Pressed for time

By Lynn Stanley

Fabricator controls tight delivery schedules with press brake technology

December 2012 - In the face of a slow-moving global economy, prices for precious metals and oil continue to rise, creating fertile ground for fabricators like Alumasteel Manufacturing Inc. The Salt Lake City-based manufacturer sources carbon steel, stainless and aluminum to produce structural steel, conveyors, equipment supports, piping, chutes, hoppers and other components for the industrial mining and oil industries. 

Alumasteel recently outgrew its manufacturing space and moved to a new 80,000-sq.-ft. facility in June. The company also replaced aging equipment with a new 14-ft. 440-ton JMT press brake, followed by a 10-ft. 1⁄2-in. JMT plate roll. The CNC press brake gives Alumasteel greater control over tight delivery schedules while allowing operators to bend unconventional part shapes.

“Processing plants for precious metals and oil are expanding,” says Ryan Norton, general manager for Alumasteel. “We fabricate all of the components these plants use. Our ability to meet part delivery deadlines is critical because the faster our customers can get their processes up and running, the sooner they are making money. Production is the primary driver for these industries.”

Alumasteel’s capital equipment investment allows it to perform key manufacturing processes in-house, eliminating the delivery and quality headaches often associated with outsourcing. “In-house fabrication means our parts are ready when we need them,” says Norton. “We considered different brands but the JMT press brake’s quick die change capability, among other features, and the service support that Jorgenson Machine Tools provides were very attractive to us.” 


Saving time

Jorgenson Machine Tools, Salt Lake City, is the exclusive U.S. distributor for JMT press brakes, shears, plate rolls, angle rolls and saws. The company also imports a variety of metalworking equipment lines and brings almost a century of experience in operation, maintenance and service to  its customers.

The new press brake and plate roll help anchor Alumasteel’s production line. Once sheet metal is sheared or cut with a high-definition plasma cutter, the flat pattern is loaded into the press brake or plate roll. Downstream processes include fit up, welding, blasting and painting before parts are packaged for shipment. Turnaround for parts is short. “We build to customer specifications,” says Norton. “The press brake’s CNC 3-D visual graphics and programs allow us to take those specs and plug them into the control offline. The operator just has to call up the job recipe and punch a button. The time savings for our shop has been significant.”

The company also uses offline programming to air bend a variety of parts, from simple 90-degree bends to less conventional radius forming for different size cones used in ducting applications. “The press brake is still fairly new for us,” says Norton. “Jorgenson worked hand in hand with us on our cone parts. They sent a team of technicians to our facility for two days of hands-on training. Our operators were able to draw and model the part’s geometry for multiple bends. After prototyping the first part, we were able to tweak the design further, as part of the training,  to get it just right.”

In addition to shaving more time off Alumasteel’s operations, Norton says the training and the control’s 3-D graphics and modeling have allowed it to expand cone production to heavier materials. “We bought our first press brake from Jorgenson in 1976,” he says. “They have proven to us they have the technicians and the know-how to help us with any issue that comes up. Their service and support is why we keep going back to them.”

Lance Lamberton, regional sales manager for Jorgenson, says there are not a lot of manufacturers knowledgeable in performing radius bending. “Adequate training is a large part of the support we provide. In a world where most people today don’t expect much service, we’re kind of a throwback,” he says. “Our 3-D graphical controller and offline software not only allow operators to simulate and determine complex geometries, but also once a job is created, it can be saved for future jobs.”


Faster die changes

Alumasteel handles up to $2 million projects that have longer turnaround times but offer customers the flexibility to produce a small part lot in just a few hours. Its mix of high- and low-volume parts in materials of different thicknesses means frequent die changes. Prior to the new press brake purchase, a simple die change typically required a crane and two operators. “It was a time-consuming process,” says Norton. “With the new press brake and segmented tooling, we can make a die change in a matter of minutes. Faster die changes have contributed to a substantial savings in man-hours.”

The press brake also is equipped with a multi V die tool that can be easily lifted and turned with the ram. “The ram has been designed with a chain and peg configuration that allows the machine to do the heavy lifting,” says Lamberton. “With this feature, the operator can quickly and safely move back and forth between light gauge and thicker material.”

Alumasteel bump-bends cones in diameters from 4 in. up to 20 ft., in material thicknesses from light gauge up to 1⁄2 in.  Cones can be fabricated in as few as two pieces or as many as eight to 12 pieces.

“We fabricate the cones with as few pieces as possible to reduce the number of weld seams,” says Travis Norton, project manager for Alumasteel. “Because we get a better part out of the press brake, it means better fit up for our downstream processes. This is important because if a part is out of round it’s not going to assemble properly for welding and other processes and often requires handwork to correct the problem. The operators that are bending the cone sections have joked about the welders being able to throw away their hammers because of improved fit up.”

Fit up is key for Alumasteel’s customers. “Our parts, especially those used in duct and chute applications, have to be durable,” says Travis Norton. “The ability to maintain close tolerances also is essential because equipment many times is being assembled in the field and the parts have to go together.” The JMT press brake’s heavy-duty construction supports part accuracy along with the machine’s tolerance rating of 0.0004 in. “That’s a tolerance that is closer than a single strand of hair,” says Lamberton. 

Press brake accuracy and repeatability are helping shave additional minutes from Alumasteel’s production. “Before, we manually set jobs that we performed regularly,” says Travis Norton. “It was trial and error. With the new press brake we’re able to just dial the job in each time and the part is really close the first time.  Depending on the part we’re bending, we’ve been able to reduce our production time by as much as half.” 


The press brake’s four-axis backgauge also is programmed through the controller, a feature that eliminates having to stop the machine and manually adjust the backgauge during each part change. 

CNC-controlled operation

“Without the CNC-controlled backgauge, the operator would have to stop the press, adjust the backgauge, bend the part and then repeat the process again,” says Lamberton. “This is a big time saver for fabricators like Alumasteel where minutes count.”

The JMT press brake contributes to Alumasteel’s commitment to provide its customers with quality products on time. “Most of our expenditures involve our shop time or labor,” says Ryan Norton, “so the ability to save time directly impacts our bottom line. The press brake has increased our throughput. The faster we work, the more work we can do. A lot of our business is service-oriented,” he continues. “We have to be able to get parts to our customers quickly. In fact, we win a greater majority of our jobs because of our ability to deliver on a short turnaround.” FFJ

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