When sourcing raw material for punches and dies, as long as you choose the right grade steel, you should be good, right? Not quite. Steel grade is an important part of the equation, but a major influence on tool performance is steel cleanliness.

Standard steel grades, as determined by the American Iron & Steel Institute (AISI) and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) or the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), indicate how much of each element is present in given steel.

Steel Grade Bars

The AISI/SAE steel designation system uses a four digit code to characterize the chemical composition of the steel. Today, steel grades are typically designated using SAE followed by a four digit number. The first two digits refer to the material type and concentration and the last two digits indicate the carbon concentration to 0.01 percent.

For example, a chromium steel with a grade of 5130 is 1% chromium and a minimum of 0.30% carbon. A Manganese steel with a grade of 13xx contains 1.75% Manganese.

And while the grade gives us vital information about the steel’s composition, it doesn’t clue us into the steel’s hardness, cleanliness or grain structure. And it’s the latter qualities that are key to the steel’s performance.

Clean steel is stronger, can be polished to a higher finish, wears better, and its mirror finish lasts longer than dirty steel. Cleanliness impacts crucial properties of steel such as corrosion resistance, toughness and fatigue. Thus, the dirtier the steel, the shorter the tool life.

Steel Bars

Cleanliness refers to how many inclusions, or air gaps, and contaminants, such as sulfides, are in the steel. ASTM International sets standard test methods used by the steel industry as well as many other industries to ensure consistency and quality. Specifically, the steel industry follows a cleanliness rating system called ASTM E45 to determine the inclusion content of steel. The lower the number, the better the cleanliness of the steel. 

So what causes “dirty” steel? There are two types of inclusions that impact steel cleanliness. Micro inclusions are caused by chemical or physical reactions that occur during melting and solidification – this can include air gaps or chemicals that remain after oxidation. Macro inclusions are the result of external debris or material that makes its way into the steel during processing. The higher the inclusion content, the dirtier the steel.

Wilson Tool understands the impact of clean steel on tool performance, which is why we follow a cleanliness standard that meets or exceeds the industry norms. This means that customers like you can be sure the steel we use for our tooling will last longer and produce a higher quality product.

In the case of tablet tooling, choosing a cleaner tool steel not only dramatically increases tool life but improves performance by minimizing common challenges such as sticking, picking and fracture.   

To learn more about clean steel and the technical advantages of working with Wilson Tool, contact our tooling technicians at or 800-467-8444.


Wilson Tool Impax BoothDuring the first week of April, Wilson Tool International exhibited at the 40th annual Interphex conference and exhibition in New York City. Along with 600+ other exhibitors, we enjoyed three days of conversations with current and future customers as well as spending time with network and OEM partners. It’s always great to see customers and learn more about their projects, ambitions and how we can be a part of making their goals a reality. Showcasing our 50+ years of tooling experience brings a unique perspective of solutions and opportunities that many did not know existed. We find this to be the most rewarding part of our partnership with our customers.

Wilson Tool CPhI Happy Hour EventOn May 1, Wilson Tool invited attendees and exhibitors to join us at 360 Chicago for some drinks and light food. After a long day at CPhI, the event gave people the opportunity to unwind a bit and enjoy some great views (while they lasted) from 1,000 feet above Chicago. With people stopping by from all areas of the industry, from all over the United States and even as far away as India, the opportunity to socialize and get to know a variety of industry professionals made a fun evening great!

Wilson Tool Tablet Training EventOn June 11 & 12, Wilson Tool welcomed customers from all over the United States for a two-day “Boost Your Tableting Skills” training event. The training featured 20-year veteran to the industry Todd Martin. Nine different sessions from designing the right tablet to improving tooling performance were conducted throughout the two-day event. An evening out on the town concluded the first day as we reminisced on what was discussed during the day. Before leaving on Wednesday, attendees also received a tour of our manufacturing facility and enjoyed seeing their tools being made live, as well as meeting some of the skilled machinists completing their product. This hands-on event provided insights and improvements for attendees to apply at their facilities for years to come.


Location Diagram

When we work with project teams during our lean seminars, one of the things we discuss as a layout criteria is the colocation of equipment. Colocation simply means taking two sequential processes that occur independently, in different areas, and move them closer together by moving equipment, machines, tools, and people next to each other.

The beauty of the colocation of sequential processes is how easy the idea is to grasp the benefits and achieve buy-in from stakeholders. It’s simple. This understanding helps focus layout and improvement ideas.

A good first step to colocation is to understand the mix of products that are processed in a value stream by creating a value stream map. During the mapping process visiting (Gemba) the location where value is created (the shop floor), and walking the process is a great way to get a feel for the distance a part travels. 

After mapping and touring Gemba, the flow of product can be shown by using another lean tool: the spaghetti diagram. The spaghetti diagram shows the flow and distance parts travel between operations on a map of the manufacturing area. Measurements can be made to show the gaps between operations in units of time or distance. Minimizing the distance or time between operations is the goal.

Simply by embarking on this exercise, opportunities for colocation will often be uncovered long before the value stream map or spaghetti diagram are complete. Making changes based on your findings will commonly result in reductions in work-in-progress, lot size, lead time, part handling and transportation. We typically also see gains in quality, 5-S and productivity.

process map

These improvements begin to happen naturally when operations are brought closer together. When processes are close together and flow of work can be seen, it becomes clear to everyone where other flow and processing opportunities can be developed.

Understanding where improvements can happen engages the people doing the work. If the people doing the work are engaged, they develop the solutions and many times they will implement changes themselves. When a change is developed and implemented by the people doing the work, the process will be more likely to sustain itself, which is ideal.

Wilson Tool International has long been an advocate of lean manufacturing. Not only do we practice what we preach, we help fabricators implement their own lean programs by sharing the secrets to our success through articles and lean seminars.

Learn more about Wilson Tool’s popular lean seminars.


Jim Melle Headshot

Jim began his career at Wilson Tool in 1998 as a sales engineer. Before moving to the tablet division he spent more than 17 years serving customers in Florida and Puerto Rico as a press brake and stamping sales engineer. During that time he was recognized eleven times as the most new accounts leader for the year.

His favorite Wilson Tool story is the time he won an order for more than $250k in press brake tooling over one of Wilson Tool’s largest competitors. The two tooling providers battled back and forth for six months, submitting competing quotes for a tooling package to this large customer prior to earning the sale.

When he’s not at work, Jim can be found working outside with his wife on their three-acre yard. She likes to keep it looking like a golf course with a wide variety of trees, flowers, etc.

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The Wilson Tool International Offices & Manufacturing Facility in White Bear Lake, MN will be closed September 2, 2019, in observance of the U.S. Labor Day holiday. We will re-open on Tuesday, September 3.