Press Brakes

Dodging functional obsolescence

By Tom Klemens

Above: An integral part of the retrofit, the brake’s new operator interface offers visual guidance, such as part orientation, for each bend in the program. Offline programming checks the adequacy of existing tooling and points out potential collisions before running a job on the brake.

Control system retrofit brings productivity on old press brakes up to current standards economically and with minimal disruption

January 2014 - There has been a large amount of technological innovation in the metalworking industry since Angel Garcia started AG Machining in 1985. Seeing the potential of automation, the experienced CNC machinist set up his own shop to serve the growing southern California demand for quality sheet metal work. “He was just an entrepreneurial kind of guy who thought about growth,” says his son Eddie Garcia, vice president of operations. Eddie and his twin brother, Bryan, joined the company in 2006. 

From its humble beginning in the Garcia family garage, AG Machining has grown to employ about 110 in its 100,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Moorpark, Calif. The company today does powder coating, welding, laser cutting, punching, stamping, metal bending and light assembly. It also recently began making ornamental tubing products. Most of its work is commercial, with one of its largest customers being a manufacturer of steel cabinets and data center enclosures.

The company’s growth often has come through adding capabilities. In 2004, for example, it began offering powder coating and in 2007 acquired its first laser cutting equipment. But in existing areas of expertise there is also the push to stay current and competitive.

“We’re always looking at just trying to modernize all of our equipment,” Garcia says, “so we can manufacture in a cleaner environment and be more automated.” Sometimes that has meant buying new equipment, as in the case of its laser cutters, but retrofitting has also proved to be a good solution for AGM.


“In the last three years, we’ve invested in a new painting system and new fabrication equipment. But the one area we kind of neglected for so long was bending,” Garcia says. “We just felt that our bending department was stable, and there hadn’t been huge advances in the basic technology.” However, having seen all the productivity enhancements that have become available on press brakes in the last few years, primarily through automation, Garcia says the company decided it was time to look into a bending upgrade. 

AGM has eight press brakes, seven of which are older Amada RG models. “Although that old equipment works perfectly—mechanically—it needed some modernizing,” Garcia says. Specifically, he was looking for an improved operator interface, network and data storage capabilities, and automated backgauge setup. “Our goal was to reduce setup time and our dependence on all the tribal knowledge you have to have with certain operations. We wanted to be able to get things programmed and saved to the server or on the hard drive of the machine—kind of automate it a little more.”

Retrofit or buy new?

In some areas, such as laser technology, recent productivity gains have come from switching to newly developed equipment. Press brake productivity advances, however, have come partly from automating backgauge setup but perhaps as much from today’s highly sophisticated control systems. That’s good news for companies like AGM whose solid, old press brakes can be upgraded for a fraction of the cost of a new machine.

AGM decided to give retrofitting a try and turned to the years of expertise offered by Robert Scott, president of New Braunfels, Texas-based Trak Machinery LLC. Trak completed work on AGM’s 1998 Amada RG50 in the fall of 2013 and in early December completed its second AGM retrofit, a 1997 vintage Amada RG100.

“The Amada RG and FBD series machines have set a trend in the sheet metal fabrication industry since the mid-1980s,” Scott says. “The hydraulic up-acting machine design they developed was pretty phenomenal and offered the capability of producing precision accuracy at a high production rate.” Although these machines have proven performance and are still running strong, they have become expensive to maintain, he says. “Additionally the antiquated original controls simply cannot provide the advanced features available with today’s advanced control systems.”

Trak offers a combination retrofit package of hardware and software that boosts productivity of the old iron by 25 percent or more. “We’re basically removing all of the old controls and putting in a new interface, and we’re enhancing the existing backgauge by automating it with our four-axis add-on to further reduce setup time,” Scott says. “We did a calculation on a series of different jobs running through machines on the shop floor and on average we were at 30 percent minimum throughput increase in production.”

Scott says a large portion of the increased green light time comes from reducing the programming time on the shop floor and the backgauge setup time. “The rest of the machine operates the same way,” he says, “but an integral part of the time savings is the four-axis upgrade of the backgauge. It’s simply a lot faster if they don’t have to mess with manually moving and adjusting the backgauge fingers into position for each set up of a program. It’s all automated.”

The control user interface is a key part of the retrofit, including significant changes on the shop floor programming side by providing a touch-screen interface with graphical layout, graphical tooling libraries and simulation capabilities. “A key part of what we do is to reduce the points of possible error and make it easy for the younger generation to adapt to,” Scott says. It’s not that they can’t learn an older system, he says, but because “the new generation guys see the older controls and they just don’t have an interest in running it. It’s like giving you or me a typewriter right now.”


“It is important to customers to have a non-exclusive offline programming platform,” Scott says. “This allows them more flexibility to adapt to their engineering CAD methods or use their existing solid modeling system,” as well as avoiding the pitfalls of a single source programming option.

Customers can use any offline CAM system that provides capabilities to program their press brake offline. At AG Machinery this is done through camTrak, an integrated software system for which Trak Machinery is the North American distributor. In addition to enabling offline programming and all the benefits that go along with that, camTrak uses IGES files, dispensing with the need for DXF files (although it can still deal with them as desired). Although still widely used, DXF files can be high-maintenance items. Many popular 3-D CAD programs, such as the widely used SolidWorks, have gone to using the vendor-neutral IGES file format in place of DXF.

“With this system we can embed a 3-D solid model and work it right out of SolidEdge, SolidWorks, Inventor or Pro E and you don’t have to do all the conversions you would with a DXF interface,” Scott says. “We’re really reducing programming time and potential for error by programming this way.”

Ancillary savings

Scott points out one other favorable aspect of retrofitting that can easily be overlooked. “When you look at what’s sitting on the shop floor and what the actual cost of replacing these machines are, it’s pretty extreme,” he says. “You have to pay electricians, riggers and shipping. You have to buy the new equipment, and you have to get rid of the old equipment.”

And not only do costs add up when considering this type of purchase, so does the time. Although Garcia and AGM took nearly a year to decide how to upgrade the company’s bending operation, once the decision was made things moved quickly. In the matter of just a few months, the company is now enjoying its old press brakes’ new high-production performance. FFJ



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