How effective design leads to an improved bottom line
February 24, 2011
By improving communication, supplying critical requirements upfront, creating die standards, using advanced software, and powering up equipment, customers can get better dies, faster.
During the last decade many tool and die shops switched from 2-D to 3-D software for design, shifting more of the tasks for die production to the design department. Designers now are responsible for showing full 3-D solids throughout the entire design; form stations with full surface shape, including overbend where needed; and all clearances for machining, trimming, and stripping.
Given their added responsibility, now more than ever you need to give your die designers the tools they need to get the job done right. The more accurate their designs, the faster those dies will build and work in tryout. When you empower your die designers to produce a high-quality design, your entire shop will benefit. But how do you accomplish this?
The first step to empowering your die designers is to increase the effectiveness of communication between them and other departments. Design requirements, feedback on recurring design problems and errors, and ideas for improvement must flow freely through the entire shop.
Ineffective communication can be blamed on time restraints, distances between departments, division or strife, and even pride. Some people have the attitude that the design, machining, and build departments all are separate teams. They miss the fact that all the departments together make one team, working together toward a common goal.
Allow and encourage your designers to meet with the machinists and diemakers (see Figure 1). Use kickoff meetings and continuous improvement meetings as venues for sharing information. Make sure conversations in which different opinions are expressed stay positive and on subject; don’t let them become personal. Remind everyone of their shared objective. Removing communication barriers between the design department and other departments will result in fewer design errors, lower die cost, and a better overall product.
The second way to empower die designers is to supply as much information as possible upfront. Designers need accurate standards and requirements so they know how to proceed. They also need to know the material thickness, material type, and tolerances of the stamped part; inch or metric fasteners; specific brands and styles of purchased components; and information about the production press, such as flow direction, shut height, feed height, and mounting requirements.
Don’t hesitate to obtain this information from the customer. Supplying the designers with these types of details will reduce design review changes and improve end delivery time.
While a picture is worth a thousand words, a good sample design is worth even more. It should be a recent design for a similar part from the same end customer, running in a well-functioning die in a similar production press. Again, don’t be afraid to ask your customer for a good sample design. The information that the sample design conveys will reduce the cost and time required to complete the design.
Another step toward designer empowerment is to create and maintain easy-to-understand yet in-depth die design standards. Many stamping companies, even those that have ISO or equivalent certification, do not have any design standards. They have never taken the time to write them up.
Design standards are the road map for designers. They should include:
To ensure the design standards communicate the requirements clearly, use common trade terminology and easily understood words. Adding a simple diagram or picture often can replace half a page of words.
Once established, keep the design standards updated and maintained. If you provide obsolete standards to your designers, you are literally throwing away time and money.
The fourth way to help your die designers is to eliminate the repetitive tasks that take large amounts of their time. Given the advancements in 3-D CAD software, why should designers remodel or redraw the same components over and over for every design?
Reduce repetitive steps by saving the components in a place where they can be reused. Better yet, use a catalog or seed model system to complete designs (see Figure 2). These allow designers to bring into the design a headed punch, gas spring, or wear plate that can easily adjust or morph into the one they specifically need.
Some software packages even allow designers to bring in entire template assemblies, including stock strip, die set, stripper pad systems, nitrogen manifolds, made and purchased cams, cast assemblies, stamping press, and transfer systems. Once these components are inserted, designers can make minor adjustments to the parameterized assembly until they achieve the desired fit and functionality.
Inserting and adjusting entire assemblies to fit a particular stamping die can reduce overall design cost by as much as 80 percent. The template assemblies can be made customer-specific by allowing the use of only certain components. Templates also can self-check the design to ensure die design requirements are met.
Another way to reduce repetitive design steps is to automate the creation of drawings, detail prints, and the stock list. Programs are available that fully automate these processes; some are linked so that if changes are made to the 3-D solids, the drawings and stock list will automatically update. Using the latest CAD software and programs available will reduce design time, improve accuracy, and reduce design cost.
The final improvement that can benefit your die designers and your company is to replace obsolete hardware with new equipment. If a designer spends 20 minutes a day waiting on hardware to crunch data, the waiting cost works out to roughly $5,000 a year at shop rate. Given the price of some of the latest hardware packages, your return on investment will be quick.
One word of caution when purchasing new hardware: Make sure it is compatible with your shop’s CAD software. All CAD software programs have specific hardware requirements, with some even calling out certain graphics cards, processors, and operating systems. The benefits of buying fast, compatible hardware include reduced risk of lost or corrupt CAD data, reduced design time, and reduced design cost.
Empowering your die designers with the right tools will lead to shorter lead-times, lower prices, and faster delivery times, all of which will have a positive impact on your company’s bottom line.