By Lynn Stanley, Senior Editor
A different path
Bending technology helps fabricator produce precision parts while staying a step ahead of demand

A robot-operated Ermaksan 6-axis Speed Bend press brake provides production rates twice that of conventional machines.

robot-operated Ermaksan 6-axis Speed Bend press brake
A robot-operated Ermaksan 6-axis Speed Bend press brake provides production rates twice that of conventional machines.

sales call, a downpour and a missed cutoff outside Greenville, Texas, changed the course of events for Steve Lester, his wife, Sherrill, and his father, Pat.

“I was in the metals business at the time,” says Steve Lester. “I worked for a mill. I decided to visit QMF Steel Inc. It was a mom-and-pop operation with two barns full of metal. A terminal cancer diagnosis prompted the owner’s wife to try and persuade me to buy their business. At the time, I thought it was the worst idea I’d ever heard.

“When I got home that day, my father came over and said, ‘I sold my business and I need an investment.’ I asked if he wanted to take a look at QMF. After discussing it, everyone wanted to move forward, but I wasn’t so sure. It was more money than I had ever been in debt for.”

After making half a dozen phone calls, Steve Lester decided to take a step of faith. Just three hours after contracts were signed, “the company was already in the black,” he says. “Customers flocked to QMF and we began to grow right away.”

The ISO and AISC certified supplier specializes in fabricating and forming a variety of steel, stainless and aluminum components for commercial buildings, bridges and highways. The Campbell, Texas-based company is also a mill-direct buy-America supplier of these metals. Its value-add services include the ability to draw, cut, roll or weld the alloys to specification and deliver or ship orders.

Stepping stones
At first, the company continued to operate as a metals distributor. In 2008, the Lesters began to dabble in fabrication work. “I was outsourcing bending, welding and cutting operations so we decided to buy one small machine,” he says. “That machine soon reached capacity, so I bit the big one and invested in my first CO2 laser. Then, I met Joe Ryan from Machine Tool Technologies Inc.”

The fully electric Ermaksan Green FX servo press brake and its ATF 6-axis backgauge make part setup easy for the operator.

worker using a Ermaksan Green FX servo press brake
The fully electric Ermaksan Green FX servo press brake and its ATF 6-axis backgauge make part setup easy for the operator.
The Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based equipment supplier has a broad range of metal fabrication solutions that include bending, cutting, drilling and deburring solutions. Mac-Tech has also been a distributor for ErmakUSA for nearly 17 years. The metal fabrication machinery manufacturer is based in Des Plaines, Illinois, and is the North American arm of Ermaksan, based in Bursa, Turkey.

“QMF took a shot with us on another product,” says Ryan. “That experience proved to be a confidence builder for Steve. We wanted him to know he had a good vendor that would take care of his equipment needs as well as service and support.”

When a new job dictated taller press brake tooling and faster more accurate bending, Ermaksan’s Green FX servo press brake caught Lester’s eye. “At first, I was uncomfortable about making a large capital equipment purchase with an out-of-country manufacturer,” says Lester. “I was concerned about the level of service we could expect and about getting parts if we needed them. But Joe was a lot of help. He evaluated our needs and our budget and we were able to work out a financing plan through Mac-Tech.”

QMF installed a 65-metric-ton, 6.8-ft. Ermaksan Green FX servo press brake in March 2020. Lester also opted for Ermaksan’s ATF 6-axis backgauge. “Most of the parts QMF bends are less than 7 ft. long,” says Ryan. “A high-speed press brake with fast setup is a good fit for them. The backgauge makes part setup easy for the operator and ensures they get a first part, good part. The technology also positions them to take on just about any job that comes through the door.”

FX machine
The FX features an O-type frame design that delivers equal bending force along the ram.
The fully electric FX features an O-type frame configuration, which eliminates the need for a conventional crowning system. “Traditional press brakes require a crowning system to compensate for deflection that occurs in the ram and the table of the press brake when load is applied,” says Ryan. “The FX’s O-frame employs two synchronized servo motors that work together with a belt system and dual linear scales to precisely position the ram. This design also provides equal bending force along the ram. When an operator bends a part, this configuration gives him or her equal angles on the left, center and right side of the bed.”
Since the FX press brake doesn’t require hydraulic oil, maintenance is minimal. The Green machine is also able to reduce energy consumption by up to 69 percent.
Lester added a 193-metric-ton, 12-ft., Ermaksan 6-axis Speed Bend press brake in 2020. The Speed Bend offers production rates twice that of conventional machines. The Ermaksan synchronized servo hydraulic press brake is equipped with an anti-deflection system and a backgauge with X, R, Z1, Z2, Y1 and Y2 axes.

“Our business is a little bit different in that we win contracts that call for 1,000 to 12,000 parts a month,” says Lester. “We also make parts for the vehicle retrofit market. We were just awarded a contract for 20,000 parts. So the press brakes sometimes run night and day and other times may sit idle for a week. But because we do run high volumes, we sourced a robot and integrated it with the Speed Bend. The speed and accuracy of the press brake is a great feature, and we were pleased with the training and how easy it was to learn to operate it. We run the press brake in both automatic and manual mode on a regular basis.”

Steve and Sherrill Lester together
Steve (left) and Sherrill Lester.
We’re able to run a variety of materials and jobs through both Ermaksan press brakes.
Steve Lester, QMF Steel Inc.
QMF is currently finishing projects for three highways, a college, two hotels and some federal government contracts. “We are running all these jobs through both Ermaksan press brakes,” Lester says.

Growth continues to move the needle for QMF, which also added an Ermaksan FiberMak Gen3 4020 6 kW fiber laser to its machine lineup in 2020. The fabricator puts the Ermaksan equipment through its paces bending and cutting parts for commercial construction, highways, bridges, overpasses, overhead signage, handrails and other decorative metal applications. “We’re winning so much business a week we can barely keep up,” Lester says. “But we’ve got great equipment and great personnel.”

QMF Steel Inc.,
Campbell, Texas, 800/881-4071,
Milwaukee, 847/301-9555,
ErmakUSA Inc.,
Des Plaines, Illinois, 847/640-7765,