Exploring the roll forming process

What you need to make a part.

March 28, 2002
By: Andreas Rueter

If trying to improve your roll forming operation, look at the four M's -- machine, materials, manpower, and method. Those four areas hold the key to whatever may ail you.

During roll forming, numerous activities are performed at the same time. Many people, especially those new to this type of manufacturing, are overwhelmed by the high production speed and the complexity of the tooling.

Don't despair, even specialists have much to learn. Just ask any machine builder which manufacturing or systems concepts are standard for the industry or can be used all the time. You will be surprised at the variety of answers you receive. Every cross section, every machine, and every tooling set has its own little idiosyncrasies.

A Closer Look at Tools

Let's look at some tools to define the roll forming process better. Our goal is to break the entire roll forming system down into its building blocks so that you can review, troubleshoot, and improve each segment to achieve optimum performance. The same practice has been followed for many years in such areas as standards improvement in industrial engineering and carries through to the latest lean manufacturing theories.

This exercise breaks down the entire roll forming process into four main categories:

  • Machine (includes all facilities needed for the process)
  • Materials
  • Manpower
  • Method

If all four of these factors were optimized, you would have a perfect process, meaning a process that performs at the highest possible level. As you look at the details of each roll forming process, ask yourself:

  • What are the four elements of this process?
  • What is the optimum level for each element?
  • What needs to happen to bring it up to its optimum level?

You might call this mere common sense, but just take a look at your process. Go out on the floor and check it out. But do it up close and personal. Get right into the current status of the line (you might want to dress appropriately for the occasion). Many times you will hear "I think it looks like . . . " from an operator. That's not good enough. Get the facts. Take pictures. Talk to your operators and maintenance people.

For detailed information, also refer to the appropriate literature. You'd be amazed at how much information you can find at the local library.

Following are some pointers you can use to start identifying your process.


In essence, you need to review all of the facilities involved in your process, taking these steps:

  1. Check unusual noise levels and strange noises (for example, the sound of a loose V belt).
  2. Check grease points.
  3. Look for wear marks on machine components.
  4. Check to see if all bolts are in the right places and are tight.
  5. Make sure layout is correct.
  6. Ensure that material feeding into the machine is OK.
  7. Check if lubricant is applied correctly and the filters are clean.
  8. Check preventive maintenance records at the machine.


You also need to review all raw material in detail and ask yourself the following:

  1. Does the material at hand match specifications?
  2. What are the raw material variations? Can these variations still produce a part efficiently and to print?
  3. Do the raw material batches have minor variances from coil to coil? What is the variance from the beginning to the end of the coil?
  4. Am I using the correct lubricant? How are correct levels maintained?
  5. Have I checked how coils are loaded into the system and how finished product is removed?
  6. Where is work-in-process storage and how much is there?


Manpower does not refer to a specific gender; it just keeps the M's going.

In this step you need to analyze the human element of the process:

  1. Is the person physically fit for the job? Is the operator healthy and capable of lifting the required weight?
  2. Does the person have sufficient knowledge and experience?
  3. Is the person performing the job within all applicable safety limits?
  4. Is the operator adhering to established work standards in terms of motion and work steps?

  5. Is the person performing the job conscientiously?


Now you should examine the overall operation to define the status:

  1. Is the work standard correct?
  2. Have work standards been reviewed and updated recently?
  3. Is the operation a safety hazard or even a borderline safety hazard?
  4. How does the material flow into the machine, through the machine, out of the machine, and into the next process? Is all material moving in a straight line?
  5. Is the material handling equipment adequate for the process? Is it adequate for the next process step?
  6. Is there a different way to stack parts to minimize scrap and ease machine loading for subsequent processes?
  7. Is machine setup correct for the job?

These are some of the many questions you should be asking yourself. In short, you never should be afraid to confront the truth about your process, no matter how gruesome it may be.

Andreas Rueter

Contributing Writer
Knoll Inc.
4300 36th St.
P.O. Box 8829
Grand Rapids, MI 49518-8829
Phone: 616-957-7398
Fax: 616-957-7678
Knoll is a worldwide designer and manufacturer of furnishings for office and residential use. The company operates four manufacturing sites in North America East Greenville, Pa.; Grand Rapids and Muskegon, MI; and Toronto, Ont. The company also has plants in Foligno and Graffignana, Italy. All Knoll plants are registered under ISO 9000, an internationally developed set of quality criteria for manufacturing operations. Knoll headquarters are in East Greenville, Pa.