Finished Lubricants

Whats Around the Bend in Metal Forming?


Yes indeed, metalworking has been and is an exciting place to work. We wish we could gaze into a crystal ball and see the future – complete with new technologies, more efficient fluid applications, and a customer base who immediately understands how to weld the two together.

In order to peer into the future, we really need to understand present-day applications, and to dialogue with users of metalworking technologies to understand their goals. This article summarizes a recent study which included discussions with end users, suppliers, fluid manufacturers and distributors, with the aim of understanding current needs and future requirements in the specific area of drawing and stamping. (An earlier part of this study, focusing on metal removal operations and their needs, was the subject of an October 2012 LubesnGreases article.)

Metal forming technologies are defined as any type of stretching, bending, shearing or deformation operation performed on metal to produce a part. They include operations such as forging, cold heading, spinning, roll-forming, and drawing and stamping. With 28 percent of the overall North American metalworking fluid market, forming is considered the second largest market segment; within this segment, drawing and stamping is the largest application sector.

As with any study of applications, the first step is to understand the fluids used and their performance requirements. When fluid users were approached and asked about performance needs for drawing and stamping fluids, their responses differed distinctly from those engaged in metal removal processes. These differences would later provide insight into future requirements.

In order to elicit solid information on drawing and stamping applications, the survey designers took a systematic approach and included questions covering applications, product types and issues, process economics, and environmental concerns.

Survey Methodology

The survey started by asking for basic information from 100 known metal-forming fluid users, then widened to other users as they were discovered through referrals from the original survey responses, local distribution channels and industry contacts. The majority of the accounts contacted were located in continental United States, with a few in Canada and Mexico. The final scope of the survey involved 278 businesses over a two-year period, of which 125 were qualified for further review.

In general, these respondents involved press operations ranging from 20 ton to 2,000 ton. Some users were doing high-speed stamping, while others were involved in heavy-duty fine blanking. Their speeds (SPM, or strokes-per-minute) varied. Metallurgies included both ferrous and non-ferrous, as well as high-nickel alloys used for aerospace applications.

When the data was compiled, 4 percent of those responding were large-scale automotive component manufacturers, primarily non-U.S. automakers; 36 percent were second- and third-tier auto component manufacturers; 11 percent were from appliance/consumer goods manufacturers; 30 percent from non-auto transportation manufacturing; a few (3 percent) were in specialty areas such as electronics, and 16 percent made miscellaneous items from sports equipment to furniture.

Of the 125 companies, the sizes ranged from mom and pop outfits of less than 10 employees, to large multinationals with more than 300 employees each. These business were approached with both written and verbal discussions.

Common Threads

Survey questions were divided into three sections. Section 1 dealt with manufacturing processes, production volumes, energy sourcing, fluid types and preventive maintenance schemes. This basic information would provide a summary of the markets characteristics.

Even though the answers fluctuated dramatically among those surveyed, there were some common themes throughout all of the discussions. All accounts saw an upswing in business levels in early 2013 over the previous year. But many automotive-related manufacturing sites reported that they felt a slowdown coming in the latter part of the year (2013), due to the increasing costs of living.

The second section of the survey involved questions that would give a more detailed view of process requirements. Questions concerning type of metallurgies, fluids and chemistry restrictions, and cleaning applications all were aimed at providing a view of the overall operation.

What we discovered about fluid and product use was not a huge surprise. Like those who do metal cutting, shops doing metal forming have the ability to use either water based or oil based fluids, depending on application and user requirements.

However, unlike metal removal operations, metal forming applications do not employ recirculated spray systems. Rather, mops, swabs, roll coaters, even paint brushes are used to introduce the lubricant to the operation. Only startup concentrations are required, and with no recirculation, issues with bioorganisms are rare. We heard that foaming can cause cavitation and poor lubrication in spray application systems. But it is the fluids wetting and film forming characteristics that are deemed critical to the metal forming operations success.

Metal forming operations are also concerned with corrosion control and non-ferrous metal staining. These applications often require extended rust-proofing properties due to lack or elimination of post-cleaning processes. In such operations, much of their success will be dependent on how effectively the lubricant is applied to critical areas of the metal/die interface.

Many respondents noted a change in metallurgies they handle, with shifts to more aluminum alloys and galvanized metals. Some manufacturers were successful with use of MQL (minimum quantity lubrication) systems to decrease their dependence on high volume fluid usage, while others have learned to apply alternative technologies such as dry-film lubrication or use of coated dies.

Equipment Trends

Even though future manufacturing is expected to involve automated, high-speed systems, this survey indicated that a lot of older-equipment design processes are still in use. Tandem press designs were seen most often, for example, instead of complex progressive-die systems.

We learned that the type of press work dictates the types of fluids and lubricants needed to make parts. Where suppliers have pushed the design boundary to use water soluble synthetic technologies over oil based systems, additional additives are sometimes needed to provide performance.

More manufacturers are willing to increase their use of technology to improve productivity. Directed application systems, complex die designs, and adoption of laser technologies for tighter-tolerance designs are examples of changes that some accounts were implementing. Increased use of robotics is producing consistent, high quality components with seamless transition points; this not only increases production speeds, but has minimized downtime and set-up issues.

The push by North American automakers for specific, more cost-effective technologies also continues. One example is a shift away from hydroformed components back to traditional press-worked pieces, as requested by a U.S. automaker. This process change will improve structural integrity and lower costs over current processing.

Better Parts, Faster

The third part of the survey involved understanding the sites environmental needs. This was the most compelling information obtained since it explained not only safety policies in place, but provided a sense of the environmental footprint for the operation. When asked, What are your top environmental/on-site issues?, the answers we heard were more about perception and productivity, and less about environmental impacts of the processes or fluids being used. The Number 1 concern voiced was not about the chemicals that were being used or if products contained biocides, but how to minimize die issues so that press operations would not be shut down.

Die problems, corrosion problems and cleanability were the top items cited as major plant issues by metal forming operators. Disposal issues, fluid chlorine content, and even VOCs were ranked lower in the list of issues that concerned production personnel the most. The elimination of in-house cleaning is a prominent trend.

When asked to name the types of chemistries that facilities require, the answer was simply those chemistries that minimize maintenance issues and provide for good performance. The major concern was to eliminate products or processes that slowed throughput.

Which products were cited as the top candidates for replacement? Those were chlorinated compounds due to cleaning and corrosion issues (versus environmental concerns), and high mineral oil content lubricants because of misting. Other chemistries such as high BOD/COD containing products, and those that contribute to VOC loading were flagged, based on local disposal issues. Boron was a non-issue among all those surveyed. Respondents also believed that an increased use of fluid management would assist in maintaining fluid integrity while guaranteeing production quality.

When the same questions were asked of plant management, their concerns varied slightly over what was heard from the shop floor. Their primary concerns were die life and die integrity. Anything that minimizes downtime and maintenance is a priority. Managements next concern was anything that caused worker complaints – odors, misting, skin irritants, etc. As one plant manager summarized, Whatever it takes to just keep my die guys happy! Again, it all goes back to productivity: Happy workers are productive workers.

No Green Pastures

This survey also looked at green fluid technology as part of environmental policy for manufacturing. By the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencys definition, green technology is all about reducing our environmental footprint, yet few think they can eliminate it completely.

Asked What does green technology mean to you and your organization?, the responses were varied. Most respondents had little or no concept of what green technologies were about or if there were any in use. The consensus was that green fluid technology appeared costly and in need of high maintenance for it to work successfully. Technical limitations such as residues, limited stability and hard-water compatibility were cited. As one respondent noted, Why should we change if we have no problems and no reason to force us to switch what we are doing?

The survey indicated that less than 2 percent of companies had any kind of green initiative. Most were reluctant to try these new fluids due to perceived high costs. Management simply did not see it worth their time to try new, unproven technologies. The same managers noted it was more important to convert from oil based fluids to water based.

The one major theme heard was the desire to convert from chlorinated oil based fluids to more synthetic based technologies, which could be greener. But changing to synthetic based fluids does not come without limitations, users pointed out. Current synthetic based offerings, respondents indicated, still leave them struggling with residues, hard-water stability, difficulty of use and limited rust protection. Deep-draw applications still dictate mineral oil or heavier film forming requirements. Success is dependent on fluid selection coupled with press design and operations. Like all new chemistries, there is a learning curve, which can be time consuming and costly.

Shaping the Future

Overall, the trends for the metal forming fluid market of the future will arise from very specific manufacturing process needs. Our findings, based on this targeted survey:

Green technologies will continue to be a market initiative, as will conversion to more water soluble and renewable synthetic technologies.

There will be an increased use of vegetable oil based products once these new chemistries are developed to withstand industrial requirements.

Fluids will need to be multimetal compatible and provide for adequate storage rust-protection.

The use of chlorinated fluids will be minimized if not eliminated – but only when there are adequately performing replacement technologies.

The use of boron containing and amine containing systems will continue, until there is hard legislation against their use that will force the adoption of alternate chemistries.

Finally, the survey indicates that the metal forming market will continue to move toward systems and products that increase productivity and are worker friendly, with low odor, low irritants, no misting and clean running.

If metalworking continues to follow this lead, 2014 is certain to be an exciting year.