What Is Precision Metal Stamping?
When you need a high volume of parts quickly and made to exact specifications, you probably require the accuracy and speed of precision metal stamping. Not every project will benefit from this process, but for those that do, the advantages are many. Is precision stamping the best choice for your project? The answer depends on multiple factors, including your time, costs and whether you need various changes in the parts during production.
Precision Metal Stamping
Precision metal stamping streamlines the process of metal stamping to create a mostly automated method of forming metal tools or parts. The exact measurements of the finished products set precision stamping apart from other metal fabrication methods.
The technique of precision stamping most benefits the operations of microstamping. In this process, the smaller parts created require even greater precision than needed for making more substantial pieces. A single millimeter of distance in error could affect the integrity of a microstamped part. Accuracy is not just necessary but a requirement for manufacturing such small items.
Though precision stamping offers greater quality and control of the final products, it may not be the best choice for every engineering project. Like all metal fabrication methods, precision stamping has both advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of Precision Stamping
Precision stamping, which may include progressive die stamping and single-step processes, offers several benefits, particularly for high-volume projects.
- Lower costs: When doing large projects consisting of multiple units of the same part, precision stamping has a lower cost due to less labor for manufacturing additional units.
- Automated: By automating the process, stamping can occur in much less time with fewer chances for worker error.
- Precise: As the name implies, precision stamping is best suited to projects that have low tolerances for errors.
- Problem-solving: While some stamping companies may not offer the accuracy needed for finely detailed work such as electronics or connectors, microstampers using precision technology do. Choosing a microstamping company in the first place to do a complex project will save time from having another company accustomed to larger, more high-tolerance metalworking fail.
While precision technology enables the creation of the smallest, most detailed parts with accuracy that ensures their quality, years after production, not every project will see benefits from using precision stamping. This process has a few disadvantages in specific cases that may make other metal fabrication options a better choice.
Disadvantages of the Process
The only disadvantages with precision stamping are for those who need individual, customized parts, such as prototypes. The process of creating the required parts has initial costs for running simulations and tests. For some precision stamping processes, these startup costs may outweigh the cost of the production run. Depending on the pieces required, you may wait longer for precision stamping and have problems making changes during the run.
These problems disappear with microstamped parts. The use of thinner metal and the process to make smaller parts makes it easier for stampers to put out microstamped parts more quickly and to make changes to them on the fly.
Precision Metal Stamping and Assembly
Precision metal stamping starts with a mouse rather than the metal. By making a prototype first, an engineer can see how the metal will act when bent or cut into specific patterns. However, even before crafting a model, engineers turn to software to build a virtual version in the computer.
1. Equipment Used
The stamping process has multiple press options and methods of tooling. Press choices depend on the operation — manual or hydraulic.
- Mechanical Presses: Typically slower, mechanical presses rely on a flywheel to store and transfer energy. These presses have sizes from 20 to 6,000 tons and stroke sizes between 5 and 500mm, making them better for smaller projects.
- Hydraulic Presses: Hydraulic power boosts small amounts of mechanical movement into larger ones. Hydraulic presses are larger and have higher stroke sizes and speeds. Sizes may range up to 10,000 tons, and stroke sizes up to 800mm.
While the press is one part of the equipment, the other consists of the dies used. The machine exerts the force needed for the stamping while the die customizes how that force affects the shape of the metal. Some dies cut while others shape.
Presses may do one task or many, depending on their design. Multi-die presses reduce the production rate, cutting costs on large-volume projects. Combining the machinery with the dies needed while integrating the plan from the computer make up the tasks the engineers working on your project must do to increase efficiency, reduce costs and ensure accurate production.
2. Metals Used
The metal used for stamping starts as flat sheet metal or coiled metal. Metals are ideal due to their durability and ease of use. To attain the level of precision needed with the equipment available, most metals used have soft or medium hardness levels.
The choice of metal often depends on the qualities needed. Because stamping often happens to room temperature metals, the natural attributes of the raw material remain in the finished part. Conductivity, strength, shine and other qualities make certain metals more desirable for projects.
- Ferrous metals: Iron-based metals used for stamping may include stainless steel and other iron-containing alloys.
- Non-ferrous metals: Zinc, bronze and brass are examples of ironless metals often used for stamping.
- Precious metals: Gold, silver and platinum have practical uses in addition to their decorative ones.
For progressive projects, the parts may have a shared sheet that moves between presses. This sheet holds the unfinished parts together until they complete the process. In the end, the finished parts may need trimming from the shared sheet, but some processes can omit the need for this sheet or create a design to greatly reduce the amount of waste.
To ensure quality, most precision stamping projects begin with computer modeling. The computer can simulate how the metal will react to the stamping process to see if the design needs changes before production begins. This virtual design step sends the plans directly to the machinery, saving time and preventing human errors.
The process used for precision stamping depends on the complexity. Some projects require multiple operations on each part. Process names come from the number of activities and the level of automation for the stamping procedure:
- Soft tooling: The most straightforward processes use soft tooling methods, which only use one machine, though these can rarely exceed 10,000 parts annually per machine.
- Stage tooling: Workers move the parts to each of two to five presses during the process to create a piece. The additional machines in use can double the output, but the labor needed to transfer the work-in-progress slightly slows down the overall process compared to fully automated methods.
- Hard tooling: High-volume projects that require more than 20,000 units often need a hard tooling method that fully automates the stage tooling process by using computer controls.
While undergoing one of the above tooling methods, parts may have one of the five most common stamping procedures done to them:
- Wire forming: When a part needs wires, springs or clips, engineers may use wire forming, which pulls metal through a hole in the die to draw it into a wire.
- Fine blanking: Fine blanking creates a carefully cut blank with smooth edges designed for the intricate work many precision projects require.
- Fourslide stamping: Four tools work from four sides to fold or shape the metal at once. This method works best for highly complex parts.
- Deep drawing: Components that require recessed areas will often undergo deep drawing that pulls the metal into the needed shape.
- Multislide stamping: Similar to fourslide stamping, multislide stamping orchestrates the operation of several dies on the metal in a press.
Engineers may add other procedures to the above, depending on the intricacies of the product. More complex parts may need multiple steps and several different dies to finish. Added complexity may increase time or cost. For questions on your project, talk to your precision stamping partner throughout the project.
Following completion of the parts, some stampers will also assemble base units. Though this preassembly does not include a complete circuit board or engine, it can save time during the main assembly, reducing the time from production to shipping. In the business world where time is money, assembly services as a component of precision stamping can make a dramatic difference in cost savings and production efficiency.
Precision Metal Stamping Capabilities
Precision stamping projects have more applications than standard stamping because these parts have more accuracy in their creation. Greater accuracy benefits microstamped parts that have smaller tolerances for creation errors than more substantial pieces. For microstamping, minimum diameters of the components can be as tiny as 0.002 inches.
Intricate metal stamping is another variation on precision stamping. Unlike some projects that have simple shapes, elaborate projects may require multiple steps in the process to produce. Engine parts, gears, electronics and more that have complex creation processes benefit from more automated, multi-step progressive stamping options.
Applications for metal stamping that require high levels of precision include electronics parts in consumer goods as well as vital components of military equipment and more.
- Aerospace components: NASA hired a company to create the electronics that would eventually go into Mars rovers Spirit, Curiosity and Opportunity. This company, Presidio Components, needed stamped parts for their ceramic capacitors that would have a consistent design and would not fail even on a trip to space. They used DIE-TECH stamped parts to make their capacitors, which now are a part of aerospace history.
- Medical equipment: Stents are tiny parts that fit into blood vessels. To create these metal parts, we microstamped metals to create medically acceptable results every time. Without quality products used for implanted stents, doctors could put patients’ lives at risk.
- Electronics: Tiny parts for electronics must not have errors. IBM’s PowerPC used billions of accurately stamped edge clips. Even with a tiny 0.5-millimeter pitch, the parts came out without any flaws, as IBM required. Such accuracy is difficult to find in the metalworking world unless you opt for precision stamping.
- Specialty parts: Print ribbons remain in a few sectors, and the company that sought to corner the market needed tiny, 12-millimeter wheels for the printers. These specialized parts required exact production to avoid failure of the printers. Such precision metal stamping can create such pieces.
How to Select a Precision Stamping Company
To partner with a stamping company, you need to invest your time and budget well. With some companies lacking the quality equipment or experience required, you could find your project stopping before it finishes. Knowing what to look for in a precision stamping partner will ensure your project meets or exceeds your expectations.
1. Experience and Performance
When selecting any company to partner with you for engineering parts, you need to know you can trust the experience of the company. The newest companies have not established reputations for their work, and older businesses may have glowing reviews from long ago but no recent ones. You need to consider how a company has performed both over time and recently. A history of superior performance is only one part of the factors you should consider when choosing a company for your stamping project.
2. Growth and Technology
Long tenure in metal manufacturing is not enough. The company must also show growth during that time, adopting innovative technologies to improve operations continually. Technology must help solve problems the company has encountered in the past, not used solely for the sake of innovation. For instance, DIE-TECH adopted a new tool and technology method called NewT, which cut turnaround time to four weeks for metal stamping projects. Projects deemed impossible by others only take a little longer than four weeks to complete and deliver with this method.
3. Service and Quality
Catering to the customer’s needs should be a core value for any company, but this aim is especially crucial for companies that create custom metal stamped parts. Some businesses will turn away projects because they cannot complete them. Even worse are the companies that accept difficult precision stamping projects and fail to finish them as required. Such businesses only seek monetary gain rather than working to help their customers. A quality metal stamping company should do everything possible to reduce their customer’s costs without compromising quality.
Discover How DIE-TECH Can Help
When it comes to crafting quality stamped parts, our company, DIE-TECH has had experience since 1971. We accept projects turned down or failed by other businesses. Our techniques and tools are top-notch, creating the precision your project needs, whether large or small. To continue our reputation as leaders in the industry, we approach every project with a three-pronged method:
- Understand our customer’s needs.
- Strive to continuously improve our operations.
- Use the most up-to-date technology for our production.
While we specialize in microstamping, you can contact us to inquire about getting your project done if it requires larger dies. Also, feel free to request a quote from our experts for your precision metal stamping project needs.