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Welcome to 4M's News and Events section.

4M is a new and evolving company. Over the next months we will be building partnerships with academic and research institutions. Our goal is to offer the best possible combination of exciting and useful lessons, affordability, and insight into the future of metal forming.

Keep in touch! We have an exciting year ahead.

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Bill and Danny

Training, Math, and Communication

I read a summary of a research report out of Carnegie-Mellon University this morning which found that early understanding of fractions and division predicts a student's future math success ( Similarly, I read an interesting and somewhat humorous article in Forbes about the overuse of hackneyed business cliches ( You may be asking how do these seemingly unrelated articles relate.

When was the last time you sat in on a conference or symposium where a presenter flashed a long string of Greek letters on the screen for 5 seconds saying "And here is the equation for blah, blah, blah"? Maybe you really care what "blah, blah, blah" is, and have extensive experience in the field. You still feel inadequate that you didn't understand the 15 Greek symbols in the 5 seconds you were allotted. After the seventh or eighth 5-second slide of Greek letters you either fell asleep or became really angry at the presenter. I assure you that the problem isn't you. The problem is the lazy presenter.

How much effort does it take for a knowledgeable instructor to say "The value of A is a function of the values of C, D, R, Q, and Theta. Here is how they relate"? Perhaps your instructor really was just lazy in preparing his or her presentation. Perhaps your instrutor really doesn't understand the relationship and hopes you won't notice. In this video by Carnegie Mellon University's Robert Siegler, he discusses how too many primary education teachers simply teach the rules without explaining why the process works.

I've made a commitment to challenge the drive-by equation presenters from now on. Why not join me?

North American Deep Drawing Research Group (NADDRG)

On May 15, the Spring 2012 Symposium of the North American Deep Drawing Research Group (NADDRG) was held at Oakland University, Auburn Hills, MI, with over 100 attendees from industry and academia coming to discuss the latest theoretical and practical issues in sheet metal forming. In contrast with many related symposia, those of NADDRG often consist of informal, off-the-record, in-progress presentations. At this gathering, topics included Advanced High Strength Steels (AHSS), Experimental Measurements & Finite Element Modeling, Advanced Manufacturing Processes, and Hot/Warm Forming. 4M Partner Danny Schaeffler finished his 4-year term as NADDRG President, and passed the baton to the incoming president, a Technical Fellow from the General Motors Manufacturing Systems Research Lab.

Bridge the Gap Between Virtual Guesses and Your Plant Floor

Manufacturers and designers have much interest in virtual design and modelling for formed sheet metal products. There can be significant advantages, including reduced time to manufacture, lower cost, environmental friendliness, and greater flexibility in experimentation. The problem many encounter, though, is that virtual modelling results can differ quite a bit from the results on the plant floor. There are several actions you can take to "bridge the gap" between virtual results, and real mechanical results.

Probably the best thing you can do is to get your designers and modellers away from their monitors and onto the plant floor. Productive discussion between designers and plant employees can be the greatest "on-the-job" training your virtualization employees can recieve. How much better do you think design, modelling, and experimentation will be if virtual designers understand of such things as:

  • tool and die build and set up,
  • geometry and material effects on die temperatures,
  • real binder force and draw bead impacts on material flow on your plant floor, with your equipment and skill sets, and
  • the impact of design and materials on machine and die wear rates?

Continuing discussions and reliable information are the real contributors to the value of virtual design and modelling on your product quality and profitability.

- Bill

The Ultimate Material for Automotive Manufacturing

Cheap, strong, manufacturable, light-weight. That's all the auto industry wants. Of course, there is no single material that meets all of these qualifications, at least not under today's economics and technologies. The likely candidates – steel, aluminum, magnesium, and composites – each offer some benefits. Consider:

  • ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel company, recently described the growing usage of Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS) in automotive applications as: 6% in 2005; 9% in 2008; 14% (f) in 2014; 32% by 2020 (data provided by ArcelorMittal at the Platts/SBB Steel Markets Europe Conference in May 2012.)
  • AHSS is the cheapest advanced structural material at an average price of $1.70/kg, and is readily available. Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymers (CFRP) are much more extensively used in aerospace, primarily because a 1 pound reduction is reportedly worth a $100 to $300 premium in this industry. While new aerospace models like Airbus' A350 and Boeing's 787 Dreamliner employ over 50% CFRP by weight, on average polymer composites constitute less than 2% of an automobile's total weight.
  • Based on a broad-based survey in Europe, Ducker predicts 150kg of automotive aluminum applications by 2015. However, to continue growth, it will be necessary to make significant inroads into the smaller cars (A- and B-class), which currently consume 103kg per vehicle. In Europe, these small cars make up 27% of the market, compared with 4% in the USA.

Product Collaboration

We frequently hear people talk of manufacturing collaboration. They mostly discuss integrating people, processes, and systems throughout a product's lifecycle. The product lifecycle is defined as a product's "life" from an idea/concept through design, manufacture, sales/service, and retirement.

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software allows visibility of product events and decisions to interested employees. Visibility allows people to work together on design, manufacturing issues, sales issues, and to learn lessons that prevent repeating mistakes.

The one element that ties product management issues together, though, is understanding. Employees who understand the concepts, constraints, and needs of others across the company are able to make better decisions and reduce conflict. Examples include:

  • Concept and design employees can make better decisions if they understand your manufacturing processes and capabilities. The conceptual product can either be adapted to current manufacturing capabilities or the design team can better articulate the need to expand production capabilities.
  • Design and manufacturing employees who understand customer issues with previous products can prevent the recurrence of mistakes and can improve customer service capabilities.
  • Manufacturing employees who understand design needs and trends are better able to budget and prepare for the necessary equipment and tooling to meet emerging trends.

We now have an amazing selection of collaboration tools available. Social Networking tools provide employees with an intuitive and "organic" means to share their experiences and ideas. Intelligent search tool capabilities reduce our need to impose burdensome formats to human conversation. These "social" tools do require discipline to prevent inappropriate behavior and ensure security, but offer tremendous benefit in encouraging and capturing conversation.

Weekend Fun Post

I just returned home from a 30 mile spring bike ride. The bike I rode was no big deal, just an old aluminum Trek road bike I converted to a singlespeed a couple years ago. I have a number of bikes. My collection is in steel or aluminum. I've ridden carbon fiber and, although it's improving, I find it lacks the personality of the metals. My aluminum Trek gives a smooth and compliant ride. It lacks some of the acceleration characteristics I like, but it's a fun and easy ride.

My favorite is a handmade Italian steel Tommasini Sintesi. The Columbus Nivacrom steel is positively amazing. The ride is smooth but still connected to the road. Acceleration is sharp and responsive.

The best feature is that my Tommasini is 12 years old with thousands of miles on it. Just a year ago I replaced all the components. That aluminum Trek is more than 20 and still going strong with tens of thousands of miles.

As long as they are available, I will probably always prefer the feel, tradition, and cost competitiveness of aluminum and steel bicycles.

AHSS Applications in Automotive

The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) just released a 42 page report titled AHSS 101: Evolving Use of Advanced High-strength Steels for Automotive Applications. It's a great overview of the different grades of AHSS and their applications.

For a brief introduction, please see our 2-part series published by the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association (FMA) at Part I describes the different grades, and Part II highlights some of the processing concerns stampers should consider in their designs and approaches.


Why 4M?

Attending the GDIS conference, one thing I noticed was the lack of younger people. Sure, there were some youthful faces in the crowd, but it was a predominantly "over 40" crowd. Experience is wonderful, but how does any industry thrive if we fail to pass experience and knowledge to younger generations? We need their enthusiasm, their inquisitiveness, and the energy they use to challenge the status quo.

At 4M, we dedicate much of our time to training and inspiring graduating engineers and those beginning their careers to become productive and innovative. We support Oakland University by introducing undergraduate engineering students to sheet metal forming. These students pursue summer internships in the automotive, steel, and research industries.

Sheet metal forming faces many changes. Experienced professionals must also learn about new materials, processes, and technologies. Managers must understand how to inspire and motivate a changing workforce.

4M is committed to support the sheet metal forming industry. Our goal is to become the "go to" place for advancements and information.


GDIS 2012

Danny and I attended Great Designs in Steel today. It was a very well done conference with many good people, great displays and informative sessions.

Our congratulations to Deanna and the people at AISI, the American Iron and Steel Institute on a job well done.