SHEETMETAL fabricators are among the most likely companies to be immersed in a 24/7 operation with little or no warning.
Such is the nature of the industry, overnight contract success is increasingly more common and often the effects are large enough to potentially strain existing output capacity if preparation has not been given due attention.
Sheetmetal fabrication trends in North America and Europe are usually echoed soon after in Australia and New Zealand, hence local contractors are aware of the dynamics of the domestic market.
Pacific Energy Fireplace Products, a Canadian company specialising in quality whitegoods, serves as an excellent indicator of what may be in store for Australian companies.
It exemplifies how the clever implementation of contemporary sheetmetal-fabricating technology provides the necessary link to achieve productivity without sacrificing aesthetics and quality in a sudden, round-the-clock commitment.
Essentially, a strategic arrangement of turret press machines provides the improved forming, extruding and embossing capabilities it needs.
Pacific has been manufacturing high-efficiency wood- and gas-fired appliances for more than 25 years. Its use of unique sheetmetal forming tools on two FINN-POWER Shear Genius cells - shear-and punch machines - demonstrates the gains in using full-tonnage upforming stations with a tool larger than 3.5” diameter.
The firm purchased its first Shear Genius in August 2003 to take the fabrication workload from three of its ageing standalone turret presses that it coupled with manual shearing. That move yielded a 40-50% jump in parts production.
And when orders for its appliances took off after an industry trade show late in 2004, the typical end-of-season slowdown never materialised and the firm found itself running 24-7 even after the holiday season.
The company consulted FINN-POWER for a second Shear Genius unit to keep up with demand. Pacific Energy introduced a new line of luxury gas fireplaces that spurred orders and pressure production capacity.
Ingo Bentrup, Managing Director of Advanced Sheetmetal Technologies , the distributor in Australia and NZ of FINN-POWER equipment, said Pacific Energy is a classic example of when a company's output increases dramatically virtually overnight.
"It can easily happen like this, where one or two major contracts create sudden changes, and as Pacific shows in two or three years the company can easily double in size," said Mr Bentrup.
"The pressure is now on to efficiently manage the growing pains and in some cases oversee bottlenecks in sheetmetal fabrication where product is running day and night."
At Pacific Energy Products, a Shear Genius machine combines a 33t 20-station hydraulic turret punch press with a right-angle shear. The turret press features programmable penetration depth, ram speed and stroke length, and offers a work area of 60” by 100”.
The shear houses a 31.6” X-axis blade and a 59.64” Y-axis blade and can slice mild steel to 9 gauge and Type 304 stainless steel to 12 gauge.
Pacific Energy typically processes steel sheet from 26 gauge to 31.6” thick. It also runs some stainless steel to 12 gauge, as well as a bit of aluminised and other coated steels.
High importance is placed on aesthetic control of blanks. To produce a 4.125” diameter knockout in 16-gauge hot-rolled steel, with high sheet traverse speeds for all punching and sheet movements along with minimal sheet marking, requires a fabrication process that avoids using high form tools in the turret.
"At Pacific Energy, this is achieved by using the Shear Genius' upforming system which has a separately-controlled secondary 25t lower hydraulic ram that includes coining dwell built into the upform process," said Mr Bentrup.
"The machine can be programmed to form in either direction depending on the type of form required. It also offers three additional forming modes - deep draw, with built-in coining delay that finds use for embossing; mechanical bottoming, for precision forming; and electronic stroke control."
To upform the knockouts, Pacific Energy employs a special two-piece tool from Mate Precision Tooling. This tool includes a custom 3.5” holder that allows for assembly in the turret and offers the flexibility to allow use of regular 3.5” tooling in that station.
FINN-POWER's upforming system allows full tonnage throughout the punch stroke in an upward movement in the turret. This feature provides Pacific Energy the maximum flexibility in achieving various forming options.
Unlike conventional downforming operations, upforming means the die never rests higher than table level. So, when the sheet moves it cannot crash into the tools leading to machine downtime and it avoids any scratches on the lower sheet surface. This is particularly important with coated materials or materials where cosmetic appearance is critical.
A large 4.125” round extrusion tool used at Pacific Energy in its Shear Genius machines functions similarly to the knockout tool. The ability to produce both of these large forms in a standard turret set-up saves time by avoiding a secondary operation. It also minimises scratching and speeds processing times.
To form extrusions, Pacific Energy tools its machines with Mate's Nova oblong extrusion tools. Finished size is 1.2” x 4”, to a height of 16mm, on 17-gauge enamelling steel - very low-carbon steel used for porcelain enamel. It also forms extrusions on 16-gauge hot-rolled steel. The extrusions are fabricated on heat-reflector parts to dissipate heat through the vents.
"Forming up in the Shear Genius, rather than down, provides a nice, even collar without the use of shimming," said Mr Bentrup.
"It is easy to set up, and Pacific does not have to worry about dragging the extrusions over the other tools, which can dull the tools.
"The ability to use the edge allows it to squeeze more parts onto the nest and in some cases the company achieved 98.5% material utilisation."