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Press Brakes

Bending power

By Lynn Stanley

A fabricator uses precision press brakes to produce wind tower components

May 2012 - The Global Wind Energy Council expects wind power capacity to more than double by 2015. With Europe, North America and Asia dominating the market, OEMs want to be more competitive and are looking at strategies to reduce costs and increase product quality and reliability.

However, most OEMs don’t manufacture the parts they need to build a wind turbine. Instead, they must source components through a supply chain made up of multiple vendors.

In a strategic move of its own, Hailo US took steps to eliminate complexity from OEMs’ day-to-day business by positioning itself as a Tier 1 system kit supplier for the nearly 600 components that make up the interior of a wind tower. As part of its ramp-up activity, the metal fabricator moved to Elberton, Ga., and added to its equipment line-up two Xpert press brakes and a ByStar laser manufactured by Bystronic Inc., Elgin, Ill.

Ramping up
Hailo was established in 1947 in Haiger, Germany, and is a leader in the design and manufacture of household and commercial ladders and receptacle waste bins. When wind power in Europe began to transition in 1996 from a niche to a mainstream market, Hailo started supplying ladders for wind towers.

“In 2006, we followed a major wind energy OEM to the U.S. and began producing ladders out of a location in New York,” says Steffen Kosir, CEO for Hailo US.

Kosir began to evaluate OEM needs and consider ways the company could support the market’s fast-changing dynamics more effectively.

“I looked at the internal ordering process and found that one OEM might have as many as 40 to 100 different suppliers,” says Kosir. “Increasing competition was also driving OEMs to refocus on core competencies. As an expert fabricator, we didn’t want to follow other manufacturers by producing a specified group of components. We chose to manufacture all the components for a wind tower so we could streamline the purchase order process for OEMs to just one source while controlling quality and parts availability.”

To house the work, Kosir needed the right location for the production facility. “Establishing a Tier 1 fabrication facility in the U.S. offered the best solution for helping to contain costs,” he says. “Importing is no longer the answer because logistics costs are projected to continue to escalate over the next five years. I looked for availability and quality of workforce personnel, a supply chain and transportation. Elberton met our criteria and also offered ports, which would allow us to access raw materials and export product to our Hailo subsidiaries in South America, Brazil and Germany.”

Under lead mechanical engineer Prabhdeep Grewal, the fabricator began to design and engineer components, producing prototypes and first test articles for U.S. OEMs. “The work gave us an idea of the machines we needed to make these parts in-house,” Kosir says. “We began looking at press brakes in April 2011 but liked the overall package that Bystronic offered. In addition to being highly accurate, the press brake offered dynamic crowning and a software package that was easy to operate.”

Precision bending
Hailo installed a Bystronic Xpert 250-ton press brake in November 2011 followed by an Xpert 150-ton in January 2012. The fabricator primarily uses air bending to form parts that require 90-degree bends. The components support production requirements for 1,000 towers. Parts call for a range of materials that include aluminum up to 3⁄4 in. thick and hot-rolled steel up to 1 in. thick. Once laser cut, components are bent, welded, pre-assembled for kitting and shipped.

Engineers use the ByBend software to analyze customer specifications and design components prior to bending. Offline programming allows the operator to simulate the bend before initiating the ram, make any minor adjustments and gain better control over the quality of the bend. Large platform components, which begin as 4-ft. by 8-ft. or 5-ft. by 10-ft. metal sheets, are laser cut to shape then bent on the 250-ton Xpert.

“These platforms can be installed as high as 350 ft. on a wind tower,” says Grewal. “People are standing on it, so it has to be precise. Because we’re dealing with bending very large pieces, crowning is critical. The press brake’s dynamic hydraulic crowning and pressure control gives us very precise parts the first time with minimal fit-up issues downstream.”

Bystronic increased machine repeatability to 0.00016 in. from the industry standard of 0.0004 in., says Bob Troyer, regional manager for Bystronic. “A unique pressure-referencing system allows dynamic crowning or the ability to crown on the fly. With a conventional press brake, standard crowning is determined by preset parameters that include material type, thickness and part width. With the Xpert, if the operator is bending across solid material then makes a second bend in an area with cut-outs where less tonnage is needed, the machine’s dynamic crowning corrects for that on the fly without operator or programmer intervention.”

Increased production
Hailo US also has increased production time with ByBend software. “The ability to offline program helps to optimize the bending sequence by allowing us to reduce bending time and make the most efficient use of the work stations,” says Grewal. “And since all aspects of forming are checked during programming, there’s no downtime at the press brake itself. Instead of spending time on programming and setup, the operator is making parts.” The software allows the press brakes and laser to share a common database, making integration between the machines seamless, Grewal adds.

In addition to large parts, the pair of press brakes also gives Hailo US the flexibility to form parts like brackets that can measure as small as 2 in., switch back and forth between aluminum and steel or use the brakes to bend multiple parts for a component simultaneously.

Tower doors, 8 ft. tall by 31⁄2 ft. to 4 ft. wide, are laser cut from steel then formed with a 90-degree bend. Six to seven components make up a single door, which is then welded, partially pre-assembled and kitted.

“That’s the beauty of the machines and one of the reasons we have the second press brake,” says Grewal. “While the main frame of the door is being bent on the 250-ton press brake, we can form the other parts on the smaller press brake at the same time then bring all the components together for welding and assembly.”

The precision and flexibility of the press brakes also is allowing Hailo US to take on unexpected jobs. When an OEM found seawater splashing through the louvered doors of its offshore wind towers, Hailo US developed cover plates with a tapered bend. “The press brake’s precision and flexibility allows us to perform unusual tasks when called for,” Grewal says.

Hailo US will soon take on production of another unique component—a two-man service lift that rides up and down the inside of the wind tower. Calling for more than 100 parts, the lift’s major components will be formed from aluminum using 90-degree bends. “The lifts are now mandatory in Europe, and while not yet a requirement here in the U.S., OEMs are showing interest,” says Kosir.

According to Kosir, Hailo US is experiencing a growth rate of 50 percent to 60 percent. Still ramping up, the fabricator expects to add a second shift by the end of the year. It can expand its facility from 80,000 sq. ft. up to 250,000 sq. ft.

“About 70 percent of the parts we’re making are mechanical and roughly 50 percent of those parts are going through bending on our press brakes. OEMs typically are putting up wind towers in remote regions where access to manufacturing facilities is difficult,” he says. “Once a part leaves our facility, any repair work takes a lot of time and expense, so getting it right the first time is critical. The skill level of our workforce along with the Bystronic press brakes’ precision and technology helps us provide the level of service our customers are looking for.” FFJ

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Sources

  • Bystronic Inc.
    Elgin, Ill.
    phone: 847/214-0300
    fax: 847/214-0299
  • Hailo US
    Elberton, Ga.
    phone: 706/283-4500
    fax: 706/283-4600
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