FormFlow seeks new frontiers with Industry 4.0 research

Research news
22 January 2021

Geelong’s innovative manufacturing start-up FormFlow is set to optimise its metal-bending, thanks to Industry 4.0-enabled manufacturing technology and Deakin expertise.

With national and global markets in their sights, FormFlow is drawing on cutting edge technology and expertise to upscale its production capability. Established only three years ago, the company has captured strong commercial interest, particularly through producing “tiny homes” and in eco-friendly construction.

After relocating from Deakin’s ManuFutures innovation hub to larger Geelong premises last year, the company’s founders are confident a new research project will remove the main barrier for much wider application of their technology. They will work with Deakin University researchers and the Innovative Manufacturing Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) to set up a smart, Industry 4.0-enabled manufacturing cell to control and optimise FormFlow’s corrugated steel-bending process to enable high volume manufacturing of building products consistent in quality and shape.

Over the next 12 months, co-funded through the new IMCRC activate program, metal forming experts from Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM) will set up the manufacturing cell, equipped with smart vision technologies to trace, evaluate, and continuously monitor forming loads and the profile shape of corrugated steel strips before and after bending in FormFlow’s process.

Dr Matthew Dingle, Managing Director at FormFlow, said the project represents a vital next step in FormFlow’s technology development and commercialisation journey.

“FormFlow’s bending technology is unique. It is a secondary forming operation that relies on the theory of ‘folded developables’ to limit material deformation in incoming roll-formed strip to simple bending, while forming a complex shape, such as a 90-degree angle,” Dr Dingle said.

“To achieve this, the profile shape of the incoming corrugated strip must conform to the surface contours of our bending technology. Unfortunately, this is often not the case as different steel manufacturers use different profile shapes and material parameters. Thus, being able to trace the incoming profile shapes and material properties in real time and adjust the technology accordingly will enhance our bending process significantly, allowing us to respond to different customer requirements and deliver products of greater quality.”

The project is being led by IFM Senior Research Fellow, Associate Professor Matthias Weis, who said that his team was looking forward to taking FormFlow’s bending technology to the next level.

“We are taking a new approach towards process monitoring and control of secondary forming operations. By linking load signatures measured throughout the bending process to changes in incoming profile shape and material parameters, we hope to develop a proactive routine for FormFlow’s shape control,” said A/Prof Weiss.

The new manufacturing cell, equipped with the latest sensing technology, will provide real-time data that will allow the research team to digitally model the physical FormFlow process and establish the correlation between incoming and outgoing profile shapes.

David Chuter, Managing Director and CEO at IMCRC, said the outcomes of the research project will have far-reaching benefits, not only for FormFlow, but for Australia’s wider sheet metal manufacturing industry.

“FormFlow’s technology is transforming low-cost corrugated steel into a higher value-added product that is unique in the world. By applying smart technologies, the project removes the main barrier for a much wider application of the technology. It opens the door for FormFlow to upscale their manufacturing capabilities and expand their business model – not just in Australia, but globally,” Mr Chuter said.

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Dr Matthew Dingle and Dr Matthias Weiss.

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Dr Matthew Dingle and Dr Matthias Weiss.

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