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Press Brake Tooling

Tooling evolution

By Lynn Stanley

A different approach to tooling helps an agricultural equipment manufacturer streamline production

April 2012 - Farmers are practicing precision farming with tools like global positioning system-based technology for better planning, field and yield mapping, soil sampling, tractor guidance and crop scouting, according to GPS.gov. Manufacturers fabricating the high-tech machines helping to push farming to new productivity levels also are driven by innovation.

AGCO Corp.’s Jackson, Minn., facility adopted Fab Supply Inc.’s precision-ground American-style press brake tooling as one of its most-recent steps to improve press brake operations. The change ultimately allowed the company to bring new fabrication work in-house and optimize production. AGCO is a global manufacturer of agricultural equipment and provides a complete line of tractors, combines, hay tools, sprayers, forage equipment, tillage, implements and replacement parts.

“Because AGCO focuses solely on agricultural equipment, the company is uniquely positioned to increase farm productivity through high-tech solutions developed and manufactured for professional farmers who are working to feed a growing world population,” says Marcus Leggate, manufacturing engineer for fabricating and welding at AGCO’s Jackson facility. “We’ve been forming steel a long time at this facility, about 40 years. In 1998, we decided to step outside the box and be creative. That’s when we came across Fab Supply.”

The Addison, Ill.-based company has established a reputation for precise, high-tech products. “We work with tool-design engineers worldwide to develop innovative products that help our customers optimize production,” says John Wold, president of Fab Supply. “We match the most-appropriate tooling to each customer’s application. Using a wide variety of tooling styles allows us to provide the best option at the most cost-effective price.”

Standardization
Leggate credits Fab Supply with helping the AGCO Jackson fabrication facility pioneer its own path to more progressive press brake tooling. “When we first began working with Fab Supply, we still carried our old mentality,” Leggate says. “We were using conventional tooling. John listened to us and began to learn about the processes we were involved in and suggest ways we could improve production.”

Standardizing tool sizes for the manufacturer was the first step. When AGCO began to order press brake tools from Fab Supply to replace older, worn tools, Wold suggested establishing standard sizes. “When we made new tools, we retained samples of each tool profile,” he says. “These samples were used as templates for precision-planed, match-cut replacement tools. This approach eliminated the need for AGCO to rewrite their CNC programs each time a new tool was put into production on the floor.”

AGCO uses different steel strengths and thicknesses to support its product line and stay a step ahead of growing trends, such as the demand for lighter weight yet robust machines. “It’s important to match the right steel to the right application,” says Leggate. “High-strength steels are lighter than mild steel and some cast steels, making the material attractive for lightweighting certain structures without sacrificing strength.”

To support the variety of materials AGCO uses in its bending operations, the manufacturer needed to look at increasing the number of tools or changing the tooling approach. “Instead of having AGCO purchase several V dies in the 2-in. to 10-in.-size range, I suggested the adjustable Rolla-V die,” says Wold.

Unique forming
Wold co-developed the Rolla-V technology with a company based in England. The patented tool uses semicircular rotors to push the workpiece up around the upper tool (punch). “The Rolla-V enhances productivity by eliminating the need to make numerous die changes,” says Wold. “The tool’s unique forming action also removes the need for secondary machining operations on many of AGCO’s most-challenging parts.”

A good intermediate step for a manufacturer, the Rolla-V freed Leggate’s team to think proactively and strategically about its designs and consider a further transition into Fab Supply’s American precision-ground and hardened press brake tooling.

“We discussed our goals for our bending operations, and John and I came to the conclusion that segmented, precision tooling would give us the flexibility to handle a broad range of materials while improving our setup time,” says Leggate. “The wide variation of thicknesses of our steel plate work requires as many as seven tool changes in an eight-hour shift.”

Wold adds the interchangeable tool segments also reduce the number of setup adjustments that might be required when using conventional planed tooling.

Easier setups
The Jackson fabrication facility handles a low-volume, high mix of parts. With eight press brakes ranging from 60 tons to 350 tons, AGCO’s operators may bend up to 4,000 different part numbers in a month. The shop primarily air bends stainless and high-strength steel in material sizes ranging from 20 gauge up to 11⁄2-in. plate. Parts can run from a stainless steel gasket the size of a pinkie fingernail to frame rails that are 13 ft. by 41⁄2 ft. formed from 1011 grade 50 steel 3⁄8 in. thick. They are used in the world’s largest production articulating tractor. The segmented tools are precision ground to ±0.0008 in., induction hardened to 50-56 HRC and nitrex coated.

The new tooling replaced oversized tools that took up nearly as much floor space as the press brakes. “We had a 14-ft. tool that weighed over 600 lbs.,” says Leggate. “The tool had to be hoisted into the press brake and required a dedicated storage rack situated next to the press brake. The ability to evolve into the smaller 12-in. to 18-in. precision tool segments that only weigh up to 40 lbs. helped enhance parts production for AGCO by facilitating easier setups and reducing storage requirements.”

Leggate was able to reduce the number of tools used for some of his bending operations as well. “Our team worked with Fab Supply on the design of a punch that allowed us to go from using 14 different die combinations to just two in our sheet metal brake forming cell,” he says.

Custom work
Fab Supply also helps AGCO engineer custom tools for new work. When Leggate wanted to form a four-bend hat channel in one operation, Fab Supply evaluated key factors like available press brake tonnage, type and thickness of material and whether air bending could hold required tolerances.

“We didn’t have the tonnage capacity to support producing four bends in one stroke,” says Leggate. “Fab Supply helped develop a tool that allowed us to form two bends at once, rotate the part and complete the other two bends.”

The new tool made it possible for AGCO to complete the entire production process in-house. Leggate adds his team’s work with Fab Supply has given the Jackson facility the confidence to take on other new work.

“We’re starting to build higher horsepower Massey Ferguson tractors, which will be assembled in North America,” he says. “The ability to bend and assemble parts here in the U.S. will help us respond to marketplace demands quicker.”

One of the parts, a joggle or offset bend, requires 30-degree to 45-degree bends in close proximity. Offsetting the material permits one piece of metal to slide under another piece to provide a flexible joint in cab flooring that opens and closes when stepped on. Flexible flooring gives farm machinery cabs longer life.

“John and his team are very creative,” says Leggate. “He catches on fast. Prior to our partnership with Fab Supply, we always outsourced our sheet metal bending work. Now, we don’t have to do that. There’s really nothing we can’t tackle.” FFJ

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Sources

  • AGCO Corp.
    Duluth, Ga. 
    phone: 770/813-9200
    www.agcocorp.com
  • Fab Supply Inc.
    Addison, Ill.
    phone: 866/322-8665
    fax: 630/691-8667
    www.fabsupplyinc.com


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