Anyone who's spent time around tool and die shops - "metal benders" - knows what a mess they are. The traditional metalworking fluids used to lubricate metals so that they can be cold-formed leave an oily mist throughout the plant. And because the mist is just that - usually some type of oil - employees are constantly exposed. It gets in the pores, the respiratory system.

And, eventually, into the environment itself. Metalforming operations spend heavily to keep the oils out of the groundwater, out of places in the plant it's not wanted, out of employees themselves.

So when Denatec Inc. from Flint, MI, said it had a solution, the metal-benders took notice. They're taking notice of Ameriform, a water-based dry-film lubricant that's completely non-toxic. Because it's a film, it doesn't leave particulates floating around the plant to be inhaled. Although Denatec is small and hasn't yet put much of a marketing effort into Ameriform, a few hip players in the field are familiar with the thumping it puts on regular metalworking fluids. But the hip crowd does include Chrysler Corp. and Ford Motor Co., two companies known to dabble in metal bending. But Ameriform has only been used for automotive applications since 1990.

President Dennis Lumsden admits Ameriform isn't going to save any money on the front end - it costs about the same as most commonly used fluids - but argues that reducing secondary and tertiary costs are where his dry film takes the lead.

He says besides the obvious and most important benefit to employees, using Ameriform means the plant stays cleaner, reducing expensive routine cleanups, and the dry-film lubricant doesn't build up in the dies, which can play havoc with tolerances; in fact, the stuff actually can increase tool life because it reduces a significant amount of heat from many metalforming processes or can cut the number of "hits" required to form a part.

"I can make a plant oil-free," adds Mr. Lumsden. Moreover, he says Ameriform presents outstanding performance in certain applications. "Deep draws are very favorable because other lubricants are so messy in that application."

There aren't a lot of deep draws in the car business, though. He says Denatec is in the process of obtaining approval for automotive body-in-white applications to be certain Ameriform-coated steels can be welded, bonded and painted to auto industry standards.

For now, Ameriform's biggest customers are steel service centers, that can offer "value added" by coating their wares with Ameriform even before the steel is shipped to the end user. Mr. Lumsden says shipping steel already coated with his dry film isn't a problem.

A lot of interests in the manufacturing sector talk environmental awareness these days, yet it's rare to find someone with a genuine breakthrough. Ameriform seems to be just that.