Being a skilled technician is no longer a guarantee of success in the metal stamping industry. As new technologies emerge and existing technologies develop, sheet metal formers need to be prepared to use these technological advances to their best advantage. That means staying abreast of industry trends and developments.
In Japanese culture, skilled artisans are revered. Some are even formally declared living national treasures! There is something to be learned from Japan’s example. Because Japanese culture recognizes the worth of skilled artisans & technicians and the contributions they make to society, those working in skilled trades have an elevated sense of pride and self-worth.
In other countries, these “blue collar” workers are not revered. Instead, they are looked down upon, under-appreciated, and sometimes scorned. In the United States, for example, the emphasis on education rarely considers the skilled trades. The path to success is not defined by learning a set of skills that have been honed to near perfection. Success is defined by a piece of paper—a college or university diploma. Is this a culture capable of successfully competing in today’s world? I don’t believe it is, and I will spell out the reasons as this article unfolds.
Recruiting and Keeping Young Talent
To be successful, a business must understand that being competitive is only possible when new generations of talent are brought into the business. A business can do this by keeping in contact with evolving talent, passing along skills, and appreciating the aspirations of new generations.
Understanding and foresight are key to attracting and keeping young employees. Recruiting young employees unaccustomed to hearing about the marvels of working in the sheet metal forming industry is made more difficult in a culture that fails to appreciate fully the contributions such individuals can make to society at large.
Young recruits expect to be challenged, but they want respect for their work, learning opportunities, a clear path for career growth, and, of course, they expect a safe and comfortable work environment. These expectations do not differ from those of previous generations when they began their new jobs. The difference today is heightened competition for talented and ambitious people.
In this era of innovation in technologies and materials, it is necessary to attract smart talent willing to challenge accepted norms. This task is easier in a culture that shows an appreciation for the contributions skilled artisans and technicians make to society.
Seek Out Intellectual Diversity
One way to support productive internal conflict/debate is by building an intellectually diverse workplace. When managed properly, the conflicts/debates that arise from diverse opinions, often lead to new ideas that solve real problems. In the context of this article, “diversity” refers to a variety of opinions and perspectives regarding the manner in which problems are resolved. By recruiting across generations, diversity is built by accepting employees from varying educational backgrounds, interests, and avocations, because without diversity, creativity will be stifled, and problem-solving skills will suffer.
Customers Start the Process, but Sheet Metal Formers Complete It
Your customer starts things off by placing the order, which details the shape, material grade, dimensions, material thickness, and dimensional accuracy of the component, but the sheet metal former handles the technologies, processes, and talent required to produce a functional formed part.
These are outlined below.
Component design has several forming considerations
- Thickness of the material
- Material grade
- Accuracy requirements
Material has two categories that must be considered
- Phosphorous content
- Sulfur content
- Carbon content
- Silicon content
- Elongation ratio
- Yield strength
- Tensile strength
- Forming limit curve
- Excessive thinning
- Hole expansion
- Edge cracking
Modes of deformation must also be considered
- Bend radius
- Number of passes
- Draw ratio
- Metal flow
- Drawing operations
- Cold working
- Shear-edge quality
- Surface finish
- Sheet thickness
- Blade clearances
- Hardness of material
Then we have process structure variables
- Temperature profile
- Limiting draw ratio
- Friction coefficient between blank and tool
- Permissible thickness and dimensional deviations
- Tool alignment
- Tool hardness
- Tool wear
- Shear and die clearances
- Surface roughness
- Rated force
- Shut height
- Die height
- Force imbalance
- Ram stroke & deviation
- Deviation from rated force
And last, personnel considerations
The Evolution of Today’s Sheet Metal Former
Throughout the early history of humanity, it was pure artisanship that supported human progress. Later, these artisans developed sufficient skills to create products. Using experience and the power of observation, alloys were discovered that could make stronger and more versatile metals, such as bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. Eventually, weapons and tools were made from these newly discovered alloys, contributing to civilization’s advance.
Sheet metal forming has its own evolutionary history, brought about by the discovery of new alloys, new forming technologies, and innovative approaches to forming, not to mention practical experience on the factory floor and tool and die development.
For example, automobiles were once manufactured from mild steel. That has progressed to the use of high-strength steels, aluminum, magnesium, and a variety of other materials. Today’s automobile is lighter, more fuel efficient, more robust, and has greater corrosion resistance than before. These advances, in no small part, came about from dedicated sheet metal formers who understood the science of metallurgy and forming technologies.
In the example above, we can see how innovative materials led to the manufacture of a better automobile. Less obvious are the challenges met and overcome by stamping professionals. In the preceding outline, we show you just a few of the major variables that play a role in the metal forming process.
Professional metal formers must know all the variables and they must also grasp the impact these variables have on forming results.
The mass production of parts is more complex than ever before. Metal forming professionals must learn and venture out of their comfort zone. They must also be willing to share what they learn.
Proactive steps are needed to ensure that young people consider a career in the metal stamping industry. You must become engaged in the process of attracting young people. There are several ways you can to do this:
- Offer tours of your facility. Spruce up the place and encourage your employees to help you enhance your public image by coming to work well dressed and properly groomed. Discuss the history of your company and its positive impact on your community. In short, sell it!
- Consider sponsoring, or at the very least, taking part in a robotics program. Young people love this and the event will provide you with opportunities to show how your business applies to the robotics sector.
- Raise your company’s profile in the community. Join community organizations to generate goodwill and support.
- Always be approachable. Show that your company’s management style is responsible. Being environmentally conscious is important to today’s youth.
- Be open about the challenges your industry faces. Young people love a challenge! Explain the significant changes and challenges your industry must meet and let them know you are depending on them for their ideas and their help in meeting the needs of tomorrow.
- Hire non-traditional employees. For example, the IT sector has learned that liberal arts majors are trained to be inquisitive, adopt a broad view of issues, and to learn continuously—exactly the traits you should look for in a new hire.
As worldwide demand in the stamping industry grows, so does the need for enhanced efficiency, new materials, and innovative forming technologies. Coupled with these developments is an increasing awareness of manufacturing’s impact on the environment.
Continued industry growth depends on our youth. Unless we adopt a more positive attitude about the value of the so-called blue-collar worker, proactively seek diversity in our workforce, and engage with our communities and our young people, the future will not be as bright and promising as it might otherwise be.
This article provides a guide for our industry and gives insights into what must be done to preserve our future as an industry. Let’s start now before we are relegated to the dustbin of history.