Whoever first said, “You have to spend money to make money,” probably had plenty of it to start with. It’s easy to talk big when you’re sitting on a fat wallet.
There’s a difference between spending money and investing money. Investments should be the result of extensive research and plenty of thought, especially when it comes to running a successful business. For those roofing contractors who have made the financial commitment to purchase a roof panel roll former, there are plenty of factors to wade through before writing out that check.
A major decision revolves around purchasing a single-profile machine or a multi-profile machine. There are manufacturers who make only single-profile roll formers and some who make only multi-profile machines. Many offer both.
For those contractors who may still have questions, Mike Gorski, senior roll former technician at Englert, says the key is establishing what the machine will be used for.
“If they’re just starting out and they’re going to do residential, then they probably want a single-profile machine,” he says. “Residential is the easiest market to get started in. If they’re going to get into commercial, then they probably want to go with a multi-profile machine. A lot of times, they start with a single-profile machine and come back and buy the bigger machine.”
Gorski says the size of the investment makes a difference, too. “Everyone wants to get the most for their money,” he says. “A multi-profile machine allows you to add tooling later. If they go with a single-profile machine and want another profile, they have to buy all new hydraulics, framing, a whole new machine. Then they’ve got to worry about having a place to store a second machine.”
Englert keeps all nine of its tooling sets in stock, so any are ready to be shipped when someone orders it. A multi-profile machine allows an Englert customer to use any or all of the profiles in that machine.
Owning a multi-profile machine means knowing more than just how to run and maintain it. Contractors have to be able to change toolings to run different profiles. That can be intimidating.
“We get asked a lot, ‘Do you need a masters in engineering?’” Gorski says. “We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible with color coding, by numbering the units, and requiring the least possible number of bolts you have to unscrew and screw back in.”
Gorski says Englert’s training will provide a contractor the ability to complete a changeover alone and in an hour. He says some machines will take two workers up to three hours.
Gorski says Englert’s training program is hands-on. “We don’t just send you the box and a manual and wish you luck,” he says. “We make sure someone takes you through a changeover step by step, letting you get your hands in the machine, teaching you the language. That way, if you ever have a problem down the road, we may be able to talk you through it over the phone.”
Gorski says all Englert distribution centers have someone on staff to handle training and field troubleshooting. “If we don’t keep those machines running, we don’t sell coil,” he says. “We back up our machines and our material 100 percent.”
An evolving trend among Englert customers is more foresight: contractors are looking to the future when they purchase a machine. “Instead of purchasing the single-profile machine, they’re buying the multi-profile machine with the tooling for one profile,” says Kevin Corcoran, Englert’s vice president of business development. “They start out with the basic nail-strip profile. Their crews can handle it because they’ve been installing 5-v panels or ag panels. They see this as a way to grow their business. Eventually, if they want to explore more business opportunities, they can purchase another set or two.”
New Tech Machinery roof panel machines all are capable of running more than one profile. “It comes down to a philosophy,” says Roger Geer of New Tech. “Our goal has always been to manufacture a machine that was not too big, one that was truly portable, and one that was flexible enough to allow our customers to run more than one profile.”
He estimates that 75 percent of New Tech customers start with at least two profiles and that very few buy one and don’t come back for a second or third. Some are intimidated by the notion of changeovers, but Geer says New Tech’s training is very thorough. “Almost everybody who buys a machine from us spends a day or two with (New Tech trainer) Ron Schell,” he says. “He takes them through the entire machine and simplifies it.”
Geer says that approximately 80 percent of the toolings they sell between Denver and the east coast are for the 1-3/4 inch snap-lock profile. New Tech keeps all toolings in stock, ready to be sent out upon request. “We hang out hats on delivery,” Geer says.
Knudson Manufacturing offers multiple-profile machines for those who want flexibility as well as single-profile machines for contractors who know they are going to install a specific profile. Knudson’s VP21-M Varipan can run eight profiles — 1-inch flush panel, 1-inch nail strip, 1-inch snap-lock, 1-inch standing seam, 1-1/2-inch nail strip, 1-1/2-inch snap-lock, 1-1/2-inch standing seam, and a U profile. A contractor can ask for any or all of the tooling for those profiles. The machine can grow with the business.
“It depends on what the contractor is trying to accomplish and where he’s trying to take his business,” says Pat Flood of Knudson. “Is he trying to grow the business? Most customers show up with a reasonable idea of what they want. With a Varipan, you have the flexibility to bid a job even if you don’t have the tooling to do it. If you get the job, you can order the tooling. If you don’t get the bid, you’re not stuck with the tooling.”
With any new machine, there is a something new to learn and Flood says it’s important for contractors to learn all they can about their equipment. “That’s one of the advantages I’ll concede to a single-profile machine,” he says. “The learning curve is shorter. With multi-profile machines, there’s more to learn, changeovers, new setups.”
Knudson also offers several single-profile machines. “Sometimes a guy will get a good reputation for running a particular panel and it becomes his favorite profile,” Flood says. “He will seek out that kind of work and that work will seek him out.”
Flood says if a contractor opts to have a couple single-profile machines instead of one multi-profile machine, he can be running panels in two places at once. He also runs the risk of having an idle machine. “Not everyone can afford to have a machine sitting in a warehouse for weeks at a time,” Flood says. “Running single-profile machines is one way to grow. It requires a smaller initial investment, but will require sizable investments with the purchase of additional single-profile machines later on,” Flood says. “That’s one way to grow a business, adding to the stable.”
Flood says contractors who operate a multiple-profile machine can use it as a marketing tool, showing their versatility.
Texas-based Berridge Manufacturing offers only single-profile roll formers, or “dedicated-profile” roll formers as they’re known at Berridge. “One reason roofing contractors prefer to purchase several single-profile portable roll formers is to be able to produce panels for more than one project simultaneously during peak demand without having to go through the sometimes lengthy and tedious process of changing tooling and making adjustments,” says David Doyle, Berridge’s vice president of marketing. “Roofing contractors who purchase a Berridge dedicated-profile roll former do so in order to comply with architectural specifications. A Berridge dedicated-profile portable roll former is designed to form one specific profile that precisely conforms to the panel specified by architects when Berridge coil, Vinyl Weatherseal, and other accessories are utilized. Several Berridge dedicated-profile roll formers also have special attachments which automatically insert the patented Berridge Vinyl Weatherseal during the roll forming process.”
When MetalForming studied the market for portable roll formers, it was quite apparent that most customers wanted multiple profile roll formers according to president Geoff Stone. “However, nearly all complained about the complexity of changeovers,” he says. “Not only was time and labor a factor but also the quality of panels came into play. This is precisely why we invented the Quadro roll former. Our design criteria included changeover from one to five minutes and elimination of operators changing and gapping rolls.”
Stone says Quadros are typically purchased with four profiles loaded: mechanical lock, u-panel, snap lock with clip, and nail strip. “Changeover from one to another ranges from one to five minutes,” he says. “If a customer wants other profiles such as soffit, 2-inch structural mechanical or 1-3/4-inch structural snap lock, he unbolts four bolts, removes his existing cassette and slips in the new cassette — elapsed time is five to 10 minutes. This also reduces training time to as little as three hours.”
Stone says if a customer wants a second machine, he can buy it fully equipped or buy the machine base only and use cassettes from an existing machine. “They are completely interchangeable,” he says. “This results in total flexibility.”
The Quadros are modular so a customer can add ribbing, striation, longitudinal slitting, concave curving, hot melt for weather tightness, perforating, and even automatic pre-notching for the eaves edge.
“We also know, however that there are customers who use only one profile because they serve only one market — for example — residential nail strip,” Stone says. “Thus, we provide the Quadro LTD for those customers at a substantially lower cost.”
Ewald Stellrecht of ESE Machines finds it hard to believe that someone would invest in a multi-profile machine. ESE Machines manufactures only single-profile machines, and sells them to one-man operations as well as large manufacturers who only use the machine in-house. “If you’ve got one crew, they take one machine and run one profile,” Stellrecht says. “With any one job, you’re only going to need one profile. You don’t put different profiles on the same roof.
“My machine costs about $25,000 and the multi-profile machines can cost $80,000. Do you want to spend $80,000 on one machine that can keep one crew working, or do you want three machines with a single profile that can keep three crews working at the same time? When you’re just starting out, why would you want to indebt yourself with an $80,000 machine?”
Is there a profile you want but haven’t seen offered by a roll former manufacturer? Are you looking for something truly unique?
Roll Former Corporation offers custom machines for metal roofing panels, as well as drip edges, rake trim, valleys, ridge caps, and crown molding. John Dumke, Roll Former’s director of sales and marketing, says some of his customers are referred to him by competitors who can’t or don’t want to get into custom machinery, including seamers for custom profiles. “We can design it, make it from scratch,” he says. “Probably 60-70 percent of what we do at this point is custom machinery.”
Roll Former offers a multi-profile machine, the VS-150 that is built to offer up to eight profiles. “That’s our bread and butter machine,” Dumke says. “Most of the roofing contractors I talk to, some are larger companies, but most are six men and two pickup trucks. They don’t always have the manpower to deal with lengthy changeovers.”
Dumke says changeovers on the VS-150 can take anywhere from 15 minutes up to an hour between the 1-inch and 1-1/2-inch standing seam panels. “We try to keep it simple, make the machine user friendly.” Roll Former provides training at the customer’s location for a cost and offers free training at its Pennsylvania offices for an unlimited number of employees.
Both Zimmerman Metals roof panel roll formers are set up to manufacture multiple profiles. The company’s commercial machine can handle eight profiles, including structural panels, and the architectural machine has the ability to run five profiles. Any purchase includes extensive training at the customer’s location, including follow-up training with the purchase of new tooling.
“I don’t think there are too many single-profile machines out there anymore,” says Pearson. “We’ve had some customers who use them that way and they’ll come back and buy a second or a third machine even. They can run panels at different sites. It’s rare that they would need different profiles on the same job.”
Pearson says 75 to 80 percent of Zimmerman customers purchase a machine to run just one profile. “Typically, they come back to purchase another profile or two,” he says. “Often the profile preference depends on regional requirements.”
According to Pearson, a new tooling can be sent out in 1-2 weeks. “We try to stock everything customers need,” he says. “Typically, we have a half-million to $1 million in parts on the shelf.” That’s one way the roll former manufacturers help you fatten your wallet.