That was back in the 1970s in Ohio. In the early
1980s, after being laid off (with a lot of other folks
in the Rust Belt), Kennedy left for Atlanta, where his
brother told him he’d be able to find a job. He did,
=at Manchester Tank, across the street from SMI. On
his first day he stood in front of a 1941 mechanical
monster of a press brake with a stiff foot lever and
one toolset that was used to bend virtually every
job. “Precision” wasn’t in the job description.
When Manchester Tank fell on hard times, the
quality inspector at the company told him he should
walk over to SMI and talk to Ken Williams (Greg’s father) about a job.
“The inspector told me he thought we’d really hit
it off, and we did,” Kennedy said. “When I started
here, I was introduced to the concepts of bend al-
lowance, bend deduction, and those other intrica-
cies of forming. Across the street [at Manchester
Tank], forming an angle to within a quarter inch
was cool. And when they told me here [at SMI] that
I needed to bend legs to within 1⁄ 32 in., I honestly
thought they were joking. Of course, nowadays 1⁄ 32
looks like an inch.”
Kennedy learned precision bending on a hydrau-
lic press brake from Greg Stegall, who was the brake
lead at SMI back in the 1980s and early 1990s, before
he moved to the front office as an engineer.
“Greg set me up, and he gave me the basics,” Kennedy recalled. “And I remember how hard it was.
One of the hardest things I had to learn is what we
call ‘getting the sight.’” When Stegall looks at a flat
layout, he can see not only how the part folds up,
but also how each fold relates with the other. If one
bend interferes with something—with a previously
formed flange, brake tooling, or backgauging—
Stegall can see it. Today, so can Kennedy.
“I can remember when I finally got it,” Kennedy
said. “It was almost exactly three months after my
start date. I walked in one day, I looked at a job, and
I could see everything.
“About that time [previous company president]
Ken Williams came by. He told me, ‘I’m very happy with your progress. You’re doing very well.’ He
stormed off, and I was elated. Greg [Stegall] was
working beside me, and he was in awe. But then
Ken turned right back around and said, ‘You can always do better.’ I laughed. He giveth and he taketh
Passing on the Knowledge
It may seem simple to pass on knowledge of a specific technical skill, especially the fundamentals: the
difference between bottoming and air forming; how
the radius forms, conforming to the punch radius
when bottoming and developing as a percentage
of the die width when air forming. But when you’ve
spent years in the press brake arena, relating to
someone who hasn’t isn’t always easy—and Moon
“The hard part was that Dwayne had to learn to
crawl before he could walk,” Kennedy said. “The
questions he asked me at the start, I just couldn’t
fathom how you couldn’t know this. He asked me
what a radius was, about metal thicknesses, about
how to measure. I just did these things without giving any thought at all, and now I had to put these
things into words. That was tough.
“And of course I often just can’t stop and help, be-
cause I still have jobs that I need to keep going.”
Moon began with simple, single-bend jobs. “Ev-
ery once in a while, I’d give him a job that was a little
more difficult, one that I really didn’t think he could
do yet, just to see how he could handle it,” Kennedy
said. “Sometimes he didn’t do a bad job at all; other
times, well, not so much.”
As Moon learned more, he kept asking questions,
a healthy practice, but one Kennedy really wasn’t
familiar with. “I’m not the most patient person,”
Kennedy said, adding that he’s always had a “dive
in” mentality. (Kennedy happens to be an avid and
adventurous scuba diver.)
Moon is far more deliberate, hence the questions.
For his part, Kennedy now can sense when Moon
asks a question because he genuinely doesn’t know
something or when he just wants to talk things out.
“He knows a lot more than he thinks he does,”
Moon retorted. “But talking it out helps! That way
I can figure it out. Whether you’re listening or not, at
least you’re standing there!”
Laughter all around.
Kennedy added, “A lot of times he’ll ask me questions and I’ll say, ‘Well, what do you think you ought
to do? Go over there and try it.’ At this point I try not
to answer his questions, and about 95 percent of
the time, he’ll tell me the right answer.”
Experience and New Technology
These days Moon doesn’t have as many questions
for Kennedy, and when he does, they usually involve complex or unusual work. An air forming job
may call for a narrow flange length that forces them
to use a narrower-than-perfect die width. That same
job may call for stainless or other material with significant springback. At this point Kennedy knows
how to account for all this, altering his punch selection and penetrating the die a little deeper to overbend just the right amount. As Kennedy explained,
Moon isn’t there quite yet, but he’s getting close.
For instance, Moon has learned to look at the entire schedule, then plan for all the tooling and gauges he’ll need, so he’s basically set for the day. That,
Kennedy said, is a critical skill for any press brake
lead, especially in a small job shop.
Perhaps most significant, Moon is learning the
trade during a significant technological shift in
forming. Kennedy recalled turning cranks of a manual backgauge, stomping on the pedal to initiate a
clunky mechanical brake, and working with old or
homemade tools that required shimming because
they had different shut heights.
Moon got his start on an older hydraulic press
brake, but the new technology has allowed him to
learn the trade differently. Modern tools with common shut heights come in segments that give operators just the bend lengths they need. The shop also
programs jobs offline for its newest press brake.
“Dwayne has taken to the software programs bet-
ter than I have,” Kennedy said. “I look at the pro-
gram and think, ‘Well, that’s not how I want to do it,’
so I change it. He’ll look at the program and say, ‘OK,
this is how they want to do it,’ and he’ll go along.”
Southern Metalcraft opened its doors in Lithonia, Ga., in 1974.
Tim Kennedy reviews a job traveler.