4/1/1998 | 8 MINUTE READ

Talking Pressworking

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Singular Focus"We're stamping first, foremost, and always," says Bud E.


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Singular Focus

"We're stamping first, foremost, and always," says Bud E. Bartell aboutGeneral Motors North American Operations Metal Fabricating Div. (MFD; Troy, MI). He's the director of Engineering at MFD. Bartell, who is a 42+ year veteran of the corporation, submits that the activities of MFD, which was created in October 1994, is to be the central stamping organization for North American Operations. This was a reorganization after a series of reorgs that had seen Fisher Body go away ("We're different from Fisher Body in many ways," he says. "We don't have release responsibility for product." That resides with the program manager for the particular vehicle.) and stamping go to the various groups (e.g., Buick Oldsmobile Cadillac) that have also become entries in the history of GM.

"We support the operations. When we get the product, we put it into a process—dies, presses, and handling—then we ship parts."

Bartell says that what's going on at MFD is more exciting than anything he's been involved with during his tenure at the corporation. His enthusiasm is evident.

The Vision Thing

"We're trying to become a world-class stamping operation," Bartell says. One of the issues that needed to be resolved—or needs to be resolved ("This equipment lasts a long time," he notes)—is to bring commonization throughout the organization. He means common equipment. Common systems. Common practices.

Metal Fabricating Div.
Inside one of the Metal Fabricating Div. facilities. An objective that they are working extremely hard to achieve is making sure that there is commonization from stamping plant to stamping plant. This is what is known as a "footprinted line."

"When we started three years ago, there were some 200 press combinations," Bartell explains. In other words, from plant to plant to plant there was (and, to a degree, is) an array of different press types and sizes all doing, fundamentally, the same thing, producing parts.

They are working to bring that number of combinations down. Way down. To 6 to 10 combinations. Now there are standards established for what sizes of transfer presses they'll be using, what kinds of arrangements tandem presses will be placed in. Toggle presses are out. They're standardizing on press controls. On die sizes. On die change equipment. On material handling equipment.

The plan to achieve commonization goes out past the year 2000. Press equipment, after all, lasts a long time.

Here & Over There

When they are purchasing new equipment, there is a standard—one, in fact, that is a global standard, not just for North America, when MFD holds sway. "We are doing what Jack Smith"—GM chairman—"has asked, which is to become globalized. We are working to have the same standards around the world. MFD has established an "Office of Globalization" that is working toward this end.

The reason why the number of common press types is 6 to 10 is not because they aren't sure, but because the six types identified in Europe (which is the second of the two major GM engineering sites) aren't the same six that have been I.D.'d in North America. So, taking the overlap into account, there's actually 10.

Still Going and Going...

While buying new to a standard is easy, what about existing press lines, tandem presses?

Bartell answers that they have devised an approach that they're calling "footprinted lines." The principle is a simple one:

Buick Park Avenue
The Buick Park Avenue Ultra features an aluminum hood. Bartell points out that this hood is somewhat tricky to produce: note how there are tangs that come down around the grille.

They have devised layouts that are standard for these lines. The presses are arranged in the same manner. The controls are retrofitted to be the same. The material handling and the die changing equipment is common.

So, if there is a tandem line in, say, the Flint Metal Center, it will match a tandem line in, say, the Kalamazoo Metal Center. Conceivably, work can be moved from one site to another. (Certainly the faces of the dies will be varied, which would necessitate transportation, but in terms of the processing, the presses would be aligned in the same manner.) Indeed, it would be possible (but not at all likely), that a footprinted line in one plant could be placed in the same amount of space in another plant. The "footprints" are the same dimensions.

Will Everything Be Precisely the Same?

All of this talk of standardization leads to a possible picture of everything being sourced from the same vendors. As in all presses coming from a single vendor.

But Bartell says that that is not the intent. For one thing, he points out that all large presses are built-to-order, so this is a matter of building to order to a set of specifications. Price, quality and delivery will certainly continue to play major roles in sourcing decisions.

Benchmarking the Best

Each year when The Harbour Report comes out of the offices of Harbour and Associates, the Detroit daily papers run comparatively big stories on which assembly plants are the most productive. (In point of fact, this magazine ran a cover story [August `97] on the results of last year's report.

One of the categories that tends to be overlooked (including by us, we should note) is on the proficiency of the covered companies when it comes to stamping. Harbour looks at items including: hours per vehicle; pieces per worker; vehicles per line; hits per hour; pieces per hour; average die change time.

Bartell is looking forward to the next Report, as he believes it will show some significant gains in GM stamping facilities.

He cites the Marion, Indiana, plant as an example where great improvements have been made. They've increased the number of strokes performed on the presses by 50%. He notes that whereas die change time used to be on the order of eight hours, it is now happening in 10 minutes or less (according to last year's Report, 10 minutes is the best number for average die change time, one achieved by Honda, Nissan Smyrna, and Toyota. It is worth pointing out that with regard to the Big Three, GM had the best time, at 48 minutes; Chrysler was at 68 minutes and Ford was at 148 minutes.)

According to Bartell, GM is now competitive when it comes to the number of dies per part. "There are no more than five operations on anything," he says. What's more, when the ram comes down, they're typically getting two parts per hit, not just one. "We run as many or more double parts than Toyota," he notes.

The reason why this is important to the competitiveness of GM—or any other manufacturer for that matter—is easy to understand. A major press can cost on the order of $38 million—"That's more than the asset base of some companies," Bartell observes. So running the equipment around the clock and getting as much per stroke as is practical is key.

Engineering the Dies

Dies are made—to a standard—for GM North American Operations in Germany, Brazil and North America. "We don't build 100% of our dies inside," Bartell says, "but we do analysis and design of all of the dies, and we follow them."

Because of the importance of dies, Bartell and his staff spend a lot of time with GM Design Staff. "I have people who live in Design Staff," he notes. The objective is to get dies that do the job while not being so complex as to drive up costs and drive down efficiency.

He points out that thanks to developments in CAD/CAM ("All of our dies are math-based"; "We're using more high-speed machining to make the dies") the die making process is becoming more streamlined. But he notes that die making is still the longest item on the agenda of every car maker. As he puts it, "It's the critical part of the critical path." He adds, "Not only does it take high capital, but it takes a long time."

In terms of machining, he points out that they're replacing many older machines—"big, old mills"—with high speed machines. This equipment, he says, is not only more compact, but it is comparatively less costly and, importantly, does twice the work.

Where They Are

There are 14 Metal Fabricating Div. facilities in North America. There are stamping plants in Pittsburgh, PA; Lordstown and Parma, OH; Indianapolis, IN; Lansing and Flint, MI; and Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. There's a stand-alone die shop in Flint, MI. And there are plants where there are both stamping and die-making activities: Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Grand Blanc and Pontiac, MI; Marion, IN; and Mansfield, OH. MFD has equipment and process responsibility at three vehicle assembly plants that have stamping operations: Wentzville, MO; Doraville, GA; and Fairfax, KS.

Newer Tech

Nowadays it is impossible to talk about automotive stamping with-out discussing three topics: aluminum; laser tailored blanks; and hydroforming.

About aluminum, Bartell says that they're stamping it (e.g., the hood of the current Buick Park Avenue) and that they've learned that compared to stamping steel, "It's a whole different process." A couple of the differences he notes: aluminum requires special handling and, because it is less elastic than steel, "won't go where steel can go."

Just as he sees more applications for aluminum, he thinks that the applications for laser tailored blanks will grow, too. But he is cautious, noting that some people seem to think that these blanks can be, or should be, used seemingly everywhere. "It is a viable, good process—but it does cost something," he notes.

MFD is making what is the biggest hydroformed part in the automotive world, the side rails for the Corvette, which are approximately 15-ft. long. Not only does the hydroforming produce superior driving characteristics (better stiffness, for example), but in terms of processing, it consolidates 14 pieces that had been welded together into one. Hydroforming is being used for other parts—such as the rails for the forthcoming full-sized Silverado pickup. Interestingly, these components are not being made in an MFD facility. Bartell explains that a supplier had created the necessary capacity, so it was selected for the job.

The Approach

There is a slogan on a poster in Bartell's office that's spelled out in English, German and Portuguese. It encompasses, he says, the MFD philosophy:

"Just Do It Now"

The world won't wait while you're trying to become world-class.