September 26, 2023
Determining when higher quality tooling is ACTUALLY worth the cost: Four factors to consider
There are certain projects that most reputable tooling suppliers can handle. For example, if you have an application with a round tube with greater than 1.5mm wall thickness and aren’t concerned about marking, you could successfully get your tooling from almost any shop.
As your needs get more complex, sometimes just any tooling supplier won’t cut it. But where’s the line — how can you tell when you should seek out a higher level of quality and support?
While there aren’t any hard and fast rules, there are certain project characteristics that might indicate you need a more experienced tooling partner to guarantee success.
Let’s take a look.
What to think about before making a tooling investment
Many factors impact the overall success of your tube bending project. The more your requirements stray from the standard, the less likely it is that just any tooling will meet your needs.
Here are four criteria to use to help you evaluate your project:
The tube itself
What shape is your tubing? Round tubes are generally easier to bend than shaped tubes. If your project is an extrusion or uses rectangular, square, oval or elliptical tubing, you may need more technical support and higher quality tooling.
What material is your tubing? Aerospace-grade materials like titanium or Inconel, some grades of aluminum and stainless steels are typically more difficult to bend than cold rolled steels. Different metals also have different elongation factors, which are important to consider as well. Materials with a greater elongation factor are easier to form and bend because the material will stretch, as opposed to those with a lower elongation factor which are more prone to rip than they are to lengthen.
How thick is your tubing? The thicker the tube, the easier it will be to bend with sufficient power. If you need thin wall (less than 1.2mm) tube bending, that will increase the complexity of your project and require more precise tooling and support.
How important is the cosmetic appearance? If your tubes will be visible to the end user or subject to high pressures, it’s crucial that there’s no or limited marking from the tooling. If the tubes will not be visible or will have a powder coat finish, aesthetics are typically less important.
While a number of factors could increase the complexity of a project, two technical considerations are:
Tight radius bending, or 1D bending, can complicate a bending project. As the tube’s diameter and the center line radius of the tube get closer to being equal, the bend complexity increases. When the bend radius to tube diameter approaches 1D, material doesn’t flow as easily through the tube, which adds complexity to the application. For example, a one-inch tube with a four-inch center line radius is a lot simpler application than a one-inch tube with a one-inch center line radius.
Distance between bends, which are bends that are close together with limited straights between bends, also add complexity to a project. When this happens, stacked tooling must be engineered into the design. The number of stacks depend on where and how you need to bend the tube and the capability of the bender.
High quality tooling designed with the right material and heat treatment specifications, simply last longer. This is an important consideration if you have a contract to bend hundreds of thousands of tubes per year. However, if you’re bending low production volumes, a more cost-effective tooling specification may be a viable option.
Finally, think about your timeline and ask yourself: Do I have the time to send this tooling back to be reworked if it’s not designed or machined correctly?
With complex projects, reworks are always possible. You may think you’re saving money by going with the lower cost tooling up front, but expenses add up quickly when your tooling isn’t what you expected and doesn’t produce successful results. This means you could have to factor in missed deadlines, increased labor costs, unnecessary scrap and strained customer relationships to the final price tag.
But when you work with a high quality tooling supplier, it’s more likely your tooling will be right the first time. In that case, all you’ll have to do is set your tooling on the bender, drop the first part in the gauge and then start earning return on your investment in higher quality tooling.
Boats, rockets and exercise equipment: applications that required a higher quality of tooling
When complex projects come our way, our team loves thinking outside the box to solve any tooling challenge. Here are few we’ve worked on and why they required a higher level of support.
Bimini tops for upscale boats
A high-end boat manufacturer needed tubes to support the uprights for their Bimini tops. These highly polished stainless-steel tubes were highly visible on these luxury boats — this meant any marking would be unacceptable. The tolerances also had to be tight to ensure the support tubes fit correctly in the frame.
Tubes used in aerospace applications must stand up to harsh conditions, and that couldn’t be truer for a rocket engine component which used our tooling. The application was highly cosmetic with a tight radius on small diameter, thin wall tubing.
Exercise equipment using shaped tubing
A company that designs and manufactures exercise equipment selected us as their tool vendor for their elliptical-shaped tube bending application that would be visible on the final piece of equipment.
This project proved to be a challenging one when the sample materials didn’t match the original plans. But with some creative problem solving, the iES team, the customer and the bender OEM worked together to ensure the final tooling fit correctly on the machine and produced the results our customer needed for this highly challenging application.
An experienced partner can handle any challenge
Our technical team loves a challenge to develop an innovative solution to meet your requirements. If you need complex, high-quality tooling made right the first time, get in touch and we’ll customize a solution together.