Hydraulic Presses

First impressions

By Russ Olexa

March 2009 - If a mass-produced product fails to meet customer standards, engineers usually have to go back to the metaphorical drawing board and design something new from the ground up. For manufacturers focused on customizing every product they produce, however, unique customer specifications are considered right from the start, leaving less chance of a costly trip back to square one.

When dealing with Beckwood Press Co., Fenton, Mo., any pre- or post-purchase adjustments can be accommodated as they become known. As a hydraulic press and automated systems manufacturer and supplier, Beckwood understands the variances in hydraulic press applications and the benefits of producing presses for individual applications.

"We start with a clean sheet of paper with everything we build," says Darrell Harrelson, lead application and sales engineer for Beckwood. "Obviously, we do do occasional duplicates, usually for the same customer as they add additional equipment. But for the most part, we try to design the press around the application."

As evidence of this, Harrelson points to the company’s ability to accommodate seemingly disparate capacity requests, such as instances when a customer wants a high-tonnage machine with a small work area or a low-tonnage press with a large bed, options not always available with pre-designed mechanical presses.

Part by part
Beckwood presses range in capacity from 2 tons to more than 2,000 tons, and they are built with a heavy-duty design and advanced guidance systems for greater reliability and precision. They’re also highly customizable, with options such as active leveling, heated or cooling platens, variable frequency drive for energy efficiency, servo performance valving and controls, quick-change die systems, rubber pad forming equipment, ancillary equipment such as rotary index tables, feed systems and a programmable bed cushion, to name a few.

Presses are also available with fixed or programmable clamping force on the bed cushion, depending on whether it’s for a single application or one with varied pressure needs on different parts of the stroke. Also, being hydraulic, the entire stroke can have full tonnage.

Beckwood uses name-brand components for its presses to simplify customer service response and allow press owners better access to machine parts.

"Every machine that we sell is customer-specific, but that customization is mostly structural," says Harrelson. "The components that make it hydraulic are all going to be commercially available, like a Parker Hannifin cylinder or valve or a Rexroth pump. They’re well-known commercial parts that are readily available and easily supported by any local distributor. On the electrical side, unless otherwise specified, everything is Allen-Bradley. It’s a custom machine, but it’s using all off-the-shelf components."

From a control standpoint, Beckwood uses a standard PLC package with each press, each containing a multitude of adjustable features. Also, although these standard packages are Allen-Bradley, Beckwood will work with different brands upon request.

"We do everything from a hand-level valve with a redundant push button, so it’s a semblance of a two-hand control to the CNC-programmable operator interface that works with fully automatic feed systems," says Harrelson. "We do servo controls, proportional hydraulic systems that allow positional control down to 0.001 in. or precision pressure control on a fully programmable system. Then, there’s a laundry list of secondary options like temperature control, hazardous-environment controls, quick die-change equipment and anything else you might need on a press. If somebody needs secondary automation in their die, and they need extra hydraulic control for that, we’ll work with them and help design those controls in and build the hydraulic circuit up so it can accommodate those features."

Every step of the way
When purchasing such a significant piece of machinery as a hydraulic press, the manufacturer’s reliability and accessibility should be weighed thoroughly. Upon installation of such a machine, there will almost certainly be questions raised and tweaks needed in the early stages of use.

For ABB U.S., Norwalk, Conn., a producer of power and automation technologies around the globe, it was a challenge to find a hydraulic press solution for its U.S. transformer plant in St. Louis, which needed to press the windings inside its transformers to tight tolerances. Sister plants in Spain and China had implemented new hydraulic presses for the same windings application, but the prospect of purchasing from an overseas manufacturer presented parts and service accessibility issues. Fortunately, nearby Beckwood was able to meet all of the St. Louis plant’s requirements.

"We were looking for someone that could meet our specifications and our price," says Jeff Barnes, facilities manager for ABB U.S. "We hear so much about it being much cheaper in China and Spain, and price for price, [Beckwood] was the same. So we looked for price against specification, and they matched all the characteristics. What we liked was that they had a lot of software options that they could add to the control facility. And we were really excited about the fact that they were a local company."

Thus, ABB ordered a Beckwood press in November 2008 with force capacity ranging from roughly 5 tons to 325 tons, with accuracy within 1 ton. By being local, Beckwood has been able to attend to ABB’s various questions and concerns, including paring down the PLC controlling after ABB discovered it didn’t need as many features as it had specified for itself.

"If this press had been built in Spain or China, we’d have had it installed and run it about a month and found we wanted to change all these things, which would’ve been difficult to do," says Barnes. "But here, we can have real-time feedback from our operators, and they can tell us necessary changes. Then, we can call Beckwood, and they can come along and make the changes."

This sort of attentive, personalized customer service is inherent for Beckwood, says Harrelson. It stems from the company’s medium size, which allows it more flexibility in handling troubleshooting or special service requests.

"One of our benefits is that you can call and talk to the engineer that designed your individual press," says Harrelson. "If you have a hydraulic problem, you get to talk to the hydraulic engineer that designed that circuit and understands how that circuit functions. He can interpret the symptoms and take it back to an individual component that might be causing them problems."

The cost of starting over can be steep, which is why Beckwood chooses to stay engaged with customers through all levels of the transactional process and ensure its presses are continually meeting customer specifications. Because of this, it sees its drawing board as a place reserved only for new successes, not old mistakes. FFJ

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  • ABB U.S.
    Norwalk, Conn.
    phone: 203/750-2200
    fax: 203/750-2263

  • Beckwood Press Co.
    Fenton, Mo.
    phone: 636/343-4100
    fax: 636/343-4424


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