Proform experiences gains along its process chain thanks to the simulation of tube hydroforming
Proform is an SME from GP group, located near Lyon in France and specialized in the forming of very complex tube shapes (Figure 1). Its main activities are cold bending and hydroforming of tubes as well as forming, grinding, assembling and welding of tubes, sheet metals and sections made of various materials. Proform mainly works with the Chemical, Pulp and Paper, Food Processing, Pharmaceutical, Nuclear, Aeronautics and Automotive industries. Some of these parts are produced via a hydroforming process: this helps to make complex shapes with high dimensional accuracy, reach bigger strain levels and obtain stronger and more rigid parts.
Fig. 1: Typical tube forming process
For several years now, Proform has been using AutoForm’s software solution for tube hydroforming – its latest release being AutoForm TubeXpert – in order to design and validate its processes (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2: CAD surface of the part (left) and the corresponding simulated thickness from AutoForm TubeXpert (right)
High technical level of information in a very short time
During the bidding phase, Proform needs to know very quickly whether the part is feasible or not and if its production will be compatible with the available production presses. Thanks to simulation, Proform receives this information within a day.
Once the part feasibility is confirmed, AutoForm TubeXpert allows for detailing and comparing of all potential technical solutions to produce the part before validation of the process. All relevant information is obtained within one week (finding a solution, deciding the number of process operations, carrying out several calculation loops, mold design, etc.). Thanks to simulation, Proform can provide its customers with well-argued technical and economic offers.
Co-development: a strength for Proform
Proform, renowned for its ability to innovate and find the right solutions, supports its customers throughout their product development. The customer contacts Proform with a draft design and Proform offers its expertise in hydroforming. Proform uses AutoForm TubeXpert to confirm the shapes and sizes reachable according to the customer’s needs and to validate the tube geometries, ensuring the function requested by the customer at the same time.
Proform considers that the AutoForm solution is essential for those first consultation and co-development phases: the influencing parameters are numerous and the timeline is very short. This software solution allows Proform to be confident and give a reliable answer to its customers.
From assignment to studies
Once assigned, Proform starts the development phase, during which many modifications can still intervene on the product, depending on the project evolution. The customer may decide to upgrade its product: AutoForm TubeXpert can then ensure fast validation of the necessary changes.
Fig. 3: Simulation of several parts formed at the same time
This development stage allows Proform to explore possible solutions in order to optimize production efficiency (Figure 3). During this stage, Proform pays particular attention to the springback predictions, which allow for the definition of compensated tools. The goal is to ensure that the parts formed during the first trials are as close to the tolerances as possible to reduce tryout times and costs for the hydroforming tool.
From studies to implementation
Proform designs and manufactures a large part of its forming machines and tools in-house to better address its customers’ needs. After manufacturing of the hydroforming dies, the tryout phase allows for the adjustment of the last production parameters in order to obtain the desired part. This particularly involves synchronizing the rate of the pressure augmentation within the tube with the tool’s movements. The information obtained from the simulation simplifies that phase greatly.
AutoForm TubeXpert is also a valuable investigative tool when failure happens during production: it enables the testing of different scenarios to identify the causes of that failure. The goal is then to study several options, minimizing the physical trials.
Next step: predict and improve robustness in production
Proform believes that simulation has strengthened the reputation for reliability that the company has acquired over the years with its customers. Proform anticipates its customers’ questions, knows how to adjust, if needed, with the help of simulation results, and commits to realistic deadlines.
Simulation is a predictive tool for phenomena observed during forming, but it is still possible to have deviations from reality, due to production uncertainties. The latest version of AutoForm TubeXpert is the answer to that problem. It can reproduce those uncertainties, or “noise”, appearing on the production data – like variations on input such as material data, etc. After the simulation, it is possible to study the impact of those variations on the part quality, to identify the relevant input parameters for robustness and to implement a solution to secure the production. This control over process robustness will undoubtedly benefit Proform’s expertise.