ponents that need to be flame-cut.
Yes, we can produce our own, and
we do flame-cut some, but the decision comes down to cost. There are
so many people competing to provide
that service that they keep the price
“In most cases, our runs are very
short so we have our own conventional
equipment for machining large parts.
We also have local, family-run shops
within a 200-mile radius providing
components that come together for
assembly and QC in our main shop,”
Having full capabilities in-house
gives the companies flexibility to react
to the market. “The nature of the business is to go in spurts. Sometimes we
are selling lots of basic machines, and
sometimes we are selling automated
cells with material handling that will
pick up a piece, roll it, and then eject it
onto a conveyor.
“Having all the manufacturing processes at our main plant gives us capacity when we need it and saves us
money when we don’t. It helps balance
out any mismatch of our workmen
with the jobs going through.”
Customers for both standard and special equipment come from a large variety of industries, including aerospace,
agriculture, structural and decorative
architecture, shipbuilding, utilities,
and medical. Creating Athens Machine
Builders as a separate entity was a response to the growing number of requests for special equipment—some
smaller and some larger than the established models.
“In the specials category we were
asked to build a machine that would
bend the titanium pins used in hip re-
placement hardware. We built a ma-
chine that was smaller than our stan-
dard models and that had different
On the large side of specials, the
company re-engineered a 28-ft., four-
roll, double-pinch plate bending ma-
chine to accommodate the low ceilings
of a tank truck manufacturing facility.
Weaver said, “The space between
the floor and the crane hook disappears really fast when you make big
rolls and the ceilings were relatively
low for manufacturing such a big product. The company was also spending a
lot of time with material handling because of the height restrictions. And
they were working with polished stainless that couldn’t be scratched.
“We took drastic design measures
to keep the machine passline height
down to 397/8 in. Then we developed
an offloading process that babies the
finished rolls. A completed part is sup-
ported overhead while a row of wheels
comes up for offloading. Pushers move
the part off the wheels without drag-
ging it across the roll and causing cos-
metic issues. A ball transfer lets the
wheels roll both ways, and an overhead
support handles the heavy load.”
Another special-order machine that
incorporates cone-shaped cantile-
vered rolls was delivered to a beverage
tank company. The cone shape allows
for rolling a variety of steep- or flat-
There are two customer requirements involved when the company
agrees to develop a machine with
unique specifications. One is a down
payment. The other is an agreement
that the customer will provide test
material. A contract, for example, may
guarantee that a plate roll will produce
a certain number of parts in a specific
amount of time. If the resulting machine doesn’t meet the specifications,
it goes into rework or the company
starts over and builds another machine
with a new design. If expectations still
aren’t satisfied, the down payment is
returned and the only things the customer loses are time and test material. Weaver said, “This practice usually
closes the deal.”
Finding the Art
“I have observed that there is a trend
in the industry to computerize every-
thing. There are definitely places where
this works well, but in others, like plate
rolling, there is an art involved that gets
left behind with too much automation.
I believe that a little bit of instrumen-
tation improves production drastically.
Beyond that point there is very little im-
provement. A good roll operator is an
artistic person and, like a blacksmith,
he knows how metal behaves and can
work with the machine for the best re-
sults,” Weaver said.
Machines from WDM and Athens
Machine Builders use PLCs to achieve
production speed. Standard features
include dial pointer indicators; digital
readouts are available as an option.
Paired with a good operator and uniform plates, Weaver said standard and
special machines roll workpieces to
within ½ of 1 percent of perfect concentricity.
Enjoying the Challenge
The comment from the farm machine
distributor still holds true for Weaver.
Rather than building the same piece
of equipment over and over, he enjoys
designing unique machines to improve
“When I started building specials, I
would be asked if I had built a machine
like the one being requested before.
I’d say no, but I think I can. It can get
boring when a design gets to the point
where everything works. The challenge
is getting something new and unex-
pected to work. It’s the smile on a cus-
tomer’s face when he gets more than
expected that motivates me.”
Equipment from the Weaver family
companies is sold directly and through
a select group of distributors. Although
some distributors feature the equip-
ment on their websites, the companies
themselves do not have their own web-
sites. Members of the Mennonite soci-
ety prefer personal interactions for
doing business and forgo electronic
Contributing writer Sue Roberts can be
reached at email@example.com.
To find a distributor or learn about equipment specifications and availability, call
931-946-8474. Collect courier charges
to WDM, 900 Highland Dr., Spencer, TN
38585 are accepted for urgent inquiries
or part drawings.
Contact Athens Machine Builders and
Wildcat Gear by calling 931-946-1650
between 7 and 8 a.m. CT. Inquiries and
drawings may be sent to the companies
at 600 Eagle Way, Spencer, TN 38585. Call
for account information to send collect
packages via FedEx or UPS.
Cone-shaped cantilevered rolls on this
special machine create skid-free cones for
the bottoms of beverage tanks.
An Athens cone roll forms a bottom component for a jacketed tank.
Midrange four-roll machines are available
Two WDM B-Series roll forming machines
were equipped with special guides.
SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION
“I believe that little bit of
Beyond that point there is
very little improvement. a
good roll operator is
an artistic person and,
like a blacksmith, he knows
how metal behaves and
can work with the machine
for the best results.”
—ammon weaver, jr.