Roll out the metal

By Nick Wright

Bending bar, tube or plate is made feasible for shops big and small

February 2012 - Fabricator and artist Chris O’Rourke, owner of Las Vegas-based C.O. Creations, has a particular affinity for stainless steel. Aside from its longevity, the reaction it elicits from people is the main attraction, notes O’Rourke, whose hands-on approach to metalworking stems from his initial experience in custom motorcycle fabrication. “I’m interested in things that don’t have boundaries, things that make people go, ‘Wow,’” he says.

However, stainless steel is “a real bear” to work with compared to other metals because of its hardness, says O’Rourke. To create the clean bends and smooth contours of his sculptures, he feeds stainless as well as mild steel and aluminum tube and bar through his CPS-35 three-roll bender from Eagle Bending Machines Inc., Stapleton, Ala.

“The versatility of these machines is just amazing,” O’Rourke says. “From rolling flat bar to 2-in. round tubing, it does everything I’ve asked it to do and then some.”

Before, he was using a slip roll in his one-man shop, which was “very, very limiting.” He experimented initially with a friend’s CP-30, a similar Eagle Bending section bender, but stepped up to the CPS-35 because it included a hydraulic actuated forming roll, which eliminates the need to manually crank a form. O’Rourke purchased a CPS-35 second-hand from the original owner about two years ago and worked with Eagle Bending for custom tooling.

EagleBendingEagle Bending has created two custom tooling sets for O’Rourke, says Randy Boone, inside sales at the company. On a specific job, he and O’Rourke collaborated on developing custom rolls with a larger diameter to achieve a tighter bend. “He had a job that called for 1-in. by 0.065-in. tube,” Boone says. “What he needed was one roll diameter to measure 913⁄16 in. and one roll diameter at 613⁄16 in.”

By his calculations, O’Rourke believed he could achieve a 7-in. center line diameter. “We collaborated on the tooling project, fabricated the rolls and shipped them out,” Boone continues. “Two months later, I called to check in with Chris to see if the rolls were successful and if was he able to achieve his target ID. Chris replied, ‘I was able to get down to 71⁄4 in. center-line radius with the new rolls.’”

Roll, repeat
Many of O’Rourke’s designs are one-of-a-kind, small-scale productions that don’t require heavy reliance on repeatability. However, one of his works, Native Dance, incorporates 28 mild steel hoops arranged vertically on a stand, slightly fanned out, appearing as a bent spring. The CPS-35’s MPR40 programmable auto repeat and LED digital readout ensured precise roll forming and position for each piece. O’Rourke formed the hoops in half-circles, which he welded together to create full circles.

“We did use the program on that particular piece, and I’m not used to that kind of repeatability because there’s still a human hand involved,” he says. “But as long as you get it back to that number, it’s unbelievable how exact it is.”

Boone adds because of the repeatability, the CPS-35 is ideal for job shops looking to coil large sections in one pass as well as artists fabricating detailed metal sculptures. “He uses our machine in a very unique way, commonly getting results that surpass expectations,” Boone says. “Chris has a thorough understanding of how much he can squeeze out of his machine.”

Perfecting plate
While the CPS-35, with its customizable tooling, suits the tube- and pipe-bending needs of one-man operations like C.O. Creations, larger-scale metal fabricators may require other types of bending and folding capabilities.

For Atlas Industries Ltd., a Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based full-service fabrication shop primarily for mining, agriculture and bio processing industries, rolling steel plate is a key bending process. In 2010, Atlas installed a customized 4RH-20/5 hydraulic, four-roll plate roll bender to upgrade its services.

CarellCorpCarell Corp., the sister company of Eagle Bending that delivers a range of plate rollers, customized the machine, which rolls swaths of steel plate for Atlas’ projects.

Since 2010, according to Warren Peters, foreman at Atlas, the company has logged about 650 hours of runtime on the machine, during which he estimates it has rolled about 1 million lbs. of plate. “One particular job we did by itself was over 300,000 lbs. of plate,” he says, referring to a mine shaft in the southeast part of the province. “It adds up pretty quick if it’s heavy plate, 3⁄8 in. thick or 1⁄2 in. thick.”

Atlas’ 16,000-sq.-ft. shop houses multiple plate rollers. However, Carell’s enables the bottom two rolls to incline up to 5 in., a crucial feature in rolling cone-shaped products. Most of the material Atlas works with is grade 44W mild steel, a Canadian structural grade. The company’s plate comprises products such as barrels, storage tanks, mine shafts and pressure vessels.

“We do some hard plate like T100, we’ve formed some QT 400 material in there and quite a lot of stainless as well,” says Peters. “Fifteen percent or 20 percent of the work that we put through there would be stainless.”

Atlas’ 4RH-20/5 roller can process 3⁄4 in. thick steel 10 ft. wide and will preform 3⁄4 in. thick plate 10 ft. wide, Peters says. If preforming isn’t required, it can roll slightly thicker plate. “Our previous machine was a 1⁄2 in. roller, [so] we wanted to upgrade a little bit and we’ve been pleased so far with the performance of this machine.”

An overhead hoist typically loads material into the plate roller, unless it’s a lighter aluminum piece, for example, that can be fed by hand. Multiple-piece projects will get assembled, if necessary, and shipped out.

Imcar SRL, Concorezzo, Italy, manufactures Carell’s plate rollers, which the latter delivers to customers, according to Jeremiah Weekley, director of sales at Carell. Carell custom-tailored Atlas’ roller with a harder alloy top roll to allow greater-than-normal inclination of the lateral rolls for cone rolling and to accommodate tougher materials like stainless.

Consistency and service
One of the biggest challenges in plate rolling is consistency, Weekley says. To that end, Carell outfitted the roller with Siemens NC and CNC controls to keep track of repeatability. Compared to Atlas’ previous four-roll roller, Peters says 4RH-20/5 is more consistent.

“We have repeatability to a very high tolerance and it’s very user-friendly with a variable speed and digital readouts,” he says. “We can record settings on jobs we’ve done and record programs even within the control unit for repeatability. That really has been an advantage, especially on some jobs where we’ve been rolling elliptical shapes. It allows us to do tracking and accurate plate advance and measurement.”

Peters admits Atlas doesn’t use all of the control unit’s capabilities regularly, “but we found it was very easy for us to quickly start operating efficiently.”

Local companies contract Atlas for its wide range of fabrication services. Similarly, Peters says, he consults off-site for companies that try to use their machines to form cones. From that perspective, he can gauge the success he has with the 4RH-20/5. “I’m very pleased with the machine we have because it’s got a much more versatile cone range ability than other machines I’ve seen and consulted with and even others we’ve owned here.” FFJ

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  • Atlas Industries Ltd.
    Saskatoon, Saskatchewan 
    phone: 306/244-1133
    fax: 306/244-9926
  • Carell Corp./Eagle Bending Machines Inc.
    Stapleton, Ala.
    phone: 251/937-0948
    fax: 251/937-0957
  • C.O. Creations
    Las Vegas
    phone: 702/658-9848

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