Tube & Pipe

Upstairs downstairs

By Lynn Stanley

Above: O’Malley stays abreast of building codes and design trends for stairs and railings, using the Mega Bender to reduce setup time and enhance part accuracy.

Mega Bender helps fabricator beautify bends and control costs

April 2016 - When customers call on iron specialist Mark O’Malley, making material and style choices is akin to paging through books of wallpaper samples or fabric swatches. “A customer’s imagination is really the only limitation to what we can create.” That, and budget, he notes. 

O’Malley Welding & Fabricating Co., in the Chicago suburb of Yorkville, Illinois, carved out a niche market by designing, shearing, forming, sawing, rolling, punching, cutting and powder coating iron, steel, aluminum and stainless railings, stairs, balconies, and ornamental works for commercial, residential, and parks and recreation applications.

“I wish I could tell you how it happened,” O’Malley says of his growing business. A welder for a government facility, O’Malley performed odd jobs on the side. “I did a lot of repair work with the occasional project such as putting a ladder on a truck or fabricating a set of rails.” When O’Malley got laid off, his part-time work became a full-time vocation in 1992. 

“I was part of a group of contractors,” O’Malley recalls. “Word circulated about the type of work I did and the fact I never said no to a job.”

O’Malley admits he knew little about ornamentals at the time but attended a National Ornamental & Miscellaneous Metals Association (NOMMA) conference that changed his perspective. “I saw what other people were doing,” he says. “It really opened up that world for me and helped me set my bar higher.”

FFJ 0416 tube image1

Ercolina’s Mega Bender and Bend-Tech Standard Edition software allows O’Malley Welding & Fabricating employee Marty Probst to form corners faster and more cost effectively.

The bends

He learned that many sheet metal and structural fabrication shops farm out miscellaneous odd jobs. As his sales rose, O’Malley began to see more and more commercial requirements for formed corners. “In the past I mitered corners with a saw and then welded the elbows to achieve a radius corner,” he explains. “But I needed to make the process faster and cheaper and I knew I could do that with bending.”

Once again a NOMMA trade event proved instrumental in pointing O’Malley in the right direction. He watched a demonstration of an Ercolina 030 Mega Bender at that event and later purchased the floor model at Fabtech. 

Based in Davenport, Iowa, CML USA is the North American supplier of Ercolina tube, pipe and profile bending and metalworking machinery. “The Mega Bender is ideal for producing consistent quality bends in pipe, tube, squares, solids and other profiles,” CML USA Vice President Dave Capper says.

With a mild steel tube 3 in. to 0.065 in. wall capacity, a square tube capacity of 2 in. and a pipe capacity of 21⁄2 in., the Mega Bender compensates for material springback and monitors counterbending die positioning electronically for accuracy and repeatability.

O’Malley says it was the equipment’s software package that first captured his attention. “Ercolina’s Bend-Tech Standard Edition software makes bending really easy and it dovetailed with the FAB CAD software I use to draw my designs,” he says. “Once I determine pipe dimensions I can input those numbers into the software which calculates the bends the job requires and feeds that data to the machine for setup. It used to take me 45 minutes to do a setup for jobs like a rail termination. Now I can do it in 4 to 5 minutes because the bender and the software have eliminated the steps I had to take before.”

Developed around manufacturing processes, Bend-Tech SE verifies that sufficient material is available for the bending process, provides springback bend angles and confirms part validity. 

“The package offers extra functionality for roll bending while accommodating design flexibility,” says Capper. “Bend-Tech SE has an XYZ interface and a powerful reverse engineering feature. It’s really equipped to help a fabricator solve any problems that may crop up in a tube bending fabrication job.” 

FFJ 0416 tube image2

The Mega Bender is ideal for producing consistent, quality bends in pipe, tube, squares, solids and other profiles.


The software-driven bender also helps O’Malley control operational costs. “I don’t have to weld, purchase elbows and buy consumables like sanding discs,” he says.

After more than a decade of use, the bender has proved its worth in other ways.“We haven’t had to do anything to it other than replace consumable parts.” The machine’s dependability gives O’Malley one less thing to worry about. The fabricator uses a four-step design and fabrication process to approach each project, beginning with a concept and ending with installation of the finished product. But knowledge about more than just fabrication is a must. 

“We have to pay attention to emerging style trends,” says O’Malley. “We have to stay on top of building codes. We have to consider how we affix our work to someone else’s while making sure we account for safety factors like dimensions that don’t allow a child to get their head stuck between metal stair railings for example.”

O’Malley customers are as varied as the jobs the shop takes on. Some provide an architect-rendered design, others are armed with nothing more than ideas they’ve pulled from Pinterest. “The challenge is taking a rendering of the railing they love and fabricating it with your own twist, your own signature,” he says. 

Budget is also a consideration. “People get enthusiastic about complex, fanciful concepts without understanding the labor and cost to turn that idea into a product,” he continues. “Ultimately the goal is to form a partnership with that client and provide them with a product they are happy with. The Ercolina Mega Bender is an important tool in my tool box.”

A three-time winner of the NOMMA Ernest Weimann Award, O’Malley Welding & Fabricating primarily bends carbon and stainless steel and aluminum. “Steel is specified the most, partly due to cost efficiencies,” he says. “Our popular pipe is 11⁄4-in. steel.”

In addition to saving time, the bender allows O’Malley to create products that are more aesthetically pleasing than could be achieved with the prior method of miter sawing and welding. 

“The bender has helped contribute to our level of craftsmanship,” says O’Malley. “Ercolina stands behind its machines just as I stand behind my work.” FFJ



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