Press Brakes

Keeping time

By Lynn Stanley

Above: By customizing the press brake to Indeeco’s large and varied part requirements, distributor CJ Smith Machinery eliminated the need for a second machine.

Machine and software upgrades help fabricator take back lost production minutes

May 2014 - Fabricators are investing in smart technology as one way to turn back the clock and reclaim lost time. The problem and its impact on industry is nothing new. When sea trade escalated in the 17th century, sailors also struggled with lost time. Lack of an accurate timepiece made plotting longitude and charting position guesswork. Each minute lost by the clock meant a navigational error of 15 miles.

Shipwrecks were the norm until John Harrison invented the first marine chronometer in 1765. Fast forward to the 21st century. In the case of Indeeco, the culprits behind lost time were an aging press brake and outdated Windows operating system. The St. Louis–based company knew it needed to update its bending operation with a new machine and software, but chose to conduct a two-year study first, to identify problem areas and develop selection criteria.FFJ-0514-press-simage1

Indeeco builds such heating equipment as space heaters, industrial component heaters and electronic controls for commercial, industrial and marine markets worldwide. Indeeco supports production and oversees quality control of its processes with two manufacturing facilities in Boonville, Mo., and Cuba, Mo. The 80-year-old fabricator, which maintained a solid business footing during the Great Recession, operates two shifts five days a week. Jobs range from a single part up to 150 parts, a schedule that dictates a high number of die changes and the need for fast setups. According to its study, Indeeco was producing 218 different parts per shift.

Taking inventory

“We were losing time during setup for each bend,” says Jim Gassner, manufacturing engineer for Indeeco. “A significant amount of time was being spent measuring, programming and reprogramming the press brake for every part we handled. The operator would enter the data, make a bend, pull the part, measure it, load it back into the machine, bend it again and then check it to see if it was right.”

Gassner says Indeeco’s skilled, fast operators made production rates of 900 parts a day possible. “That was a real challenge considering how much attention the machine required. Part accuracy and quality also were suffering,” he says. “We were experiencing some fit issues in the welding department, for example, which required personnel to perform a lot of secondary work in some cases.” 

Customers order Indeeco products online by simply specifying dimensions. The company’s internal software program automatically prints out CNC files. Galvanized and stainless steel are sourced in 4 ft. by 8 ft. and 4 ft. by 10 ft. sheets, 24 gauge to 12 gauge, and sent to the CNC punch for blanking. The blanks are formed in the press brake before undergoing welding, pop riveting and other manual processes prior to assembly and shipping.  

Indeeco’s lean business model directs all workflow through just one press brake. “If the press brake goes down, manufacturing comes to a halt,” says Gassner. “We knew we needed a machine capable of quick die changeover, a software program that could interface with our custom software, support and parts availability.”

Following the study, Gassner assembled a top-to-bottom team to include any employee that might interact with the new press brake. The group looked at 10 different press brake manufacturers and whittled its list down to three. Several key technology features led Indeeco to select the LVD Strippit 150-ton, 14 ft., PPEB Easy Form laser press brake. “It was a close run but the clincher for us was the intuitive and intelligent CADMAN Touch PC-based CNC control and the ease with which the LVD software interfaced with our network,” Gassner says.


“We had the capability to integrate the two software systems because like Indeeco, we write our own custom macros programs,” says Dave Smith, vice president of CJ Smith Machinery Sales. The Fenton, Mo., company distributes and services metalworking equipment like the LVD products, in Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas. “Bending parameters are automatically controlled and compensated for by LVD’s intelligent learning database. This simplifies programming for Indeeco, eliminates trial bending and gives them a good part the first time.”

Gassner notes LVD’s Easy-Form Laser, an adaptive forming system, offered a huge time saver with comparison measurements for Indeeco’s diverse part offering. “The other feature that really sold us was that the press brake allowed us to bend a very complex part with a long arm that has to collide or make contact with the ram during forming. Other press brakes’ detection systems would override the job but the LVD press brake gave us the option to continue. During bending, the long arm makes contact with the ram, flexes back and then returns once forming is complete.” 

The fabricator was also able to specify extensions for the press brake and the tooling to accommodate parts it can’t form on a standard press brake. A 7.8-in. extension increased the machine’s open height, allowing it to form up to a 91⁄2-in.-deep box. “We evaluated and analyzed their requirements and customized the press to accommodate Indeeco’s part requirements so the company didn’t have to buy a second machine to support this kind of production or a larger press brake than they really needed,” says Smith.

Indeeco installed the LVD press brake in May 2012 and was bending parts by the second day of training. “It was very easy to set up and learn,” says Gassner. “And the change in our productivity and ability to reclaim lost time has been tremendous.”

Doing the math

The LVD press brake has a machine counter for number of bends and number of hours operated. “Since installation, the press brake has performed 434,387 bends, running 5,592 hours,” says Gassner. “When you do the math that translates to 77.7 bends per hour. On the old machine, die changeovers took one to four minutes. Now we do them in 15 seconds. That’s four times faster for a one-minute changeover and 16 times faster for a four-minute changeover. Comparison measurements took about three minutes in the old machine. With the LVD press brake’s Easy Form Laser we do them in about 45 seconds. We’ve already paid for the press brake just in labor savings.”


Because every heater model Indeeco produces is different, data storage on the press brake has allowed the fabricator to create large, sortable files quickly for its parts, which number in the thousands. 

Parts can be grouped under family headings making it easy for operators to call up a particular product line and see what’s listed. “This feature really speeds sorting and selection,” says Gassner. “Compared to manual data input, this system is as different as night and day.”

Indeeco’s engineering department is about a two-hour drive from its manufacturing facilities. With the LVD network license, the fabricator’s engineers can design and build complex part geometries on their desktop computers, then download the programs to the press brake. “LVD’s CADMAN offline programming software shows you immediately whether or not you can make the part,” says Gassner. “It allows you to tweak designs in real time. As a lean company we also look for ways to error-proof, and that’s really the beauty of the LVD system. If I am building a box with special features like cutouts, I get a complete 3-D representation that allows the operator to visually see elements of the design he wouldn’t otherwise be able to view at the press brake. This really helps to minimize misinterpretation of the data.” Operators also have the flexibility to use LVD’s Quickbend to make a finger drawing of a part and its dimensions right on the press brake’s touchscreen for a fast one-and-done part.

As a company, Gassner says Indeeco is always in the process of working to become leaner while making things bigger, better and faster. The fabricator is currently running tests with a barcode scanner to carve additional seconds from the time it takes an operator to sort and call up a job. “We label each piece of metal,” he says. “We’re looking at barcoding the labels which would allow our operator to simply scan the code, prompting the press brake to instantly pull up all the parameters for that job.”

For a company that relies heavily on its press brake to anchor its high-volume work flow, Gassner says the LVD machine is performing well. And the proof is in the numbers. FFJ



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