"May you live in interesting times" is supposedly an ancient Chinese curse. Not so, from what we've seen in recent weeks. An overview of the sheet metal machinery shows the industry to be at its most interesting and robust level in years.

At the AHR Expo in Atlanta in February, for example, most exhibitors were optimistic that the national economy will continue growing, albeit perhaps at a slackened pace from last year's highs. There were many significant new products seen and introduced, with many others hinted at for near-term introductions. Good show traffic was seen at both the Atlanta show and other shows prior to the Expo - FabTech, MetalCon, etc. at which Snips was present. Some of the highlights include:

Tennsmith, McMinnville, Tenn., had a wide array of products, from hand brakes to slip rolls to shears, but nothing really new was shown at the Expo; there was a hint that something new might be forthcoming, however, by the next FabTech show.

Glass Master, Carrolton, Texas, unveiled its HG-320, which it says can produce a 30-50% labor savings in dealing with scrap. It can cut tens of thousands of feet on each blade before replacing, and the scrap is handled automatically. It's also easy to convert from 1 to 11/2 inch thick materials, which is important as more and more of the higher R-value thicknesses are being used.

Vicon, a division of Plasma Automation Inc., Hicksville, N.Y., showed its Dual Twin Drive with laser quality cutting.

Flagler, with a new building opened last year in Chesterfield, Mich., announced a new working agreement with Twin Seam Co., of Denmark, to offer its automatic rectangular duct forming coil line featuring automatic coil selection, leveling, beading, notching for "S" and drive, folding and shearing. President Harley Flagler Sr. says more new products are in the works.

Talarico Inc.'s (Quebec, Canada) Taloc is described as "a better way to fasten sheet metal" especially since this machine did away with the solenoid, which simplifies the electrical system. 1) Two pieces of metal are placed on the die as the machine is actuated, the crown and punch strike the material holding it firmly in place. 2) The crown, being held by the spring, becomes a pressure pad, allows the punch to extrude and draw the material into a cup shaped cavity. 3) The punch continues toward the anvil and as the pressure increases, the metal thickness reduces and flares out, locking the metal. The resultant ring allows expansion. It is a very smooth machine, able to produce 270 strokes per minute, with a machine guard. It also features very clean welds on its component pieces and monocoque frame, and a mechanical foot pedal connected direct to the clutch via a simple cable.

Roper Whitney, Rockford, Ill., premiered its 6-foot Magna Bend after having a four footer for many years. It also showed the CIDAN Multikant folding machine, described as five machines in one, including a slitter, imported from Denmark. Big news at the show was Roper's acquisition of Tin Knocker.

Spiral-Helix Inc. (Buffalo Grove, Ill.) made several announcements, including a new ovalizer, stitch welder and roll former. The Ovalizer Champ is in a new 10 foot version, to fill in the line between 6 and 12- foot models. The 10 foot boom will stretch round ducts up to 20 feet in length up to a maximum 18 ga. thickness. The Helix Rollformer rolls blanks into cylindrical forms up to 24 ga. and up to 2,500 per hour. The stitch welder, Magnum and Magnum Plus, operate up to 20 or 18 ga. Use of recyclable copper wire electrodes doesn't compromise the galvanized finish on steel or allow residue buildup that would have to be cleaned. They use relatively low 60kVa welding power, lowering energy consumption. The machines are all using common communications so that they can "talk" to one another.

The Ovalformer (Arden, N.C.) Spiralformer SF10014 is an automated patent pending system for producing rigid spiral metal pipe from 4 inches in diameter up to 100 inches, from a variety of metals including aluminum and galvanized steel up to 14 gauge and stainless steel up to 18 ga. It can use unlubricated stock and utilizes an on-the-fly plasma cutting system with no sharp edges. Also shown was the Flangeformer FF10012 for manufacturing round and flat oval flanges. The system can use coiled or flat stock and transform it into an angle flange using computerized controls to program the correct diameters. Capacity is up to 12 ga. A shear station, uncoiler or complete roll forming machine are available options. The company also has a relationship with Drossbach in Germany, and promises to be a major player in the market here.

Iowa Precision (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) showed its Duct-O-Matic II, a beading-notching-and-blanking line now with center and end tie rod punching options. It produces blanks for L sections and wrap-arounds at rates up to 75 feet/minute. It processes galvanized mild steel coils from .015 in. up to 16 ga. (14 ga. optional), in widths of 6-72 inches. The unit's microprocessor based computer controls all machine functions. The processor can be linked with a host computer to download blank processing specification. A hydraulic shear operates in a feed-to-stop mode for extremely accurate blank length tolerances of +/- .015 in. A drop-in uncoiler stores coil of various gauges and widths ready for processing, and an automatic feed system simplifies coil selection and feeding.

Roto-Die, Cleveland, showed its hydraulic bender for light and medium gauge sheet metal, stainless or finished aluminum. By shifting the selections lever, one operator can perform all basic sheet-metal forming operations. There are no dies to change. It's as simple to operate as a hand brake, but with more production capacity. They're "shipped complete and ready to tackle your toughest forming jobs," according to the company.

Gripnail, East Providence, R.I., showed for the first time a new pinspotter, the first one reportedly already in use and two more on their way. The Power Pinner 50 runs at 50 feet per minute, the same as your coil line.

Lockformer, Lisle, Ill., used the Expo to unveil its new Vulcan 1600 water jet machine for cutting insulation. "It's a high-speed means of processing insulated blanks for the sheet metal contractor," explained Rian Sheel, vice-president of sales and marketing. Working with Lockformer's Vulcan cutting system software, Sheel said it solves the "bottleneck" many contractors experience when trying to process blanks. And the "high speed processing of the water jet system leaves a very dry edge," he added. The final design of the Vulcan 1600 was finished by Lockformer engineers just before the show opened. Sheel said two units were sold at the show, with many more companies expressing a strong interest.

Tormec is a company headquartered in Switzerland that showed several products, including its Tubo Mobil, which is a portable folded spiral-seam tube former with hydraulically controlled seam closing rolls and driven profiling rolls, which eliminates need for a knurled feed roller. It handles pipe up to 54 inch dia. and 10 feet in length. It also showed a flanging and seam closing machine for elbows, reducers and endcaps that features a quick change from flanging to seam closing; and a stitchseam welding machine with integrated suction and filtering device capable of welding galvanized, mild black or stainless steel.