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Tool & Die

Avoiding costly mistakes

By Russ Olexa

Software can play a pivotal role in estimating stamping tools to save money and avoid expensive errors

When estimating production tooling for a stamping process, it’s easy to make a $20,000 error, notes Jim Boelstler, general manager of Modified Technologies Inc., Fair Haven, Mich., a tool and die and stamping company. These kinds of errors may not only eliminate any profit, they can have a long-term financial impact on a company.

Modified Technologies was an existing stamping company that was purchased in 1998 by Charlie Russell. It has stamping presses and four-slide machines, and it offers new die design and build, as well as prototype work. "When [Russell] bought the business, he hired me to run the operation for him," says Boelstler. "At the time, we had 16 employees and two small buildings with 8,000 sq. ft. per building. We were building one or two dies a month. If we got a third die to build, it was hard to meet delivery dates. This led to the automation of the tool room. We outgrew our building and built a new 50,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility in 2001 and have since grown to 60 employees. Lean manufacturing is inherent in our organization, from initial die design through the tool room and all the way to the production department."

The company designs and builds dies for in-house work and for other stamping houses. "Probably about 85 percent of what we build is for our own internal use for parts," Boelstler says. "The other 15 percent is parts for stamping companies in Michigan and Ohio, automotive for the most part. About 70 percent of our tooling work is progressive dies, and 30 percent is four-slide tooling. The organization as a whole is diversified, though, and we have a strong focus in obtaining new non-automotive work."

Modified Technologies processes about 200 tooling and production quotes per month for customers and in-house use. It can be a challenging task, says Boelstler. Quotes require experience, knowledge and the ability to keep up with changing parameters, such as new technologies, new design and build processes, as well as the price of steel.

Previously, Modified Technologies had a backlog of production tooling estimates, says Boelstler. He began looking for a way to reduce the time he and other personnel spent creating tooling quotes. He also began developing a way to get the accuracy they needed to make sure they had the right amount of profit built into a quote.

"A customer would give us 30 quotes and expect them the next day or within two days," says Boelstler. "It’s tough to get these quotes done in a timely manner. So, realizing that this was one of the bottlenecks in the engineering department, we went looking for ways to try to estimate quicker. We went on the Internet and searched for estimating software for quoting, but we couldn’t find anything," Between the two stamping companies that Russell owned, Modified Technologies was quoting roughly 200 tools per month with only three people, who also did a multitude of other tasks in the organization. Streamlining the process was important.

Boelstler was looking for software that would do the entire estimating process with accuracy, which he says is a big part of tool estimating. "It’s easy to make a $20,000 mistake. If the print isn’t clear and you can’t see a bend on it or how something is developed properly in the tool, it can be a costly mistake."

Boelstler eventually went to a die estimating seminar in Cleveland, where he met Jeff Bennett, president of Tool Planners Inc., Hendersonville, Tenn. "Bennett had done a die estimating seminar that talked about DieMatrix estimating software," says Boelstler. "I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread."

But Boelstler didn’t purchase the software right away; he was still skeptical. So he asked Bennett to do a head-to-head demonstration in which they would both quote a tooling job at the same time. With print already in hand, Boelstler would have an edge.

"Bennett and I took the same quote and ran the numbers for it together," says Boelstler. "He used his software, and I did it manually. It was close, but speed and accuracy were important. I had the print and figured out how I was going to process the part before I sent Bennett the information. So I did have a head start on it. He definitely proved himself with this test, though. After the head-to-head test, we made out a purchase order for his DieMatrix die estimating software, and we’ve been running it since March 2008."

Even though Boelstler could see the quotes from the software were accurate and consistent, he double-checked the figures from the software through his company’s ERP software system, which tracks the cost of every tool and production part.

"With the DieMatrix software, we’re able to upload the estimate into our ERP and compare that estimate to the actual costs on the floor to see if there are any differences and what they are, if any," he mentions. "We looked at what it cost to produce a die versus what [Bennett’s] software said it would be, and the numbers were accurate. I would recommend it to any stamping house."

Birthing software
Bennett created Tool Planners Inc. as a result of his collective experience in the industry. DieMatrix was the software birthed from his experience. After teaching die estimating with an association, consulting, quoting dies and running a die shop, he realized the need for this type of information and created Tool Planners around 2000.  Along with that company, Bennett also works in his family’s stamping business, Bennett Tool & Die. "I worked as an engineer at other companies, and when I came back to the family company after working in the automation business, I took over the management," he says. "It wasn’t too long after running the company that we had a die estimator retire who was an older fellow with a lot of experience. At that time, he was estimating using a traditional method. His accuracy was good, but he was meticulous and slow. So I was faced with a challenge of what to do for quotes because he was the only one who could estimate a tooling package.

"The first step I took was trying to duplicate what he was doing," says Bennett. "We had our CAD designers doing concept strips for a quote. They would do the concept, and I would quote the tooling. At the time, I was using a traditional detailing method, and the results were good, but it was incredibly slow. We were tracking our times, and it was taking, on average, three and one-half hours, some maybe an hour and others perhaps 12 hours, depending on how complicated the die was. It quickly became apparent that this method wasn’t going to work unless I was going to hire people who would be doing non-productive work of quoting. But these types of people are hard to find. There just aren’t many people who can do die estimating."

Initially, Bennett wrote a spreadsheet for estimating. In 2000, he began working with an association and joined a technical seminar committee. One of the programs was die estimating. He was asked to speak at a seminar on how to quote dies. It was more about getting ready to estimate a die than the actual quoting. Bennett was asked to do the material, labor and overhead area of die estimating. This was a difficult thing to teach because it depended on the person’s experience, he notes.

In an effort to teach die estimating, Bennett started Tool Planners and began to develop a product on the Internet with which he would process-engineer a part and send back benchmark tooling and production pricing to his customer. About two years ago, he decided he would take the engine of this product, the DieMatrix die estimating software, and make it available to the market.

During this time, Bennett was doing tool estimating for the family company. He was quoting 10 tooling jobs to get one and going through thousands of die quotes. By using DieMatrix for his family’s stamping company, he was able to refine his product.

Another product that came from Bennett’s work was his technique for die estimating training where he showed people how to use inexpensive tools like a scanner, printer and graphics software to go from a PDF or graphics file to a flat blank to a concept template and then to a tool concept. It allows a person to put in the engineering knowledge quickly and then pass it off to a more entry-level employee to enter the parameters from the concept into the software.

Because DieMatrix is independent of the user and the standards are already set up within the software, says Bennett, anyone with basic die knowledge can describe the basic die concept to the software and get an accurate die estimate. This is where the quoting consistency comes in. Once control over the process is achieved, any changes can be made, such as a profit margin or steel price change.

"If you go through the process and don’t cut corners, it’s difficult to make a large mistake," Bennett notes.

How it works
"Every die shop builds a die a little differently or uses different procedures," Boelstler says. "Some might be heavy on grinding all of their forms. We wire EDM as much as possible. So, you can change these standard operating procedures in the software to reflect your shop floor, but you don’t have to figure out that it would take something like three hours to EDM certain features. The software does this for you. You just tell the software what features need to be done on an EDM, and the software figures out the time. This time value is calculated or pre-loaded with the standards in the software.

"For instance, when you measure the tool length either from a CAD drawing or from die concepts, when the number is input, the software automatically calculates the EDM time for the punch, punch retainer, die retainer, stripper and so forth," he says. "You’re describing the concept to the software by putting in quantities of certain construction types, lengths and other metalforming features, and that’s it. Once you put this in the software, it produces the estimate quote reports."

For an estimate, Boelstler says it can take as little as five minutes or as long as 10 minutes. Compare this with hours for most manual estimates, along with accuracy and consistency you might or might not get.

Beyond just offering fast and accurate estimating, Boelstler says the software has helped Modified Technologies in other ways. "A customer will often ask for a breakdown of the quote costs," he says. "Where some of these costs were just guestimates before, because we knew them by experience, now we have it in black and white and are able to give firm numbers to our customer."

"From concept to estimate, the software is automated because at no time during this are you quoting details or trying to estimate hours or material," Bennett mentions. "Once the tooling concept is in place, the rest is a recipe. You describe the concept to the software, and the software produces all the reports. You’re plugging in parameters from the part drawing and the tooling concept script. From the part drawing, you would get material type, thickness and number of dimensions--these types of things. Then, from the concept, you would produce the stock width, progression, and the metalforming and stock control features.

"The software will give a quote for tooling, along with a piece part production cost," he says. "Once you have the die estimated, you input the part information, and it gives you a production price. The software can be customized to the shop’s capabilities because one shop could be more efficient than another or might be paying higher wages given the area it’s located in."

"DieMatrix is another tool that helps us compete in today’s marketplace," Boelstler adds. FFJ

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