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Feed Lines Fuel Cosmetic-Parts Production

Feed Lines Fuel Cosmetic-Parts Production

Dec 15 2014

Hungering for a reliable and efficient metalforming process to produce, among other barbecue-grill parts, cosmetic stainless-steel panels free from marks and other aesthetic issues, the metal-fabrication team at Weber-Stephen Products LLC, Palatine, IL, recently turned its attention to new coil-feed technology. Equipped with 15 stamping presses (28-to 800-ton capacity),the Weber press shop processes a wide range of material types and thicknesses—stainless and mild steels, aluminum alloys, galvanized and other precoated sheetmetal from very thin sheet 0.018- to 0.134-in. thick.

Stamping, fabrication and assembly occurs in a 400,000-sq.-ft. building on Weber’s sprawling campus. The company, previously named Weber Brothers Metal Works, was renamed Weber-Stephen Products Co. after an employee, George Stephen (developer of the firm’s iconic kettle grill), acquired Weber Brothers Metal Works in 1959.

Fast forward to the period between 2007 and 2013, when the Weber product line grew tremendously. Today it bears little resemblance to the “American backyard barbecue” envisioned by Stephen in 1952. Likewise, the plant’s metalforming operations also have evolved considerably.

Since 2007, Weber has introduced dozens of new models—groundbreaking aesthetic designs with stunning curves and sleek lines, and in flawless stainless-steel and brightly colored enameled finishes. With a renewed emphasis on design, the ball was passed onto the pressroom and fabrication shop to make it happen. So say Kevin Murphy, vice president of engineering, and Dan Galuszka, manufacturing engineer.

“When we started to launch all of the new products back in 2006-2007,” says Murphy, “we made a concerted effort to implement progressive stamping tooling in the pressroom. Prior to that, our manufacturing processes comprised sets of discrete operations with a lot of extra material handling. Meeting production requirements for the new products pushed us to automate our stamping processes and add larger-bed presses to handle progressive dies.

Bigger Presses and State-of-the-Art Coil Lines

Along with the addition of several new presses and dozens of new progressive dies, Weber also has invested in six coil-feed lines since 2007—some new and some refurbished. The newest line in the plant: a 15,000-lb.-capacity servo-feed line (uncoiler, straightener and feeder, from CHS Automation, along with a Rexroth/Indramat RFS series controller) installed late in 2013, with coil capacity of 36-in. wide by 0.050-in. thick material. The line accompanied a refurbished 300-ton Komatsu straightside press (vintage 1986) tasked primarily with stamping stainless-steel and other aesthetically sensitive sheetmetal panels, at the lower end of the pressroom’s thickness range—0.018 to 0.040 in.

“For these types of stampings,” says Galuszka, “we worked closely with CHS to provide several feed-line features to meet our specific application-based requirements. Among them are a dualcaliper failsafe braking system on the coil reel, #5 Crodon-coated feed rolls and a high-lift clamshell-style powered straightener head.”

The braking system is self-monitoring and auto-adjusting based on laser gauging of coil OD, “significantly more operator-friendly than our older feed lines that require operators to constantly make adjustments,” says Galuszka. “CHS also added an air clutch to the reel’s hydraulic threading system so that, when in the pull-off mode, we avoid any material stretch or distortion, important since we’re feeding such thin and delicate material.

“Laser-based coil centering also proves beneficial,” continues Galuszka. “This eliminates any guesswork from our setups, a huge help to our operators. There’s no concern that they might run the stock up to the press and find that the alignment is off. It really eliminates the guesswork and unpredictability from our setups and helps to minimize overall changeover times.”

Easy Cleaning

Also a challenge to the project was the need to handle a range of material types, including galvanized and aluminum along with stainless steel. The Weber manufacturing team seeks to use its newest stamping line to run several of its progressive dies, regardless of material type.

“Any debris on the rolls can cause quality issues,” says Dave Lohbauer, senior vice president of quality. “That means we need to often clean the straightener rollers between setups. This is where the high-lift straightener head really proves useful. The ability to quickly and easily open up the head for cleaning minimizes changeover time and optimizes our run time—our operators and maintenance staff really appreciate this feature.”

“Also helping to straighten the wide variety of material types,” adds Galuszka, “is the straightener’s independent roll adjustment, rather than a banktype setup.”

On the feed side, the Weber production team and CHS specified large roll diameters (3 in.) and bearing surfaces, to minimize deflection and ensure consistent slip-free feed, “which can be a challenge with thinner materials,” says Galuszka. “And, we expect that the larger bearing surfaces will prolong bearing life.

“To handle the delicate materials without leaving any marks,” Galuszka continues, “the rolls are coated with #5 Crodon, a better fit for our application than the more typical and heavier #3 Crodon coating that we felt could cause part marking.”

“The servo feed also features an adjustable-stroke cylinder for piloting,” adds Lohbauer. “This allows us to adjust the pilot/feed roll travel to minimize roll lift based on the material thickness being stamped. And, the feeder includes a MultiMediaCard reader. We can store all of the feed parameters for each die on the cards as backup should we need to change out the drive.”

What Else is Cooking?

With new Weber grill models introduced in 2013, and likely more coming soon, the pressroom hasn’t seen its last piece of new equipment, by far. Delivered in late November and expected to be commissioned early in 2015: a new 800-ton Heim straightside press accompanied by another well-equipped CHS feed line.

“Better setups and changeovers, optimum material traction through the feeds and confidence that our stamped parts will exit the press lines flaw-free and aesthetically pleasing is what we’re after,” summarizes Galuszka. “And that’s exactly what we’re getting thanks to all of the special features and benefits of our pressroom equipment.” MF



Brad F. Kuvin, Editor


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