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Case Study - Rollforming

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Time to talk machinery. Nick Coubray, Manager of Howick UK, asks steel framers - do you want to be a rollformer or a frame manufacturer?

A common mistake that companies getting into steel framed construction make is that they choose a machine which in theory can do every possible profile that they will ever want to use. When 90 per cent of the framing they will be using is actually only one profile size.

You need to bear in mind that you will be able to purchase the lower volume sections you are not producing yourself from one of the many rollforming companies that specialize in supplying lengths of section in multiple sizes. Why compromise the core of your business by complicating the equipment you use to allow you to produce the smallest percentage of the finished structure.

The rollforming and framing businesses are different in the main focus of the end product.

The framing business revolves around producing framing to feed the production of structures and modules. The rollforming business revolves around producing as much rollformed steel as possible. You don’t want to lose focus on what your main product is. If you are a modular construction company your product is a modular unit not steel sections, it is easy to lose focus. The framing is important because it is the skeleton of the structure but it is only a percentage of the finished product.

The larger multi profile machines may offer a wide range of different sections but with this flexibility comes some drawbacks. There is considerable setup time between profile changes. Even if the machine is a multi million pound auto-adjusting model it will still need fine tuning when the section is changed which requires the employment of a skilled engineer.

Even though the machine is capable of running multiple sizes you can still only run them one at a time. Productivity is limited to the speed of one machine. If you need to run a replacement panel for some reason you will need to wait until the machine is scheduled and set up to run that section size again.

There are several companies now that have multi change machines set to produce only one section. This is due to the complications of designing, manufacturing, stocking, assembling and transporting panels made from multiple sections.

This is to the point that some manufactures are now manufacturing all of their framing from a single size section made with a single thickness steel from a single supplier regardless of whether they have a multi section machine or a single section machine.

This is because it simplifies their whole process. While you may sometimes end up putting more steel into the structure, the cost is minimal when you look at the overall benefits.

  • There is only one coil size and thickness to handle. So there is no chance of producing components in the wrong thickness material.
  • Down time will be minimized because you will no longer need to change the machine settings to suit different steel sizes and thicknesses.
  • The assembly of the panels can now use common fixings. A screw that works perfectly when joining two 1.6mm sections may not be effective when joining two 1.0mm sections.
  • By working with only one profile the assemblers work at an increased rate due to familiarity.
  • By manufacturing the components as needed your stock levels will be lower reducing the storage space needed.

If you have three dedicated machines running three different sized sections it is much more efficient and cost effective than running a single large multi section machine. Having three single section machines will produce three times the framing of a multi change machine producing similar products and therefore have a much higher return on investment.

The benefits of having single section machines are:

  • If you have more than one machine you have more production capacity.
  • If it is necessary to remake a panel it does not require a tooling change and can be done as easily as turning on the machine or loading the required file into the machine with the current production run.
  • The operator skill is reduced but not removed. The machinery still requires an operator with mechanical knowledge to operate and maintain the equipment.
  • The machines are physically much smaller and reduce the amount of floor area needed to operate them. (Three Howick Framing machines will fit in the space of one typical multi section machine.)

Once the framing is produced then they can be clad and in the case of modular units assembled into modules and finished with all the required fixtures and fittings.

The accuracy and amount of detail included in the initial design plays a large part here. Allowing for details such as fastening centres for the external cladding and internal lining makes a huge difference to the ease of assembly and has huge time savings which far outweigh the time spent in the design phase. Most of the better design packages now do this automatically, including in some cases automatically ensuring all door and window openings are set to the nearest full or half brick.

The industry is rapidly changing with new products coming to market every day but the key to being successful still remains inputting finite design details and the ability to produce an accurate framing structure to apply these new technologies.

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