Rolling, rolling, and rolling complex profiles
: Commercial Roll Formed Products’ 60-pass line handles long and short of customized parts
Commercial Roll Formed Products uses a 60-station, modular Dreistern roll forming line to produce highly complex profiles. A focus on producing custom parts has helped the Canadian family-run business grow to include over 30 roll form lines.
“There are two different kinds of roll formers,” said Kevin Schabel of Commercial Roll Formed Products Ltd. in Brampton, Ont. “You have custom roll formers and you have those who focus on simple, volume shapes.”
Commercial Roll has leaned toward the custom side of roll forming since beginning operations in 1971. Today Armin Schabel, president and one of the company founders, shares ownership and leadership of the family-run business with his son Kevin, who serves as vice president of operations.
Kevin explained that the roll formers consistently run as efficiently as they can, with capabilities for volume production up to 100 feet per minute (FPM), but speed is not what gives the company its edge. Commercial Roll excels at producing highly complex profiles (see Figure 1).
That strength, coupled with a dedication to the continuous addition of new technologies, serves the company well. “If you want to be good in this business and survive, especially with the difficult economic times over the last three or four years, good equipment is an important attribute to being successful. That’s why we’ve kept investing, and hopefully it will pay dividends in the long run,” said Schabel. “We’re trying to leverage off of having technology, quality, and experience in the industry that is second to none when it comes to roll forming.”
Technology Spurs Growth
Commercial Roll has not only survived, it has grown steadily. That expansion includes the addition of two new lines in back-to-back years, bringing the company’s roll forming line count to more than 30. The 125,000-square-foot plant is pretty much filled.
“The newer lines are bigger and longer so they have a larger footprint,” Schabel said. “The secret to roll forming is the complexity of the profile controlled by the number of passes you can actually form in. The more passes you have, the more complex a profile you can produce.”
Complementary equipment performs metal fabrication, brake forming, welding, and other valued-added operations used to produce parts that do not run through the roll forming lines and sometimes adds features to roll formed parts. However, the newest lines produce many complex profiles 100 percent inline, eliminating secondary operations (see Figure 2).
In addition to maintaining a technical edge, Schabel credits the company’s diversification with its ability to weather economic downturns. “We hit a very slow period in 2009 when we had to do some downsizing,” he said, “but slowly started to pick up and get a little better. We’ve been able to grow again in the last two or three years.”
A 30-pass, modular Dreistern line ordered in 2010 and operational in early 2011 prompted the purchase of the next line. While installing the 30-pass, the company held discussions with customers, and potential new profiles led to plans for another line with 42 stations. But those plans changed.
“During the course of the 42-station construction, we were confronted with another opportunity from an existing customer who was looking for the most complex profile we had ever encountered,” Schabel said. The initial plan was to increase the new line from a 42-pass to a 50-pass machine to accommodate the added complexity.
“We went down that road and soon discovered we needed more than 50. Through a little adjustment we were able to fit the machine to a 56-station.” The 56-pass line arrived at Commercial Roll in January 2012 and was fully operational by the end of April. One month later, four more stations increased the line’s capabilities, added inline welding to produce closed shapes, and upped the total count to 60 stations (see Figure 3).
Schabel explained that for a roll formed closed shape, a lighter material typically can be used, reducing costs and achieving strength similar to that of an open shape made from a heavier material. “We’d done it with a kind of mechanical joint and we knew that the strength it adds to the part is incredible. Now we have the option of inline welding to achieve that benefit for our customers.”
Machine design of the 60-pass line, like that of the 30-pass line, allows changes and expansions. Individual cassettes for punching, cutting, forming, marking, and welding can be added, repositioned, or removed within the system to accommodate various profiles, coil sizes, and materials.
The reconfiguration capability makes it possible to change the setup to run a variety of profiles without major system modifications. The time savings creates efficiencies for producing complex parts and for short runs to satisfy JIT orders.
“We can add profile features inline that would normally be done in secondary operations after the part is roll formed, which is a cost savings to the customer and to us,” Schabel said. “We sell to a diverse range of markets—material handling, mining, recreational products, electrical construction—mostly contract work that requires flexibility.”
Commercial Roll’s newest Dreistern lines can run on a continuous basis or in the Start-Stop® mode. When using the Start-Stop option, the roll former acts like a press feeder. A drive system propels the profile forward to a speed of up to 100 meters per minute (328 FMP); briefly stops the progressively advancing profile during the cutoff and punch operations; then reaccelerates to normal operating speed. The manufacturer states that positional accuracy is usually better than ±0.2 mm (0.008 inch). Punching and cutoff tools are stationary, minimizing die-weight limitation issues.
“In one particular part we are going to do punching inline between some of the passes of the machine. Since we have the capability of precisely starting and stopping the machine at certain locations, we are going to punch some slots and holes inline after the material is partially rolled. Normally these would be prepunched when the material is flat,” said Schabel.
More expansion and continually updated technology is in the future for Commercial Roll and its 65 employees if all goes according to plan. Another company currently leases 65,000 sq. ft. of Commercial Roll’s facility. “There has been talk of filling that space,” Schabel said, “but we’re very cautious because we want to get good signals from the economy and see more improvement. It seems to be turning for the better. It’s not doing great, but at least not going down.” And the company may reclaim some of its existing footage. “Eventually we will try to obsolete some of the older equipment that just doesn’t give us what we need.”
Commercial Roll has seen substantial activity in the solar industry in the last couple of years because of the government-initiative Feed-in Tariff (FIT) program. Schabel anticipates that the alternative energy market’s need for economically produced roll formed parts will continue. FIT program goals listed in a news release from the Ministry of Energy this spring included a 20 percent reduction in solar energy costs. That directive can translate to more business for roll formers that efficiently produce panel components (see Figure 4).
Schabel said that having one of the longest roll form lines in North America presents excellent opportunities for expanding their customer base. “Our intention now is to keep getting work for this machine. In the final stretch of tool-proofing we had a profile on the machine that required all 60 stations. When we actually saw that produced, it was exciting,” Schabel said. “The length of the machine is exciting.”
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