Controlling the bend with smart technologies

Geelong manufacturing start-up FormFlow is partnering with Deakin University and the Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC) to advance its unique corrugated steel bending process to enable high volume manufacturing of building products consistent in quality and shape.

Over the next 12 months, co-funded through the new IMCRC activate program, metal forming experts from Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) will set up an Industry 4.0 enabled manufacturing cell equipped with smart vision technologies to trace, evaluate, and continuously monitor the profile shape and forming load of corrugated steel strips used in FormFlow’s bending process.

Managing director at FormFlow, Dr Matt Dingle, said the project represents a vital next step in FormFlow’s technology development and commercialisation journey.

“FormFlow’s bending technology is unique. It is a secondary forming operation that relies on the theory of ‘folded developables’ to limit material deformation in incoming roll formed strip to simple bending while forming a complex shape, such as a 90-degree angle,” said Dingle.

“To achieve this, the profile shape of the incoming corrugated strip must conform to the surface contours of our bending technology. Unfortunately, this is often not the case as different steel manufacturers use different profile shapes and material parameters.

“Being able to trace the incoming profile shapes and material properties in-real time and adjust the technology accordingly will enhance our bending process significantly, allowing us to respond to different customer requirements and deliver products of greater quality.”

The project is being led by IFM Senior Research Fellow, Dr Matthias Weis, who said that his team was looking forward to taking FormFlow’s bending technology to the next level.

“We are taking a new approach towards process monitoring and control of secondary forming operations. By linking load signatures measured throughout the bending process to changes in incoming profile shape and material parameters, we hope to develop a proactive routine for FormFlow’s shape control,” said Weiss.

The new manufacturing cell equipped with the latest sensing technology will provide real- time data which will allow the research team to digitally model the physical FormFlow process and establish the correlation between incoming and outgoing profile shapes.

David Chuter, Managing Director and CEO at IMCRC pointed out that the outcomes of the research project will have far-reaching benefits, not only for FormFlow, but for Australia’s wider sheet metal manufacturing industry.

“FormFlow’s technology is transforming low-cost corrugated steel into a higher value-added product that is unique in the world.

By applying smart technologies, the project removes the main barrier for a much wider application of the technology. It opens the door for FormFlow to upscale their manufacturing capabilities and expand their business model – not just in Australia, but globally,” said Chuter.

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