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Press Brakes

Increasing green light time

By Lynn Stanley

Fabricator meets short lead times by increasing machine capabilities with unique retrofit package

January 2013 - As customer inventories dwindle, lead times are decreasing for Tejas Precision Metalfabrication Services. To get ahead of tighter turnarounds, Bryce Baker, owner of the San Antonio-based job shop, needed to increase machine capabilities on his 50-ton, 6 ft. press brake but was reluctant to purchase new equipment. Instead, he found a more cost-effective solution. Baker increased green light time on his existing press brake by reducing setup time with a Modeva Right Angle press brake retrofit. Engineered by Metamation Inc., Reno, Nev., the unique package combines an intuitive operator interface with a multi-axis back gauge upgrade for key performance advantages.

Tejas runs a small powder coating company in addition to its job shop, which allows the fabricator to follow parts from start to finish, says Baker. Tejas sources materials such as light gauge to 1⁄2 in. steel, aluminum, stainless and some exotics in flats from 3 ft. by 8 ft. up to 5 ft. by 12 ft., to produce a wide range of items from dime-size parts for frozen drink machines and refrigeration units to large components for the offshore drilling industry. The company also supports the security industry, making small security enclosures, gun safes and custom cabinetry.

ffj-0113-press-image1Cost-effective approach

In addition to its 50-ton press brake, the job shop’s bending operations include a 100-ton, 10 ft. press brake and a 242-ton, 14 ft. press brake. Baker and Louis Buchta started Tejas Precision Metalfabrication Services in 2003. “Lou was the general manager for another fabrication shop and hired me to eliminate some production roadblocks,” says Baker. “Together we built the company up into a viable business. We had 70-plus years of experience between us and a solid customer base built on strong personal relationships.”

When Buchta died in 2007, Baker continued to run Tejas with the lean business methods and attention to customer service that both men practiced. “Our ability to respond quickly to customers with a mix of materials and the capability to make a lot of different parts in low to medium volumes make us very flexible,” says Baker. “The things we can’t do in-house we have a broad network of sources to turn to.”

Although the job shop operates two four-day shifts and one three-day shift, lead times are shrinking because customers are holding inventory at the lowest levels possible. “We get release sheets on Monday specifying a customer’s production for that same week so we hit the ground running,” says Baker. “Since we have a shift that works the weekend, we’ll occasionally get a preview of requirements on Friday, which allows us to get a jump on jobs with really short turnarounds. But our customers also know we won’t quit and they can still get parts for Monday.”

Needing to improve throughput, Baker says he chose the 50-ton press brake for the retrofit because it had old controls, was cumbersome and had a slower cycle time. “It was much more cost-effective for us to retrofit because our basic machine was sound,” says Baker. “It could still hold perfectly tight tolerances. Lou and I worked with Metamation and Robert Scott previously, so I was familiar with their retrofit capabilities. And I’ve known Robert for years,” Baker adds. “He evaluated our requirements and custom engineered a retrofit package that included new software and a state-of-the-art back gauge. The package really showcases the company’s recent growth in software development. Robert was the idea man behind the upgrade.”

ffj-0113-press-image2Improving throughput

Metamation’s 3-D CAD/CAM incorporates full visual motion, taking the software ahead of other applications that only offer 3-D simulation in a series of stills. Metamation is a global sheet metal software company that combines industry knowledge with unique technology to provide comprehensive products.

“Unlike CAD/CAM applications for operations like punches, lasers, waterjets and plasma cutters, bending applications require an interactive user interface able to manage geometry, bend calculation, available tooling and the flexibility of the machine to process the parts,” says Robert Scott, vice president of Metamation. “We developed a human-machine interface to improve throughput from engineers and CAD/CAM programmers, reduce setup time and lower the skill level required by the operator to run the machine. The HMI factors in parameters like tool setup, material thickness, bend deduction, tensile strength, V-die and punch radius and width and bend allowance. This really expands the machine’s flexibility.”

With offline programming simplified, Tejas has not only saved time on setups, but also reduced the amount of testing required on new parts. “We run a little bit of everything on this press brake,” says Baker. “We use light gauge up to 1⁄4 in. materials and perform a range of air-bending operations from 90-degree forming to bump bending. Some of our complex geometry work requires custom tooling. The software package makes it easy to maintain close tolerances because you are eliminating data input by the operator. Windows-based, full-screen graphics make it easy for people coming in off the street to learn to operate the press.”

Buying a new machine can mean selling the old equipment and incurring rigging and transportation costs. There also is the downtime associated with leveling the new machine, ramping up for production and training, which can take up to two weeks. The Metamation retrofit at Tejas took just three days. “Bryce didn’t have to move the press brake,” says Scott. “We just had to strip off the old components, bolt on the new components, wire them, turn on the press brake and conduct training—all in three days. Now Tejas has a control interface that can be used on the shop floor with a robust CAD/CAM system. This capability saves time, and repeat jobs can easily be stored. There’s no limit on file storage. The operator also can perform revision tracking, improving and controlling data throughput in the shop—something they couldn’t do before.”

Automating manual tasks

The retrofit allows Tejas to use its existing tooling but operators no longer have to manually adjust the press brake fingers, a task now automated by the control. Gauging setup time has been eliminated. The ability to raise throughput and achieve repeatable parts production also has been significantly improved. “Most job shops no longer have long lead times and high production runs,” says Scott. “It’s critical that job shops like Tejas have the agility to move quickly in response to customer demands. With the Modeva RA system, the press brake operator can take a part that was run previously, call it up and produce a good part the first time. This also helps decrease cycle time and generates substantial time savings during bending operations.”

Tejas can take a DXF file from its server, download to the control and put all of the required bending data at the operator’s fingertips. “When we use the software all the way through the bending process, we’ll get a good part on the first try with just minor adjustments,” says Baker. “Operator input is minimal, which cuts our error margin down significantly. Production levels have also increased because the machine’s speed is faster. We no longer spend time setting the machine manually. When you add these things up you’re going to see an uptick in production.” FFJ

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Sources

  • Metamation Inc.
    Reno, Nev.
    phone: 775/826-1717
    fax 775/826-1723
    www.metamation.com
  • Tejas Precision Metalfabrication Services LLC
    San Antonio
    phone: 210/648-1555
    fax: 210/648-1655


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