Sustainable processing

By Lynn Stanley

Above: RTT Engineered Solutions found the Schröder PowerBend Industrial 4m metal folding machine increased part quality and operator safety.

Manufacturers turn to precision folding technology to raise throughput, enhance part quality and take the load off operators

January 2021 - “Bending is still a nightmare for most job shops,” says MetalForming Inc. Executive Vice President David Prokop. “Sustainability is a mfi buttonhuge issue. An aging workforce coupled with an evaporating labor pool means a manually intensive process is no longer feasible. Instead, you want an ergonomically sound machine that eliminates the need for operators to manhandle parts. Repetitive motion injuries and worker safety also point employers to a process that can create sustainable, controllable output.”

Prokop is talking about precision folding technology versus the traditional press brake. The Peachtree, Georgia, company is the largest distributor of Schröder CNC metal folding machines in the world. “Folding machines have been my focus for the last 20 years,” he says. “Until recently, it’s been a process that people have tended to overlook because it’s not a press brake.

“The biggest difference between the two can be seen in the degradation of part quality from morning to afternoon,” he continues. “Take a simple part produced from 12 gauge steel. By 2 p.m., operators are fatigued and part quality suffers. That has a ripple effect on downstream operations.”

FFJ 0121 bending image1

Lane change

Changing bending requirements and a different breed of workers prompted Klassen Custom Fab. Inc. to consider metal folding technology. A pioneer in custom steel fabrication, the Ontario, Canada, company can take a customer’s project from design to installation. With the capability to waterjet and laser cut, weld, paint, and powder coat, Klassen “can make anything out of steel.”

“We have always performed a large number of bending operations but we did it with press brakes,” says Klassen Designer Frank Loewen. “Demand is hot for intricate parts so we’re doing more bending than welding these days. What we can’t form, we weld. We started researching equipment companies but found they couldn’t handle the material thickness and part depths that we needed. MetalForming Inc. was the only company that could build 400 mm dies. They had a good track record and they’ve been around a long time.”

Klassen installed a Schröder MAK 4 Evolution (EVO) 4m folding machine with Automatic Tool Change (ATC) handling 400 mm tall tools and a semiautomatic vacuum gauge system in August 2020. “There’s not much that machine won’t do,” adds Prokop.

“The impact on our production throughput has been huge,” Loewen says. “On some of the box shapes we bend on the MAK 4 EVO, we’ve been able to reduce processing time from approximately 24 minutes to just three or four minutes. Material handling is also easier and safer. In the past, we had to flip a part for every up and down bend. Now we don’t have to do that so there’s very little strain on the operator.”

The fabricator is bending 3-in.- to 16-in.-deep boxes up to 117 in. across from 14 gauge to 10 gauge mild or stainless steel. When Klassen used press brakes to form 11 gauge drip pans, the job required two operators to flip a large piece of sheet metal. “With the folder, we do that job in half the time with just one operator.”

FFJ 0121 bending image2

The MAK 4 EVO 4m folding machine has reduced processing time to minutes for some of Klassen Custom Fab. Inc.’s box shapes.

User friendly

The MAK 4 EVO is fed parts cut by a CO2 or fiber laser. Once parts are formed, they travel to the fabrication shop for downstream processing. Programming and operation are simple. Klassen engineers create part programs and send them to the MAK 4 EVO. And the operator doesn’t need any previous experience to pull programs off the network and start folding parts. The machine currently runs an average of 16 hours per day.

Klassen recently began making aluminum boxes to hold cremated remains for cemeteries. “We were making these parts on press brakes but now that we’re able to run these parts on the MAK 4 EVO, we’ve been able to cut the time in half,” says Loewen.

The metal folding machine has also taken parts that require a large radius away from Klassen’s press brakes and rollers. “We found it difficult to get the accuracy we needed,” he says. “Now we’re able to take the part from a solid model, drag it to the folding machine and form a large radius in minutes. Once you have a part dialed in, you can make it over and over again.”

The MAK 4 EVO is helping Klassen keep pace with growing demand. “Without it, we would be behind,” says Loewen. “We kept thinking things would slow down, but they haven’t. Just today, my email box is filled with purchase orders.”

For RTT Engineered Solutions, business is all about how you finish things. The Rockwall, Texas, company produces the equipment that allows manufacturers to paint or powder coat products from a golf ball to a Boeing 747 and everything in between. The company also laser cuts, welds and forms parts, which are then cleaned and painted or powder coated before being shipped out the door.

FFJ 0121 bending image3

The MAK 4 EVO can also fold parts with a large radius with greater accuracy than a press brake or a roller.

Minimal setup

“We build the equipment that allows people to paint or powder coat,” says founder and CEO Eric Jones. “We’re also a user of the machinery as well.” Though it’s considered a niche market, RTT is a front runner in spray and powder booths, cure ovens and pre-treatment equipment.

The need to increase throughput, part quality and operator safety led the company to consider metal folding as an alternative to hydraulic press brakes. “We had looked at panel bending in the past but couldn’t justify the ROI,” says Jones. “But advancements in programming, tool setup and material handling made the folder option attractive.”

RTT chose to participate in a trial with MetalForming Inc.’s Schröder CNC metal folding technology. Panels were submitted for processing as part of a time study. “The results of the study demonstrated that the metal folding machine would improve our throughput,” Jones says. “It made sense to us so we pulled the trigger.”

The company installed a Schröder PowerBend Industrial 4m metal folding machine in January 2020. RTT uses the machine to fold panels from 2 in. to 3 in. deep up to 6 ft. by 12 ft. from 18 gauge up to 10 gauge galvanized steel, and mild steel material thicknesses up to 3/16 in. “We recently did a job using 12 gauge stainless steel, and it worked out great,” Jones notes.

Simplified tooling makes setup time minimal. RTT engineers program the machine remotely. Operators simply pull up a part on the control screen and follow the prompts. Automated material handling makes moving large sheet easy. “We have traditionally used hydraulic press brakes to form parts,” Jones says. “We had eight press brakes. Now we have four press brakes, fewer people and higher throughput.” FFJ


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