Press Brakes

Trimming time

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Impulse Manufacturing paired Safan open architecture controls with Safan E-brakes to create a press brake work cell that is helping the fabricator reclaim lost production time.

Open architecture control and green bending technology help fabricator boost productivity

March 2014 - Whether you are an Apple Macintosh user or a diehard fan of Microsoft Windows, the debate over product differences, namely operating systems and software options, continues to pit the two companies—and consumers—against each other. Apple’s proprietary hardware and its closed-system software historically have offered limited options compared to Microsoft, which licenses its Windows operating system to myriad PC manufacturers. In 2006 Apple released Boot Camp, which allows Windows to be installed on Intel-based Macs. Conversely, attempts to install Apple’s Mac OS X on other PCs are problematic at best.

Clay Reiser, director, business development for Impulse Manufacturing, faced a similar choice in the capital equipment marketplace when he chose to upgrade and single source aging press brakes to create a new work cell. The fabricator also wanted to incorporate real-time tracking on press brake productivity and other processes. The key, Reiser says, was finding the right computer numerical control. “I knew I wanted electric press brakes with safety light curtains,” he says “Finding a control with an open architecture design that would support third-party software solutions specific to our company’s needs was a little more challenging.”


Breaking the time barrier

Impulse Manufacturing’s 200,000 sq. ft. facility is in Dawsonville, Ga., just 30 miles north of Atlanta. The fabricator’s existing press brake equipment was costing the company valuable production time in several areas. “We judge press brake productivity by the number of machine strokes,” he says. “Our customers are willing to pay for press brake strokes but not for time spent on setups and other actions associated with readying a machine for a job. We were trying to pull and store data using an analogue-based system but the low-tech approach couldn’t give us what we needed.”

The fabricator had already trimmed setup time to 17 minutes. “We weren’t happy with that number,” says Reiser, “it was still too slow for us.” Activities like manual setups and time spent selecting and downloading bending programs were making it difficult for Impulse Manufacturing to break through its plateau. Different press brake models and model years also meant operators had to program multiple machines multiple times.

In looking at different press brake brands on the market, Reiser found most didn’t provide an open system control. A little detective work led him to Comeq Inc., White Marsh, Md., where he was introduced to a Safan open system control, the fully electric servo-driven Safan E-brake and Capital Machine Technologies, a new dealer for Safan. Comeq is the U.S. distributor for Safan, Lochem, Netherlands, which specializes in press brakes and shears. Capital Machine, a major distributor of fabrication and robotic welding equipment, is headquartered in Tampa, Fla., and has a technology and training center in Impulse Manufacturing’s neighborhood—Atlanta. 

Reiser visited Safan’s Lochem-based production plant to see how the press brake was built and look at the machine’s options. In October 2012 the fabricator had four new 50-ton, 61⁄2 ft. Safan E-brakes installed followed by a 200-ton, 13 ft. Safan E-brake in July 2013.

FFJ-0314-press-image2Carbon steel, sourced in 5 ft. by 10 ft. sheets in thicknesses ranging from 24 gauge to 3⁄4 in. plate, is fed to a turret press or laser for blanking. Blanks are then sent to the press brake work cell for bending. Once formed, parts move to other departments for processing such as robotic welding, resistance welding or painting.

A diversified customer base ranging from solar energy to agriculture drives high volume forming of a wide variety of parts, from small binder clips to 10 ft. long panels. “We have 1,554 different part numbers moving through the press brake cell,” says Reiser.

Gaining control

Offline programming and Safan’s EC-20 control touch screen with 3-D graphic display gives Reiser the open architecture platform he needs to run materials requirements planning software for real-time tracking of press brake productivity along with a quality control software package for statistical process control. The control’s advanced user interface accommodates a bar code scanner and improved navigation streams. The control can hold the fabricator’s recipes for its entire part offering as well. “Our third-party software works seamlessly with the Safan E-brakes,” Reiser says. “Most conventional press brake controls can’t hold more than 100 different part programs. The EC-20 controls pull all of our part programs from a centrally located server. Instead of having to dedicate certain parts to a specific press brake, our parts are programmed to go to the next open E-brake in the cell so there are no work flow interruptions. This capability has significantly reduced the number of press brakes I need versus a conventional shop. Typical rule-of-thumb is that for every laser on your manufacturing floor you need 21⁄2 press brakes. Since most of our parts are formed, I have six lasers. But I only need five E-brakes to serve those lasers.”

The new press brake cell is helping Impulse Manufacturing reclaim production time in other ways. Operators can input data at the E-brake, eliminating the need to step away to an inspection cell. A servo-electric drive provides fast start and stop times for faster bending speeds. “Our engineered servo-electric drive motors and the pulley and belt system that drive the tool downward, greatly reduce the time needed to start and stop a Safan compared to a hydraulic system,” says Jon Kahrl, bending products specialist for Capital Machine. “A conventional hydraulic press brake has to accelerate and decelerate multiple times during a bending cycle, stealing valuable production time. Our E-brake’s electric drive system can be turned on and off in just milliseconds, dramatically increasing the number of strokes per minute.”

The E-brake’s speed along with the EC-20 control’s ability to shave seconds from different operator tasks has contributed to faster setups and increased capacity. “We’ve reduced our setup time to under five minutes,” Reiser says. “Our stroke tracking methodology tells us that we’ve increased stroke productivity by at least 15 percent. Setup time has been reduced 340 percent. That’s pretty big.”


Upgrading safety

Maintaining part accuracy is essential for Impulse Manufacturing, which is one of only a few full-service metal fabricators in the southeast U.S. The E-brake’s patented roller drive system in the upper beam ensures a uniform and direct distribution of forces for accurate and consistent bending. Thickness detection, a feature of the E-brake, contributes to the fabricator’s ability to achieve more accurate bends on a part-to-part basis. “We didn’t have this capability before,” says Reiser. “When you bend a part, you can have a material thickness deviation of 0.002 in. to 0.003 in. That deviation, if not corrected, could affect part accuracy downstream. The E-brake’s thickness detection senses these deviations and automatically adjusts the actual depth of the punch. It’s a more capable process, especially for parts with critical requirements. It’s also a nice selling feature for customers. We’ve used the attribute to attract other work.”

The new press brake cell supports Impulse Manufacturing’s productivity initiatives but the fabricator also wanted to upgrade safety conditions for its operators. Each E-brake is equipped with an integrated light curtain that permits the operator to run the machine without the foot pedal. “The light curtain is tied into the press brake’s electric drive package giving it the intelligence to sense when the operator enters and exits the work area,” says Kahrl. “This is especially useful for small parts production. As quickly as the operator loads a blank and removes a formed part, the press brake is ready to bend the next part. The Safan press brake is waiting on the operator, the operator is not waiting on the press brake. This light curtain interface is what makes the Safan so much faster than other press brakes on the market.”

Local service and support from Capital Machine gives Impulse Manufacturing access to in-depth field experience and knowledge about the press brakes and ensures quick response times for maintenance and spare parts. “We are staffed with full-time service personnel,” says Capital Machine COO Bill Citron. “Members of the team are trained on the Safan press brake in Lochem and are in turn teaching other individuals. But the simplicity of the Safan design is such that the machine will prove to be the most trouble-free press brake on the market for customers like Impulse Manufacturing.”

Reiser finds the E-brakes to be very reliable. “I don’t have a lot of extra capacity so I can’t afford any downtime,” he says. “The E-brakes’ multiple features give us the dependability we need while expanding our capabilities.” The company’s steady growth already has Reiser considering the addition of another Safan E-brake. FFJ


  • Capital Machine Technologies
    Tampa, Fla.
    phone: 800/635-7777
    fax: 813/626-0812
  • Impulse Manufacturing 
    Dawsonville, Ga.
    phone: 706/216-1700
  • Safan BVLochem
    phone: +31 (0) 573 222 222
    fax: +31 (0) 573 252 057


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