The entrepreneur and the engineer

July 9, 2013
By: Tim Heston

In our August print edition of The FABRICATOR will be another installment of Steve Benson’s Bending Basics series. Benson, president of consulting firm ASMA LLC, Salem, Ore., and a press brake guru who runs press brake certification seminars for the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, has written frequently for this magazine over the years. Next month he covers the basics of tonnage calculations--how much tonnage a job really takes, and what can happen when you can over-tonnage a press brake.

It’s important information, and perhaps for some, quite refreshing. There’s something elegant about bending. Press brake operation, one of the most complex tasks in the fab shop and for years seen as somewhat of a black art, can be demystified by a few equations that abide by the rules set by geometry and trigonometry.

So how do you calculate the bending tonnage a job requires?  Well, you could refer to a bending chart. Or if you want a precise answer, you run the following equation: Tonnage per inch = {[(575 × material thickness2) / die width] / 12}. You then multiply that result by factors depending on the material you’re using as well as the bending method, be it air forming, bottoming, or coining.  Then you multiply that by the maximum bend length your job requires, and you get your answer.

So why do customers buy from your shop? Well, that answer isn’t so easy. Is it price, delivery, quality? Would competitors give the same answer? As competition has increased over the years, that question has never been more important. So who can answer it, and who can use the question to guide improvement efforts?

The people at the shop, of course. As our columnist Dick Kallage of KDC & Associates, Barrington, Ill., has pointed out, people have become the key differentiator in this business. It’s a shop’s mix of different kinds of innovative thinkers--from management, sales, engineering, and shop floor technicians--that can really set a shop apart.

Bending is a science, which is why today’s advanced software works so well at decoding it. There will always be variables the machine can’t predict, like slight changes in material tensile strength from heat to heat, slight thickness changes, and so on. But people who know why software calculates a bend a certain way--those who know the mathematical foundations behind the bending--are becoming a valuable asset.  And it may not just be because they know a few equations and are good at math. It may come down to how they think.

Here’s why.

In recent years, many leaders in fabrication have come from different businesses. Drew Greenblatt, president of Baltimore, Md.-based Marlin Steel, comes to mind. He came from the security equipment sales business and, as a serial entrepreneur, decided to buy an ailing bagel basket business and turn it around. Much of his success came about because, as a leader, he provided good incentives for staff to improve, and surrounded himself with smart people, including mechanical engineers and experienced technical people.

The last is most important. The fabricator, which remains a small company, has that healthy mix of entrepreneurial spirit rooted in big ideas, and technical pragmatism rooted in science and fabrication experience. So when we hear business leaders in manufacturing--and at high-mix, low-volume fabricators in particular--talk of a skilled labor shortage, they really may be referring to this mix of thinkers, of big ideas and technical expertise.

So why do customers buy from a shop? How much tonnage does this bending job really take? Today, shops perhaps want people who can answer both questions.
Tim Heston

Tim Heston

Senior Editor
FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-381-1314