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Bending/Folding

Steel curves

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Able to roll steel sections easy, hard and off axis, Max Weiss can support complex projects.

Hard running angle rolls support supplier’s rapid response workflow

November 2013 - When the downturn stalled activity in the residential construction market, Max Weiss Company Inc. made a bold move. The Milwaukee-based supplier of curved structural steel diversified, taking its products to OEMs and new customers in markets such as oil and gas, shipbuilding, transportation and contract manufacturing.

“We wanted to grow,” says Al Sanders, sales and estimating manager for Max Weiss. “We had plateaued and we were not interested in staying there. In our business, if you aren’t growing you are sliding backwards.” The fourth-generation family-owned company, which first put down roots in 1946 as a small, local blacksmith shop, has today become one of the industry’s leading providers of large rolled structural steel products and hot-formed and fabricated metal shapes. Cultivating growth during a business cycle contraction takes foresight and the flexibility to respond quickly. The company anchors its nimble approach with operators skilled in the “black art” of angle rolling and a long-standing partnership with Trilogy Machinery Inc., Belcamp, Md. 

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“We had Pullmax angle rolls dating back to the 1960s,” says Sanders. “When we diversified we knew we needed to upgrade our equipment.” Roundo, based in Hässleholm, Sweden, purchased the manufacturer of Pullmax products in 1984. Trilogy is the exclusive North American agent for the Swedish bending roll technology and has placed close to 4,000 Roundo machines in the U.S. Trilogy  showcases the Roundo line along with a wide range of other metal fabricating equipment including CNC tube bending machines, ironworkers and plate bending rolls in its new 50,000 sq. ft. facility.

Gaining a partner

Sanders, a 25-year veteran at Max Weiss, says the company chose the Roundo angle roll because “it was a high quality piece of equipment and priced right.” But he adds that investing in the equipment also gained the company a partner. “Trilogy delivers great support, whether we need parts, service or engineering expertise,” he says. “There are other brands that don’t offer that kind of support or have the network that Trilogy does.” Max Weiss began upgrading its equipment with Roundo angle rolls in the early 1990s and purchased its newest machine in 2006. 

Max Weiss sources mild and low carbon steels as well as stainless steel and aluminum in 20 ft., 40 ft. and 60 ft. lengths. Material is unloaded from trucks and fed through the Roundo angle rolls to produce curved steel sections for a variety of applications including architectural, structural, utilities, electric power, plumbing and transportation. The supplier also bends and forms steel for foundries and steel mills. A mix of high and low volume jobs keeps the angle rolls running nearly 20 hours a day. “On the structural side orders come and go real fast,” says Sanders. “You have to be able to respond quickly. Short turnarounds are a must, a requirement for this industry.” Rapid quoting, quick setups, fast cycle times and expedited deliveries are the norm. “We load the trucks and they speed down the road,” he adds.

Roundo’s common sense approach to tool design for the angle rolls makes quick tool changes easy for operators. “We can’t afford downtime,” says Sanders. “The Roundo angle rolls are reliable and durable. They can run long and hard.”

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Once material leaves the roll, parts are removed for value-added services such as saw trimming, welding and drilling. The supplier subcontracts some services like plating and painting. “We finish a product any way the customer specifies,” says Sanders.

There is a little more lead time built in on the OEM side of the business, with blanket orders generating parts production, Sanders adds. He estimates the company’s workload is an even split between OEM and industrial jobs and structural projects.

Rolling structural steel can be tricky if the sections are not symmetrical. The ability to control distortion is a critical factor for the ISO 9001 certified supplier. “The Roundo angle roll is able to contain the part and prevent it from climbing, diving, rippling or waving as it’s being rolled,” says Sanders. “We bend steel to each customer’s specifications—length of the arc, radius and bend orientation.” The Roundo’s tooling and guide rolls are designed to do the heavy work of containing material while producing steel sections that maintain their original shape. “If a customer orders 4-in. by 4-in. angles, they are expecting that both legs will maintain those dimensions as well as the required angle.”

Pairing the Roundo angle rolls with skilled operators also helps Max Weiss effectively respond to the challenges associated with both structural and OEM work. In the structural market, curved steel typically is one of the last things the builder orders. “Sometimes the builder has designs that are difficult to produce and require special tooling,” says Sanders. “Sometimes we get specifications for things that aren’t possible to bend in steel. Just because an architect draws it on paper doesn’t mean the steel can conform to the bends the designer would like.” 

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A solid foundation

The company leverages its experience to become involved in the early stages of a project to help builders avoid such pitfalls. “We tend to consider angle rolling a black art because you have to have a bender’s eye,” says Sanders. The company doesn’t look for this skill set on the streets; rather, it conducts a three-year on-the-job training program for new hires. “We train employees to our own bending and rolling methods. In this way we pass on our tribal knowledge from one generation to the next.” 

Roundo angle rolls provide Max Weiss with a solid foundation for in-house training, short lead times and the company’s extensive after sale support. “We give customers what they want, when they want it, at an attractive price point,” Sanders explains. “The Roundo angle rolls make high quality, repeatable parts yet require very little maintenance. The machine is capable of holding tight tolerances yet has the flexibility to accommodate the customer’s needs.”

Trilogy’s extensive network also offers Max Weiss a valuable resource. “You want a shot at every job,” says Sanders. “Regardless of their requirement, we want customers to call us because Trilogy’s network expands our ability to tailor our bending capacity and processes.”

Max Weiss president Dan Weiss, along with Trilogy’s president and founder Allan Flamholz, are members of the American Institute of Steel Construction’s Bender-Roller Committee.

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“Our members represent companies that roll structural steel up to the largest sections,” says Flamholz. “It’s sort of a small fraternity. If a company has a requirement but doesn’t have the angle roll capacity, we’re able to give them a source that they can subcontract to for their bending needs. As you get into the larger structural jobs, you also need larger tooling, which can get expensive. There are probably only a handful of people in the country that can bend 20-in. pipe, for example. It benefits everyone to cooperate. We have Roundo machines placed in the U.S. that can handle beams rolled the hard way up to 44 in., the largest beams on the market.”

Both Sanders and Flamholz have observed changes in workplace demands over the last decade. Trilogy has modified its technology to adapt and evolve with Max Weiss. “Our specialty is customizing the Roundo equipment to customer requirements, whether it’s higher speeds, special tooling, unique guide roll arrangements or engineered attachments. This approach gives the customer an angle roll that can perform jobs specific to them.”

Amid ongoing workplace changes and business fluctuations, the range of Roundo angle rolls owned by Max Weiss continues to handle 20-hour work days with ease. “Without the knowledge base and experience of the Trilogy team and the ability to partner with them, it would be tough because this is a very competitive market,” says Sanders. FFJ

Sources

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