Roll forming, also spelled roll-forming or rollforming, is a type of rolling involving the continuous bending of a long strip of sheet metal (typically coiled steel) into a desired cross-section. The strip passes through sets of rolls mounted on consecutive stands, each set performing only an incremental part of the bend, until the desired cross-section (profile) is obtained. Roll forming is ideal for producing constant-profile parts with long lengths and in large quantities.
A variety of cross-section profiles can be produced, but each profile requires a carefully crafted set of roll tools. Design of the rolls starts with a flower pattern, which is the sequence of profile cross-sections, one profile for each stand of rolls. The roll contours are then derived from the flower pattern profiles. Because of the high cost of the roll sets, computer simulation is often used to develop or validate the roll designs and optimize the forming process to minimize the number of stands and material stresses in the final product. Roll-formed sections may have advantages over extrusions of a similar shapes. Roll formed parts may be much lighter, with thinner walls possible than in the extrusion process, and stronger, having been work hardened in a cold state. Parts can be made having a finish or already painted. In addition, the roll forming process is more rapid and takes less energy than extrusion.
Roll forming machines are available that produce shapes of different sizes and material thicknesses using the same rolls. Variations in size are achieved by making the distances between the rolls variable by manual adjustment or computerized controls, allowing for rapid changeover. These specialized mills are prevalent in the light gauge framing industry where metal studs and tracks of standardized profiles and thicknesses are used. For example, a single mill may be able to produce metal studs of different web, flange and lip dimensions, from different gauges of galvanized steel sheet.
Roll forming lines can be set up with multiple configurations to punch and cut off parts in a continuous operation. For cutting a part to length, the lines can be set up to use a pre-cut die where a single blank runs through the roll mill, or a post-cut die where the profile is cutoff after the roll forming process. Features may be added in a hole, notch, embossment, or shear form by punching in a roll forming line. These part features can be done in a pre-punch application (before roll forming starts), in a mid-line punching application (in the middle of a roll forming line/process) or a post punching application (after roll forming is done). Some roll forming lines incorporate only one of the above punch or cutoff applications, others incorporate some or all of the applications in one line.