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Sensors Now--More Than Ever

By: George Keremedjiev

Saturday, November 01, 2008
 
As I write this, the U.S. House of Representatives is about a day away from voting for a second time on the Wall Street financial (pick your name: investment, bailout, rescue, etc.) package. Whichever way the votes shake out (the bailout ultimately passed and was signed into law), these are indeed unprecedented and extremely difficult times for our metalforming community. Short-term loans for tooling, payroll, product-launch technologies and machinery are in some quarters nearly impossible to attain —even for credit-worthy stampers. Cutting costs, now more than ever, is the norm for day-to-day operations.

Lean has become more than a catchphrase, it is part and parcel of the daily activities within many a stamping house. It is precisely this very challenging economic environment that brings forth the best reasons for using electronic sensors in tooling. Mistake-proofing technologies are the best partners that the bottom line could possibly have.

There is no margin for error in this economy with respect to die crashes and their subsequent costly die repairs, press downtimes and delivery interferences. Customers simply are unwilling to absorb the rising costs of metalforming commodities, much less the costs of unsensored tools that deep dive into major malfunctions. To have presses sit idle while dies are repaired due to die crashes is a recipe for corporate economic meltdown. Surely the need to monitor proper feeds, slug detection, cam returns, part ejection and other sources of die downtime is a serious component that must be addressed in these unprecedented economic times.

Press speeds cannot crawl their way into profitability. Presses must run at maximum safe speeds with their fully sensored dies to free up capacity. Slowly thumping the presses out of fear of a die crash is not a good beat to dance to in this economy. Many stampers spend a fortune not only in running the presses much slower than necessary, they also incur dramatic costs in press repairs as double hits, slug jams, left-behind hand tools, etc. cause the presses to sustain forces well beyond their designs. As that press closes on a foreign object, such as a wrench, the mechanical integrity of the linkages, ram, tonnage distribution, etc. are compromised. Improperly sensored dies that lead to slow presses and/or press damage are certainly intolerable in this economy.

Press count per operator also should be carefully addressed. Why not have multiple presses run by one operator? If the dies are properly sensored you can operate two, three, four or more presses per operator. Of course, the size and complexity of the tooling are part of what can be achieved here, but without properly sensored dies it is almost impossible to have more than one press properly operated with one operator. The fear factor of incurring a die crash forces many a shop to place “human sensors” in front of their presses to make sure that misfeeds and the like are caught by the operator and the E-stop button pushed in time to prevent a catastrophe. There have been many examples of the stressed operator successfully dashing to the E-stop button only to have the die crash anyway as his reactions were simply not fast enough to prevent the disaster. Multiple presses per operator running at maximum safe speeds is the goal. Over and over again this is so in those stamping companies where die protection sensing is taken seriously.

My point is simple, repetitive and necessarily so. Cost cutting and lean, in and of themselves, will not and cannot be enough to help our metalforming community make it through these global economic challenges. To properly cut costs we must eliminate the financially draining die repairs. To properly lean our companies we must first have processes that are not continually screaming for human attention. Only then will the cost cutting and lean initiatives make sense.

Finally, match the sensor technologies with the appropriate employee training to optimize their use. It is not enough to sensor the dies if the employees are not fully and properly trained on the sensors, their controls and functions within the dies. We need to trust the shop floor to use the sensors properly. This trust can only come about if the shop floor is thoroughly schooled in sensor technology.

So, to summarize, these are the leading indicators that we should look for in our shops to help us avoid the massive pitfalls of the current economic downturn:

1) Fully sensor the dies to detect and anticipate the sources of die crashes.

2) Run the presses with these dies at maximum safe speeds.

3) Have one operator supervise multiple presses.

4) Train the shop floor to fully understand the sensor program.

To some, the above is common sense and a part and parcel of their corporate activities for many years. To others, these four steps can create a pathway toward survival in these unprecedented and supremely stress-inducing financial times. MF

 

Related Enterprise Zones: Sensing/Electronics

 


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