Roll form parts are complicated. And the roll forming process is equally complicated. So, the quickest way to explain roll forming to a newcomer is to provide real-world examples.
Here are seven places you might not know are ripe for roll forming applications.
7 Roll Forming Applications in Disguise
Roll formed products are all around you. Just look at the buildings and infrastructure you pass by every day:
- Power distribution components
- Warehouse & data storage
- Commercial food storage
- Trailers & trucks
- Guard rails & sign posts
1. In the Power Supply
For data centers, commercial retail, and higher-ed buildings, the power distribution system is absolutely vital infrastructure. These systems are highly proprietary and implemented by thousands of feet per project. Consequently, custom roll formed parts are critical in both current-carrying and non-current-carrying equipment.
- Copper busbars & conductors (current-carrying)
- Cable trays & wire raceways (non-current-carrying)
--Why roll forming? Huge volumes, tolerance control, complex profiles, and specialized materials like tin-plated copper
Resource: Dual-source supply is a great way to lower your supply chain risk. A quality domestic second source supplier will help you make sure your work is done on time so you can keep moving forward with no major disruptions.
2. In the Warehouse
Warehouses go hand in hand with power distribution. Yet they still deserve a separate mention, because they are also filled (to the max) with old-school roll form shapes … angles and channels.
The Walmarts and Amazons of the world need these components for:
- Shelving posts
- Shelving supports & crossmembers
- Automated pallet rails
Without roll formed parts, warehouse distribution would not function at the incredible level that it does today.
--Why roll forming? High volumes, so many holes, tolerance control
3. At the Grocery Store
Roll forming is used extensively in the commercial food storage industry. All those refrigerators and freezers you see at the grocery store? Yeah, they’re built with roll formed components.
- Textured paneling for decorative purposes
- Kick plates by the floor that keep dust at bay
- Stainless steel hand rails and protective sills
- Insulated shelving structures that hold the goods
--Why roll forming? Very complex profiles, tricky hole patterns, tight tolerances for final assembly, pristine finishes are critical
4. In the Sun
Like in the power and warehouse distribution industries, roll forming is a major reason why solar power reached its ever-present status in society and is now a viable source of energy. Manufacturers use roll formed parts to hold vast arrays of solar panels at specific angles for years into the future.
These components include:
- Robust hat channels, C-channels, & Z-purlins for utility-scale solar farms
- Lightweight ballast trays and mounting structures for commercial roofs
--Why roll forming? Proprietary designs, large volumes, specialized materials, critical hole placements for field assembly
5. On the Tracks
Train cars consist of some of the longest, most uniformly shaped components known to man … like, up to 80 ft. long. And while train manufacturing is a niche market, from exterior to interior, roll forming is the only way to produce these parts:
- Exterior roof and side panels
- Protective steel sill plates
- Wall and ceiling stiffening channels
- Decorative stainless steel rails
- Stainless steel transition pieces
--Why roll forming? Super-long parts, some are very wide, pristine finishes are crucial
6. On the Road
Where to begin?
Let’s start with cargo trailers and delivery trucks. Every type of roll formed channel can be used to build the interior framing/skeleton for the cabs on these things. Also, you’re likely to see some stainless steel trim on the exterior of high-end trailers. The same goes for 18-wheelers, but those also have giant wheel fenders, which are made with a very specific type of roll form machine.
--Why roll forming? Hat and box channels make sturdy, lightweight frames, some parts are finish-critical, fenders are very wide
7. Beside the Road
Ever think about the millions of miles of guard rail that exist on this planet? We understand if you haven’t. Much like wheel fenders, roll form companies with dedicated machines produce guard rails at incredible speeds, making them dirt-cheap and as abundant as … dirt?
Lastly, the same existential question applies to road sign posts. You know the ones ... the hat channels with the holes down the center? While they can be cold-formed, these posts are most commonly made via “hot” roll forming. As in, steel rails are heated to 2300°F before passing through the roll dies. Yikes!
--Why roll forming? Extraordinary volumes, long lengths, reliable hole placements for field installation
What Makes These Roll Forming Applications Work?
In the examples above, custom roll formed shapes are particularly useful due to their ability to be produced at a rapid pace while maintaining design accuracy. Yet it’s also ideal for parts with multi-bend profiles, or those that require high-end finishes.
Hole punching, bending, and cutting to length are all easy to fit into one continuous process, rather than separate steps. In all of these cases, it’s simply more cost-effective and productive to use this tried-and-true method of metal forming.
We hope this list helps you determine if that part you’re designing could ultimately be roll formed. But if you are still uncertain, send us a drawing for a quick compatibility review from our team.
Still doing research? Check out our 'Why Roll Forming?" page via the button below:
(This article was originally published in October 2018 and was recently updated.)
People not familiar with roll forming usually need some education regarding the machines’ capabilities and limitations – even people who regularly work in sheet metal roll forming. There’s a reason skilled roll form engineers are a coveted resource – this is complicated stuff.
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