It takes quality equipment to do quality work.
John Martin,
Southwest Welding LLC
More for Less
Crownless, servo-electronic press brake technology helps job shop save time and energy while raising throughput

outhwest Welding LLC took root in Wakarusa, Indiana, in 1985 under the skillful hands of owner John Martin. The fabricator learned to weld as a teenager under his Uncle Ray’s careful instruction. “A little 1,500-sq.-ft. shop became available, and I took it,” he recalls. “I moonlighted the first six years before I was able to quit my day job and take the business full time in 1991.”

Wakarusa sits next door to Goshen, Indiana, a major recreational vehicle and accessories manufacturing center, and just 13 miles from Elkhart, the “RV Capital of the World.” Despite his close proximity, Martin has made very few parts for the RV market. Instead, he pursued customers in the marine and transportation industries. “We wanted to take on more challenging jobs,” he says.

Today, Southwest Welding has a combined manufacturing space of 129,000 sq. ft. and can [fiber laser, CO2 laser and plasma] cut, mill, form, shear, notch, weld, saw, roll and powder coat parts from a variety of materials. Despite the industry’s ups and downs, the 36-year-old company continues to maintain a steady growth rate. In addition to Martin’s three sons, Lyle, Daryl and Matthew, and his wife, Bertha, Southwest Welding operates with a workforce of 70 employees. “We call ourselves one big family,” he says.

[Right to left] Southwest Welding owner John Martin, his wife, Bertha, and their sons, Lyle, Daryl and Matthew family photo
[Right to left] Southwest Welding owner John Martin, his wife, Bertha, and their sons, Lyle, Daryl and Matthew
Growing pains
“We’ve been blessed with growth,” Martin adds. “Our dedication to customer service has always been our first priority. But the second priority is good machinery. It takes quality equipment to do quality work.”

Martin is referring in part to SafanDarley B.V.’s servo-electronic E-Brake press brake technology. Approximately 75 percent of Southwest Welding’s laser-cut parts are sent downstream to a press brake. When the job shop outgrew capacity on its 20-ton and 400-ton hydraulic press brakes, Martin began looking for an upgrade. He turned to SafanDarley distributor Modern Machinery Company in Indianapolis.

The Netherlands-based sheet bending, cutting, handling and automation manufacturer supports the U.S. through SafanDarley North America LLC, Waukesha, Wisconsin. Distributors like Modern Machinery provide the equipment builder with boots on the ground for job shops like Southwest Welding. “We’ve purchased a lot of equipment from them,” says Martin of Modern Machinery. “It’s become a trusted partnership.”

Choosing to invest in a fully electric press brake took a step of faith for Martin, who was used to running hydraulic machines. His major concern was the ability to produce precision parts consistently. Conventional equipment requires a crowning system to compensate for deflection that occurs in the ram and the table of the press brake when load is applied. SafanDarley engineered the E-Brake’s O-frame to minimize deformation and create a stable environment for parts production.

“The E-Brake’s design allows it to achieve the most accurate and constant bending angle along the full working length of the machine without the need for a crowning system,” says Zach Swain, sales engineer for Modern Machinery. “The E-Brake’s CNC-driven Y [± 0.005 in.], X [± 0.02 in.] and R [± 0.1 in.] axes hold close tolerances for precision bending.”

Jordan Graber installing the E-Brake’s integrated light curtain in factory
The E-Brake’s integrated light curtain saves seconds per part and provides operator Jordan Graber with a safe working environment.
Precision parts
Southwest Welding produces complete chassis frames that are shipped to customers ready for assembly into buses and specialty vehicles. “We make very critical parts for the transportation industry that have to hold tight tolerances,” says Martin. “The accuracy and repeatability of the SafanDarley E-Brakes was really attractive to us.”

The job shop installed a SafanDarley 200-ton, 13-ft. E-Brake in 2016, followed by a 100-ton, 10-ft. E-Brake in 2017 and a third machine in 2020. Southwest Welding has a fourth SafanDarley E-Brake on order. “The press brakes run approximately 1,000 parts per day,” says Martin.

Those parts include weldments for cell and radio towers, frames and components for standby energy equipment such as generators for hospitals and aftermarket equipment attachments. “We air bend parts primarily from carbon steel, but we do bend a lot of aluminum parts for two different pontoon boat companies,” says Martin.
In addition to accurate parts, speed is also important. “It’s a challenge,” says Martin.

SafanDarley E-Brake Parts Stacked
“We have short delivery windows but we have to maintain quality.”

SafanDarley’s integrated light curtain contributes to operator safety and higher throughput for the job shop. “If we’re air bending a steel blank with a 2-in. flange, the E-Brake knows that,” he explains. “As soon as we finish processing one part, the E-Brake’s ram returns to material thickness, ready to bend the next one. It saves us several seconds per part. A hydraulic press brake doesn’t do that. The ram remains open, so you lose time while the operator sets up for the next piece.” The E-Brake’s light curtain preserves safety because it can sense when an operator is entering and exiting the workspace. And it allows an operator to run the machine without the foot pedal.

Martin also approves of the E-Brake’s energy efficiency gains and low maintenance. “The E-Brake averages 50 percent less energy consumption than a conventional hydraulic press brake,” says Swain. “The machine’s motors are engaged only during the forming process. Otherwise they remain in standby mode. A traditional press brake’s motor and hydraulic pump are always operating and consuming energy. When the E-Brake enters standby mode, it uses about the same amount of electricity as a laptop.”

Southwest Welding is currently prototyping parts for new 5G cell towers. The work will be supported by the company’s arsenal of E-Brakes, which can bend parts up to 14 ft. long. Martin—who recently added blast and wet paint booths—is aiming to provide customers with a value-added supply chain that takes their part from processing to finishing and shipment. “We want to make it one-stop-shop,” he says.

Southwest Welding LLC, Wakarusa, Indiana, 574/862-4453,

Modern Machinery Company, Indianapolis, 317/791-8290,

SafanDarley North America LLC, Waukesha, Wisconsin, 262/259-0369,