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What Counts In Heavy Industrial Machinery: The Dollars & Cents of Advanced Composites In Aluminum Extrusion

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Aluminum extrusion—or the process of manufacturing aluminum alloy parts with definitive cross-sectional profiles—is on the rise. The global aluminum extrusion market size, valued at about $80 billion in 2018, is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 5% from 2019 to 2025. The U.S., China, and India combined are expected to comprise close to 60% of the global construction industry growth overall by 2030, with extrusion increasing in these countries.

With extrusion producing aluminum alloys that have the potential to be strong yet lightweight (and also be potentially less expensive than steel and be recyclable), this heavy industrial machinery is quite critical to key industries such as automotive that seek to produce lighter weight cars, trucks, and public transportation vehicles to address consumer and government demand for greater fuel-efficiency. Ford has its F-150, with aluminum frames, and luxury car makers like Audi, Mercedes Benz, and Land Rover are also looking to the process and these lightweight materials. Not only are these heavy machinery systems important but also the critical parts that keep these systems running, which is where advanced composites can really count!

Along with automotive, extrusion is also used in solar energy structures; electronics; galleys, instruments, seats, and more in aerospace, and in manufacturing and construction, making the process popular anywhere people are living and building.

What is Aluminum Extrusion?

The extrusion process leverages a high pressure press to force a metal billet through a die to create parts with a cross-sectional profile and optimize the aluminum alloy’s physical characteristics. Numerous complex cross-sections can be produced on otherwise brittle materials, greatly increasing strength. The process can produce a wide range of custom, complex shapes for use in numerous applications.

Challenges in Aluminum Extrusion

While extrusion offers many benefits, maintenance engineers can often face challenges surrounding the process as well. These challenges can be at least partly attributed to the types of parts used in the process.

Industrial bearings, bushings, and wear liners can be made of different types of materials, bronze being one of the more regularly used. The softer metal acts as a sacrificial element that will break down before mating parts on big, expensive machinery, helping to keep equipment intact. However, a downside with metal parts in extrusion is that they need to be constantly and consistently lubricated, or machinery could freeze up. Too much grease, and it can get into moving parts, onto products, and make for unsafe working conditions. Too little, and equipment can freeze, which causes downstream problems. 

Three leading challenges in aluminum extrusion include:

  1. Press downtime and misalignment – a misaligned press can damage equipment and negatively affect output. With uneven surfaces, die life can be shortened and work pieces can lose wall thickness tolerances, leading to increased scrap and maintenance downtime.
  2. Component replacement and wear – bushings, bearings, and gib liners used in extrusion are on the front line of defense in manufacturing processes and are often susceptible to high wear. Parts may also be used in difficult-to-access locations or in hot, hostile, environments making them difficult to replace. Damage to these parts can result in unexpected maintenance outages, which can be costly, at estimates of $10,000 per hour.
  3. Lubrication requirements posing safety challenges and product contamination – as mentioned, a downside with using metal bearings and liners in extrusion is that these parts need to be constantly and consistently lubricated, or machinery could freeze up. Too much grease, and it can get into moving parts, onto products, and make for unsafe working conditions, creating a 5S nightmare. Too little, and equipment can freeze causing downstream problems. 

We expand on several of these challenges in our recent blog on The “Ins & Outs” of Carbon Fiber, Composite Polymer Parts in Critical Industrial & Manufacturing Applications.

 

Six Benefits of Advanced Composite Materials in Aluminum Extrusion

Advanced composite wear plates, sliding liners, bearings and bushings are on the rise as an alternative to metal and bronze. While these materials are lightweight, they can be five-times stronger than steel and twice as stiff, making them suitable for many manufactured material parts. These high-performance materials offer high strength and can address high temperatures without requiring lubrication.

The WearComp® product is Saint-Gobain HyComp’s flagship composite for heavy industrial machinery material. It is a proprietary blend of high thermally resistant, polyimide resin and carbon fibers with a 60/40 fiber/resin ratio that can operate at 600ºF (316ºC) with spikes to 1,000ºF (538ºC). It is used in die guide, draw press, runout table, and Pilger press liners as well as in billet shears and finishing saws.

Why should manufacturers consider advanced composites in extrusion? Consider the following six benefits that advanced composites offer:

  1. High quality for longer run times and service life – with advanced composites offering longer run time without wearing down, there are fewer stops to change critical wear components. WearComp® carbon fiber composite bearings offer 4 to 10 times longer service life compared to bronze. They offer excellent dimensional stability, high impact resistance (zero creep), superior strength, and more endurance.
  2. The ability to “set it and forget it” – WearComp® carbon fiber composite bearings are self-lubricating. There is no need to ensure lubrication systems are working, greased, and in good alignment and, with zero creep and low wear rate, less stopping for re-alignment.
  3. Increased safety and 5S – safety and cleanliness can be enhanced to promote 5S, with self-lubricating materials that do not require constant applications of grease.
  4. The ability to extend and enhance machine life – with industrial machinery an expensive investment that most manufacturers want to capitalize on over time, advanced composite bearings can be an easy way to modernize and extend the life of equipment. This can easily be done with a 1:1 replacement of advanced composite parts over bronze.
  5. The ability to reduce scrap – unlike with bronze alternatives, advanced composites are not abrasive, do not flake off, and do not wear down, helping to ensure greater continued alignment.
  6. Lower total cost of ownership (TCO) – consider the following example we commonly see below.

How Advanced Composites Make Cents

If advanced composite bearings and liners cost more per part than bronze alternatives, how can they help manufacturers save money?

Consider the following common example. A manufacturer came to Saint-Gobain HyComp to address recent issues with bronze bearings on its 3600 ton press used for ram press liners, a key machine at one of its factories.

Previously, the customer bought bronze liners costing $2,000 each, and they lasted three years. These were replaced with WearComp® liners costing $3,000 each. However, each of these last six years versus three.

With the cost of downtime expected to be $10,000 per hour and it taking an hour to change the liners, the total cost of ownership can be computed as follows.

 

The bronze cost can be computed as:

$10,000 install + $2,000 per liner -(3 year service life)- $10,000 downtime to replace liners + $2,000 liner

Results in a total cost over 6 years of $26,000.

 

The WearComp advanced composite cost is:

$10,000 install + $3,000 liner -(6 years of service)

Equals a total cost over 6 years of $13,000.

 

This is a basic example, but the end result is that while manufacturers are investing in an advanced composite bearing that is one and a half times more expensive, the advanced composites lasts two to three times longer. Cost of downtime and need for replacement can all be reduced. Furthermore, reliability is increased.  Please feel free to learn more in Saint-Gobain HyComp’s application case study with wear and mechanical test data.

WearComp Advanced Composites vs. Bronze in Aluminum Extrusion

With Saint-Gobain HyComp’s start in the regulated aerospace industry, they follow the highest quality and inspection standards. All of their customers are supported with the same level of aerospace quality and manufacturing expertise. 

They also hail from a leader in providing advanced parts for manufacturing with Saint-Gobain Seals’ Rulon® PTFE material also regularly used in liners and bushings in this industry. This material is sought after due to its high temperature and excellent chemical resistance, ideal for fluids typically used in these applications and its low coefficient of friction wear surface in manufacturing.

Contact their design engineering and manufacturing experts today to learn how they can help you to address your toughest heavy industrial machinery and manufacturing challenges or to get a trial of the WearComp® advanced composites to see for yourself.

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