Press Brake Tooling

Tough to bend

By Russ Olexa

March 2010 - Because they must meet customers’ requirements for aesthetic appeal, components that go into point-of-purchase signage have to be perfect, with no marks of any kind.

This was the problem MDI, Farmington Hills, Mich., was experiencing every time it would produce small bends in metal. It was also something MDI’s quality control personnel--and customers--wouldn’t accept. But the company found a unique solution to resolve the issue.

Founded by Robert Sarkisian, MDI produces point-of-purchase signs for a building’s interior or stand-up ones for outside use. Today, the multimillion-dollar business has products in almost every retail industry in the United States. It also has an international presence, with offices in France and the U.K., along with licensees in Japan and Brazil.

MDI was incorporated in 1965 as Marketing Displays Inc. Sarkisian’s first product was a signage innovation the company calls PosterGrip, the first spring-loaded, continuous-hinge, front-loading frame. This was followed by WindMaster, a spring-loaded curb sign capable of withstanding 75-mph winds without being blown away or damaged.

In 1975, MDI introduced Traffic Control Products, signage used for temporary traffic control at work zones and in emergency situations.

On display
Some of the company’s signage is used to "reimage" retailers, such as McDonald’s and Blockbuster, and to give customers a pleasant shopping experience.

"These are what we call point-of-purchase displays," says Colin Mosley, director of operations. "It means that wherever the retailer is providing information to the customer to try and direct them to a specific product, that’s where our signage comes in. We know how to get the customer’s attention and how to work with our clients to image them to make their products stand out or where to make their selling space brighter."

To produce its various types of point-of-purchase signs, MDI has a staff of artists, designers, engineers, production personnel and assemblers. The company produces signs in wood, metal and plastic or a combination of these materials.

MDI can develop the concept for one prototype or produce thousands of signs. For instance, after establishing a unique display prototype for McDonald’s Happy Meal Merchandiser, McDonald’s ordered 17,000 signs. Because of a tight delivery time frame for the order, MDI worked around the clock, tripling its assembly staff to bring the order in on time.

To produce the various types of signage, the company has a CNC low-power laser, CNC press brakes, a CNC punching system, a CNC router for wood and plastic, and metalforming tools. MDI also does production stamping and has its own tool and die shop to repair and produce dies. However, the company doesn’t produce any plastic thermal forming, which is jobbed out.

To produce its PosterGrip products, MDI orders hundreds of pounds of extruded aluminum, much of it custom-made to its requirements. The company cuts this material and uses it for the snap frames of displays containing a PosterGrip component.

A bending solution
For a retrofit of some signage from Canada, MDI needed a small, narrow flange, which the company couldn’t bend consistently with its old tooling, says Tom Kantola, tool room supervisor of die design at MDI.

"Our Canadian subsidiary was trying to get a 0.12-in. flange, [and] the closest we could get was 0.25 in.," he says. "Also, the customer wanted a bright surface on the metal--they didn’t want any markings from the bending tools, which we couldn’t achieve at the time."

Then, a representative from Wilson Tool International Inc., White Bear Lake, Minn., stopped by, and MDI associates discussed the problem with him.

"He said, ‘I’ve got the solution for you,’" says Kantola, "They sent us a prototype die to try out, and it worked great. We bought this tooling, called Wilson V-Series press brake dies, about a year and a half ago. Now it gives us the ability to bend any length of flange that we need without marking the metal."

Wilson Tool’s V-Series uses rotating inserts on the die to decrease friction, allowing better performance on certain tough-to-bend applications.

These dies are available for all major styles of press brake tooling, and they make it much easier to produce small flanges, small-bend radii and bends close to holes. They also enable bending of a wide range of materials using the same die, reducing setup time and the amount of tooling required.

Dies include built-in blades that rotate, so there’s minimal lateral movement between the sheet and the die. This movement reduction decreases the friction between the die and the sheet, which helps minimize marking.

The rotating blades are available in either metal or a composite material. Metal blades are the most durable, and composite blades are used to minimize sheet marking. Blades are interchangeable within the same die base.

On its press brake, MDI uses a Wilson Express Clamping System, along with European precision snap-in-style punch tooling.

This system eliminates the need to slide in punches from the end of the machine. Punches or individual pieces of sectionalized punches are placed under the clamps and pushed upward, snapping into place. Spring-loaded clamps retain the punch using a safety groove and hold it in place until it’s locked in.

Kantola says the Wilson Tool system also allows MDI to mix and match press brake tooling.

"We found a good company, and we stuck with them," he says. "Wilson has the fastest turnaround time for press brake tooling, along with tooling for our punch press. Usually, if we need a specialty punch tool, I can call them up, and within three days, they have it to us. Or if we need a special hole pattern for a sign, Wilson Tool will make us a punch tool for it. And they can always come up with some really unique ideas to help us out with our signage problems."

Additionally, Wilson Tool will work with a rough design for punch tooling, says Mosley.

"When something that our engineering staff has designed hits our tooling department, and if we see some sort of problem with the design, we’ll start figuring out how we’re going to do this work," he says. "We’ll also send a print to Wilson Tool, and they’ll find us a way to do it on our punch press or our press brake and give us a price for the tooling. We then have the luxury of evaluating the cost of this design versus making a hard tool for it. Having them give us tooling prices is a real benefit for our costing. It’s nice to fax a print over to them to see how they would do a particular job, and they get right back to us with a quote." FFJ

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