Self sufficient

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Ursviken’s press brakes are designed so that an operator with any level of experience can learn how to run materials.

One shop brings capabilities in house offering a local solution to its clientele

October 2020 - West Central Steel Inc.’s customers lamented having to send parts away to be processed. WCS saw an opportunity to fulfill a growing need for its customers, enabling it to produce parts and supplement supply chains, offering a local solution.

“We create parts our customers need and it helps them grow their businesses faster as well as reduce costs,” says Bill Pattison, WCS director of business development. “Rather than selling the stock steel, we realized there was an opportunity to help our customers and [help] our business grow by producing the parts they need.”

Willmar, Minnesota-based WCS expanded its facilities and purchased additional bending machines from Ursviken, including 13-ft., 350-ton and 30-ft., 1,100-ton custom-built press brakes. “With the additional machines, West Central Steel is able to provide new services. This includes up to 30-ft.-long parts at 1 in. thick,” says Marten Weidgraaf, general manager for Ursviken Inc., Elgin, Illinois.

In order to run the new units, WCS hired multiple press brake operators. “The biggest selling point for us was Ursviken’s hands-on service,” says Brian Kath, operations manager. “When we installed the machines, they were here to provide extensive training.

“In the past, it was easier to find operators with some press brake experience under their belt,” Kath continues. “These days, it is more difficult to find anyone with experience working a press brake. So, it was important that the machine had software that made it easier for someone new to handle the job.”

Customers wanted WCS to process larger pieces and eliminate or reduce the need for splice welds. “Customers no longer need to perform additional processing since we are able to run [more sizes] on our 30-ft. press brake,” Kath says. “That’s important when it’s already difficult to find experienced welders. If we make the part to fit and eliminate any additional welds, that allows our customers’ engineers to include longer parts into their designs with less welding.”

FFJ 1020 bending image1

The 1,100-ton, 30-ft. Ursviken press brake includes two programmable CNC front sheet supports, minimizing handling.

Hands off

The 1,100-ton, 30-ft. machine includes two programmable CNC front sheet supports, minimizing handling. To reduce setup time, WCS has purchased an extended upper offset punch adapter that can accommodate dovetail punch radius tips.

“It is commonly used for most of our production, and we have a large variety of different slip-on nose radius tips ranging from 1/4 in. up to 1.5 in. that can easily be changed,” Weidgraaf says.

The lower die is an Ursviken CNC variable die that can be programmed from 2 in. to 14.5 in. and it allows for quick tool changeovers. “Quick tool changeovers have reduced WCS’s setup time dramatically and they can go from one job to another in less than 10 minutes compared to about 45 minutes on a conventional press brake,” Weidgraaf says. “The main objective was to reduce setup time and develop a more flexible and efficient bending process to increase throughput.”

Supporting heavy material

With very large and heavy plates, CNC plate supports at the front of the press brake ensure repeatable and accurate bends. “If you didn’t have the supports at the front, you’d need a crane to support the steel while bending (or forming), otherwise you’d end up with a back bend,” explains Weidgraaf. “By having these CNC plate supports and plate followers, even though the plate is very large, a single operator can do the job. These supports eliminate the need for multiple operators handling the material. The [automated] followers do all the work in supporting the plate.”

In a job shop environment, especially when forming a single large plate, it’s common to let the press beam stop at the bottom dead center (BDC). The operator can bring the ram up and not worry about whether the plate is held stationary at a targeted/programmed angle.

“The operator can get his radius gauge or template and inspect the angle while it’s still in the machine,” Weidgraaf says. “If that angle is not formed enough, the operator can make a simple correction and bring the press beam down and the plate will be held in the same position [same bend line] so it isn’t bent more than ordered.”

Proper tool storage for upper segmented punches is another example of tool changeover efficiency. Ursviken tooling design is based on short segmented upper radius tools that can be slid from the tool rack onto the upper tool adapter, on which only tools for the upcoming job are loaded. The press beam can be lowered and aligned with the tool rack at different levels, so the tool rack can be moved to the correct position, storing the tools that are no longer required and advancing the tool rack to the new tools to be loaded.

The Ursviken Toolrack design can be adapted for any radius tools required and keeps the tools safe, clean and close to the machine.

FFJ 1020 bending image2

The Ursviken Toolrack design can be adapted for any radius tools required and keeps the tools safe, clean and close to the machine.

Learning curve

WCS uses Metalix software, a standalone software that has machine models and all tooling already pre-programmed. The database holds all information related to the alloy being processed, including how it stretches, accounts for any springback, and can be used along with Autodesk, ProEngineering or most common 3D design software.

Metalix offline software is used to create the bending program for the press brake. “Offline bending software assists both the programming department and the machine operators,” Kath says. “It lessens the learning curve for novice operators with little experience.”

Adds Weidgraaf, “It is also used to better understand how to manipulate the plate in the shop on the press brake and to better understand all tooling requirements.” Once the solid model is imported, unfolded and the tools available by the press brake have been selected, “you can create an actual bend simulation. The program will automatically recalculate and compensate for the correct stretch and springback based on the tools selected so that the blank to be laser or plasma cut is the correct unfolded length.”

In order to bend a U-shape model with two 90-degree bends with different flange lengths as well as unsymmetrical features throughout the plate, the press brake operator imports the part from the network onto the Cybelec Control system. The operator selects the upper tooling the program calls for and loads this in the press brake. The lower CNC variable die will automatically position to the programmed V-opening and the rear gauges will position according to the programmed position for the first sequence; front support is also activated.

“The operator will get a true 3D representation on the HMI display of the Cybelec controller from the program that was created offline,” Weidgraaf says. “[He]can see how to position the material based on the displayed simulation.”

Operators must still understand the overall process but they have a much better chance of success than if they had to figure it out themselves, he says. “A more skilled operator may prefer to program the machine, but a less skilled operator will have one less thing to worry about.”

Ongoing challenge

The pandemic has presented numerous challenges to the industry, and WCS continues to address the safety of its staff while processing jobs on time. “We discourage workers from coming in if they’re feeling sick and we adhere to CDC guidelines to keep our team and community safe,” Pattison says. “Our facility is 250,000 sq. ft. so there is already a lot of built-in social distancing.”

There is a face mask mandate in Minnesota. For workers managing tasks in 90 degree heat, “wearing a mask isn’t comfortable but we’re doing our best to maintain safety,” Kath says.

WCS serves several industries. Although some customer sectors have seen demand declines, others have increased business. “I can’t predict too far into the future but where we’ve seen some customers slow down we are seeing others pick up,” Pattison says.

Over the years, WCS has worked to expand its capabilities, including the installation of a 1,100-ton press brake that arrived via barge from Ursviken’s headquarters in Sweden. “Our customers that used to have to send material to Chicago to be bent are able to turn to us to have it processed here in Minnesota,” Kath says. “It’s opening up opportunities for them and for us as we work toward helping our customers become more profitable.” FFJ


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