K-zell Metals embraces precision equipment to tackle difficult tasks
In the 80s, K-zell Metals Inc. had a number of press brake tools that required a lot of shimming. Back then, the K-zell craftsmen had to shim the bottom die and the upper punch. On top of the time lost setting up a bend, the company also had to have punches reground, which could set the fab shop back as they waited for the tooling to return to the facility.
“We had a number of punches for stainless steel work for door frames and countertops, and we were using an acute punch on that work,” Don Kammerzell, the company’s owner and founder, says thinking back to those days. “On the stainless that we bent, we’d have to send the punch out about every 15 to 18 months and have it reground, so that it would form properly.”
With Wila segmented tooling, however, if a piece were to be damaged, the worst-case scenario would be damaging a 20.276-in. long piece. If any smaller pieces were compromised, the tooling wouldn’t be completely out of commission. The segmented tooling, which would soon make its way into the K-zell facility, would be a major boon for the team, considering its interchangeability.
“One of the classic bottlenecks for anyone that runs more than one press brake is not having enough tooling to run all of the press brakes at the same time,” he explains. “If I have a 10-ft. machine and a 12-ft. machine and run a product that’s about 60 in. or 5 ft., I can run that on two machines if I have 10 ft. of tooling. A major advantage of the Wila tooling is that it provides more flexibility where you don’t need as much of any particular punch or die sets as you would if you had to buy full-length for [multiple press brakes].”
Wila came into the picture at K-zell as a complement to three Bystronic press brakes. Today, K-zell has a Bystronic Xpert model 100 x 3100, a Bystronic model PR150 x 3100 and a Bystronic model PR250 x 4100. Kammerzell says that purchasing anything even remotely non-precise would have defeated the purpose of buying the highly sophisticated Bystronics. And at that point in the game, he had his sights set on segmented tooling. Since then, his collection of Wila’s New Standard punches and dies has grown as his customers’ needs have expanded.
Upon entering the K-zell Metals Inc. facility, the first thing a visitor notices are the colors. Orange and blue dominate the shop floor in the form of Bystronic metal-forming machines and Miller welding equipment.
Although it’s not visible to the human eye, the second thing that catches a visitor’s attention is the energy in the air. Some of the world’s most sophisticated metal fabrication equipment, manned by skillful K-zell employees, is pumping out giant-sized sculptures, metal frames for military vehicles and some of the area’s most difficult-to-engineer parts. Kammerzell attributes the infectious buzz to his employees who “most bigger companies would drool over.”
K-zell’s crew – including some who have been with the company pushing three decades – is unlike any other in the Phoenix area. ”In addition to exceptional craftsmen on the floor, we have degreed mechanical engineers in our engineering department and a degreed welding engineer on staff,” he explains. Kammerzell, who is a metallurgist himself, says that from a technical stance, “K-zell has it covered.“
K-Zell Metals Case Study DSC_0325_v3-2: The Bystronic Xpert 10-ft.-by-100-ton press brake, which is one of three Bystronic press brakes at K-zell Metals, is equipped with Wila New Standard Clamping System and Tooling.
Inset photo: K-Zell Metals Case Study DSC_0328_v5: Press brake operator Lucas Farner forms a cover for a tire casing inspection machine out of 16-gauge Paintlok steel with sectionalized Wila New Standard Tooling.
“When people bring us problems, it’s a rare case when we can’t solve them,” he says. “A lot of other companies can’t figure out where to start, let alone how to do the overall forming of the part. We can handle detailed fabrication drawings on pieces that other people haven’t been able to get right.”
Like most companies, K-zell wasn’t top dog on day one. Perfection takes time. The fabrication shop, however, has evolved throughout the years, beginning in 1986 when Kammerzell found himself interested in an industrial sheet-metal shop. Before he bought the business, he worked for a big engineering firm, and then a fabricating shop that was eventually bought out and re-staffed.
“So I bought this sheet-metal shop whose owner was looking to retire,” he explains. “That was over 25 years ago, and when we started we only had one press brake, two shears and one set of plate rolls. We still have one of the shears and the plate rolls, but everything else has changed.”
Initially, K-zell relied on a press brake built in 1945 and a Cincinnati shear from 1939. And although he claims that those machines could have lasted until the end of time, it wasn’t until Bystronic came along that he realized that the new tools on the market could be productive enough to justify some major equipment upgrades.
A large military contract also had something to do with the decision to replace his aging equipment.
“During the first Gulf War, one of our customers needed to make some small channels to hold ceramic armor for military vehicles,” Kammerzell recalls. “We told him that it would be a lot easier for us to make the finished part as opposed to just the channel so we started making holding frames to place the armor on the vehicles.”
At the time, K-zell only had mechanical press brakes and two plasma tables – one high-def and one standard. The project’s laser-cutting needs “kept four small laser houses busy all summer.”
Soon thereafter, he bought a fourth mechanical press brake and had four guys working extra hours just to keep up. As more work started flooding in, he realized that he would need his own laser as well as a new press brake.
Photo: K-Zell Metals Case Study DSC_0337_v2: Prototypes of car/truck road block system are made of 18- and 14-gauge 304 stainless steel, formed on Bystronic press brake with Wila New standard Tooling.
Photo: K-Zell Metals Case Study DSC_0371-2 (1): Despite the radii being formed with multiple step bends, the flanges and the corner piece of this stainless steel mock-up still line up perfectly.
“And that’s when we went to Bystronic,” he says. “We bought a large 2-meter-by-4-meter laser and took a big risk by also purchasing automatic material handling. That was coupled with my first Bystronic press brake with the Wila tooling.”
“When we went out and looked at press brakes and lasers, we wanted a system that was integrated so that we would only have to do the engineering once,” he explains. “The Bystronic Beyler was the first press brake that we looked at that had been engineered from the ground up to be numerically controlled. It wasn’t just putting an NC system on a standard press brake. And then we looked at the Wila tooling and realized that we could get much better accuracy with it.”
He compares the decision to any type of techie purchase. “You wouldn’t buy a computer today that had the same technology that it had in the 80s,” he quips. “When you buy something today, you expect that the quality has improved. We have to make sure that even our industrial products have better quality than they did two years ago. They have to be precise; the angles have to be more consistent. If a customer wants a 90-degree angle, it has to be 90 degrees.”
Straight as an arrow
The ability to use the Wila tooling without shimming has changed the face of operations for anyone working on one of the company’s three press brakes. “The fact that you know that you can take any three pieces of that tool and that it’s going to bend right the first time, is key,” Kammerzell boasts.
The brake operators appreciate that they can turn the tools around and know that everything will still line up correctly. He stresses the importance that the centerlines all match. It allows K-zell to produce more parts and stay on top of an aggressive schedule.
“Because all of the tools are the same height, the operator can make a setup on the left-hand side of the press brake that’s a little different from the right,” he explains. “Therefore, he can have two different sets of tools on the machine at the same time and continue to bend parts.”
Photo: K-Zell Metals Case Study DSC_0351-4 (1), Caption: K-zell Metals owner Don Kammerzell and press brake operator Ryan Reynosa inspect two pieces of a corner assembly of an architectural fascia for a carport. While the parts are mirror opposites of each other and the large radii were produced with multiple step bends, they match perfectly.
Additionally, the operators relish the fact that the Wila clamping system allows them to check the alignment of the press brake by simply putting a standard acute punch and die set in, simulating a sharp bend. A simple feeler gage checks the die alignment. “You can only do that because you know how straight the Wila tooling is,” he says.
The first 10-ft. Bystronic brake eliminated two of the mechanical brakes and led to the purchase of a 14 ft. Bystronic to eliminate the other two. The press brakes proved to be so productive that the laser needed lights-out automation to keep work in front of the brakes. Four years later the work volume has increased sufficiently to justify another 10-ft. machine.
The brains behind the brawn
“One of the things that I learned early on is that if you have skilled employees, their work has to challenge them,” Kammerzell says. “You have to really think about how you’re going to tackle a job and apply all of your skills for it to come out right. On those projects, profit is secondary. What you’re doing is keeping your employees engaged so that they can have true fulfillment from their jobs.”
When Kammerzell bought his shop, it was a small outfit with only four employees. Back then, however, he held the same commitment to his staff. He adopted computer drafting programs early on and continuously tried to move forward with technology. Taking on interesting or outside-of-the-box work also keeps his employees on their toes – technically speaking.
K-zell has done a range of artwork and sculptures, including a piece for David Hovey, an internationally acclaimed architect from Chicago.
With the Bystronic press brakes and laser, which is the biggest of its kind in the Phoenix area, as well as with the Wila tooling, K-zell was able to eliminate its older mechanical press brakes and even take on custom cutting work for other job shops.
“We bend entirely different types of material on our press brakes all the time,” Kammerzell says of his job shop. “Today we may be running 10-gauge hot roll on one of our press brakes. Tomorrow we may be running 22-gauge 301-half-hard stainless steel. They form differently and they have different alignment requirements, so we have to do some very specific checking and aligning on our press brakes. With some of the stuff that we do on our 275-ton machine, we’re able to hold incredibly tight tolerances. That takes some careful setups and periodic maintenance on the machines.”
The Wila tooling is there to enable accurate and interchangeable operations. And the engineering that is often done offline will generally tell an operator which tools to use. Each press brake has access to the tooling database that makes setup quick and easy.
“You can pull up a particular bottom die as well as a punch, and they will automatically pop up on the screen,” Kammerzell says in regard to the Bystronic controls. “And it’s dimensionally accurate. So now when you want to bend the part, the machine will tell you two things. One, it will tell you whether you’re abusing the tooling or overloading it. And two, it’ll tell you whether or not you have interference issues, and if the part is going to crash into the machine.” Which is a very important element to know beforehand.
Like a kid in a fabrication shop
One project in particular that demonstrates K-zell’s unique capabilities is a child’s slide made to resemble a whimsical toy man. Elementary in concept but conversely sophisticated by design, the slides are almost more modern art than they are playground equipment. They can be found in New York, Aspen, Florida, Cape Cod and Philadelphia and were done in collaboration with Bollinger Atelier, a casting company based in Tempe, Ariz.
“The ribs of the sculpture are ellipses that are sections of an elliptical toroid and are all in free space,” says Kammerzell. “One of our engineers had to sit down and figure out how to build a fixture so that the ellipses could go through at the different angles. It was very complicated, and we tried to bring in some outside help, because we were really busy when we took on the job. But we couldn’t find anyone who could figure out how to do it. So it turns out that the only way that [the body] could be done was for us to design it in-house.”
Harkening back to his own childhood, Kammerzell recalls a day in the second grade when his dad took him to a blacksmith’s shop. He says that he instantly fell in love with the fire and decided to become a metallurgist. And as it turns out, he also fell for the challenge that comes with engineering parts that most other shops would turn away.
K-zell Metals Inc.