A bead roller is a versatile instrument for shaping sheet metal in metalworking. With minor adjustments to its tooling, this one device can support a variety of operations, reducing the need to buy multiple pieces of equipment. Adding specific patterns of lines, known as beads, to sheet metal fabricators can help prevent it from bending or vibrating. This process enhances the durability of the metal and allows for creative customization for various projects.
Paul Mittler, president of Mittler Brothers Machine and Tool in Wright City, Missouri, sheds light on the intricate process of making bead rollers and why they are important.
This interview is edited for clarity.
When we first started making bead rollers, they were originally used by racers building race cars. The racers wanted everything to be very, very light. But the sheet metal they used on their race cars was very thin, without any rigidity. A bead roller is used to put a stiffening bead along the sheet metal so that it isn't bouncing around when they're going down the track very fast.
Bead rollers originally had a hand crank on one end, and it took one person to guide the metal and one person to turn the crank on the end. They had to get along well to communicate well enough to put their design into the metal while working together.
Through some of our industrial experience, we knew of small gear motors that we could put on a bead roller. We did a little trial and error until we found the right combination of motors to go on it. And now what had been a two-person operation now became a one-person operation. Instead of two people having to communicate very well, now it's just the communication between my foot on the variable speed foot pedal and my hands driving the material. We were the first to put a motor on a bead roller to make it easier.
Our production of bead rollers has evolved over several years. We have refined the process to the least number of steps possible. With our current manufacturing process, it takes approximately four hours to complete one bead roller from start to finish. It took over a dozen steps to build a bead roller with our old way of doing things, but now our 24-inch power drive bead roller is made in just a few steps.
Building a bead roller begins with the first step at our saw. A bead roller's main components are the shafts that drive the rolls responsible for forming sheet metal. Machining the shafts begins at the saw. Afterward, they are sent to our CNC bar feed lathe, machined, turned, and milled to completion. The shafts undergo a protective coating operation before being brought to the assembly area. The rolls that form the sheet metal go through multiple machining steps. These rolls are initially received as saw-cut blanks from our suppliers due to our high production volume. They are first machined into blanks that can be used to make a wide variety of different rolls. This stage completes 75% of the machining process, but the blank can be transformed into various roll shapes required. The next operation involves profiling the rolls with specific shapes for forming sheet metal.
The next step involves machining the frame. We start with a bar of 2-by-12-inch 6061-T6 aluminum, which is sawed to the proper length. The machined frame is created through two separate operations at our horizontal machining center. These operations turn a blank piece of material into a completed frame.
After all parts are machined and undergo any required outside operations, like heat treating and protective finishing, they are brought together at the assembly area. Before assembly, there is a cleaning and polishing step to remove any blemishes or scratches left on the material after machining. This step is mainly cosmetic and takes only a few minutes to prepare the frame for assembly.
Our final step involves assembling and packaging the bead roller. The machined bead roller frame is assembled with other components, including bearing blocks, shafts, gears, motor and motor mount assembly. Over the years, we've developed a robust painting process that rivals or surpasses powder coat quality. Our color, known as Mittler Blue, has become the signature color for all our products. One of the accessories for a bead roller is an optional stand. This stand is entirely welded and fabricated on-site, painted in our signature Mittler Blue color. Next, we carefully assemble everything and conduct testing before taking it to our packaging area. Then, we package and box it, making it ready to be shipped worldwide.
My advice for the next generation is never to get complacent. Change is constant, and you must adapt, or you will get run over.
We've been successful with our product line for a couple of reasons. The first is we know our customers, and our customers know us. When a customer comes to us and says, "I need a tool to do this," or "If your tool had this, it would be better," we listen to them. We talk to customers on the phone every day. Sometimes, it's minor changes to an existing piece of equipment, and sometimes it's ideas for brand-new ones. That's where the ideas for a lot of our equipment come from. Another secret to our success is the people who build and assemble our equipment. Many also use that equipment in their daily lives, side jobs, or home projects. They care enough about the equipment and parts they're building, so when the finished product gets to the customer, it's right.
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