Sunday, April 08, 2007

Things that make the modern world work: stamping lube

There's all sorts of "stuff" that goes on behind the scenes to make the modern world possible. Most people have no idea what any of it is or appreciation for any of this because they just see the finished products.

The infrastructure of industry is something that has fascinated me since I was a small child though. My dad owned an electroplating shop. Electroplating is one of the critical adjuncts to almost all modern industrial production in one way or another. We got to see and process interim products/parts ranging from ordinary nuts and bolts to parts of the Apollo launch pad cooling system come through the business.

One of the major customers we had was Bendix. Bendix makes brake parts for everything from cars to airliners and fighter planes. Specifically, we copper plated some of the stamped brake pad backers for airliners and fighter planes. Apparently the actual brake pad friction gook didn't stick well to steel, but it would stick well to copper.

Those Bendix parts always came into the shop coated with a stamping oil which we had to remove to get them clean. You can't electroplate oily/dirty/rusty stuff. Its gotta be clean, clean, clean.

Apparently, the process of modern metal stamping is very sensitive to the quality of the lubes used on the metal and in the stamping dies.(PDF document) You can't just dump old crankcase drain oil in there and expect to get good results with the newer high strength steel alloys. The metal can tear/gall/curl in unsatisfactory ways if the stuff isn't right and there's been a move towards synthetics to resolve some of these issues.

That article didn't talk much about it, but there's also the issue of die wear. If you're constantly having to change the dies because they're wearing out, that's very costly. One of the things we did in the plating shop was rechrome stamping dies and mandrels used for pipe forming. Its always cheaper to rebuild the surface of a worn die back to spec by building it back up with chrome than it is to have a new die built.

Next time you fly on an airplane, consider all the thousands of little things that had to work right for it to be able to land and stop and not kill your ass in the process ;-> Lowly stamping oil was undoubtedly one of them.

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