Press Brakes

Power punches

By Lynn Stanley

Press brakes give a job shop the muscle it needs to punch and bend steel

September 2012 - When you are a smaller job shop with a big appetite for steel, handling high volume production can be challenging. “This shop is a little steel monster,” says Nathan Crum, shop supervisor for TriFab & Construction Inc.

“It eats steel,” Crum says. “I’ve worked for manufacturers a dozen times larger and they didn’t use one-tenth of the steel we use.” Headquartered in Hammond, Ind., TriFab produces shoe seals and other parts for assembly into petrochemical storage tanks that can run as large as 240 ft. in diameter. The company has just one customer, but the work keeps the shop’s crew in perpetual overtime with a 12-hour, 6-day schedule.

These steel tanks typically store pressurized materials in aggressive environments and extreme weather conditions. Shoe seals are widely used because they tend to offer the longest service life of all seal types. The metal parts of a shoe seal come into contact with the tank-stored material helping to resist pressure and reduce emissions. Fabricating accurate, high-performance parts for these tanks is essential.

“We build from prints submitted by the customer,” says Crum. “We make parts for the different-size tanks and ship them, along with the hardware, virtually all over the world. When we received prints to make foam dams out of 10-gauge stainless steel, I knew our existing equipment couldn’t handle production. We needed a press brake with enough muscle to punch the material.”


Handling work flow

Storage tanks also are produced in different shapes, including vertical and horizontal cylindrical profiles, open top and closed top, cone, slope and dish bottom. Foam dams can be installed on both external and internal floating roofs to concentrate fire-fighting foam in the seal area where fires typically occur. Integral foam dams are fitted to the rim angle and the base of the secondary seal and can be manufactured in both steel and stainless steel.

Crum says the advantage of easy operation initially attracted the fabricator to Betenbender’s press brakes. TriFab purchased a Betenbender 10-ft., 120-ton hydraulic press brake in 2005 and added a second identical press brake in 2009. “These press brakes are little gems,” says Crum. “We’ve run thousands of parts through these press brakes and they’ve held up.” Betenbender Manufacturing Inc., Coggon, Iowa, engineers and produces a full range of hydraulic press brakes and shears in sizes ranging from 20 tons to 500 tons. The family-owned company provides international sales and support but manufactures its products and components in the United States.

To handle the large work flow, Crum typically uses one press brake for punching and embossing and the second press brake primarily for air bending. Crum says it’s not uncommon for the shop to run through four skids of 16-gauge steel (30 to 40 sheets), 40 to 50 sheets of 18-gauge steel and 10 to 15 sheets of 10-gauge steel in a week. Standard sheet sizes are 4 ft. by 10 ft.

Sheet metal is first cut-to-print on a Betenbender shear into 36-in.-wide and 48-in.-wide blanks. Component sizes vary based on the size of the storage tank. For more complex parts, like a riveted secondary seal, TriFab uses both press brakes for different functions at the same time. “The print for this seal specifies an assortment of holes in odd patterns,” Crum says. “Our operators work from the inside out. Once the punching is completed we perform a series of 30 to 45 bends that can be as shallow as 4 degrees using 10-ft. dies.”

Depending on volume, Crum says he sometimes uses both press brakes to perform the punching operation, then switches the tooling and table out to transition one press brake to bending while the other press brake continues punching. He states the job is time-consuming, but the press brakes make the work easy to set up and switch back and forth between different processes.

TriFab’s operators perform job setups from scratch, relying on their years of experience and knowledge of shop math.

“CNC controls are great for truly high production,” says Crum. “Our jobs are repetitious. It’s basically the same product over and over with changes that are minute. We have a really good crew—they have developed their skills over the years and the press brakes’ simple operation aids in easy setup for optimal parts production.”


Simple precision

Kyle Rawson, vice-president for Betenbender, says the company has engineered its press brakes to be user-friendly yet accurate for effortless, fast operation. “You don’t have to go through a CNC course to learn how to bend on a Betenbender press,” he says. “You fire up the press brake, bend your part and walk away. It’s that simple. With just a few hours training, a young person coming out of high school can bend parts efficiently with our press brake. The press brakes also are adaptable to a customer’s applications. They can use their own tooling or tables to accommodate their processes.”

Rigid construction, along with the flexibility to adjust stroke height and depth, delivers the power needed to perform embossing and hole-punching while helping operators gain minutes during production. “Everything is built heavier on our press brakes,” says Matthew Enos, service technician for Betenbender. With an eye toward advanced machining, the manufacturer uses heavy-duty steel for a rigid frame. “We custom build our machines,” says Enos, “with American-made, off-the-shelf components.”

TriFab uses the press brakes to emboss shoe plates, channel shoes, rim clips and brackets, a process that requires a lot of pressure. Variable tonnage control gives operators infinite settings. “We can dial up whatever pressure we need,” says Crum.

Able to run assorted gauges and materials as well as different processes, the press brakes give TriFab a versatile tool. “We have several other press brakes in the shop, but the Betenbenders are so handy,” says Crum. The ability to set the press brake’s height and stroke depth allows operators to eliminate the long travel time that typically takes place before the ram strikes the punch. “Our variable height controls include settings for up limit and down limit,” says Enos. “This means the operator doesn’t have to cycle through a full ram stroke to bend a part.”

Crum says the feature has allowed his operators to shave seconds off each part for improved production time.


Better tool life

Crum also finds he is getting better tool life. Short-stroking the press brake means the tooling doesn’t have to cycle through full strokes, reducing the opportunity for tools to vibrate out of place. “I’m getting improved use and greater life out of my tooling—something that will save a pretty penny in the long run,” Crum says.

The press brakes also help support TriFab’s workflow. The newer press brake is positioned near TriFab’s shipping area to handle production of a shoe plate that uses steel blanks from 16 in. wide up to 48 in. wide. “Once we blank these parts they are punched, mitered and readied for the press brake,” says Crum. “As a finished stage product we use the press brake to bend the part, band it to pallets and prep for shipping.”

In addition to providing accurate, convenient operation, the press brakes require minimal maintenance. “There are four grease points on the ram and back gauge screws are oiled daily,” says Enos. “Other than that, there’s very little weekly maintenance to be done.” Service and support also have been important advantages for TriFab.

“These press brakes are absolute workhorses,” Crum says. “The time or two we’ve experienced an odd problem, Betenbender talked me through it over the phone. I’m not a machinist, just a guy that uses the machines. They don’t leave you hanging, and with our job schedule and the way steel just pours through our doors, that kind of service can mean the difference between downtime and getting back into production quickly.” FFJ

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  • Betenbender Manufacturing Inc.
    Coggon, Iowa
    phone: 319/435-2378 
    fax: 319/435-2262

  • TriFab & Construction Inc.
    Hammond, Ind.
    phone: 219/845-1300
    fax: 219/845-4047


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