Nov 02, 2023

The art of rollforming

Australian Rollforming Manufacturers has recently moved into a new facility to expand its world class metal design, rollforming, fabrication and project management services. Billy Friend speaks to Henry Wolfkamp, Engineering Manager during a visit to the company's new factory in Dandenong South.

There's a buzz of activity on the ground at Australian Rollforming Manufacturers’ (ARM) new facility in Dandenong South. The manufacturing capability and efficiency immediately catches the eye, so it was no surprise to learn that ARM rollform, shape, drill, punch and cut more than a million metres of metal every year.

The work is managed by highly knowledgeable engineers, with experience working across thousands of custom profiles, converting sketches and drawings into superior design results.

History is etched into the ethos of ARM, evidenced by a filing cabinet at its manufacturing facility storing the original tooling and drawings from the company's beginnings in 1941. Wolfkamp himself has been in the rollforming industry for 44 years, acquiring expertise which enables him to operate with ingenuity and quality.

"The first special section rollformer was bought into Australia in the 40s," Wolfkamp said. "I started my career fresh out of university with Fisher & Paykel, who had 120-metre-long production lines. Somewhere amongst the punches, the folders and guillotines was a rollformer for the edges. The company didn't have much experience in rollforming, but had many experienced toolmakers for folding and punching, so they thought to give the rollforming to the new guy."

Initially, ARM lived off projects as special profile manufacturers. Now, the DuraGal® brand is ARM's bread and butter, occupying around two thirds of operations with special sections being the other integral component.

"We are now competitive on price with imports from China and Vietnam while producing a high-quality product," he said. "There's uncertainty with Chinese products – long lead times, huge prices on shipping for imports and rising prices has led to more focus on local manufacturing. The challenges are felt around the world too, especially with steel mills around Europe being disrupted by the Russia-Ukraine conflict."

DuraGal Profiles

Kylie deMole, national manager, explained that as a manufacturer of DuraGal®, ARM produces profiles for unlimited length with consistency, closer and tighter tolerances, high volume, high-speed preparations and a superior surface finish.

"With a prepared surface finish, DuraGal® Profiles are supplied ready to use, removing a need for priming or shot blasting after fabrication," she noted. "The profiles have a high level of corrosion resistance because the zinc has 3 per cent magnesium content and 3.5 per cent aluminium. The magnesium creates a stable and durable layer across the surface."

ARM produces a range of DuraGal® angles, lintels, flats and channels, all rollformed from high strength grade steel with a highly corrosion resistant zinc coating.

Rollforming – A unique metal forming process

Metal rollforming is a continuous bending operation where a strip of metal is passed through consecutive sets of rolls, each performing an incremental part of the bend until the cross-section profile is obtained. ARM is adept at working with a wide range of materials including stainless steel, titanium for a special case, aluminum, copper, mild steel and all types of coated coil.

Wolfkamp explained rollforming as a design process, in which exact formulas don't yet exist for.

"Punching a hole, bending a piece of steel – there are formulas for that," he said. "Rollforming is a three-dimensional process and the maths isn't around for it. Therefore you rely more on people's experience. To do this job, you have to have a creative skillset."

Finding enough people with such a skillset to problem solve is a huge challenge for the special sections sector. Many of the country's skilled engineers have swapped over to computer programming or IT-related jobs, leaving a gap to be filled.

"I think we’re going to struggle for another decade. Manufacturing used to be just over 30 per cent of Australia's GDP. It's now under six per cent. To bring all this work back onshore to increase that figure, businesses have to double in size."

To compensate for this challenge, ARM is investing in improving technology to automate more of the rollforming procedure. With Deakin University's Institute of Frontier Materials, ARM's rollforming research and development team is hoping to advance available technology.

"The computer power is improving, it's not quite a production tool yet and is mainly still in the lab," Wolfkamp explained. "You have to analyse the material, so that your process becomes more predictable and then you have to have a stable supply of that material. Improving the technology will lead to even more production."

Deakin's latest Finite Element Analysis (FEA) simulation software was used in conjunction with ARM's own design software for the Docklands cinema complex's innovative cladding on the building's façade.

A custom-designed facility

In December last year, ARM consolidated its warehouse and manufacturing facility into one larger, 6000 sqm space. It was a factory custom-designed for ARM, with thoughts of expanding in mind. In fact, the design included purposefully left space for two new machines to be inserted into the building, with room to extend the factory by 60 metres, adding another 3000 square metres of floor space.

"It's a lot easier to ramp up productivity now because we are all on the same page," he said. "We aren't so fragmented, so the bread and butter of the business works like clockwork. We’ve realigned our tool room workshop into a more streamlined process, so we can get the tools assembled and into the machine more efficiently. The emphasis was on changing the way the machines were loaded and set up so there was no overhead crane-jam anymore."

The new building is only adding to one of ARM's big competitive advantage: its ability to rollform up to ten millimetres of thick steel. Powered by advanced software, ARM is able to quickly respond to customer needs by undertaking all tooling work in-house.

"We’re always taking on new projects," Wolfkamp added. "We are remaking a train part which is being used for the structural beams which run on top of the trains for the Perth Metronet project. It's made out of a very high tensile stainless steel which hasn't been on the market very long, so the current rollformer supplier overseas just can't do it. It's about understanding how a certain material behaves and knowing its characteristics. Years of knowledge helps."

That knowledge translates to a tremendous diversity of products ARM provide, including collector plates, noise walls, void panels, roller door guides, rail bridge deck, sheet piling, trench sheeting, conveyor sections and carrier slats.

For more information on Australian Rollforming, click here.

Australian Rollforming Manufacturers has recently moved into a new facility to expand its world class metal design, rollforming, fabrication and project management services. Billy Friend speaks to Henry Wolfkamp, Engineering Manager during a visit to the company's new factory in Dandenong South. DuraGal Profiles Rollforming – A unique metal forming process A custom-designed facility For more information on Australian Rollforming, click here.