31 October 2018

Photo caption: Jan-Willem van Hooft (left) and Bernard van der Poel: ‘We are a complete sheet metal workshop, but with rubber pad forming  as core business.’


‘Rubber pad forming ? Never heard of it!’ Phoenix 3D Metal, a pioneer in this ‘forgotten’ sheet metal processing technology, wants to change that by making some noise. ‘The challenge is to make sure that everyone who develops sheet metal in the Netherlands, knows what rubber pad forming  is – and that it can have a lot of added value for small and medium-sized series: If that works, the Eindhoven sheet metal company expects to welcome many new customers.


Not that Phoenix 3D Metaal currently has (too) little to do. Jan-Willem van Hooft and Bernard van der Poel, the two directors (see box), are showing an A4 sheet with logos of around forty customers: mostly machine and appliance builders from the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and further afield. These include access gates, forklifts, cranes, manure robots, sewer drainage systems, extraction hoods, trucks, flash cabinets and kebab machines. Van Hooft: ‘Some people want us to keep quiet about them being our customers – not to give their competitor the idea to come to us too.’



Up to now, customers for sheet metal work mainly knock on our door. ‘Companies usually find us by chance, often through word-of-mouth advertising by existing customers’, says Van der Poel. ‘We didn’t do a lot on the internet, we didn’t advertise, we didn’t use Facebook and LinkedIn and we barely did any trade fairs. But that’s going to change: we are entering the market more actively, online and offline.’ With the aim, Van Hooft adds: ‘To increase the reputation of our company and especially of rubber pad forming  technology.’ The completely new corporate identity and logo support this, just like the new website and corporate clothing, business cards, banners at the entrance and so on. Van Hooft: ‘A year and a half ago, we said: we want every engineer in the Netherlands who constructs appliances or machines, to know our rubber pressing technology and to know what is possible. At the moment, no one knows, except for our customers.’



Yet, rubber pad forming presses have been around for quite some time: the technology was created around 1935. The fact that hot stamping took over, is mainly due to the price tag of the press. ‘You have to recoup that investment by producing large series, but hot stamping is quicker and initially more economical for that. Only in the aviation industry has rubber pressing remained popular. In the aviation industry every process step has to be documented, something that can be done with this technology, and the costs are less important: That did not stop Jan van Hulst, former director of Phoenix 3D Metaal, from going on a daring adventure more than twenty years ago: to build a rubber press that would catch on in the entire supply industry. He developed this with TNO, Syntens (now embedded in the Chamber of Commerce), TU Delft and a Fokker technician. Two rubber pad forming presses were purchased and fully adapted: one with 8,000 tons of pressing force, the other with 3,500 tons. Together with a third press and the engineering department these form the heart of the company today.



With rubber stamping technology, Phoenix 3D Metal distinguishes itself from all competing colleagues and is able to steadily increase turnover. ‘We grow 5 to 10 percent every year’, Van Hooft explains, ‘Compared to deep drawing , rubber pad forming  requires higher variable costs for the customer, but a considerably lower initial investment. That is mainly because of the tools. Deep drawing  requires a stamp, blank holder and mould, while with a rubber press, a mould made of one piece, is sufficient. Where deep drawing moulds sometimes cost tons, you have rubber pad foring  moulds from 1,000 to about 12,000 euros. A car manufacturer that makes hundreds of thousands of identical doors every year, chooses deep drawing . Because it is fast and with such huge numbers, those high mould costs are not so significant. With smaller batch sizes, however, these costs are much more difficult to recoup if at all. And that’s when our rubber pad forming  technology can be the better alternative.’ To which he adds: ‘Rubber pad forming  only become interesting if you can fill your press with lots of small series.’ How small? Van der Poel: ‘We look at a minimum of 150 to 200 products per year, and that increases to around 5,000 per year. And if we can store multiple products in one mould, the amount is doubled. In principle we only accept recurring series. One prototype, artwork or limited one-hundred products; We don’t do that anymore, even if we get paid accordingly. As we grew, such job got in the way. ”



Phoenix 3D Metal was founded in 1960 by Jan van de Ven and continued from 1998 by Jan van Hulst. In 2010 the management was strengthened with Bernard van der Poel and in 2015 with Jan-Willem van Hooft, with the aim of taking over the company. In early 2017 they took a 75 percent holding. Jan van Hulst will retain 25 percent for several years, but no longer has an active contribution as a pensioner.



Phoenix 3D Metal succeeds in filling the presses, as witnessed by the steady growth in turnover and the large and varied customer base. Due to a more active market strategy, the management thinks that they can turn it up a notch. ‘The key to higher returns is to run more turnover with the same team, on the same machines, in the same building’, says Van Hooft. ‘What is decisive is that our unique technology can offer customers a lot of added value. For example, because you can make beautiful round shapes without being bound to sheet thickness. I often see machines that are technically incredibly clever, but that have a square casing that anyone could produce. High-tech inside and low-end on the outside – neither beautiful nor distinctive. Fortunately, more and more appliance and machine builders are willing to pay a little more to also give the exterior a modern and professional look.’



Phoenix 3D Metaal is well equipped to assist the customer in thinking about the design very early on in the design process, explains Van der Poel. ‘Before we make a quotation, our engineering department carries out a simulation that shows whether what the customer wants is feasible. If not, we advise on how things can be done differently, better or cheaper, by the number. Secure protocol for transfer, easy integration and worldwide access to machine and factory data Features such as monitoring, alarm notifications, reporting, trends or geographic localisation already integrated. Data hosting in different varieties: as a service or locally as “Private Cloud” in your data centre to reduce process steps. If this leads to an assignment, we will develop the mould based on more in-depth simulations (in Autoform, ed.). If it is milled, we will start production: first 2D laser cutting, then rubber pad forming  – sometimes even preceded by a turning or rolling process -, 3D laser cutting and welding if it concerns a composite product. So, we are a complete sheet metal workshop, but with rubber pad forming  as core business.’ In recent years, further professionalisation has been high on the agenda, says Van Hooft. ‘In order to shorten our lead times, we started QRM (Quick Response Manufacturing, ed.). This has led to 70 to

80 percent inventory reduction. To take more steps, we are now working on QRM 2.0.’



The focus is on three areas: 1) to further improve the work situation by means of all sorts of, often small, adjustments that make working (together) for the 42 Phoenix employees even more interesting and pleasant; 2) investing in process equipment (at the beginning of this year a 3D laser cutter was purchased, purchase of a new 2D laser is planned), and 3) actively propagating in the market what rubber pad forming  is and what benefits it can offer. ‘The preparatory work has pretty much been done; now we are going to shout it from the rooftops. ”


Source: Link Magazine

Photography: Bart van Overbeeke Photography