Surcharges on Carbon Steels Force Metal Stamper to Adjust Manufacturing Methodologies
GARDEN GROVE, Calif.--A metal stamping contract manufacturer, BHI Manufacturing Solutions, is proof that persistence and perseverance pays off when taking on engineering challenges that others may not want to tackle. One example was a Department of Defense assembly that needed a great deal of design work. The lengthy project, which took almost two years to finish, required a significant amount of tooling, testing, and work hours.
"We had to work very closely with their engineers on a 30mm ammunition clip for a military helicopter," Javier Castro, president of BHI Manufacturing Solutions, recalled. "We helped them with the original design, which passed, and then when the prototypes were submitted to the customer, they did additional testing, which caused the part to fail." BHI Manufacturing Solutions' engineers continued to work with the DoD engineers to redesign the part. The company made prototypes for the new design, which finally passed all of the tests. BHI Manufacturing Solutions eventually obtained a contract for volume production of the part, and was able to reduce the overall cost of the part by about 40%.
Manufacturing in the modern era has become hyper-charged with many challenges, one of which is securing raw materials, and at a reasonable cost. "Procuring raw materials has been one of our biggest challenges recently," says Castro. "The demand has increased significantly over the past three years for raw materials, and China has a lot to do with it. Even though there are steel mills in China, they are still consuming a lot of steel from other countries, including the U.S." Castro says that the company was once able to place annual purchase orders for raw materials and the price would be held, which allowed the firm to provide stable pricing to its customers for the entire year or contract. Nowadays, surcharges are levied on cold-rolled, carbon steel. "This is unprecedented; it's never happened on carbon steel in the history of the U.S. mills," Castro added. "There have been surcharges for stainless steel and other exotic metals, but not on basic carbon steel."
BHI Manufacturing Solutions offers a wide variety of metal stamping-related processes, including metal stamping with progressive dies, on-site tooling design and building, fourslide technology, conventional and CNC coiling, CNC wireforming, and assembly work at its Garden Grove, Calif., and Tijuana, Mexico facilities. The company also handles welding, riveting, notching, and other secondary processes--such as special packaging and warehousing--out of the Mexican facility. "Fourslide is similar to stamping, except it's on a smaller scale for smaller parts," says Castro. "Therefore, the tooling is less expensive. Many parts that can be stamped can be made on a fourslide machine. An advantage of this process is less material waste. Coiling machines convert wire into springs using round wire, square wire, or shaped wire."
The stamping company's wireforming processes have evolved greatly with CNC technology, allowing it to manufacture precision wireforms to a customer's exacting specifications. The wireforms often have several different geometries, and include stringent requirements for load handling, strength, corrosion resistance, tight tolerances, finish, and cosmetic considerations. The company's CNC equipment allows it to hold tolerances to +/- 0.001 inch. Finishing processes, such as plating, anodizing, and powder coating, are available. Prototypes can also be manufactured cost-effectively and efficiently. The prototypes are made using a single-hit press. Usually, a wire EDM machine is used to burn a blank, and "soft tooling" is made to form the part. "Soft tooling" utilizes the same metal used for all of the firm's tooling, but it comprises single-hit tools that aren't put into a die set. This allows the company to easily modify the part for customer changes. The average charge for a progressive die is about $30,000, but the soft tooling only costs about $3,000.
BHI Manufacturing Solutions' in-house engineering department includes six engineers, who provide customers with design assistance in the form of design for manufacturability. "When engineers are designing a product for an application, they usually are not familiar with how the part is manufactured," Castro explains. "They do not take into consideration the type of tooling required, how the part's geometry affects the manufacturing, and other considerations. If they get involved with our company, since we offer design support, we can give them insight as to how the part will be manufactured and what tooling will be required. Making changes to the design will often make it possible to use a progressive die, which will allow us to manufacture their parts at a higher speed to reduce costs."
The stamping company often works on components--such as springs used in breathing apparatuses for newborn babies--that have critical performance requirements. In this application, the load requirements have to be just right; otherwise, the apparatus may not work properly. "The load requirements are extremely critical for this application," Castro maintained. "We use sophisticated, computerized load testing equipment that monitors 100% of the load on the spring that opens the air valve for the breathing apparatus. We run the parts on state-of-the-art CNC wireforming equipment and perform a lot of testing to make sure these parts are right."
Statistical Process Control (SPC) is a large part of the company's quality control regimen, so much so that all of its machine operators receive in-plant training on it regularly. Used for every part that the company produces, SPC checks the quality of the manufacturing process as it is happening, versus doing inspection after the parts are manufactured. "By doing SPC, we're controlling the quality of our products during the manufacturing process to ensure the parts meet our customer's requirements," Castro explains. "Therefore, we can do calculations based on the SPC numbers to see if any parts are moving away from a client's specifications. So it gives us a running analysis of exactly what is going on with the process."
According to BHI Manufacturing Solutions' president, a major trend is shaping up in the company's marketplace. Everyone has seen a multitude of OEMs leaving the U.S. to do business in Asia -- particularly China and India -- but another shift seems to be occurring. "We've seen a shift over the last 18 months where the work is coming back to low-cost centers like Mexico," Castro insists. "I visited a customer last month who produces a full line of hardware for doors. It set up a facility in China to make the complete units, and is now in the process of moving it to Sonora, Mexico," he continued. "Even though these were low-end parts, they were still having quality issues manufacturing their parts in China. And freight charges for shipping the finished parts are getting higher due to increasing energy costs and fuel surcharges. So we're seeing a shift with our customers for more work to be done in Mexico, instead of China."
For more information on BHI Manufacturing Solutions, visit www.bhisolutions.com
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