Metform is the Hot Forging division of MacLean-Fogg Component Solutions. The company, founded in 1976, focuses on horizontal hot forging, machining, and light assembly of components primarily for transportation industries. With more than 400 employees, Metform runs three locations in Savanna, Illinois, and one in Mount Carroll, Illinois. The company reaches an annual sales volume of more than 100 million USD and sells primarily to the Canadian, Mexican, and US markets. MacLean-Fogg Component Solutions is a leading supplier of fastener solutions and engineered and plastic solutions, serving a wide range of industries. The parent company MacLean-Fogg was founded in 1925, offering lock nuts to North America’s railroads. Through innovative product development and selected acquisitions, the business has grown into a worldwide enterprise with 26 manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and South America, with sales exceeding 1 billion USD annually. MacLean-Fogg engineers, manufactures, and distributes products for the automotive and power utility marketplaces worldwide.
Securing market position
On November 4th, 2021, Metform went into production and successfully formed the first run of washers for wheel nuts on the brand new Hatebur HOTmatic AMP 20 N. The installation of the new, innovative hot former was a big step for the company, explains Jake Bellich, Director of Operations at the Metform Hot Forming Plant: “The AMP 20 N not only replaces our first Hatebur machine, the AMP 20, which had been installed in 1976 and has now reached the end of its service life after a very productive 45 years. The new former also helps us to secure our position as the leading supplier of 2-piece wheel fasteners in the market.” When replacing the old machine with the new, the Metform experts were able to keep the existing machine fundament in place, saving costs and making the replacement faster and easier. The Hatebur HOTmatic AMP 20 N, designed for a high press load and maximum productivity, is the ideal machine for the Metform production processes.
Metform’s SECUREX brand of 2-piece wheel nuts has been a supreme example of US-made quality for Class 8 tractor and trailer wheel fastenings for over 34 years and counting. The parts, manufactured out of high-quality alloy SBQ Special Bar Quality steel, are used for the wheel fastening in Class 8 tractors and trailers. After being launched in the heavy-duty truck market in 1990, the SECUREX wheel nuts became the first choice for virtually all hub, drum, and wheel OEMs in the United States. Many Metform customers are well known in the automotive industry, including reputable original equipment manufacturers, tier customers, and truck builders. Metform also supplies a significant number of North American, European, and Japanese customers supporting engine, transmission, and driveline applications.
“We believe that our expert team, with its in-depth know-how and our combination of forging machines, machining, and secondary processes make Metform unique,” explains Jake Bellich. An automotive growth story In 1997, Metform was responsible for the production of transmission gear blanks for Ford for the first time, opening the door to Ford gear program opportunities. In the following years,machining capabilities were expanded to include suspension housing and automotive gear blanks. In the mid-2000s, Metform was awarded the Ford 6F-speed pinion and sun gear package, which resulted in opening of the facility in Mount Carroll. In 2010, the company added the Hatebur HOTmatic AMP 50 hot former, successfully placing Metform in the 8 and 9 speed transmission markets. Two years later, Metform was awarded the Chrysler and ZF 8 and 9 speed transmission program and began with the construction of its fourth facility. It’s been a continuous and impressive growth story.
Efficient with 10 Hatebur machines
With the recently installed and commissioned Hatebur HOTmatic AMP 20 N in the hot forging facility in Savanna, Illinois, Metform now operates a total of ten Hatebur machines: Five AMP 20, four AMP 30 and one AMP 50 XL. The new header is a major upgrade for the highly specialized company. Mr. Bellich says: “The investment solidifies our position as the premier two-piece wheel nut manufacturer for class 8 heavy trucks in North America. This new forging press from Hatebur allows us to better serve our customers by producing enough top quality parts on time due to improved reliability.”
The press load of the original AMP 20 was 90 tons, while the new AMP 20 N is built and designed to handle 150 tons with no penalty in stroke rate. “Compared to the old AMP 20, the new AMP 20 N is designed with a beefier frame and more robust design to handle the higher press loads required to run the washer component, which is forged from 4140 steel, for our two-piece wheel nut assembly,” explains Mr. Bellich. Other design improvements include a servo-driven infeed for more consistent cutoff quality, as well as an integrated clutch and brake assembly to simplify maintenance and repair.
200 strokes per minute
The AMP 20 N has a press load of 1500 kN and processes materials like bearing steel with the expected degree of utter precision. The body of the machine has been reinforced, ensuring the stability required for a high part output. In three forming stations operating at up to 200 strokes per minute, the AMP 20 N turns blanks into washers for wheel nuts. The up to 6 meter long steel bars are red hot – at 1250°C – when they are moved into the precise position with a servo motor. Cut-offs measuring 20 to 45 mm are then created in the shearing unit. The specialist expertise of Hatebur ensures a level of reliable and repeatable shearing precision that is unique globally. The transport unit is also worth highlighting: It has been designed with the utmost accuracy to ensure smooth transport of thinner parts from one forming station to the next. This transport needs to be carried out especially carefully to retain the desired surface quality throughout the whole process.
Clever cooling solution
A new water-cooling solution was designed utilizing a pump skid and rooftop cooling tower, taking the heat load off of Metform’s two main cooling towers, which support other Hatebur machines, and further heat load sources throughout the plant. This two-circuit system uses a separated loop from heat exchanger to cooling tower and another loop from the heat exchanger to the tool cooling water pit under the machine. “This design minimizes the time required on the roof to clean the cooling tower. Filters can be changed near the machine at floor level,” explains Mr. Bellich.
Industry 4.0 leader
Looking to the future, Metform wants to push forward with a strong focus on Industry 4.0. “We have been on the Industry 4.0 journey for two years. A lot has been accomplished in terms of real-time feedback to operators, advanced analytics, and predictive maintenance. We have plans to expand and improve the implementation of Industry 4.0,” reports Jake Bellich. “We were humbled that the National Association of Manufacturers recognized Metform as a leader in this space.” One of the big challenges, says the Director of Operations, is digesting and interpreting the vast amount of data collected.” As a next step, Metform aims to further optimize predictive maintenance activities across more operations in the facility.
Covid-19: safety protocols in place
The Covid pandemic was challenging for the whole industry. As Mr. Bellich puts it: “As a critical manufacturer, we are proud of our safety record during the pandemic. We took on a leading role in northwest Illinois and implemented safe-to-return-to-work protocols. We intend to keep a strong focus on contingency plans and safety stock levels.” Many companies have experienced that raw materials and repair parts have increased in cost and lead time. “With global supply chain problems and delivery bottlenecks, long-term planning remains essential,” explains Mr. Bellich.
“This thing just runs”
But back to the daily operation in the workshops: The speed and accuracy are what the Metform experts appreciate most about the Hatebur machines. “On the new AMP 20 N, we are seeing a 62% increase in daily production compared to the old AMP 20 S,” reports Jake Bellich. Training sessions for the machine operators have already been completed. Mr. Bellich says: “We are very happy with the machine and the whole project. Thanks to the excellent cooperation and support from Hatebur and their US representatives FES Forging Equipment Solutions, the project was a big success. All the preparation work, planning, and execution resulted in a major capital project that was completed on time and on budget. From the first conversation to parts off the press in our factory it took only about 1.5 years.”