When it comes to the challenges of working with stainless steel, particularly in cold forming processes like deep-drawing and stamping, the devil is in the details. This comprehensive guide aims to shine a spotlight on the critical elements for crafting dies and tooling specifically designed for cold working stainless steel materials.

Stainless Steel: An Overview of Its Unique Properties

Stainless steel is a versatile material made up of iron-carbon alloys enriched with additional elements that offer superior resistance to corrosion. One standout feature is the presence of over 10% chromium, responsible for the creation of a protective chromium oxide surface layer. This thin layer acts as a defense against corrosive substances. Different alloys are customized for various applications—some are built to withstand harsh conditions, while others are designed to handle elevated temperatures. Elements like nickel are frequently added to achieve certain mechanical properties.

Understanding Stainless Steel Types

Austenitic Stainless Steel

Commonly used in deep-drawing applications, austenitic stainless steel features low carbon content, making it ideal for manufacturing kitchen appliances and other deformable products. Hardening occurs solely through cold working, as thermal treatments prove ineffective. Popular variants include AISI 304, 304L, 316, and 316L, with “L” signifying lower carbon content. These alloys are non-magnetic due to their austenitic microstructure.

Ferritic Stainless Steel

A staple in the automotive industry, ferritic alloys offer both corrosion resistance and high-temperature stability. These alloys are magnetic, primarily due to the absence of nickel. Frequent uses involve automotive exhaust systems and appliances like washing machines. AISI 430 is a standard ferritic alloy often used in various applications.

Martensitic Stainless Steel

Martensitic alloys are similar to ferritic steel but contain higher carbon levels, allowing heat treatment to increase hardness. These steels are generally used for creating cutting tools and surgical equipment. However, they exhibit higher brittleness and are not suitable for deep-drawing. AISI 420 is a widely recognized martensitic alloy.

Essential Guidelines for Designing Stainless Steel Dies and Tools

Factor in High Shear and Bending Forces

Due to the inherent strength of stainless steel, your press machine needs to have sufficient tonnage. As a general rule, the forces at play are usually double those needed for low-carbon steel, necessitating stronger clamping from the die set.

Account for Springback Tendencies

Springback refers to the steel’s natural tendency to revert to its original shape post-deformation. The robust corrosion resistance and work-hardening features of stainless steel require additional bending to attain the desired shape.

Limit Over-Deformation

Owing to work-hardening, stainless steels are more prone to surface cracking. In certain cases, intermediate annealing steps may be necessary to prevent excessive deformation.

Choose the Right Operating Speeds

Slow deformation rates often yield more precise details. While mechanical presses are suitable for blanking and bending at moderate speeds, hydraulic presses excel in deep-drawing operations, especially when the speeds do not exceed 300mm/min.

Select Optimal Tool Materials

The corrosive nature of stainless steel warrants the use of coated tools to improve wear resistance and adherence.

Fine-Tune Die Clearances

Higher clearances, usually between 12-15% of material thickness, are necessary for harder steels. This ratio can extend up to 20% in certain applications.

Use the Appropriate Lubricants

The use of surfactants in lubricants may be essential to facilitate forming. Chlorinated or sulfurized oils are frequently activated through heat to minimize friction during deep-drawing.

Final Thoughts

Stainless steel is not necessarily harder than carbon steel, but it presents unique challenges that require an in-depth understanding of its chemical and mechanical properties for effective fabrication. Tailoring your approach to the material’s specific needs is essential for high-quality outcomes and to ensure prolonged die life and performance.

Stainless Steel