Press Brakes

Ducts in a row

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Metal Masters eliminated a labor intensive manual bending process with a Roto-Die hydraulic press brake and doubled production.

Fabricator makes smart equipment choice, doubles production

October 2013 - Lingering odors from last night’s dinner can be as unpleasant as they are unwelcome. Without the right exhaust system these odors and other harmful byproducts like smoke and grease can build up on kitchen surfaces. Adequate ventilation and efficient heating and cooling of indoor environments for commercial buildings and private residences also depend on well-designed and built air ducts. Turning sheet metal into hundreds of feet of high-performance ductwork for these and other applications is all in a day’s work for Metal Masters Inc. Recently the Dover, Ohio, fabricator invested in new press brake technology to eliminate a labor intensive manual operation and enhance quality. Metal Masters specializes in forming, fitting and assembling ductwork for HVAC and other contractors. The company also provides turnkey projects, which often include tanks, kitchen exhaust systems and other specialty items. 

If you ask Metal Masters’ shop foreman Brandon Moffett why he chose a Roto-Die hydraulic press brake, he sums it up in one word: speed. “Once you get one, you immediately jump into another class,” he says. 


Short runs

Versatile and consistent, the machine also carries a lower price than automated solutions. “For small shops trying to grow their business this is a better fit,” says Jack Pennuto Jr., director of sales and marketing for Formtek Inc. 

Formtek, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, represents a group of established metalforming equipment manufacturing companies. A close neighbor of Roto-Die, Formtek purchased the company in July 2013 and moved employees to its own facility to retain a strong knowledge base about Roto-Die products. “With today’s production trends running toward smaller lots, companies can’t afford one or two bad parts,” says Pennuto. “Minimizing the amount of scrap generated also is very important. The Roto-Die press brake’s repeatability makes it especially suited to short production runs. The acquisition allowed us to add another metalforming solution to our offering while giving customers a machine with capabilities that are comparable to some higher-priced CNC press brakes or folding machines.” 

Metal Masters cuts galvanized, stainless, aluminum and black iron sheet metal to size on a plasma table then bends the material on the Roto-Die. Ductwork is fitted together, sent to assembly and either shipped or readied for installation at a work site. The shop bends material up to 10 ft. long in thicknesses up to 16 gauge. Bend radii range from 4 in. to 48 in. “We use the press brake to form almost all our material, including the black iron we use to fabricate grease ductwork for kitchen exhaust systems,” says Moffett. “Our production is a mix of different types of ductwork components at low volumes. We do a lot of work with companies using design prints for large buildings, like hospitals. The contractor in the field measures how much ductwork he needs, in feet, then feeds that number to us. We prepare the fittings, cut the long pieces of ductwork, then bend them on the Roto-Die by setting it to a predetermined depth. We use a series of [nine or 10] incremental bends to reach 90 degrees for most jobs.”


Eliminating hand work

A standard piece of square ductwork might need up to three bends. Individual orders tend to run between 150 ft. and 200 ft. of ductwork. Turnaround times for the fabrication shop vary. Smaller ductwork takes about two hours. Larger ductwork takes more time due to additional processing steps and thicker, heavier material. “Prior to purchasing the Roto-Die we were using a hand brake, which required us to load the sheet metal, clamp it and manually bend the metal, then start the process over with the next piece,” Moffett explains. “It was very labor intensive and time consuming. With the Roto-Die we’ve doubled our production rates while enhancing accuracy and quality.”

In addition to speed, accuracy is a critical component for Metal Masters’ fit-up work. “The Roto-Die allows us to be very accurate and consistent,” Moffett says. “If fit up and assembly were not right, installation guys would be calling us from the work site complaining. As it is, we’re able to get the accuracy and consistency we need without software programming or a CNC control.”

FFJ-1013-press-image3Roto-Die’s unique lower tool arrangement gives Metal Masters the ability to perform a variety of bends on one machine as well as form thicker material, such as 10 gauge, or perform processes like forming cross breaks.

Cross breaks, which are made across a flat section of sheet metal, typically require multiple angles greater than 90 degrees and less than 180 degrees. The cross break’s X shape forms a slight pyramid in the metal. Metal Masters uses cross breaks to stiffen the face of the metal and help prevent it from buckling under load. The bending method is a cost effective way to strengthen parts and add rigidity to ductwork for reduced noise resulting from vibration or air flow. 

“If a fitting is less than 16 in. we don’t cross break it,” says Moffett. “We cross break all fittings larger than 16 in. The Roto-Die has a special lower die that we use for this forming process.”

The versatility of the Roto-Die allows operators to perform cross breaks and then move to the next step in the bending process. “The handle on the side of the die allows us to quickly rotate or flip the die so we can move from cross breaking to a 90-degree bend and complete the part,” says Moffett. “We’re able to perform two steps in one machine but the operation is precise and consistent. Each part is exactly the same. With the hand brake, there were variances in each piece because production depended on the operator. We don’t have that issue with the Roto-Die.”


The machine also enables Metal Masters to add a hem, or safety edge, to those parts that need it without making a major tool changeover or using a CNC backgauge. The shop uses hemming in applications like flashing. The machine’s hemming die allows operators to fold metal over 180 degrees then flatten it for a rounded, smooth edge.

For production of transverse duct flange (TDF) connections, Metal Masters purchased a tailored die from Formtek that fits the Roto-Die’s lower tooling configuration. “It’s an insert that goes into the 90-degree die which is segmented to provide proper clearance between the flanges,” says Pennuto. “Without the TDF die, the machine’s motion would crush the flange in the lower die.”

Metal Masters uses TDF ends to connect two joints of ductwork. Larger openings are stiffened. “Without the Roto-Die and its unique tooling we had no other way to bend our TDF ductwork at 90 degrees,” Moffett says. “We would have to set up two or three different machines to complete this operation and we wouldn’t get the same consistency or quality.”


Operators also like the press brake’s light curtain. The safety feature protects operators’ hands and fingers by blocking close contact with the part until the blade drops low enough to prevent fingers fitting underneath it. “Sometimes operators have to get their hands in really close to bend certain parts,” says Moffett. “The light curtain ensures no one gets hurt. Once the blade drops low enough, the brake allows the operator to finish the bend.”

In today’s manufacturing landscape, shops like Metal Masters are finding equipment solutions that are capable yet cost effective.  “The Roto-Die is a huge advantage for us,” says Moffett. “We knew we needed it to compete.” FFJ


  • Formtek
    phone: 216/292-4460
    fax: 216/292-2898
  • Metal Masters Inc.
    Dover, Ohio
    phone: 330/343-3515


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