lower energy costs using AC motors. The motors run only when you need them, saving energy. Beckwood and Dallas worked together to eliminate any issues that we might come across with the HSLA steels.

"We ended up getting a 1,000-ton Beckwood hydraulic press with an 82-in.-by-48-in. bed size," he continues. "We can go with a 30-in.-wide, 3/8-in.-thick coil strip with this system and a 10-ton coil. We had Dallas give us a servo feed system that combines a leveler/straightener in a coil cradle with a reverse loop system that eliminates a pit and can run from 15 fpm to 45 fpm. This allows us to put the cradle up close to the press to save space. The cradle keeps the weight on the coil so that we don’t get springback when we cut the bands to release it. A normal line would be around 56 ft. long, and that’s about the same space this system uses, but we have much bigger equipment. The feeds are 15 ft. long because we’ve added an uncoiler, feed rolls and leveling rolls to the feed length."

Taylor believes in lean manufacturing. The company has developed ways to change out its dies in about 30 minutes to 40 minutes, using as much standardized tooling as possible. But when customers supply the stamping tools, it’s more of a challenge to get a fast die change because there’s no control over how the tooling is built, and it’s usually non-standard tools that Taylor Press Products builds.

"Because we’re a job shop, everything is different," Taylor says. "Every die is different, whether we’ve inherited it from another company or a tool build that might have been done in China or the United States. We get shut heights all over the place. It’s hard for us to control because many jobs don’t involve high production. For some customers only one part is produced."

With 70,000 sq. ft. at its Texas location and the capability for expansion, Taylor Press Products is poised for growth with its equipment and unique niche marketing. Even though HSLA thick steels have given the company a steady stream of revenue, Taylor says that he would like to get into thinner stamped materials for additional growth. FFJ

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