25 May An alternative approach to component manufacture
Engineered metal parts are often constructed from several pieces, welded, soldered or bonded together, to create a product with the appropriate functions, or have to undergo multiple machining operations to produce the required finished component from a single piece of metal. Typical examples include: electrical connectors and switchgear circuit breakers, valve spools, automotive parts and aerospace fittings.
Assembling a finished unit from several components can be complex, time consuming and relatively expensive. It can also produce a part with inherent weaknesses at the joint faces, which may have the potential to fail in service.
Similarly, carrying out multiple machining operations to produce a finished part from a billet of metal is labour intensive, can be costly, and produces a high volume of waste, in terms of material that has to be machined away. It can also be unsuitable for high volume production.
Although these methods of production are often necessary, to meet design, performance or function requirements, it can be possible to reduce the number of production stages, sometimes to a single operation, while improving the quality, reliability and mechanical characteristics of the finished part.
This requires a different approach to the manufacturing process, using precision cold forming to replace some or all of the machining stages. A cold formed part is produced in a single operation, with a blank of metal – typically copper, aluminium or steel – being extruded under high pressure using a punch and die tooling set. This process is fast and efficient, making it ideal for high volume production, and produces parts that can have relatively complex geometries, with mirror-like internal surfaces. They also have exceptional mechanical properties, as the metal is extruded along the grain direction to retain the strength of the original material. Additionally, cold forming reduces waste to a minimum, as this only tends to be produced if further finishing is required.
Cold forming can be used to produce a part in a single operation, or be combined with conventional machining processes to reduce the overall number of process stages. In each case, production time and often unit cost can be considerably reduced.
Ideally, any change in production techniques needs to be considered at the design stage, to ensure that the benefits of cold forming are fully realised in subsequent engineering operations. It should also be noted that cold forming requires a tool set to be manufactured; as a result, the setup costs maybe greater than CNC machining – although this is normally more than offset once volume manufacturing begins.
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