Based in Geelong, FormFlow is a start-up formed to bring a unique and potentially revolutionary cold metal pressing process to bend corrugated sheet metal without cracking.

FormFlow was established in 2016 to commercialise a metal-forming technique that enables the creation of joined corrugated metal shapes with no gaps, offering significant potential in the $1bn sheet metal roofing sector, as well as in other industries. Developed in collaboration with Deakin University, the innovation keeps out moisture, dirt, animals and embers, with an air-tight seal that also provides increased insulation. The technology is a world-first.

“If you have two adjoining sheets of corrugated iron, either two walls or the two sides of a roof, rather than having to put a cap over the top of them, you can end it to match that bend and then slide another piece of sheet up underneath it,” explains Matt Dingle, a co-founder at FormFlow. “You end up with a smooth transition.”

To move the concept to the production and services stage, ongoing collaboration has been essential. The Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) came on board early, providing $250,000 in co-funding for a collaborative project between FormFlow, Deakin and Geelong-based manufacturing business Austeng. Without that support, the technology would not be at its current stage of readiness.

A patent for the technology, named the FormFlow Bend, has been lodged. Co-founder Dr Matthias Weiss is a Senior Research Fellow at Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials, manages its sheet material testing facilities, and has built one of the world’s largest roll-forming research groups.

“Deakin is a strategic research and development partner,” says Dingle. “There are lots of things that Deakin do that are really important to us. The most obvious one is they have a real expertise in metal-forming research.”

FormFlow is not the first Deakin offshoot Dingle has been involved with. He previously co-founded Carbon Revolution, which pioneered the world’s first one‑piece carbon fibre wheel and has now successfully commercialised its innovation in the global automotive industry.

“I’ve had a very strong connection with Deakin for years,” he explains. “I was an undergraduate student, I did my PhD there, and the Carbon Revolution program sort of grew out of things that we were doing at Deakin and then commercialised afterwards. And this is just another offshoot of that.”

FormFlow’s technology is currently at Manufacturing Readiness Level 5 (MRL 5), or pre-production. If successful, the collaborative project will raise this to MRL 8, the production implementation stage, at which point the FormFlow Bend concept will be ready to commercialise. This will ideally take place through the licensing of the technology to steelmaking companies. Within five years it could generate over 100 jobs.

The company has two main areas of focus. One of these is to establish partnerships and scale their innovation through a joint venture and/or licensing with a steelmaker, such as BlueScope or Liberty OneSteel.

“Otherwise we have to establish all of that infrastructure and supply chain ourselves, which makes no sense at all,” notes Dingle.

The other area is to establish a research & development entity to develop other new ideas. A licensing arrangement would create servitisation opportunities and enable international expansion, while keeping the intellectual property (IP) in Australia.

According to IBISWorld research, the metal roof and guttering manufacturing sector in Australia is worth $1bn and growing at 11.5%. Making reasonable inroads into this would create an estimated 100 direct and indirect jobs within three to five years, according to FormFlow. Achieving this and also cracking international markets will be most feasible by having machines designed by FormFlow installed in other companies’ factories and operating under license, with collaboration partner Austeng also gaining revenues through associated services.

Citing FormFlow’s reasons for joining the AMGC and its support through the $250,000 co-funded project, Dingle says a strong manufacturing sector underpins the economies of successful developed nations, and this should be fostered. He believes it is vital for the manufacturing sector to prosper in Australia and that collaboration between businesses and university researchers need to be encouraged.

“I think we want to be part of ensuring the manufacturing sector in Australia is strong and becomes stronger over the next decade,” says Dingle. “In Australia we don’t have large organisations that have the broad skills base that you might find in some of the huge multinationals overseas. But if we pool our efforts collectively, we have an incredible knowledge base and capability in Australia, and if we learn to utilise that more effectively, then that’s our biggest strength.”