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The Longevity of Punching Tools & Why it Matters

The Longevity of Punching Tools & Why it Matters
Posted March 1, 2019

Quality control matters. Regardless of industry, consumers will lose trust in a brand that is not reliable and consistent. Poor quality equipment can result in lost credibility, decreased profits, low productivity and diminished employee morale. Whether your fabrication business is in its infancy or you are well-established and want to grow your profits, investing in equipment that will maximize longevity will also give you the most ROI.

For fabrication shops, punching tools are critical to their operation. In fact, the FMA calls them "the Swiss army knife of the fab shop." While there are many process improvements to ensure quality products, the first step in maintaining a productive, cost-effective environment is to invest in punching tools that will last. Look for a manufacturer who uses these best practices.

Acts as a Materials Consultant

The first rule of punch tool longevity is to pick the material for your tool that matches the material being punched. An effective punch tool manufacturer will act as a materials consultant to help you determine the best material for your punch tool. For example, A2 steel is what punches have been historically made of. It's versatile, tough and has dimensional stability during heat treatment. However, if you are stamping high-strength low-alloy steel (HSLA) or another advanced product, A2 is overmatched. Instead, you need a punch that has shock resistance and high compressive strength, such as M2 or CPM-M4. High load applications would also see better results using M2 steel. As a result, many manufacturers are using M2 as a standard on their punches, as well as offering powered steels like M4, 3V, 10V and 15V. 

Talk to your manufacturer about specific challenges. For example, if you regularly work with stainless steel you probably experience the challenges of punch or head breakage and chipping. Fabricators using stainless steel have seen greater longevity with punches made of 3V steel, which boasts increased toughness and wear resistance. 

Pick a punch manufacturer who understands the differences among powdered steels, as well. For example, some excel in toughness, so they are able to absorb energy without breakage. Other powdered steels increase wear resistance, so they can resist the deterioration that comes from abrasion. Consider a list of the most common powered steels, rated from "fair" to "excellent."

  • PM-M4: Fair toughness and excellent wear resistance.
  • PM-3V: Very good toughness and good wear resistance.
  • PM-9V: Very good toughness and very good wear resistance.
  • PM-10V: Good toughness and excellent wear resistance. 

A keen understanding of your process and workflow will help your manufacturer play the vital role of materials consultant. Selecting the right material for your punch tool can result in increased productivity by realizing longer runs between sharpenings, as well as a longer life for the tool. 

Knows the Best Coatings 

A high-quality coating for your punch tool is just as important as the base material. A cheap, general purpose coating will cause your tool to wear out quicker, and start flaking even before it's worn out. Coatings, such as nitride, zirconium and titanium, are applied in multiple layers and infused into the punch point. What are the benefits of an effective coating? Here are three.

  • Adds lubrication. Coatings keep the punch point slippery while it's pulling in and out. This reduces heat build-up since the punch point is kept cooler. For high-hit applications, the increased lubricity is critical to increased longevity. According to a Canadian Metalworking interview with industry experts, running punches without lubrication can reduce the life expectancy of the tool by 60 percent.
  • Prevents galling. Galling happens when the punch point heats up, causing the materials to melt and build up. This build up creates more materials for the punch to grab. It slowly shrinks the opening between the punch and die, leaving you with an inconsistent fit on your die clearance. A tight die clearance will result in an additional stress on your punch tool, shortening its life. 
  • Increases wear resistance. Some coatings, such as titanium CarboNitride PVD, significantly increases hardness, resulting in extremely high wear resistance. 

Helps you Achieve Lubricity

Applying a punch lubricator on the sheet during punching is critical to the life of your tool. Proper lubrication prevents overheating, and the damaging galling process. However, a knowledgeable punch tool manufacturer can implement strategies that will help you maintain lubricity. For example, Physican Vapor Deposition (PVD) coatings are ideal for precision slip and press fit punch components. PVD coatings provide abrasion and galling resistance, and help maintain the integrity of the base steel used to make your tool. They work best with high-speed substrate steels that rely on lubricity, such as M-2, PM-M4 and T-15. Here is just a sampling of PVD coatings that enhance lubricity available at Vineland Manufacturing. 

  • Titanium Nitride is a general purpose coating known for excellent lubricity and wear resistance.
  • Titanium CarboNitride with Molybdenum Disulfide provides a highly lubricious top layer that is ideal for stamping pre-painted or plated materials.
  • Electroless Nickel Coating that is plated with medium level phosphorus provides self-lubrication and anti-galling properties for low-temp injection mold operations. 

Think Differently

Improving the longevity of your punch tool life, requires a change in mindset. It's true that using superior materials, adding coatings and upgrading your finishes will add cost to the initial tool build. However, this must be compared against the cost of low-quality materials. In addition to the cost of replacement parts, it's critical to weigh the cost of lost productivity.

How much do you lose when your press is down? Many companies go through a long process of optimizing production only to find gaps in actual profits and what they expected. Why? Note the answer given by McKinsey & Company researchers. "This is because they typically lack enough measures to understand the small, real-time variations in process flaws and manufacturing steps." Is the longevity of your punch tools one of your "process flaws?" Think differently. Invest in quality tools so that your process is optimized from the start. 

Vineland Manufacturing Ltd. is dedicated to total quality management. By ensuring the quality of our products, you can be confident in the quality of yours. Our quality system is in compliance with ISO 9001-2000, and has ASME Section VIII Division 1 Certification. Consult with our team about your punch tool needs. 

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