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Background:

Copper is the most expensive component in brass. Between 1989 and 2004, copper prices stayed between $1500 and $3000 per ton. But in 2004, copper prices began rising. By 2008, copper had reached an unprecedented $8800 per ton.

Our customer had been using brass fittings for PEX, a type of semi-flexible plastic pipe. The fittings were made from brass bar stock. The bar stock was fed into a machine that cut out the exterior shape of the fitting and then bored out the center of the fitting to make it hollow. The process made efficient use of labor because long sections of bar stock could be loaded into the milling machines, which were typically able to run unattended for hours. Conversely, the process did not make efficient use of materials. The amount of brass removed from the bar stock when the fitting was produced was typically larger than the amount that remained behind. Furthermore, the process relied on keeping large sections of the bar intact so that it could be gripped by the machine. These fittings were heavy and produced a lot of waste chips of brass. As metal prices skyrocketed, heavy fittings became expensive fittings.

Our customer did not really care how the fittings were made. They just wanted something durable that would help them reduce costs. We created a two-step process to make the fitting lighter and reduce the amount of wasted material.

First, we forged the fittings from cut-to-length sections of brass rod. The forged part was hollow and lighter than the customer’s current product. Second, we CNC machined the key areas of the forged part to the exact dimensions necessary. The forged part was nearly the final shape of the fitting, so there was little brass wasted. The result was a strong, effective fitting free from nearly all waste of raw materials and ready to economize on an increasingly expensive brass.