GTMA/Vero Event Highlights Improved Processes and Material Advances

July 11, 2012 - A Government grant for robotics and automation; linear motor technology for machine tools; and how CAD technology can manage complex spring back compensation were amongst a number of items discussed at a sheet metal seminar for the automotive industry, co-hosted by the GTMA and Vero Software, featuring advances in materials, along with a number of processes from right across the supply chain.

GTMA Chief Executive Julia Moore said around 135,000 people were employed in the UK motor industry, and car manufacturers needed to support and nurture the supply chain. The GTMA’s Manufacturing Resource Centre provided a focal point for taking the supply chain to them, and demonstrating that tool makers provide good quality products, on time.
 
Delegates learned how VISI Modelling from Vero Software, combats spring back, where residual stress after a bending operation causes the sheet metal to spring out of shape due to the material elasticity. Trevor Dutton, of Dutton Simulation, said this was critical for components such as outer panels on vehicles. “Spring back causes geometrical fit and function problems, along with cosmetic flaws. By calculating the deviation from the required shape, this can be applied in reverse to make the necessary corrections to the tool. Once the prediction is within tolerance it goes back to CAD.”

Vero Marketing Manager Marc Freebrey (pictured) then demonstrated the VISI tools which compensate the original CAD geometry by a precise amount at the pre-production stage to achieve the desired form. “These steps use the difference between the original CAD data and the mesh analysis to change the relevant parts of the geometry to adequately compensate for spring back once production starts.”

Other topics included Chris Buxton, CEO of the British Automation and Robot Association, explaining that Government grants are available to help companies implement automation. The “UK Automating Manufacturing Programme” provides awareness and education about the benefits of robots and automation, along with expert support and financial assistance.  For further information on the scheme, including how to apply for the grant, go to www.automatingmanufacturing.co.uk.

With the event held at Agie Charmilles Technology Centre, the machine tool maker’s Product Manager Steve Burrows said the main benefits of linear motor technology which features in their machines, were accuracy, surface finish, and repeatability. “We have seen a ten-fold improvement in surface finish over two years, with linear motors.”

Dr Per Hansson, SSAB’s Tooling Product Manager, said die making manufacturing time had been reduced by 32% using pre-hardened tool steel. He gave an example where pre-hardened tool steel was used to make the tools for the stamping of 1.8mm 600DP, and the tool manufacturing time was reduced by two weeks. Another benefit is its stability and strength. A company using pre-hardened steel for the tools to stamp 1mm 400DP found the die displayed no visible wear after stamping 1.6 million components.

Developments in low cost sheet metal processes were demonstrated by Roger Onions, Business Development Director at the MRC. He said low tooling costs and reduced lead times, along with high tolerances and level of detail on parts, meant Incremental Sheet Metal Forming was becoming increasingly popular over traditional press tools for manufacturing low volume body parts in the automotive, aerospace, rail and marine industries. ISF is also popular for repairs in aftermarkets, architectural features, signage, personalised or customised products and medical plate inserts.

Giving an overview of the Formula 1 motorsport, James Robinson from the Lotus F1 team, also detailed the team’s close working relationship with Agie Charmilles since 1997. Lotus leases 10 Agie machines – wire EDM, EDM machining centres and mills – updating them every three years, to machine around 60,000 parts a year. And Lotus will shortly be taking delivery of six 5-axis multi-palette machines.

SMIRT software, from Vero is a manufacturing process management tool designed specifically for the Die Build stamping industry. Cosimo Galante showed how it integrates with design data giving an effortless and clear 3D representation, reducing errors, leading to overall improved data management. Best practices are captured and made available as a template for use in future projects.

The event was rounded off by Mike Richards, Managing Director of press toolmaker Accura Geometric, giving an overview of the toolmaking industry. He said the sector was currently in a positive period of high activity, following ten years of UK manufacturing outsourcing presswork, which saw the number of toolmakers reduced by 60%. Identifying a need for UK toolmakers to demonstrate the overall savings in total lifecycle costs of British-made tools compared to those from abroad, he said they had to challenge the willingness of customers to accept inferior overseas products.

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