Press Brake Tooling

Quick-change tooling

By Lynn Stanley

April 2011 - When a new customer asked LaserCraft Technologies Inc., Gainesville, Ga., to handle production for a larger range of part numbers, the manufacturer had two choices: increase capacity on existing equipment by reducing part-to-part setup time or invest in capital equipment.

"As a contract job shop, the company was transitioning into higher-volume parts at the time," says Bob Macaulay, vice president of operations for LaserCraft. "That business objective coupled with the additional work strained manufacturing capacity. The distributor that handled LaserCraft's press brake showed the team how setup time could be improved by retrofitting the machine with a Wila USA, Hanover, Md., American-style hydraulic clamping and crowning system." LaserCraft had the retrofit system installed in 2006. The full-service fabrication house combines engineering services with machining and application capabilities. Able to help companies develop or convert designs for manufacturing, LaserCraft produces parts from carbon and stainless steel as well as aluminum for a range of markets including medical, food processing and industrial fabrication.

Faster setup and tool changes
LaserCraft had not used quick-change tooling before the Wila System, Macaulay says. Manually changing tooling typically can take up to two operators for long parts. Tools must be manually unclamped with a wrench, the ram lowered to seat the tools, manually re-clamped and the bottom die adjusted for proper alignment. Sometimes the die must be shimmed to achieve the proper height if the V-die shoulders have become worn.

"When a manufacturer like LaserCraft has to have the flexibility to produce a variety of parts, the time spent setting up the machine can be critical to efficiency and production goals," says Gunter Glocker, president of Wila USA. "The hydraulic clamping and crowning system along with precision tooling allows them to perform setup and tool changes five to 10 times faster than manual setups with planer-made tools. Also, the high accuracy of the clamping holders and tooling provides the necessary repeatability, without the operator having to make adjustments to allow for "first time right" production."

"LaserCraft quickly discovered the benefits of a quick die tooling system," says Macaulay. "Setup time was reduced and workpiece holding improved." In 2009, LaserCraft purchased two press brakes to replace four manual machines and specified the Wila patented New Standard clamping and CNC crowning system for both machines. The New Standard system provides fast tooling changeover by automatically clamping, seating and aligning all punches and dies in seconds while Safety-Click button technology allows tools to be loaded vertically into the clamping system. The CNC crowning system fitted to the bed of the press brake compensates for machine deflection and eliminates die shimming.

Improved quality, accuracy
"The automatic ram clamping, seating and alignment feature allows us to build setups very quickly," Macaulay says. "We perform some bottom bending, but the majority of our production work is executed with air bending. The New Standard clamping and crowning system has changed how we approach bending parts. Previously, we opted not to fabricate complex parts because manual setup of the press brake was so time consuming and production of a good first part challenging. With the Wila system, we can regain that setup time, so fabrication of complex parts with multiple bends is not only efficient but accurate." Tooling for the system is pre-segmented in lengths of 20 in. or less to provide ease of handling and allow operators to make any bending length required for a part in 1/4 in. increments. "When producing a part with multiple bends, an operator can select and load the necessary tools, make the first bend, then move down the press brake to the next tool for the next bend. Conventional methods required operators to cut their own tools, a practice that typically led to mismatched sets and an ever-growing tooling inventory," says Glocker.

LaserCraft's ability to improve part quality on the press brakes and achieve faster setups also contributes to reduced part handling and more efficient secondary processes like welding and assembly. "One of our most significant jobs, one that we run every day, used to consume one eight-hour shift," Macaulay says. "We had to create five manual setups and handle the part multiple times. The New Standard clamping and CNC crowning system and precision tooling allowed us to reduce production time from eight hours to just two hours to produce the same part. By equipping our press brake with the clamping and crowning system, we're able to maximize the machine's performance advantages."

Increased accuracy also has allowed LaserCraft to pull large assembly work in-house. During the bending process, a press brake's frame tends to deflect, especially in the center of the machine. Without correction, the top tool does not penetrate into the bottom die as deeply across the machine's length. As a result, the bend angle is not constant. The CNC crowning technology automatically calculates the proper crowning curve and compensates for press deflection proportionately throughout the length of the machine.

Nurturing company growth
"We produce some very large assemblies from seven-gauge steel in lengths of 8 to 10 ft.," says Macaulay. "These sections, used to build towers up to 150 ft. tall, must be accurate. We used to contract this work out because we couldn't control the quality of the bend and the angle. Equipping the new press brakes with the New Standard clamping and crowning systems that match the machines' ±0.0004 in. ram repeatability tolerance has allowed us to achieve the accuracy we needed."

LaserCraft also has been able to reduce worker hours while improving close tolerances for thin-gauge material processing with large assembly operations. "We implemented the new machines in 2009," Macaulay says. "Last year, we reduced the number of operators but grew our business by 50 percent." According to Glocker, companies often will make a significant purchase for press brakes then lose the investment benefits by using old tooling on the new machines. "LaserCraft achieved maximum benefit from its press brakes by matching the technology of those machines with a flexible, accurate tooling system," he says.

The fabricator is able to produce structural assemblies 30 ft. long. "We make parts as small as a quarter and as large as a mini van," Macaulay says. "Although we don't process flat sheet steel over 12 ft. long, we can bend structural material such as angles or channels up to 40 ft. long." Parts in steel and stainless steel can be made in thicknesses up to 3/8 in. thick. LaserCraft also processes and forms aluminum up to 1/2 in. thick and a specialized aluminum part 3/4 in. thick.

"The clamping and crowning system has given us the flexibility to incorporate special tools we've developed for certain jobs through the use of adapters," Macaulay says.

Application support is also a key factor for LaserCraft. "If I receive a job that raises questions about tooling and other processing parameters, I can send the prints to Wila for review and they will make recommendations on the tooling it will take to bend the part to the customer's specifications," he says.

For LaserCraft, reliable performance is critical to production of high-quality parts. "When you produce a bad part, you really lose three times," Macaulay says. "I can't ship a bad part. That's the first loss. Making the part again means loss of profit, but it also means I lose the opportunity to make other parts, so that profit is lost as well," he says.

"I'm earning the same amount of profit in two hours that I was earning in eight hours plus I am able to make other parts during the remaining six hours, so the return on investment is substantial," says Macaulay. "The ability to incorporate this type of technology has been a key contributor to our growth as a company." FFJ

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  • LaserCraft Technologies Inc.
    Gainesville, Ga.
    phone: 770/538-6000
    fax: 770/538-0166

  • Wila USA
    Hanover, Md.
    phone: 443/459-5496
    fax: 443/459-5515


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