Press Brake Tooling

Better bending

By Lynn Stanley

Fabricator uses Rolla-V technology to meet demand for cosmetically critical parts

February 2013 - There’s more to bending metal than just putting an angle in a chunk of steel. Just ask Dave Stork, fabrication manager for McNeilus Steel. The 65-year-old Dodge Center, Minn.-based steel distributor and processor became a quick study in the art of fabrication six years ago when customers began requesting finished products to support assembly work and point-of-use delivery. While steel production continues to shift from mature to emerging economies, companies like McNeilus also are stretching their competitive muscles by expanding their skill sets to take on the less traditional role of metal fabrication.

 “We chose to go after large part production, the kinds of parts that people buying steel from us weren’t making anyway,” says Stork. The full-service metals center stocks more than 5,000 unique ferrous and nonferrous products, maintains 1.1 million sq. ft. of warehouse and processing floor space, and specializes in cut-to-length stretcher-leveled flat-rolled carbon products. Metalworking services include shot blasting, laser and plasma cutting, rolling, machining, rebar fabrication, sawing, robotic beveling and bending for a variety of industries including construction equipment, agriculture and forestry.

 “Basically we’re a job shop and we’ll fabricate parts for anyone out there,” Stork says. McNeilus’ 24-ft., 1,100-ton press brake can bend carbon steel stock up to 24 ft. long and 1 in. thick. Stork adds that training and exposure to bending methodology both in the U.S. and Europe was eye-opening for the company. “We found there’s a mindset that says a press brake is basically a machine that moves up and down and bends steel,” Stork explains, “but there’s a whole lot more to it. One has to consider the ductile nature of the metal, its density and the way it stretches—its tensile properties. We use different grades of carbon steel including heat-treated material,” he continues. “When we began quoting cosmetically critical parts containing features like a series of holes near the bend line, we knew we could use conventional tooling, but producing acceptable parts would require secondary operations such as post-form machining. It was a no-brainer to invest in Fab Supply’s newest Rolla-V technology.” 

Fab Supply Inc., Addison, Ill., designs and engineers precision ground tooling, special configurations, conventional tooling and has pioneered its innovative Rolla-V die line.

ffj-0213-press-image0Minimizing die marking

Standard V-bottom tooling can cause die marking of the material. The Rolla-V minimizes this by exerting bending pressure over a wider surface. The width of the Rolla-V rotor is many times wider than the contact surface of a lead-in radius on a standard die. “An increasing number of customers are asking for mark-free, distortion-free parts,” Stork says. “The Rolla-V allows us to easily produce parts with features, such as holes near the bend line, with little to no distortion.”  Holes or slots added to a component can weaken metal, contributing to premature bending in the weakened area when using a standard die.

“The Rolla-V eliminates this problem because the rotors support the workpiece from the underside during the forming process,” says John Wold, president of Fab Supply. “As a result, areas weakened by cutouts will not bend prematurely.”

The capability to provide cosmetic parts to customer specifications is crucial for McNeilus. “We’re making parts for cement and refuse trucks that are visible to the public such as fenders, wall sheets and panels,” says Stork. “These parts can look good initially. But once you paint them, the paint exposes every tiny flaw. We don’t have that problem with the Rolla-V.”

While the Rolla-V is primarily used for surface or cosmetic parts containing holes, slots or notches near the bend line, operators find the unique tooling suitable for a lot of different parts due to its adjustability and repeatability. “It holds tighter tolerances and we get much nicer looking parts,” explains Stork.

Better part finish

With standard V-shaped tooling, metal is placed across the vee opening and pushed down into the opening. As the material is drawn into the die, features such as cutouts and short or tapered flanges can cause the part to shift or skew during forming. “We’ve engineered the Rolla-V to work a little bit differently,” says Wold. “During forming, metal is placed on top of the rotors. The top tool is lowered, exerting enough pressure to clamp the workpiece in place. As the top tool continues to cycle down, the Rolla-V’s rotors turn and fold the material up around the punch tip. Because there’s no drawing action, the part can’t shift during forming.

McNeilus uses the Rolla-V in its press brake operations three days out of five. The unique tooling is adjustable, allowing the press brake operator to go from 14 gauge to 5⁄8 in. thick. The steel processor and fabricator finds it also enjoys longer tool life and a better part finish when using heat-treated material. 

“We use a lot of heat-treated material,” says Stork. “It’s very hard on normal press brake tooling. It can wear out the tooling and cause gouges that can leave tool marks on softer material. With the Rolla-V we don’t have that problem. We’re observing longer tool life and a better bottom line because of the new business we’ve been able to take on.”

A custom approach

In addition to the Rolla-V tooling, Wold helps Stork analyze part drawings to determine when custom tooling is the right solution. “I know I can’t fabricate all the jobs that come in the door with standard tooling,” says Stork. “Some tooling companies just want to sell you tools. John has a different approach. If I know I can’t perform a job with standard tooling, I’ll send him the drawing and most of the time he can tell me right over the phone what changes are needed. He also looks for ways to streamline our tooling for broader use.”

The company runs press brakes that have a lot of daylight and stroke. Forming with machines like these typically would require the fabricator to use a variety of die risers and ram extensions. Instead, Fab Supply engineered taller tooling that equipped McNeilus with the capability to bend larger parts with deeper channels. The taller gooseneck tooling with slide-on dovetail tips helped reduce setup time, allowing McNeilus to pass the savings on to its customers.

“A fabricator isn’t making money during tool changes or set up,” says Wold. “A fabricator only makes money when its machines are running. Designing tooling that reduces setup time gives a company like McNeilus more time to actively produce parts and generate revenue.”


McNeilus has evolved over the last six years into a fabricator that can streamline its own manufacturing processes, as well as those of its customers. “We’re able to inventory parts for customers and in many cases reduce the number of secondary operations like welding,” Stork says. “If I have a weldment on a bumper, for example, that requires six pieces to be welded, John can work with us to design tooling that will allow us to make the component out of one piece, reduce the number of weldments and eliminate extra part numbers,” he continues. “Before we got the Rolla-V, customers used to just say, ‘Cut it, bend it and we’ll put the holes in.’ Now with the Rolla-V we can tell them that we’ll perform the cutouts, as well. That’s been huge for us. Now we have customers actively looking at their products to see what else we can do for them.”

The family-operated metals service center and fabricator is committed to providing  the best materials, products and customer service. “Our biggest goal is taking care of our customers,” says Stork. “We’ve adapted to a changing marketplace, weathered the recession and managed to thrive. It’s a credit to our leadership and our employees, but also to innovative technology like the Rolla-V.” FFJ

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