Press Brake Tooling

Tooling tune-up

By Lynn Stanley

Venture Mfg. takes lean manufacturing to a new level with flexible press brake tooling

September 2011 - Jim Slattery had a dream. As general manager for another fabricator, Slattery was driven by the desire to run his own company that integrated lean-manufacturing methods into a contract-manufacturing environment. Slattery took a leap of faith and purchased a floundering Beaver Dam, Wis.-based metal fabrication shop in 2005.

Six years later under the name Venture Mfg. Group Inc., the ISO 9001:2008-certified company has emerged as a lean, profitable business that continues to grow despite the downturn. Slattery, Venture’s president and CEO, attributes the company’s transformation to a combination of key factors: a network of business contacts, a team of highly skilled employees, implementation of lean and cellular manufacturing and the capability of Wilson Tool International Inc.’s European-style precision press brake tooling and express clamping system to support these initiatives. Wilson Tool, White Bear Lake, Minn., is a supplier of U.S.-made tooling for sheet metal manufacturers.

“We’re seeing business growth right now, and we’re aggressively pursuing new business,” Slattery says. “Our goal is to be as competitive as possible and that comes down to running as lean as possible. But you can’t do that with just machines, your employees have to buy into it. Our employees are the cornerstone of our lean model. We are constantly thinking about how we can do things more efficiently. As part of that strategy, Wilson tooling offers the flexibility we need to support our use of cells and lean techniques,” he says.

Lean initiatives
Wilson Tool’s sales representative Dev Beal was critical to the company’s lean initiative, says Slattery. Experienced in multiple facets of fabrication, Beal makes lean initiative recommendations and has held training classes on European-style tooling for operators largely familiar with American-style tooling.

During the company’s upstart months in 2005, Slattery’s business connections led him to a Wisconsin-based manufacturer producing standby power generators for residential and commercial applications. Venture fabricated generator bases and enclosures for the company and netted a steady stream of work. In 2010, Slattery saw a chance to test his lean ideas with the manufacturer, which is now Venture’s biggest customer.

Slattery was given the opportunity to quote a job for sheet metal enclosures destined to be produced in China. He knew he had to find the leanest means of production to compete. The company created a cell using a turret press and a small-bed press brake equipped with Wilson tools and an Express clamping system. As soon as the turret press punches an 18-gauge mild steel sheet into four flat pieces, the operator slides the sheet onto a table before reloading the press. While the press is punching the next sheet, the previous flats, now removed from their metal “skeleton,” are formed with a minute to spare.

“The Express clamping system was the key to us pulling this off,” says Slattery. “The enclosure was originally quoted as a laser and formed part. Our cell was able to significantly cut production costs and time, making our company so cost competitive that work headed for China was awarded to us instead. ”

Typically, clamping methods call for Allen head screws that have to be tightened manually and loosened one at a time. “If you were performing an 8-ft. bend, for example, you would have four punch holders per 32 in.,” says Steve Brown, press brake tooling and design sales manager for Wilson Tool. “That’s 24 screws an operator would have to tighten and loosen by hand. Wilson developed the clamping system to give companies like Venture Mfg. speed and versatility. The system of punch holders is equipped with a simple handle the operator pushes up to clamp and down to unclamp. Instead of 24 screws to loosen manually, the operator only has 12 handles to push up or down. It’s very quick.” The clamping system changes the width of the punch holder with a simple removal of front or back clamp plates. The system also allows the operator to clamp the front and back plates of the punch at the same time.

Precision ground tooling
The speed of the clamping system is matched by the flexibility of the European-style tooling, especially when it comes to parts that require multiple setups. Conventional tooling requires an operator to cut the tool to fit the job. If the tool doesn’t fit, it has to be trimmed with a saw. Chances are, the tool won’t fit the next job and will require additional trimming or be too short. Time and skill are required to make use of risers and shims to achieve a common shut height across all punch and die sets.

European-style tools have common shut heights built in, eliminating complicated setups. Precision ground to a tolerance of ± 0.0008 in. (0.02 mm) on all critical dimensions, the tooling undergoes a heat-treat process to provide a surface hardness of HRC-70 to support difficult bending applications.

For Venture, one job involved forming an aluminum hood, 4 ft. long and 30 in. wide, with stud welds. The part, which required a cross brake or cross bend in the middle, took Slattery and an operator working together to form the part using three setups. “One day our Wilson rep said, ‘Jim, I can guarantee that with the right tool combination you can form that entire part in just one setup.’ They evaluated our process, made a recommendation and I invested in three sets of Wilson tools.” With the tooling, Venture was able to form a complete hood on a 12-ft. press brake with one setup. Processing and setup time nearly were cut in half.

The tooling addition also allowed Venture to eliminate batch processing and reduce handling time. “Instead of batching large piles of bent parts, which had to be handled multiple times, Venture was able to use the same set of tools to perform the bending as well as the cross bend (scoring the part crossways on the diagonal) in one setup,” says Brown. “The ability to make the part in one handling also allows the company to get the part out the door faster. It’s particularly useful when a customer orders a large number of parts but says they need five of those parts right away. If you are batch processing, you won’t have the completed parts to meet that request. We try to provide more than just tools. We have the expertise to analyze jobs and offer solutions that help make production more efficient.”

Venture shows a diverse side with its spin-off business for swing wings or displays. Employing his design engineering skills, Slattery developed an improved product for a building construction supplier that has led to consistent sales to more than 400 of the customer’s stores. Under the name KES, Venture supplies steel retail wing display fixtures to the tiling and building materials markets along with manufacturers supplying point-of-purchase products.

“Contract manufacturing is our bread and butter,” says Slattery. “The networking and relationship-building I used in business I now do with our customers. We have a lot of repeat customers.”

Serving a diverse customer base from material handling, construction, earthmoving, snow removal and agriculture equipment to military, alternative fuel and printing applications, Venture’s motto is “quality products delivered on time with outstanding customer service.”

“Partnering with a supplier like Wilson Tool is a key ingredient that helps us bring that motto to life,” says Slattery. “There are hundreds of fabricators in Wisconsin alone,” he adds. “We’re just one of the little guys, but we do things right. That’s why we’re making an impact.” FFJ

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  • Venture Mfg. Group Inc.
    Beaver Dam, Wis.
    phone: 920/887-4395
  • Wilson Tool International Inc.
    White Bear Lake, Minn.
    phone: 800/445-4518
    fax: 800/539-4590


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