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Coil Processing
Monday | 13 May, 2019 | 10:16 am

Dual abilities

Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: Fagor Arrasate and Gonvarri Group have a long history together of developing and refining metal processing equipment.

Hybrid lines help blank producer shape both steel and aluminum without halting the process when switching materials

May 2019 - “I feel the need for speed” is an iconic line from an iconic film, “Top Gun” (1986), a phrase that has been actualized in industry through every means possible. Since the advance of lightweighting parts, suppliers are compelled to meet automakers’ demands for multi-material strategies. That has required a great deal of metallurgical analysis, the development of new grades, and clever engineering and design. But the breakthroughs have arrived.

One form of these developments is a hybrid blanking press made by Fagor Arrasate of Spain. And one of the recipients of Fagor’s technological breakthroughs is Gonvarri Steel Services, also of Spain.

Founded by Francisco Riberas Pampliega in 1958, Gonvarri Steel Services has 43 flat-rolled steel and aluminum processing plants across 19 countries. It processes 5 million tons of steel per year. Automotive business constitutes more than 65 percent of its sales.

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Gonvarri creates blanks for automotive stampers, which become hoods, roofs, side panels and other components for BMW, Mercedes and Volvo.

To narrow the scope down further, Gonvauto South Carolina LLC, in Union, is using hybrid blanking presses, and other types, to produce shapes for Tier I suppliers to BMW, Volkswagen, Volvo and Mercedes plants in the United States and Mexico.

“Basically, we are producing body in white and also some hot stamping (HS). That includes hoods, roofs, side panels and so on,” says Iciar Balza, North America managing director for Gonvarri Group.

The annual volume budgeted for production in South Carolina during 2019 is 13 million parts, she says, nearly 37 percent of which are made from aluminum. “Part of our business is tolling business, which means we just process the material and the owner of the material is either the stamper or the OEM,” Balza says.

“We have four blanking presses. Two of them are hybrid, meaning they can process steel or aluminum. The other two are lines to process steel and prepare for HS qualities. The last line we bought from Fagor was a hybrid line with a lot of improvements on it.”

Customization

Jon Gabirondo, sales manager for Fagor Arrasate, says that every blanking line produced for the Gonvarri/Gonvauto plants is customized.

“We have been working together since the 1970s, and we have a lot of references with them,” he says. “It has been a process to develop the line they want, and it went beyond our standard equipment. The line we built for them has become our new standard,” he adds. Fagor’s tweaks go far beyond the norm, says Gabirondo. The lines can be configured with different types of stackers, with varying capacities on the leveler for high-strength steel versus aluminum, and many other features.

“For the hybrid steel and aluminum lines, we doubled the peak rolls that are touching the material and can change out one material for the other without taking the machine down to clean it, due to contamination.

“When we think about the press, cycles per minute, leveler, entry coil feed—all the components—we already created those, so we are ready” to give the market what it wants, Gabirondo says. “We are used to the materials Gonvarri Steel Services runs and, if they change those materials, our machines will adapt. We are always improving the press, the feeding equipment, the leveling quality, and trying to get performance out of each component.

“We want to get to the point where customers just call up and ask, ‘Make us another one just like this,’” he says. Over the past three years, Fagor has delivered eight processing lines to Gonvauto and 19 in the last 10 years. Each Gonvarri subsidiary in each country has a bespoke mission, he says.

Fagor builds every piece of equipment outside of sensors and controls. “If a customer needs a straightening system, leveler, coil feed, press or stacker, we make all of those ourselves,” Gabirondo says. Fagor has seven manufacturing facilities, mostly in Europe and one in China, and plans to open a sales and service shop outside Chicago by year end.

A press blanking system takes 12 to 13 months to build and install, according to Gabirondo, based on the capacity of material it must process. “Depending on features and the type of blanking line, it will cost $6 million to $7 million. But the OEMs like Mercedes ask for a lot of external equipment for inspection of the strip and oiling, and that adds to the price,” he says.

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Volkswagen is also one of Gonvarri Group’s customers. Shown: Assembly line in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Optimum performance

The technology, such as automated processes, that Fagor includes on its blanking lines produces the quality that major automakers like BMW and Mercedes require. “Gonvauto will run these machines to their optimum performance,” says Gabirondo.

According to Balza and the engineers at Gonvarri Group, “The relationship with Fagor [began] years ago and, together, we have developed very competitive lines that fulfill our goals in terms of quality and productivity to make sure our customers are completely satisfied.”

The last hybrid line installed in South Carolina allows the company to blank aluminum and exposed steel. “The line runs up to 90 meters per minute (295.3 feet) reaching out to ratios of 66 SPM with the press.”

The incoming material thickness ranges from 0.5 mm to 3.5 mm (0.019 to 0.14 inch) with steel and from 0.5 mm to 4 mm (0.16 inch) with aluminum. The leveler is able to handle material with a yield strength of up to 1150 MPa.

The new line is fully automatic, and all the automatic sequences are “optimized to get the fastest line possible in terms of threading, production and changing times of references, allowing us to have really good production ratios,” Gonvauto’s engineers explain.

“This specific line was developed with very visual and modern HMI, complemented with visual controls for first-level maintenance issues detection. This allows us to decrease the micro-downtimes,” they note.

Other features include press kinematics, temperature monitoring, cutting force and rebound control, all of which further ensure the reliability of the line.

The services that Fagor provides after the line has been commissioned comprise “a complete after-sales services packet covering all the issues that we may have with our machinery,” says Balza. “They give us remote connection assistance in case of programming issues as well as mechanical assistance if a major break happens in our machinery.”

With all the bells and whistles of a customized Fagor blanking line, metal processors like Gonvarri can count on high speed and quality products which, in turn, helps create the finest fast cars in the world. MM

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