Folding evolved

By John Loos

February 2010 - There are many ways to streamline manufacturing processes, and they tend to fall under the umbrella concept of lean. It’s a great concept and one that needs tangible goals to strive for. Otherwise, it can be difficult to implement.

When it comes to bending and folding processes, cost-conscious companies are continuously looking for ways to increase productivity and reduce waste. But just saying those buzzwords isn’t enough--there has to be a real-world goal behind them. This is something International Technologies Inc., Schaumburg, Ill., understands when it comes to its high-tech folding equipment.

International Technologies’ products include sheet metal folders, spot welders, corner formers and press brakes. The company is the exclusive North American importer of high-tech folding equipment manufactured by Schröder-Fasti Technologie GmbH, Wermelskirchen, Germany, providing service, sales and support for the company’s products.

This includes the new Evolution Servo Power Bend 40/2.5, a particularly strong example of both Schröder-Fasti’s and International Technologies’ approach to the continuous improvement of fabricating processes.

"Most companies out there understand what lean is, and they understand the concept behind lean, but if you really think about lean as a concept in itself, it doesn’t really lead you to any end goal," says David Prokop, part owner of International Technologies. "It’s a constant cleaning up of the process, eliminating the nonvalue-added component of the work, but to what end? It doesn’t really stipulate an end. To me, the end for any manufacturer is to get your process and efficiency down to a point that you can create an economic production quantity [EPQ] of 1.

"If your EPQ is 30 or 40, you have to make at least that many parts to afford the setup time, as it’s costed against that process," he continues. "And if the economy suddenly changes, which it has, and drops your quantities down to 10, you’re losing money. And the trouble with that is there’s nothing you can do beyond that machine tool to lower that cost. You can’t get rid of office personnel, you can’t get rid of the guy in shipping because the problem with losing money is the inefficiency of the process, not the overhead of the company. So if you can get it down to a point where you, say, have a part that takes three minutes to bend, and you have a minute of setup time, you have a pretty darn effective process."

High-tech made simple
Rohner, Vancouver, Wash., is a manufacturer of custom industrial paint systems, operating from a 8,900-sq.-ft. facility. The company was looking to reduce costs, particularly in time spent bending sheet metal on the shop floor. It had spent 10 years with a 30-year-old press brake, which was antiquated and cumbersome to operate, not to mention time-consuming when it came to programming parts.

"What Rohner really needed was to get down to an EPQ of 1, where if it needed one part, it wanted to be able to cut one, bend one and use one," says Prokop.

Wanting to be able to handle smaller quantities of parts more efficiently, Rohner implemented a Schröder Evolution SPB 40/2.5 folder with a POS 3000 controller.

"[The Evolution] is a high-end machine that has multiple axes of control, which gives it even more calculable accuracy than what a standard folder has," says Prokop. "It can actually tilt individual beams that most folders cannot because they’re torsionally driven."

He adds that torsionally driven machines "have a ball screw on one side of the machine and a ball screw on the other, and they’re driven by a single motor with connecting rods. The problem with that is, if you’re bending far left or far right, the machine’s deflecting a little differently. You have no way of tilting any of the beams for bending, clamping or things of that nature. We can actually tilt our beams. And the machine controller is set up in a way to understand the way the machine deflects during different bending loads and corrects for those deflections by titling the beams as it needs to."

The POS 3000 controller is based on DXF files and features 10-axis control and live 3-D graphics, as well as a comprehensive materials database that continuously "learns" the types of materials a user bends and the way they’re bent. This means it automatically updates itself and applies necessary corrections each time a part is formed.

"[Users are] able to program the part off the DXF file and have all the corrections automatically take place that need to, which have been established in the controller," says Prokop. "It will then go to the controller, where a user can pull that program up, put in the blank, bend the part and move on to the next one."

For Rohner, the intelligence and intuitiveness of the programming process save time on the shop floor and minimize operator error.

"I design the part at my desk, export it to a file that the [folder] will understand, bring it into the offline programming software and create a program for bending that part," says Ken Calhoon, senior designer for Rohner. "When the operator out in the shop gets a list of parts he’s going to bend with the sheet metal blanks from the CNC punch, he’s able to browse to that part number and [begin]. There’s no second guessing."

In the fold
As Calhoon explains, incorporating such an adaptable and sophisticated folding machine was necessary for Rohner to reduce setup times and overall costs, particularly in terms of labor. Having a machine that can handle complex folding tasks in a straightforward manner, like the Evolution SPB 40/2.5, enables even new operators to form perfect parts without needing years of experience.

"What we were really wanting wasn’t just to make [the folding process] easier, but we wanted to be able to make use of the technology that’s out there," says Calhoon. "We couldn’t hire a beginning shop person and set them on [our old] machine without some extensive training. You had to be careful about each sheet thickness and always having to check bend radii. There were all kinds of factors determining whether or not you got an accurate cut or bend. Also, just to have to program each bend individually--it wasn’t user-friendly for beginning shop people. So what we were hoping to do was ... to be able to put a relatively new guy into the shop and say, ‘Here, bend this,’ and they’d be able to do it with very little training.

"Because of the streamlining of those things, we’re able to push through [more parts]," Calhoon continues. "Rather than the CNC machine stacking up parts and waiting to be able to fold, we’re now actually having the folder waiting for the CNC machine to finish parts, which is great. We can do some things now that will help streamline the CNC process, which will help in the long run [to] be able to speed things up for the whole manufacturing side."

What’s more, International Technologies offers extensive service and support for its machines. It’s able to remotely access machines and perform comprehensive diagnostics, eliminating the costs of bringing a technician to a facility for most service calls. This is particularly helpful for companies like Rohner, located across the country from International Technologies.

"It’s a nice machine," says Calhoon. "The capabilities are exactly what we need to be able to progress. This is going to increase our capabilities so we can hopefully begin making some other standard parts that up till now we had to purchase." FFJ


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  • International Technologies Inc.
    Schaumburg, Ill.
    phone: 847/301-9005
    fax: 847/301-9509

  • Rohner
    Vancouver, Wash.
    phone: 360/885-7641
    fax: 360/896-5748


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