Stainless steel handles are a desirable choice for appliance manufacturers since stainless steel is corrosion resistant, durable, easy to work with, and provides an attractive finish.
If there is a downside to producing handles out of stainless steel, it is its relatively high materials cost. This makes manufacturing techniques that produce solid stainless steel products less than ideal.
The cost factor is the main reason why hollow parts that are derived from sheet metal are more desirable for manufacturers. Hollow parts can maintain the desired strength but offer the benefit of reduced material costs, helping manufacturers control their budgets while increasing perceived value for end users.
Below we talk through the different factors that can influence any decision to manufacture stainless steel handles out of sheet metal.
Virtues & Limitations of Sheet Manufacturing Techniques
There are three main sheet manufacturing techniques that metal formers use to produce hollow stainless steel handles. Here is a look at the virtues and limitations of each.
Roll or cold forming is a common practice for producing steel parts, including those for the automotive and aerospace industries. Its name directly reflects the process, which bends or rolls cold sheet steel into desired shapes.
Roll forming is generally done using long sheets, strips, or rolls of metal, producing parts in mass quantity with low labor costs. Punching or notching of handles made via roll forming can be incorporated into the assembly line process, again minimizing manufacturing costs.
Since roll forming is a process that uses no heat, energy costs are low. It is also flexible, allowing for a variety of forms including round, closed, and C-shapes. Roll forming produces high-quality, precision parts quickly. However, it is not ideal for more limited runs.
Tubular hydroforming uses liquid pressure to form stainless steel tubes into the shapes required for handles and other applications.
Hydroformed stainless steel provides excellent bending and stiffness properties while using a minimum amount of stainless steel material.
Because the piece emerges from the hydroforming press in a nearly finished state, hydroforming also eliminates the need for the supplementary welding and machining that would typically be required after stamping, eliminating tooling costs and materials costs, as well as associated labor costs, in the process.
The nature of the tubular hydroforming — using high pressure to form metal as opposed to physical stamping or welding — leaves hydroformed stainless steel handles with a superior, high quality finish that requires minimal retouching.
Also known as tube stamping, tubular stamping is a relatively new stamping process that can be used to produce more complex tubular parts for a variety of applications including stainless steel handles for appliances.
Benefits of tubular stamping for stainless steel handles include superior, Class-A finishes, cost-savings, and weight reduction. Tubular stamping is versatile enough to offer a variety of shapes including round, oval, and square. Plus, features like fasteners can be installed during the stamping process.
Like hydroforming, tube stamping can also easily include aesthetic design features in the production process. Tooling costs, though, are relatively high, making tubular stamping a viable option only for longer runs where the initial investment in tool steel can be amortized over the life of the product.
Alternatives to Sheet Metal Techniques
There are, of course, non-sheet metal techniques that one can use to produce stainless steel handles, but they have major limitations when it comes to speed, cost, and volume.
Metal casting is an age-old process for creating solid metal products. It takes a lot of energy to produce parts and set-up costs are high. Casting has value in very limited runs, but because pieces are solid, they are unnecessarily heavy.
Extrusion is the process of forming metal by forcing it through a die to achieve the desired shape. Again, like with casting, because the material remains solid, products formed through extrusion can be heavy. When it comes to costly stainless steel materials, extrusion is much more expensive that sheet metal forming options.
Machining shapes raw metal into a desired form by removing metal from a solid block. Machining takes a lot of energy and labor and creates significant waste. As with casting and extrusion, machining results in heavier, more costly parts than any sheet metal technique for producing handles.
Selecting the Right Process for Making Stainless Steel Handles
If you are in search of a contract manufacturers who can help you find the production solution to create cost-effective, durable quality stainless steel handles, you’ll want to work with a metal former that is familiar with all the available processes and who can deliver the quality, durability, and finish you want in a timely manner and within your budget.
At Mills Products, we specialize in roll forming, tubular stamping, and hydroforming — the sheet metal manufacturing techniques that can make stainless steel handles accessible to wider markets through their ability to combine high quality with costs savings.
In fact, we were the first company to introduce tubular stamping and tubular hydroforming to the appliance industry. Today, we are recognized globally for our ability to convert multi-part assemblies made with cast, extruded, and machined parts into lighter and stronger parts derived from sheet metal.
If you would like to know more about how Mills Products can help you, please contact us. We’ll be happy to discuss the options available for producing stainless steel handles and further explain the benefits of partnering with and experienced metal former like Mills Products.