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Tier 1 masters massive stampings with 3,000

Jun 11, 2023Jun 11, 2023

Only 22 years old, automotive Tier 1 supplier Martinrea operates in 58 locations, including sales and engineering centers, throughout the world. The manufacturer had $4.5 billion in annual sales by Q3 2022 and currently employs more than 18,000 people. The company supplies structures and propulsion systems, including metal stampings, to GM, Ford, Nissan, Stellantis, BMW, and many other companies.

The company has grown organically and through acquisitions. In 2006, the company acquired a plant in Hopkinsville, Ky., originally constructed in 1997 as another company. Total floor space today is more than 452,000 sq. ft. on a 51-acre site. Still in its infancy of sorts, the plant has cut its teeth stamping components for rocker assemblies, control arms, and engine cradles. In addition to stamping, it performs robotic automated assembly, welding, e-coating, roll forming, laser cutting, hydroforming, and adhesive applications.

Recently, the manufacturer won a job stamping a large floor sill that runs along the bottom of a vehicle under the doors. The part is just under 8 ft. long. It needs a very big press to stamp it. The fast-growing supplier was bursting at the seams and needed to expand its press capacity—and build a bigger crib to house it.

General Manager Brad Graves described what drove the decision to purchase more presses. “We've won a lot of business over the last few years, and the capacity on our 1,000-ton and larger transfer presses was really tight. So Martinrea needed to grow that press capacity. It wasn't so much that the other presses couldn't do the work as much as that they were already booked at capacity with current business. They just didn't have any open availability.”

As long as the company was making a purchase, it sought to upgrade its stamping capabilities as well as capacity to meet growing demands. So, it spec’d a longer press bed, larger ram stroke, and automated material handling. It wanted the ability to slow the ram at the bottom of the stroke without losing speed, and to stamp and handle aluminum as well as steel on the same press.

“Our goal was to enhance our stamping capabilities for Gen III materials. And, with the way the industry's going to lightweighting, we need the capability to stamp high-tensile-strength materials.”

Martinrea Hopkinsville purchased a Simpac 3,000-tonne, (3,307 U.S. ton) link-motion-drive mechanical transfer press equipped with a Daebong transfer and feed line, destacker, and exit conveyor.

The bolster is 6,500 by 2,500 mm (98-1/2 by 256 in.) It’s got a 30-in. ram stroke and 16 in. of ram adjust. The Daebong coil line and transfer systems can handle 0.010- to 0.158-in.-thick (¼- to 4-mm-thick) material, 12 to 72 in. wide.

While the company was buying big, it also bought a Simpac 1,600-tonne (1,764 U.S. ton), eccentric-drive mechanical transfer press automated with a Daebong transfer, feed line, and exit conveyor.

Graves said that the new presses offer features that the current presses don’t have. “Having one long bolster is much more efficient than the dual bolsters that we currently have, when we’re taking over outsourced jobs.”

Jeremy Ortt inspects a large panel part as it progresses through a new Simpac 3,000-tonne mechanical press, engineered to run in both transfer and progressive die modes. Ortt was the project manager who oversaw the new press shipments, installations, and construction of the building to house them—a year-and-a-half-long project. Images: Mark Davis for STAMPING Journal

Both presses were spec’d to have a production shear so a blank can be cut to length right in the press line. “The cropoff shear and the microfeeder are two features we wanted in these presses, not only to help speed up the operation, but to help take weight off the employees. The shear allows them to crop material off the coil and band it back up more efficiently. So, it just makes a safer environment.”

The Daebong transfer systems are through-window systems, Graves said. They have 16 in. of lift, 40 in. of clamp stroke, and 60-in. feed stroke. “So, I can have a 60-in. pitch. Now we can stamp some rather large body-in-white structures.” The blank size can be up to 43 by 105 in., he explained. That’s a big baby.

1,600-Tonne. Graves said that though the 1,600-tonne is a standard-style eccentric-drive mechanical press, it is quite fast—up to 30 SPM. “It's much faster than my other transfer presses. So, for jobs that only require 1,600 tonnes or under, we can use the speed to make a part much quicker. At the end of the day, by running faster, we can get a part to the customer cheaper.”

3,000-Tonne. The link-motion drive on the 3,000-tonne press provides the variable speed Graves wanted. The ram slows as it's going through the bottom of the stroke. Then it accelerates on the upstroke.

This variable speed makes it possible for the press to increase speed overall, Graves said. “When you're going through the working portion of the die, you can slow down to maybe 11 or 12 SPM, and then when it's on the upstroke, you can speed up to 17 SPM. So, you can run faster overall—without the forming problems you might have if you were running it at a constant speed.”

That ability to slow at BDC really helps, Graves said, especially with some of the really deep draw work the company does and also with some exotic metals. Some parts have draws as deep as 10 in. Other jobs that may not have draws as deep have extreme turns, angles, and geometry. “So, it's not just the draw depth but all the different ways the material has to flow to make the overall geometry of the part.”

“Ultimately, the variable speed really helps save the die too because you're slowing down enough to help that material flow when you're going through BDC,” Graves added.

The 120-in.-wide, 300-in.-long bolster on the 3,000-tonne press, along with a 35-in. stroke and 16 in. of ram adjust provide ample room to transfer parts with complicated draw geometry, Graves said.

“So, it's a really nice press for us to have here. In the future, I think having that capability is going help us be able to produce some parts we plan on stamping, like floor pans. We’ll need that kind of capability for the type of parts and geometries with bigger deep draw that we will be stamping.

Getting the mammoth presses from the OEM’s manufacturing facility in South Korea to Hopkinsville, Ky., was no small feat. Project Manager Jeremy Ortt oversaw the process.

The 3,000-tonne transfer press is equipped with several cameras that allow operators to view multiple views at once on one monitor.

The press parts traveled on a large ship across the Pacific Ocean and through the Panama Canal. The six largest press assemblies were transported on a barge up the Tenn-Tom (Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway). “The 3,000-tonne crown, the 1,600-tonne crown, the upper slides for both, and the press beds for both—those pieces just could not be handled any other way. They were just too large,” Ortt said.

The parts were unloaded at the Eddyville Riverport & Industrial Development Authority onto wide-load trucks for the last leg of the trip to Hopkinsville. The largest of the two crowns was hauled by two trucks—one pulling, one pushing the trailer. The load weighed just over 900,000 lbs.

“It was quite a journey getting them from South Korea to Hopkinsville,” Ortt said. It took about nine weeks. The presses arrived in 64 loads altogether.

Adding the two presses at that size and scale required a new, 40,000-sq.-ft. building expansion to house the presses and their feed lines, destackers, transfer systems, exit conveyors, and an underground scrap conveyor. Ortt managed that aspect too.

“Basically, we built an entirely new building from scratch,” said Ortt.

Construction included installing new pits with 12-in.-thick concrete floors, two cranes, 4,000-amp switch gear, an underground shuffle scrap conveyor with dual output, and pneumatic and water utilities. “Our current utilities were at a point where they could not handle any more,” Ortt said.

The build kicked off in July 2021 and was complete in August 2022, and the press installations finished and signed off in December 2022.

The new presses have already made a huge impact on Martinrea Hopkinsville’s productivity and capacity.

Can Stamp Large Parts. “The variable-speed capacity increases our ability to form parts better and get a higher SPM out of them without sacrificing our throughput,” Graves said. “During extreme forming, there is a lot of pressure, and splits and cracks can happen. It really helps on current parts like the WS sill because that has some really deep draws in it.” It is a significant blank size, weighing 45 lbs. It is formed from advanced high-strength steel because it is a structural part that has to withstand side impact.

Can Stamp Aluminum. Graves said that he anticipates that the demand to stamp aluminum will increase, and the company wants to be ready for it. That’s why the team bought the “aluminum package” for both presses.

Project Manager Jeremy Ortt, Press Shop Manager Tiffany Parks, and General Manager Brad Graves knew what they needed from the two new presses and are pleased with the results.

To prevent potential damage and corrosion caused by cross-contamination, a material covers the roadway entry and exit during aluminum stamping. The straightener roll cartridge is quickly removable to allow cleaning in between steel and aluminum “You bring it out, open it up, clean it, and put it back in. It’s just about cleaning to prevent cross-contamination between the steel and aluminum,” Ortt said.

In addition, because aluminum is nonferrous, magnetic conveyor belts will not work to move parts and scrap. The operation requires a vacuum generator, a vacuum conveyor, and vacuum-operated shuttle. “That adds a level of complexity to the process. But we make it work,” Graves said.

Can Insource. Graves said that the company has realized cost savings already because it has been able to insource some operations that were going to third-party suppliers. “Any time you're stamping internally, you have better control over your quality and shipping. It's always easier to control your destiny when you've got control of what drives it.”

Can Run as Hybrid. The extra press bed size allows the press to run both transfer and progressive dies. The press can run in three modes: progressive die only, transfer only, or both.

“That's one of the cool things about being able to run both prog dies and transfer on the same press—being able to select your different modes of operation,” Ortt said. Often, the transfer press is full of die stations, and there isn’t enough room to blank in the press. “So, you have to do it offline over on another press. That’s extra handling, extra storage, extra cost upfront … a lot of extras, right? So anytime we can combine the two—do the blanking in the press and form it—that's a smart way to go.”

In hybrid mode, the part can be formed in progressive dies up to a certain point, then be trimmed out, and the rest of the operation can be done on transfer dies.

“Hypothetically, this part here is a bracket that goes on the engine mount. It's a little larger than you would normally stamp in progressive stamping operation. Towards the end, it just gets a little flimsy. There's not a whole lot of support on the webbing. Of course, normally you could control that using acceleration and deceleration times, dwell times, speed of feed, or give yourself a wider window … you would try all of these things to help out.

“So, we're basically shaping the blank in the prog die and then transferring it on after that,” Ortt said.

Can Be Better for Employees. Graves really believes in Martinrea’s mission—to make lives better—especially the lives of the 590 employees who work at that plant. Safety is always a top-of-mind concern—and so is opportunity. The company’s healthy growth has not only resulted in an intense need for increased capacity; it also opened opportunities for employee growth, including into management roles.

“We're just constantly growing,” said Press Shop Manager Tiffany Parks, who moved up from a temporary employee position a decade ago through several promotions to her current position. Graves said that she has a knack for bringing out the best in her staff.

Plant General Manager Brad Graves leans on his loyal and industrious workforce to produce millions of parts a year for several automakers.

“This company is constantly training people to go to the next position. I give Brad Graves kudos; he is all about moving everybody up,” Parks said. “If your work shows your dedication, that you care, you're truthful, honest, that you’re willing to work through problems, he's going to support you in anything you want to do.”

Parks continuously strives to make improvements, such as setting up a task board with every job on it, color-coded by red/green so that she and the operators can see the status of the jobs at a glance. “You can see your safety, your quality, your maintenance, and your production all on one board by looking at these cards; you can check it daily. I can quickly see if the operators did a job or not and when it's on time by seeing if it’s green or red.”

Parks also reorganized the department equipment and supplies using color-coding. Every press, table, piece of equipment is color-coded so she can quickly identify if something is out of place. “If the purple press area has the yellow broom, they took it from another press area. So, it keeps us organized,” she said. “The purple on the press ... that was a shocker to some,” she added, smiling.

As one of the few female managers of a stamping department, Parks admits that she gets a little ribbing from her staff. “Since I started as the manager, they'll always cut up with me. ‘Are we getting curtains today?’” She takes it in stride and with a smile. “Different times these days.”

Graves maintains that corporate Martinrea’s decision to locate the new presses at the Hopkinsville plant is a testament to the company’s trust in the plant and its employees. “They had multiple plants to look at. There's a bit of a capital investment. When the company invests in you like that, you’ve got a long, bright future. They’re not going drop that kind of money in a plant that's not in the long-term plan.” He added that the press shop employees were really excited to get new presses.

Parks reported that the press is running smoothly. “It runs very well. The transfer is stable. We’re already seeing some better output on the jobs going in there. Just overall, it’s giving us good performance and flexibility.”

Ortt said, “These new presses have a lot more features and functions than our current presses. You can never have enough inputs/outputs and die protection sensors, and you can never have enough grippers on a feed bar and upper die clamps. You're always looking for more.

“What we're trying to accomplish with these is not only takeover work, but also to insource parts that are outsourced, so we can be a one-stop shop,” he added. “That's the reason why we specified 16 in. of slide adjust. It makes the press a lot more versatile, making it a lot easier to do takeover work and emergency takeovers.”

Graves added, “These upgrades and new features further our progress. We’re trying to move into the next generation of presses so we’re ready for tomorrow’s market. These presses have helped us to be safer as well as more productive.”