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Above the Fold: An Improved Folding Process to Improve Speed and Accuracy

In the past, the sheet-metal producers that built metal building trim components would have to struggle with these long trim parts. Most of these metal building trim parts are in the 20-foot (6-m) range in length, and the machine that would fold these parts would only fold a flange up. If, during the folding process, the flange needed to be folded up and down, it required the operators to rotate and flip long awkward parts, taking up valuable manufacturing space. In some cases, parts would have to be taken out of the building to be rotated. Producing long building trim parts often took two and even three operators.

The solution to this problem was very much a challenge. First of all, improve the folding process and make it as simple as possible. Improve the speed and accuracy of the process, and make the envelope of the area as small as possible.


An Easier Way

RAS GmbH, a machine tool company in Germany, and its partner RAS Systems LLC of Peachtree City, Ga., set out to develop a machine that would fold fanges up and down without the need to flip and rotate the material. To make the process as simple as possible, the CNC control is designed to program these metal building trim parts using an operator who may not require as much training as in the past. With good labor being in short supply, the machine and its CNC control are a fit for the majority of the work.

The result is the RAS XXL-Center. Themachine comes in three lengths: 14 feet, 21 feet and 28 feet (4, 6 and 8 m). It will fold full length 16-gauge mild steel and produce parts with amazing speed with plus or minus 1-degree accuracy. It has been said by many of our machine users that one XXL-Center can outproduce four of their older-style machines that can fold in only one direction. It truly improves production and the fact that the parts are more accurate makes installation much easier.


Working It

Operating the XXL-Center begins either by downloading a program to the control or programming the part at the machine. After the program is loaded, the operator simply steps on a foot pedal and a table extends from the machine. The operator places the metal blank on this table and then steps on a foot pedal. The table then retracts back into the machine and automatically squares and clamps the part. The folding process is started, and the machine folds the part up and down according to the part program until the part is completed. The part is held in the machine until the operator steps on the foot pedal to release it.

Should the part have hems on both sides, the first hem is folded down and closed to dimension and the table brings the part out of the machine. At this point, the operator enters the safety area and rolls the hemmed edge of the part in toward the machine clamps. He steps out of the safety area and presses on the foot pedal, causing the table to retract. The part is clamped on the hemmed side. The outside of the blank is then hemmed up, closed to dimension, and the part is folded up and down until completed. It remains in place until the operator releases it by stepping on the foot pedal.

It is estimated that 95 percent of all metal building trim parts can be folded automatically as described above. There may be a few, however, that require what is called a manual bend. To complete a manual bend, the grippers that hold the part in the automatic mode are clamped together and then used as a standard gauging stop. The operator places the part against these closed clamps and then steps on the foot pedal to complete this folding operation.

Many users of the XXL-Center stock standard 10-foot (3-m), as well as 21-foot, parts. The 10-foot parts can be run two at a time, providing fast, easy and accurate parts with double the production.

For a producer of metal building trim parts who is using a single-acting folder that only folds up, it's worth looking into a machine that folds in both directions. The XXL-Center can improve productivity and accuracy, all with less-skilled labor.

Rick Wester is vice president of RAS Systems LLC, Peachtree City, Ga. For more information, visit