Hot Stamping and Press Hardening Remain Vital for IndustryTue, 09/15/2015 - 13:40
Q: How have recent advancements in the industry helped Gestamp to grow and develop within the Mexican market?
A: Gestamp maintains a special focus on the Asian and North American markets, but Mexico is a key part of that strategy. Our sales have multiplied ten times in the last ten years within Mexico, which is extremely impressive. The company is a European-based supplier, so we have firm relationships with most European OEMs, as well as a strong foothold within North America, and we are starting to create links with Asian OEMs too. Our growth has been constant, with our expansion in Puebla in 2005, Toluca in 2008, a further expansion in Puebla in 2009, and the inauguration of Puebla II in 2014. The Puebla II plant began production in 2014 and was initially focused on stamping external panels or Class A body panels for Volkswagen. We are now undertaking a major project on behalf of Audi, which will enable us to stamp most of the body in white (BIW) components, as well as hot stamping components for OEM production which is scheduled to start next year. When Gestamp started operations in Mexico, we began with traditional cold stamping, but we are now focusing on press hardening or hot stamping. There has been a significant rise in Mexican automotive production, so naturally there is increasing demand for press hardening content. Two generations ago, a Volkswagen vehicle would have had four or five body components, whereas nowadays we are seeing 12 body components in cars such as the Golf VII.
Q: What innovative technologies are you adding to your product line?
A: Currently, we are introducing soft zones, which allow the customer to establish deformation areas during the engineering phase, such as the rails, or B-Pillars. It also enables the customer to have controlled deformation on the structure of the material in the event of a crash. We are also bringing tailored rolled blanks, which is the steel rolling process that enables varying thicknesses. This process also allows us to add weight-reduction efficiency, without compromising the stiffness of the material. The traditional cold stamping material is normally carried out with a thinner material that has higher elongation characteristics, even though it can be classified as ultra-high-strength steel. The press hardening material uses a much thicker ultra-high-strength steel, with properties that cause it to behave completely differently. Press hardening material can be heated up to 900oC, allowing the material to be formed before it is cooled. The two processes cannot really be compared because they vary so drastically, meaning that each stamping process requires dedicated technicians. The press hardening process creates the stiffness of the material and the higher tension. We have developed a new technology called Soft Zone, where the desired harness on the final part is regulated so that any deformation of the part can be controlled. We perform this during the same press hardening process as the tooling, while our competitors complete it post process.
Q: In terms of manufacturing, how flexible is the plant when adapting to different designs and standards?
A: The process itself and the equipment we use is relatively similar all over the world. We have almost 60 identical lines for press hardening worldwide that work to a standardized process, so we can interchange the tools between our facilities. In December 2014, we opened a new tool shop in Puebla that will have the capacity to manufacture 45 press hardening tool sets per year. In addition, we are already building four dies for the Audi project in this new facility. We mainly have tool shops in Europe, but also in Asia and Mexico, which compliments our strategy for creating our own press hardening tools in our own tool shops.
Q: How is Gestamp managing a dependable supply chain that guarantees product quality in Mexico?
A: The quality of raw materials is extremely important to the automotive industry, which translates into the specific type of structural and security related components that we manufacture. In most cases, the material characteristics are established by the customer during the design phase or within their technical requirements. Unfortunately, the availability of these kinds of materials is relatively low in Mexico, so most of the steel comes from Europe, North America, or Asia. Gestamp recognizes the lack of resources of tooling suppliers, so in order to secure the market, we took the decision to establish our own tool shop. I am satisfied with the Tier 2 and Tier 3 small components suppliers that we currently use, but it was no easy task to develop them to the certified quality standards.