What to Consider When Buying a Metal Forming Machine
It's a major investment, so knowing what to consider when buying a metal forming machine is critical. We hope this buyer's guide will help your team find the metal forming machine that will serve your company as well in 25 years as it does today.
- Accuracy & repeatability
- Deep drawing
- Footprint and structural reinforcement
- Material compatibility
- R&D Tax credits
Precision: Benefits of Precision Metal Forming Machines
There are three primary types of precision metal stamping machines: traditional mechanical presses, traditional hydraulic presses, and bladderless hydroforming presses.
If you're looking for speed, traditional mechanical presses achieve the highest production volume — especially for simple, shallow-formed parts. However, with fixed stroke lengths, these presses are less adjustable and rely on costly progressive dies. Repeatability and product finish quality may be a concern for some manufacturers in consumer-facing industries. Higher tooling and maintenance costs should be factored into the relatively low initial cost of mechanical machines.
Although traditional hydraulic presses can't achieve the high cycling speeds of mechanical presses, they're far more variable and perform better with complex shapes and geometries. Bladders used in a traditional hydraulic hydroforming press limit forming pressures to approximately 10,000 psi. Bladders are also prone to failure and can limit precision, repeatability, and may even leave friction marks, damaging the finish of the final product. Non-conforming part waste, consumables, and post-production fixturing should be factored into the relatively low initial cost of these machines.
Bladderless hydroforming presses eliminate costly, rupture-prone bladders and environmentally harmful hydraulic fluid. These presses, which are used in the FluidForming process, achieve forming pressures of up to 60,000 psi, resulting in 99.996% accuracy and repeatability. Low tooling, operation, maintenance, and post-production costs and minimal material waste offset the higher initial cost of a bladderless hydroforming press.
Accuracy & Repeatability: When Quality Matters
Keep your customers — both existing and future ones — in mind as you consider buying a metal forming machine. A key consideration: speed versus accuracy. What do your clients value today? What will their manufacturing priorities look like ten years from now? What kind of clients do you want to serve 15 years from now
High-speed mechanical presses are a good choice when speed and production volume are more important than accuracy, repeatability, and quality. As manufacturing changes, however, these high-volume, low-cost presses may not be the best option for all applications.
When precision, accuracy, and repeatability really matter, bladderless hydroforming comes out on top. The Six Sigma FluidForming process is ideal for the aerospace, medical, high-end home goods, and automotive industries. Other applications where precision metal forming may make a huge difference include three-dimensional designs, complex geometries, tight radii, and integrated lettering or branding.
Tooling: High Die Costs Add Up
Both mechanical stamping and traditional hydroforming rely on progressive dies to achieve acceptable levels of precision. Progressive tooling is costly and time-consuming and damages the overall ROI of these machines. Nested tooling is possible, but if progressive dies are involved, it becomes a costly process.
Bladderless hydroforming presses— like the FormBalancers used by the FluidForming process — achieve forming pressures of up to 60,000 psi. Typically the process requires just a single die from prototyping through production. In other words, the prototyping tool is the manufacturing tool. The presses also accommodate 3D-printed tools and are compatible with nested tooling.
Deep Drawing: Complex Shapes = Interesting Products
Traditional mechanical presses work best on flat, shallow components that are generally produced from coil stock.
Traditional hydraulic hydroforming and bladderless hydroforming are solid choices for complex forms that require higher amounts of material flow. Legacy hydroforming has been used for generations to create fuel cells, automotive parts, valves, sinks, pans, and other three-dimensional parts. Because of the bladder's thickness, however, extremely tight tolerances and integrated logos or lettering generally cannot be accommodated.
Bladderless hydroforming methods are better for textured and non-standard deep drawing shapes like stepped, domed, or tapered parts. It also does a better job maintaining a constant material thickness, even over a tight die corner radius where other methods experience significant thinning. Logos, lettering, and integrated branding can be accommodated.
Finish: Consider Finish Quality and Post-Production Costs
When making a list of what to consider when buying a metal forming machine, it's easy to overlook post-production costs. If you stop to look at the big picture, downstream costs become an important consideration.
Once again, mechanical presses come out on top when production speed is your top priority. But the process is hard on the sheet metal, leaving scars, grooves, scratches, tears. The resulting downstream costs like welding, polishing, annealing, painting, and polishing can be costly . . . and slow time-to-market.
While much easier on the metal, the bladders used in traditional hydroforming can still damage the surface of the finished product. Pre-finished, polished, or painted materials cannot withstand the friction of a traditional hydroforming bladder.
If you're manufacturing parts or components from pre-painted, textured, materials, bladderless hydroforming presses can produce nearly flawless products that require minimal post-production fixturing — therefore lowering costs and improving time-to-market.
Flexibility: Get the Most out of Your New Metal Forming Machine
Mechanical presses are the fastest, but they lack flexibility. Again, if speed is king, you've found your leader.
Hydraulic hydroforming presses are capable of variable stroke lengths and variable slide velocities, but they're limited to sheet metal forming.
If process flexibility and flexibility in manufacturing capabilities are important business considerations — think sheet metal forming and tube forming — then you may want to invest in a bladderless, force-contained press. Like a conventional hydroforming press, bladderless machines offer users a high degree of control and variability throughout the entire metal forming process.
The FluidForming FormBalancer press is the only precision metal forming machine on the market capable of bladderless sheet metal forming, deep draw hydroforming and tube forming. In instances where bladder-based or hydraulic hydroforming would work best, the machines can also be configured to accommodate a bladder.
Material compatibility: Lightweight is the New Heavyweight
Most precision presses can process precious metals, ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals, and non-standard alloys (Thomasnet).
Aerospace, energy, medical equipment, electric vehicle, and EV battery manufacturers, for example, increasingly value strong and lightweight components — which improve performance and lower fuel consumption. With this in mind, it may be wise to consider a press that can accommodate the metals of tomorrow.
Bladderless high-pressure processes also accommodate superalloys. Even aluminum alloys, which are notoriously prone to wrinkling and fracturing under stress, perform well with the FluidForming technology and FormBalancer presses.
Footprint and Structural Reinforcement: How Big is Too Big?
Depending on the capabilities of the machine, mechanical presses can take up a lot of square footage and may require costly foundational and structural reinforcements like pits and anti-vibration devices.
Hydraulic presses also require structural reinforcement.
Force-contained, bladderless presses do not require additional footings or reinforcement. Compact, modular press design allows for flexible floor placement. Multiple machine and table sizes — which range from 800 mm x 800 mm to 1,300 mm x 2,000 mm — can accommodate a variety of jobs.
Automation: Improve Efficiency and Streamline Production
Regardless of the press type, most modern precision metal stamping machines are computer-controlled and are relatively easy to automate. Better automation capabilities also improve efficiency and help support Lean manufacturing.
Sustainability: Making Manufacturing Greener & Lowering Operating Costs
As cold-forming processes, mechanical and hydraulic presses are infinitely greener than legacy die casting. However, energy consumption, material waste, hydraulic fluids, and other consumables render them less sustainable than bladderless metal presses.
For an even more sustainable option with low operating costs, consider a 480V FormBalancer press. The bladderless press relies on water as the forming force and draws just 90-200 kW of power, depending on machine size.
Efficiency: Where Purchasing and Manufacturing Come Together
MetalForming Magazine recently posed the excellent question: “How can a purchasing department work with its manufacturing team to find ways to continue investing in new technology?”
Here's their answer, in a nutshell:
“There are four key factors when considering capital investments: price, performance, delivery and the ability to provide turnkey solutions.” One new machine, they note, “May allow a stamper to replace two or three aging presses. Efficiency skyrockets, as you conserve floor space and human capital. In many instances, the older equipment will not be able to process higher-strength steels or aluminum alloys in the tolerances required — particularly when producing electric-vehicle equipment. As such, new press technology will help stampers stay competitive.”
R&D Tax Credit:
Yes, there's a lot to consider when buying a metal forming machine. But let's not overlook the importance of the Research & Development Tax Credit. The R&D tax credit is available to companies developing new or improved business components. This includes new products or processes — like a new metal forming machine.
The R&D Tax Credit is a dollar-for-dollar tax savings that directly reduces your company's tax liability. There is no limit to the amount of expenses and credit that you can claim each year. If the federal R&D credit can't be used immediately, then the unused credit can be carried back for one year and forward for up to 20 years. State carryover rules vary. (Source: MossAdams).
Or, join us in Chicago at FABTECH, September 13-16, 2021! You can find us in Hall D, booth D46860 in the Metalform Pavilion.
FluidForming Americas, Inc. is a member of the Precision Metal Forming Association and is AS9100 Rev D, ISO 9001:2015 certified.