Fabricator reduces part handling, improves consistency with combination bender
Machine combines rotary, roll bending
Full Vision Inc., a manufacturer of components and equipment for the off-road industry, encountered a hurdle in manufacturing roll-over protection systems (ROPS) and falling-object protection structures (FOPS) for its customers. To make a ROPS or FOPS, it needed three machines or two setups on three machines. This led to too much part handling and more scrapping of parts than necessary. A combination rotary draw and push bender from Horn Machine Tool allows Full Vision to make a complete part with one setup on one machine, eliminating part handling and reducing scrap.
Elmer Stucky never intended to be a full-time fabricator. The founder of Full Vision Inc., Newton, Kan., was a farmer while the industry was undergoing a transformation. The internal combustion engine led to a wave of mechanization that modernized farming just as the Industrial Revolution had changed manufacturing. Tractors replaced animals, and implements such as cultivators, chisel plows, planters, spreaders, and combines replaced tools that had changed little since the dawn of time.
Despite the introduction of the modern tractor, one thing remained unchanged: Farmers still worked in open air. Machines didn’t have cabs, so farmers and farmhands were exposed to the elements just as they always had been. The dust thrown up by a combine during the harvest was a hazard. Fed up with the working conditions, Stucky designed and fabricated an enclosed cab that he attached onto his combine.
The idea caught on, and before long Stucky was moonlighting as a fabricator, making cabs for neighboring farmers. Named for the nearly uninterrupted, 360-degree view the cab provided, the Full Vision cab was a success. In 1958 Stucky incorporated Full Vision and began selling combine and tractor cabs to farm implement dealers in styles that fit many of the well-known combine and tractor manufacturers, such as John Deere, Massey Ferguson, International Harvester, Case, New Holland, and so on.
From Cabs to ROPS, FOPS
The idea of putting cabs on self-propelled equipment was so popular that eventually the OEMs began offering their own cabs, nearly squeezing the after-market cab manufacturers out of the market. This wasn’t a disaster, though; Full Vision found other markets, such as the construction industry, and began making cabs for sweepers, graders, and cranes. It also found a niche in aircraft tugs. A change in ownership in 1997, when the company was purchased by Peter and Patty Benson, brought yet another new product line, medical-grade treadmills.
Fabricating components for off-road equipment OEMs is still a major focus of the business. In addition to cabs, the company has expanded its capabilities to offer cab-related product lines, mainly roll-over protection systems (ROPS) and falling-object protective structures (FOPS). It also developed other lines of products and services—tubular structures, weldments, and contract manufacturing.
ROPS and FOPS, which have grown to become a mainstay of the business, are specialized items. They require more attention to detail in how they are engineered and manufactured the for industries such as lawn care, agriculture, construction, and transportation, and they must adhere to standards and regulations issued by several agencies—Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT), and the Organiza-tion for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The raw materials, processes, and welders must be certified; each ROPS and FOPS must be traceable in case an accident leads to an investigation.
A Good Look Is Not as Easy as it Looks
Manufacturing a conventional ROPS or FOPS, characterized by straight lines and right angles, is one thing; manufacturing a modern one, an aesthetically pleasing structure designed with graceful bends and contours, is something else altogether. Over the years Full Vision had acquired all the equipment it needed, and then some—various machining centers, two flat sheet laser machines, two tubing laser machines (one with 2-D capability, the other with six-axis, 3-D capability), and a handful of benders to fabricate tube and pipe in sizes from ¾ in. to 8 in. OD—but it didn’t have the right equipment for making modern ROPS and FOPS efficiently.
“We used to use three machines for making a complex ROPS,” said Scott Marshall, Full Vision’s sales and engineering manager. The company used a ram bender to press the sweeping arc bend, then two rotary benders to make the easy-way and hard-way bends. The company found that it had too many handling steps.
“No customer wants to pay for non-value-added processes, so our customers aren’t willing to pay for us to move the parts from machine to machine,” said General Manager Roger Ahrens. This cumbersome process limited the company’s ability to make substantial progress in the market for ROPS and FOPS with sweeping bends and gentle arcs.
In addition, the company faced a limitation in the radiuses it could provide. Using conventional equipment, it needed a die for each radius.
The company needed a bender upgrade. One option would be to buy a rotary draw bending machine with stacked tooling, allowing the company to make bends of several different radiuses on one setup. However, the long, sweeping bends would still require a trip to a second machine, so this wouldn’t eliminate part handling between bends, it would just reduce it. To be competitive, Full Vision needed bending and rolling capability on one machine. However, it had to proceed with caution to be sure it could justify the acquisition.
“Machines that can make high volumes of parts are easy to justify,” Ahrens said. “However, this isn’t the business we’re in. We’re primarily in the off-road industry, which includes equipment for agriculture, turf, construction, and others that fit that profile. We produce in low to medium volumes, primarily using rectangular and square tubing.”
The company purchased a 5-in. rotary/push bending machine with stacked tooling from Horn Machine Tool Inc. The stacked tooling allows more than one rotary draw bend per setup. This capability is handy for this application because most ROPS require both easy-way and hard-way bends. The push (roll) capability allows Full Vision to make large-radius bends on the same machine. And, because the rolling process uses bending rolls that can be adjusted to suit various radiuses, the company doesn’t have to purchase a separate die for each large-radius bend.
Because it’s a hybrid machine with high-output electric servo bending and push rolling, it provides speed and consistency the company doesn’t have with its other benders. This, combined with the improved consistency that comes with making all the bends in one continuous process on a single machine, reduced the amount of scrap the company generates.
“Using the old process, which required three machines, we’d often scrap the first one or two pieces at each machine until we got the machine dialed in,” Marshall said. “With one machine we expect to reduce our scrap by at least two-thirds, and we might even eliminate scrap.”
Consolidating all the bends into one machine also makes a more efficient use of time.
“The old system and the new system require two people, but making a ROPS on the new system takes less than half the time,” Marshall said. “Also, we have a significant reduction in setup time.”
The rotary/push bender wasn’t strictly a ROPS- and FOPS-related purchase.
“This is a strategic purchase,” Ahrens said, “We’re opening new avenues for our business so we can attract new customers and offer additional capabilities to our existing customers, allowing us to add some new looks and features to their products.”
“This is a game-changer for us,” Marshall said.
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