Data centers are the backbone of today’s digital world.
From cloud computing to big data, they ensure that businesses, organizations, and individuals can access the information they need in a secure and efficient manner.
What many people don’t realize is these vast networks of computers rely on metal infrastructure components such as shelving and server racks for organization, proper airflow, and optimal performance.
Whether you’re outfitting a new data center or upgrading a legacy facility, you need these physical infrastructure components.
Let’s look at when roll forming might be your best option for producing them.
What Is Roll Forming?
Roll forming is a manufacturing process that utilizes heavy machinery to shape metal into precise, repeatable dimensions. Flat sheet metal is passed through a series of dies, gradually bending the material until it achieves a desired profile.
This process is useful for creating parts with multiple bends and complex shapes as well as intricate details, eliminating slow and expensive secondary operations. In doing so, roll forming lowers production costs and significantly slashes lead times.
See behind the scenes at a roll forming line:
Rack & Infrastructure: What Can Roll Forming Do?
Roll forming is an efficient and cost-effective method of producing many components of data storage racks and infrastructure, including:
- Structural joists
- Mounting rails
- Side panels
- Cable management bars
While there are many ways to manufacture data center metal components, roll forming offers many advantages over traditional processes. In particular, it excels at:
- Channels (U, C, J, box, hat)
- Parts with complex, cross-sectional shapes
- Parts with intricate hole patterns
- Parts with continuous lengths of 20+ ft.
At no extra production cost, roll forming also allows the inclusion of in-line punching features like:
Roll formed parts are high-precision – offering repeatable tolerances up to +/- 0.005” on some profile segments. Overall part lengths can be accurate up to +/- 0.020”.
Component length is limited only by the amount of material in the coil.
Powder Coating Your Roll Formed Data Center Parts
Choosing a roll forming partner that offers powder coating saves you time and money.
OEMs often choose to powder coat their roll formed parts for a host of benefits, including:
All these factors make powder coating an attractive choice for any manufacturing project where high-quality finishings are essential.
Roll Forming vs. Extrusion
Extrusion is a manufacturing technique that forces ductile materials, usually aluminum, through a die with an opening tailored to the desired shape of the end product. This process is used to create complex shapes by applying pressure with hydraulic presses or screws, often generating large amounts of heat in the process.
While they have similarities, there are distinct advantages roll forming offers over extrusion in data center rack design:
- Superior strength and durability – Roll forming is a cold rolling process, which shapes hard metal through repeated bending. Cold roll formed steel is stronger than extruded aluminum.
- In-line features – Extruding doesn’t offer in-line punching features and requires secondary fabrication.
- Higher accuracy – Roll formed part dimensions are consistently closer to the original specs.
- Cost savings – Roll forming is faster, uses less energy, produces less scrap, and requires less human labor.
When choosing a manufacturing method, consider the type of parts you need and the budget you have available. Roll forming is often more cost-effective and offers greater accuracy for producing intricate parts with complex shapes and bends.
A Closer Look at Roll Forming’s Advantages
Data center infrastructure suppliers rely on roll forming partners for more than component strength and accuracy. Reliable roll formers also provide:
- Cost efficiency
- Inventory management
Roll forming is a preferred manufacturing method in many industries for its cost efficiency. Factors determining roll forming cost include:
- Setup time – varies based on the complexity of the shape, which relates directly to the number of steps required for tool assembly
- Run speed – the faster the roll forming machine, the cheaper your components. Speed depends on part complexity and length (longer parts run quicker since they don’t slow down for cuts)
- Raw materials – can be anywhere from 40-80% of the final cost
Thankfully roll forming produces little scrap -- on average, only 0.5% to 3% – so power distribution OEMs see significant cost savings on materials.
Other roll forming cost-efficiencies are the result of:
- Minimal tool maintenance – producing features in a continuous motion reduces breakage
- Use of high-strength, low-alloy (HSLA) steel – cheaper than alternative strengthening methods like hot stamping
- Less human error – unlike other metal forming processes, roll forming requires less human labor
- Order flexibility – depending on your part design, volumes as low as 10,000-20,000 linear ft. per year can be cost-effective
The best roll formers practice lean inventory management to limit waste and reduce cost – and a major component of that is kanban.
The Kanban method of inventory management aims to provide the right amount of inventory in the right place at the right time.
It requires in-depth analysis to understand how much inventory to hold at a given time, when to replenish inventory, and how much to replenish. The amount of inventory should match and meet customer demand without overproduction.
For instance, if your company needs 1,000 data rack components per year, your kanban-practicing roll form partner might decide to produce 250 parts per run.
They’ll ship you three bundles with 50 parts in each. When your system sends a “trigger” that you have one bundle left in your inventory, your roll forming partner will send two bundles so your inventory is back to three.
This eliminates excess inventory, one of the seven wastes in lean manufacturing. Inventory ties up:
Reducing excess inventory – and in-house efforts to manage it – frees up your resources and focus for other efforts.
Partnering With a Roll Forming Company
With the ability to form complex shapes and continuous lengths of 20+ feet, roll forming provides a unique set of benefits for the data center industry.
Advantages of partnering with a roll form company for data center rack and infrastructure components include:
- Lower costs compared to other metal fabrication methods
- Highly customizable designs and shapes
- Increased accuracy & precision, ensuring that parts are made according to exact specifications
- Improved efficiency with shorter lead times
- High-quality parts that withstand the test of time
By investing in a reliable roll forming supplier that understands lean manufacturing principles and is experienced in producing data center rack and infrastructure components, you can enjoy the same benefits.
Want to Learn More?
Working with the right partner is essential to your success. Find out what to expect from a full-service roll forming company with our free Manufacturer’s Guide To Partnering With a Reliable Roll Former:
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