Press Brake Tooling

Breaking barriers

By Lynn Stanley

ITD gains production time with faster setups and staged bending

January 2012 - In an industry starved for skilled workers, most students interested in learning a trade don’t have to look further than their own backyards for training. Education programs are plentiful. In Tuktoyaktuk and places like it, curriculums for young people looking to master a trade are virtually nonexistent. The Inuvialuit community hugs the edge of Canada’s Northwest Territories and much of the year can be reached only by traveling the sometimes treacherous ice roads formed by the frozen Mackenzie River and Arctic Ocean.

When a school in Alberta asked for a portable training facility that could reach students in remote regions, Benny Di Franco, president and owner of Innovative Trailer Design Industries, Mississauga, Ontario, responded with an idea he has since turned into a multimillion-dollar business.

Di Franco designed and developed an expandable trailer capable of carrying equipment and enough fuel and electricity (400 amps) to power a school for a month. In 2002, he sold his first expandable mobile training lab in Alberta and launched a new concept in mobile training facilities.

“The portable trailer expands from a standard 81⁄2 ft. to 22 ft., 6-in. in just 70 seconds and holds the equipment and tools necessary to teach auto mechanics, pipe fitting, welding, carpentry and electrical work for residential and commercial applications,” says Di Franco. “Because the trailers are PLC-controlled, we can teach auto mechanics in a farmer’s field. Fabricating the parts for these trailers is very complex because everything has to fit perfectly.”

ITD, the manufacturing arm of Peel Truck & Trailer Equipment Inc., was established in 2006 to handle the growing custom line. ITD creates and fabricates expandable trailers from the wheels up for mobile medical facilities, military command posts, mortuary response, military or disaster management and promotional exhibits. Peel Truck & Trailer provides turnkey repair service and preventive maintenance for trucks and trailers. To balance his production and custom work, Di Franco needed press brake tooling that could help recapture lost fabrication time while maintaining close part accuracies and precise bends.

Saving time
“Because we are both a custom and production manufacturer, we needed to change press brake tooling out much faster,” says Di Franco. “We’re performing fabrication work with very tight accuracies. Tooling accuracy has to be dead on because we may be doing production volumes of up to 500 on a container chassis, need to throw in a part we’re bending for a custom trailer, then go right back into production on the chassis. Full die changes were a two-man operation that could take up to an hour. Change-out times and accuracy are key for us.”

In 2007, Di Franco began looking at different press tool companies for a better solution. His research led him to Wila USA, Hanover, Md. “Benny came to me with 250 part drawings and said, ‘I need to be able to make any one of these at a moment’s notice,’” says Jim DeCarlo, business-development manager for Wila. “There were several features about our tooling I knew would help meet his requirements. Hydraulic clamping can seat, center and align our American-style tooling with the push of a single button. High-tensile CrMo [carbon steel] alloy is used to produce very tall, thin, high-strength tools with a unique profile, making it possible for fabricators like Benny to produce a variety of parts with fewer tools.”

During the last four years, Di Franco has acquired segmented tooling sections in 12-ft. lengths (including standard 6-in. punches and standard dies 2.165-in. tall) able to bend any material from 20 gauge to 3⁄4-in. thick. The lighter-weight, smaller sections give operators the flexibility to create any length of tooling quickly. A cabinet system stores the tools, which are labeled, numbered and catalogued into each press brake’s CNC control. When the operator punches in a job number, the control automatically identifies the right tool, making it easy for the operator to pull the tool from the cabinet. “Because we’re dealing with smaller sections of tooling, we have minimized the muscular skeletal injuries of our employees,” says Di Franco. “We’ve cut down on the inventory and amount of tooling kept on racks.”

Di Franco also has seen a big change in production. “During a 14-hour shift, we might change dies in a press brake six to seven times,” he says. “A full die change used to take us 45 minutes to an hour. With the Wila tooling, we can make a die change in just 15 minutes with one person. That adds up to three to six hours of time per shift that we can now use for bending metal because we’re not using it changing dies.”

Di Franco finds he is saving additional minutes with custom tooling designed to perform staged bending. “On the production side of our business, we produce container chassis from high-tensile, 80-yield steel 1⁄8-in. thick for the railroad industry,” Di Franco says. “The container boxes are typically 18 ft. long and can require up to seven bends. Wila manufactured special dies for us so we can produce those parts in a single bending stage.”

Unique bends
Previously, each bend could call for additional press teardown and setup, tasks that chipped away at valuable production time. Completing numerous bends also leads to more part handling. “Our engineers work closely with Benny to develop the tooling he needs,” says DeCarlo. “By taking his bend profile, we’re able to calculate the tonnage force required for a staged bend operation and ensure that both the tooling and the press brake have the capability to withstand those forces. The working surfaces of our tooling are CNC-Deephardened to 56 to 60 Rc to a depth of at least 0.157 in. This process allows our tooling to resist the excessive wear caused by high-tonnage applications like offset bending.” With the push of a press brake pedal, Di Franco can load a flat sheet of steel and make seven precise bends in one step without stopping to make tool adjustments.

Sourcing custom tooling from Wila also has allowed Di Franco to achieve some non-traditional metal treatments. When tasked with building an expandable, portable mortuary for a government agency, Di Franco wanted to add corrugation to the metal for extra strength and aesthetics. The corrugation required a v-bend.

“Generally, this type of bend needs at least a 1,200-ton press brake,” says DeCarlo. “Our engineers helped Benny modify the radius of the bend to lower his tonnage requirements so he could perform the job on his 750-ton press brake. Initially, his bend profile called for a sharp corner so we rounded that corner slightly.” The custom tooling, 20 ft. of segmented sections, permitted Di Franco to perform the bends necessary to create the corrugation using stainless steel 1⁄8-in. thick, steel 1⁄16-in. thick and aluminum 3⁄16-in. thick.

To fabricate one expandable trailer means manufacturing more than 5,000 parts from an intricate mix of materials. According to Di Franco, who produces 10 to 15 expandable trailers a year, Wila tooling touches each part. He says the tooling has contributed to his growth as a company but it also has been part of something bigger.

“Over the past five years, I’ve been able to create 130 jobs,” says Di Franco. “We’ve also had the opportunity to see how our products impact people’s lives. Without our trailer, there was no means of getting trades training to remote places like Tuk and Inuvik. Young people would have to leave their community to attend college so the success rate for advanced training was about 20 percent. Since our mobile training labs have been making the trek up north, these communities have seen a 90 to 95 percent success rate.” FFJ

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  • Innovative Trailer Design Industries
    Mississauga, Ontario
    phone: 905/670-7755
    fax: 877/643-0602
  • Wila USA
    Hanover, Md. 
    phone: 443/459-5496
    fax: 443/459-5515


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