High-volume folding

By Lynn Stanley

February 2011 - For most job shops, buying capital equipment like folding automation is a big decision. Versatility and efficiency are critical to them, but work volume typically drives purchase decisions.

For Marstrand Industries Inc., Pittsburgh, and CR Metal Products, St. Louis, choosing to commission a RAS 74 series Multibend-Center from RAS Systems LLC, Peachtree, Ga., may have seemed like a bold move. But the two companies have been successful not only in expediting the folding process with fewer people and less machines but in building more accurate parts for easier assembly by end users.

Family owned and operated, Marstrand’s experience in product design, engineering and fabrication allows it to support short lead times and quick turnaround on products with a range of capabilities, such as shearing, forming, punching, CNC processing, welding, assembly and inspection.

"We were negotiating a high-volume job for precision components made from 18 gauge cold-rolled steel for industrial safety cabinets," says Jack Marshall, Marstrand chairman. "The job also called for us to take the two-piece components and produce sub assemblies." Parts included the cabinet base, sides, top, back, doors and the hinges in sizes as small as 18 in. wide by 15 in. high up to 58 in. wide by 65 in. high. "We were automated on the front and back end of the production line, but we quickly discovered that we had a bottleneck in our line when it came to forming the parts as well as some quality issues relative to efficiency. We began to investigate automated folding equipment," Marshall says.

Raising efficiency levels
Marstrand looked at two companies but chose the RAS 79.22-2 Multibend-Center because of its simplicity of design (a closed O-frame), small footprint and minimal maintenance.

RAS Systems is the American partner of Reinhardt Maschinenbau GmbH, Sindelfingen, Germany. RAS has been producing fabricating machinery for more than 65 years and is known for its innovative folding, roll-forming and shearing machines.

Marstrand commissioned the Multibend-Center in 2001 and installed a robotic pick-and-place machine to load parts. "We were able to process the two-piece components, called part A and B, while the operator performed the subassembly at the exiting side of the machine," says Marshall. "This allowed us to eliminate a material-handling step. Part quality improved dramatically and productivity increased significantly because of minimized handling."

"The Multibend-Center allows a second part to be loaded, measured and moved into position while the first part is being folded," says Rick Wester, RAS vice president. "A third part can also be loaded and measured. Once the first part is completed and clears the table, the next blank is in position to be folded in just four seconds. As a part comes off the machine, it can go right to assembly or it can be routed to painting or welding. Our viewpoint has always been to move a part to its next location as quickly as possible. Other machines require a part to hover until the part ahead of it completely clears the table. This can take as long as seven seconds between loading of blanks. That may not sound like much, but if you add up those seconds per part over 12 months, you’re talking about a considerable amount of time."

In 2006, Marstrand purchased a second Multibend-Center. "Since our purchase of the first Multibend-Center in 2001, RAS had improved its software and servo motors allowing us to achieve a 58 percent increase in productivity with the new folding system," says Marshall. Marstrand then traded in its 2001 Multibend-Center for a 2008 model. That same year Marstrand processed 1 million lbs. of cold-rolled steel a month through the machines. Currently, Marstrand runs two major jobs on its Multibend-Centers.

In addition to the industrial safety cabinet components, the job shop also is making stainless steel components for medical cabinets. The stainless steel components run from 12 in. wide by 15 in. to 48 in. wide by 66 in. high.

"We perform a lot of work for different industries," Marshall says. "In addition to improving productivity and quality, the Multibend-Centers have stabilized our workforce, particularly our forming department. Implementing the centers allowed us to put our personnel on other more value-added jobs. Automation doesn’t eliminate jobs, it creates opportunities."

Attracting high volumes
Mark Chadwick, vice-president of operations at CR Metal Products, would agree. "Our investment in a RAS Multibend-Center bought us the ability to function in a larger arena with higher-volume customers," he says. "As a job shop, you have to be able to say yes to a customer or you don’t get the order. But larger orders can quickly tie up a lot of your resources. The Multibend-Center devours sheet metal so quickly we can meet the demands of our larger customers and still have the resources to support other job requirements."

CR Metal Products operates in a 100,000 sq. ft. facility for custom metal fabrication, powder coating and silkscreen printing. From design to delivery, the job shop can process complex parts in aluminum, galvanized, stainless and cold-rolled steel. Its customer base includes HVAC, agriculture, electrical enclosures, and electronics housings markets and parts for heavy-equipment OEMs.

Chadwick says investing in the Multibend-Center helped solve other challenges. The company had several high-volume customers requiring panels for HVAC enclosures that specified intricate bends and multiple tool setups. "Production demands were inconsistent, causing spikes for our forming department," he says.

CR Metal Products looked at several manufacturers’ folding equipment. "We performed time studies, conducted part samplings and contacted other customers using the machines," Chadwick says. "We found the RAS Multibend-Center had the lowest maintenance of the machines we were evaluating. The other factor that tipped our choice was the flexibility and versatility for parts production and tooling."

The Multibend-Center was installed at CR Metal Products in January 2005 with a robotic material loader. Producing everything from metal chassis for guitar amplifiers and special effects pedals to OEM air compressors, diesel generators and HVAC enclosures, the job shop found the Multibend-Center able to handle forming requirements and reduce set-up time to minutes.

The job shop also found the Multibend-Center opened up new possibilities. "The machine can run complex bends that would require special tooling on a press brake," Chadwick says. "We found that in some cases we could eliminate welding because the machine allowed us to form ribs and other structural features precisely into the part."

For CR Metal Products, optimizing its capabilities is critical to its ability to remain competitive. "The Multibend-Center gives us that," Chadwick says. "Repeatability is near perfect, and our scrap rates are very close to zero. The machine can form a part that is 60 in. wide by 100 in. long with the same speed it uses to form a 1 ft. square part. Customers that handle complex parts often have to wait for special tooling to be built. Because the Multibend-Center can form parts without special or extra tooling, our customers don’t have to wait."

With the new business landscape, CR Metal Products is running a high-mix, low-run environment largely focused on OEM parts. The machine processes materials from 24-gauge to 14-gauge mild steel, 24-gauge to 16-gauge stainless steel, and 0.03-in. to 0.125-in.-thick aluminum.

"The Multibend-Center has allowed us to be versatile and take on some new markets," Chadwick says. "The machine has also eliminated the need to buy other equipment. During the 12 years prior to commissioning the Multibend-Center, we purchased 16 press brakes to keep pace with our capacity. We haven’t bought a press brake since installing the Multibend-Center." FFJ

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  • CR Metal Products
    St. Louis
    phone: 314/994-9550
    fax: 314/989-9115

  • Marstrand Industries Inc.
    phone: 412/921-1511
    fax: 412/921-0743

  • RAS Systems LLC
    Peachtree City, Ga.
    phone: 770/ 487-7300
    fax: 770/ 487-1007

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