Does Your Stamping Department Need a Checkup? Try a Die-Protection Risk Assessment

If you have ever walked through a stamping department at a metal forming facility, you have heard the rhythmic sound of the press stamping out parts, thump, thump. The stamping department is the heart manufacturing facility, and the noise you hear is the heartbeat of the plant. If it stops, the whole plant comes to a halt. With increasing demands for higher production rates, less downtime, and reduction in bad parts, stamping departments are under ever-increasing pressure to optimize the press department through die protection and error-proofing programs.

The die-protection risk assessment team

The first step in implementing or optimizing a die protection program is to perform a die-protection risk assessment. This is much like risk assessments conducted for safety applications, except they are done for each die set. To do this, build a team of people from various positions in the press department like tool makers, operators, and set-up teams.

Once this team is formed, they can help identify any incidents that could occur during the stamping operations for each die set and determine the likelihood and the severity of possible harm. With this information, they can identify which events have a higher risk/severity and determine what additional measures they should implement to prevent these incidents. An audit is possible even if there are already some die protection sensors in place to determine if there are more that should be added and verify the ones in place are appropriate and effective.

The top 4 die processes to check

The majority of quality and die protection problems occur in one of these three areas: material feed, material progression, and part- and slug-out detections. It’s important to monitor these areas carefully with various sensor technologies.

Material feed

Material feed is perhaps the most critical area to monitor. You need to ensure the material is in the press, in the correct location, and feeding properly before cycling the press. The material could be feeding as a steel blank, or it could come off a roll of steel. Several errors can prevent the material from advancing to the next stage or out of the press: the feed can slip, the stock material feeding in can buckle, or scrap can fail to drop and block the strip from advancing, to name a few. Inductive proximity sensors, which detect iron-based metals at short distances, are commonly used to check material feeds.

Material progression

Material progression is the next area to monitor. When using a progressive die, you will want to monitor the stripper to make sure it is functioning and the material is moving through the die properly. With a transfer die, you want to make sure the sheet of material is nesting correctly before cycling the press. Inductive proximity sensors are the most common sensor used in these applications, as well.

Here is an example of using two inductive proximity sensors to determine if the part is feeding properly or if there is a short or long feed. In this application, both proximity sensors must detect the edge of the metal. If the alignment is off by just a few millimeters, one sensor won’t detect the metal. You can use this information to prevent the press from cycling to the next step.

Short feed, long feed, perfect alignment

Part-out detection

The third critical area that stamping departments typically monitor is part-out detection, which makes sure the finished part has come out of the stamping

area after the cycle is complete. Cycling the press and closing the tooling on a formed part that failed to eject can result in a number of undesirable events, like blowing out an entire die section or sending metal shards flying into the room. Optical sensors are typically used to check for part-out, though the type of photoelectric needed depends on the situation. If the part consistently comes out of the press at the same position every time, a through-beam photo-eye would be a good choice. If the part is falling at different angles and locations, you might choose a non-safety rated light grid.

Slug-ejection detection

The last event to monitor is slug ejection. A slug is a piece of scrap metal punched out of the material. For example, if you needed to punch some holes in metal, the slug would be the center part that is knocked out. You need to verify that the scrap has exited the press before the next cycle. Sometimes the scrap will stick together and fail to exit the die with each stroke. Failure to make sure the scrap material leaves the die could affect product quality or cause significant damage to the press, die, or both. Various sensor types can ensure proper scrap ejection and prevent crashes. The picture below shows a die with inductive ring sensors mounted in it to detect slugs as they fall out of the die.

Just like it is important to get regular checkups at the doctor, performing regular die-protection assessments can help you make continuous improvements that can increase production rates and reduce downtime. Material feed, material progression, part-out and slug-out detection are the first steps to optimize, but you can expand your assessments to include areas like auxiliary equipment. You can also consider smart factory solutions like intelligent sensors, condition monitoring, and diagnostics over networks to give you more data for preventative maintenance or more advanced error-proofing. The key to a successful program is to assemble the right team, start with the critical areas listed above, and learn about new technologies and concepts that are becoming available to help you plan ways to improve your stamping processes.

You can be doing MORE with Your Sensors!

Recently Hank Hogan published an article in Control Design titled “Sensor, Diagnose Thyself.”  (To be honest, I really wanted to steal his title for my blog entry.)   I think Hank did a great job dissecting the key benefits of smart sensors and the amazing things you can do with them.  Utilizing the technology IO-Link (that we have discussed in many past Blog Entries), sensors can communicate more with the controller and provide more data than ever before.

Some of the key points that I really thought are useful to maintenance and engineers at end-user facilities or machine builders:

  • Being able to detect and notify about pending failures; for example a photoeye’s lens is dirty and needs to be cleaned.
  • A failed sensor needs to be swapped out quickly; IO-Link allows for the smart sensors settings to be cloned and the swap to be executed super fast.
  • Configure a sensor before installation; program with your laptop: sample rate, response time, measurement settings, on/off switch points, anything!
  • One platform can be used for many sensor types;  this gives familiarity to a single interface while using multiple sensor types and technologies.
  • In the future sensors in a wireless cloud would self-heal;  this is an amazing concept and if we can figure out the price for radios and batteries to make it cost-effective, I think this could be a game changer someday.

But all that being said, it really comes down to the total cost of ownership doing it the standard sensor way versus the smart sensor way.  I think you will pay more upfront in capital but down the line there will be less cost in maintenance and downtime.

To learn more about about IO-Link visit

The Best Way to Communicate with Smart Sensors

When I am discussing with customers the use of smart sensors and smart devices in industrial automation, I always get posed with these questions:

  • How do the smart sensors interface with the controller?
  • How do you configure the device?
  • How do you get diagnostics out of it?
  • What other information can it provide?

This is sort of solved in a muddled world of proprietary communications or expensive network enabled sensors.  But John and I have been talking for a long time about IO-Link, which can easily and cost effectively answer all these questions!

Continue reading “The Best Way to Communicate with Smart Sensors”