Peter Ulintz Peter Ulintz
PMA Technical Consultant

Stronger AHSS Knowledge Required for Metal Stampers

August 25, 2023
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Advanced high-strength steel (AHSS) often is considered automotive material, primarily because it was developed for automotive applications. But metal stampers not involved with automotive components should not ignore happenings in the world of higher-strength materials. In the 1970s, high-strength low-alloy (HSLA) steels were considered for automotive applications only, but these materials soon found application across many industries due to their higher strength, good formability and ease of weldability. The same may hold true for some AHSS grades, particularly dual-phase (DP) steels.

Metal stampers and die shops experienced with mild and HSLA steels often have problems making parts from AHSS grades. The higher initial yield strengths and increased work hardening of these steels can require as much as four times the working loads of mild steel. Some AHSS grades also have hardness levels approaching the dies used to form them.

Dies Get Tougher

The higher stresses required to penetrate higher-strength materials require increased punch-to-die clearances compared to mild steels and HSLA grades. Why? This clearance acts as leverage to bend and break the slug out of the sheet metal. Stronger materials need longer levers to bend the slug. The required clearance is a function of the steel grade and tensile strength, and sheet thickness. 

Increasing cutting clearance can result in punch cracking and head breakage due to higher snapthrough loads and reverse-unloading forces within the die. Adding shear angles to the punch face helps reduce punch forces and reverse unloading.

Tight cutting clearances increase the tendency for die galling and chipping. The severity of galling depends on the surface finish and microstructure of both the tool steel and work material. Chipping can occur when process stresses are high enough to cause low-cycle fatigue of the tooling material, indicating that the material lacks toughness.

Tempering of tools and dies represents a critical heat-treatment step and serves more than one purpose, but of primary concern is the need to relieve residual stresses and impart toughness. Dies placed in service without proper tempering likely will experience early failure.

Dies made from the higher-alloy tool-steel grades (D, M or T grades) require more than one tempering step. These grades contain large amounts of retained austenite and untempered martensite after the first tempering step and require at least one more temper to relieve internal stresses, and sometimes a third temper for even greater toughness.

Unfortunately, heat treatment remains a “black-box” process for most die shops and manufacturing companies, who send soft die details to the local heat treat facility, with hardened details returned. A cursory Rockwell hardness test may be conducted at the die shop when the parts return. If they meet hardness requirements, the parts usually are accepted, regardless of how they may have been processed—a problem, as hardness alone does not adequately measure impact toughness.

Machines Get Stronger

The increased forces needed to form, cut and trim higher-strength steels create significant challenges for pressroom equipment and tooling. These include excessive tooling deflections, damaging tipping-moments, and amplified vibrations and snapthrough forces that can shock and break dies—and sometimes presses. Stamping AHSS materials can affect the size, strength, power and overall configuration of every major piece of the press line, including material-handling equipment, coil straighteners, feed systems and presses. 

Here is what every stamper should know about higher-strength materials:

  • Because higher-strength steels require more stress to deform, additional servo motor power and torque capability may be needed to pull the coil material through the straightener. Additional back tension between the coil feed and straightening equipment also may be required due to the higher yield strength of the material in the loop as the material tries to push back against the straightener and feed system. 
  • Higher-strength materials, due to their greater yield strengths, have a greater tendency to retain coil set. This requires greater horsepower to straighten the material to an acceptable level of flatness. Straightening higher-strength coils requires larger-diameter rolls and wider roll spacing in order to work the stronger material more effectively. But increasing roll diameter and center distances on straighteners to accommodate higher-strength steels limits the range of materials that can effectively be straightened. A straightener capable of processing 600-mm-wide coils to 10 mm thick in mild steel may still straighten 1.5-mm-thick material successfully. But a straightener sized to run the same width and thickness of DP steel might only be capable of straightening 2.5 mm or 3.0-mm thick mild steel. This limitation is primarily due to the larger rolls and broadly spaced centers necessary to run AHSS materials. The larger rolls, journals and broader center distances safeguard the straightener from potential damage caused by the higher stresses. 
  • Because higher-strength materials require greater stress to blank and punch as compared to HSLA or mild steel, they generate proportionally increased snapthrough and reverse-unloading forces. High-tensile snapthrough forces introduce large downward accelerations to the upper die half. These forces work to separate the upper die from the bottom of the ram on every stroke. Insufficient die-clamping force could cause the upper-die half to separate from the bottom of the ram on each stroke, causing fatigue to the upper-die mounting fasteners. 
  • Because energy is expended with each stroke of the press—and this energy must be replaced—critical attention must focus on the size (horsepower) of the main drive motor and the rotational speed of the flywheel in higher-strength-steel applications. The main motor, with its electrical connection, provides the only source of energy for the press and it must generate sufficient power to meet the demands of the stamping operation. The motor must be properly sized to replace the increased energy expended during each press stroke. For these reasons, some stampers consider the benefits of servo-driven presses for these applications.

As steels becomes stronger, a corresponding increase in process knowledge is required in terms of die design, construction and maintenance, and equipment selection.

Need more information regarding high-strength steel stamping? Attend PMA’s Higher Strength Steel seminar in Cleveland, OH, October 11-12, 2023, or attend virtually from the convenience of your home or office. Visit the PMA website, or contact Marianne Sichi for more information. MF

Industry-Related Terms: Austenite, Blank, Center, Die, Form, Martensite, Ram, Rockwell Hardness, Run, Slug, Stroke, Surface, Tempering, Tensile Strength, Thickness, Torque, Weldability, Work Hardening
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms

Technologies: Materials

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