Shear perfection

By Lynn Stanley

Above: The SafanDarley shear’s return-to-sender feature pushes a blank back to the operator after it’s been cut, saving time by eliminating blanks from dropping behind the machine.

Fabricator improves part quality and production time with new machine

September 2014 - Small details can sway a big decision. That’s what Mark Kingston discovered when he began looking at new shears to replace an aging machine. The CNC technician has worked for Boltswitch Inc. for over 30 years, long enough to see his son, Matt, join the company as its turret press and shear operator. 

Boltswitch, Crystal Lake, Illinois, manufactures bolted pressure contact switches and a variety of other products for the electric components industry. Switch ratings range from 400 amps to 6,000 amps with voltage ratings of up to 600 V. The shear anchors Boltswitch’s production line, cutting 4 ft. by 8 ft. sheets into strip lengths for forming in a turret press. The metal parts produced with this process are used in the company’s switch products. Accuracy and dimensional stability are critical.


Bells and whistles

“We had repaired our old shear a couple of times, but it needed servicing more and more frequently,” says Kingston. “It wouldn’t hold its dimensions. The backgauge also had become slightly warped giving us a different dimension depending on which side of the machine we cut on. If we were running a strip, we experienced taper from one end of the material to the other, causing problems downstream. It proved especially difficult if we were running the strip through a die.”

Kingston examined several shears from different manufacturers but nothing stood out. The machines were simple, without bells or whistles. “There are not a lot of companies that build shears anymore,” Kingston notes. “We found OEMs either weren’t building them or they were pricing them out of the market, mostly due to the widespread use of lasers and plasma cutters. These days most fabricators pull a piece of sheet metal and throw it on a laser or plasma cutter and cut it on the spot, eliminating the need for a shear. We handle a lot of rectangular pieces, which are expensive to laser cut.”

In addition to aluminum and stainless steel, the company processes copper—a problematic material for lasers—along with fiberglass, Lexan and fish paper. 

“We purchased a SafanDarley press brake in 2011 and had a very successful track record with it so we thought, ‘Let’s look at their shear,”’ Kingston says. SafanDarley B.V., headquartered in the Netherlands, designs and manufactures press brakes and shears for sheet metal. Kingston saw the SafanDarley shear operate at Fabtech 2013 and says the demonstration sold the machine. “We thought, ‘Oh, wow, it can do that?”’


Kingston was referring in part to the shear’s return-to-sender feature. The machine returns cut blanks to the shear table at the front of the machine, eliminating the need for the operator to walk to the back of the machine to retrieve parts. “It was a no brainer after that,” he says. 

Boltswitch purchased and installed a SafanDarley CNC-controlled M-shear in March through the manufacturer’s regional dealer, Schaumburg, Illinois-based Gladwin Machinery & Supply Co. Able to cut mild steel up to 3⁄8-in. thick, the 10 ft. long machine was up and running in just two days. 

“During the install, a SafanDarley technician ran some tests to set the clearance using a [sheet of] newspaper,” says Kingston. “The shear cut the newspaper like a pair of scissors all the way across. A 0.003 in. thick piece of paper typically can’t be cut because it will fold over on you. But the shear cut it easily. When I saw what it could do to paper, I wasn’t worried about the aluminum we were having trouble with.”

Tough cuts

The shear’s ability to hold tight tolerances allowed Boltswitch to take its challenging aluminum work in-house. “We needed to produce a vent for an electrical enclosure from 0.03-in. thick aluminum and hold width dimensions at 0.015 in. to 0.02 in.,” Kingston explains. “No one would take the job because they said the tolerance could not be held. The SafanDarley shear was able to cut the part and hold the tolerance, allowing us to take the work in-house. Instead of parts coming in that were out of tolerance, our employees are able to assemble these units using the quality parts we make here.”

Improved part quality is matched by faster production times due to the shear’s ability to separate parts from scrap. During cutting, a trap door opens automatically, allowing excess metal strips to dump into a scrap bin beneath the machine. 


“Some parts require us to trim, cut a couple widths, turn the piece and trim it again before cutting additional parts,” Kingston says. “We are saving a tremendous amount of time during this type of process by not having to manually separate parts from scrap. Previously, parts and scrap were falling into the same bin. If we were shearing 1,000 to 1,500 parts, it could take a long time to separate the [finished] parts out. With the SafanDarley shear we’re saving at least an hour for each batch of parts we don’t have to sort out. And because the machine has a scrap bin in the back and another one up front, we can organize our scrap depending on what we’re doing with the parts. Our productivity has gone through the roof as a result.”

The shear’s programmable starting position for the cutting beam also saves time. “If you are working on the shear’s left side you can adjust it not to cycle through the entire stroke,” says Mauricio Gutierrez Matta, area export manager for SafanDarley. “It saves the operator the extra time the blade would normally travel because you are only using the portion of the stroke you need to make the cut.”

Streamlining operations

Equipped with a servo-electronic motor, the shear’s hybrid drive runs only when the cutting beam is in motion, saving Boltswitch energy and reducing noise levels with its quiet cutting cycle. 

“Previous to purchasing the SafanDarley shear, we looked at a hydraulic machine,” Kingston recalls. “It was so loud. The turret press, which is located in the same area as the shear, can get loud during operation so we didn’t want to add a machine with a noisy hydraulic pump. It just wasn’t an option. The added noise would have created a very unpleasant work environment.”

Operators who didn’t want to run the old shear are now fighting over running the SafanDarley shear, Kingston says. Programming the CNC controller for different material types also is simple. 


“Once material type is plugged in, the CNC controller automatically sets rake angle and blade gap,” Gutierrez Matta explains. “This allows the operator to easily move back and forth between copper, aluminum or stainless as well as fiberglass and fish paper. If the operator needs to make an adjustment, parameters like rake angle can be tweaked on the fly.”

A movable finger guard allows the operator to put material close to the blade for small parts production yet maintain safety. Since the shear was installed, Boltswitch has run 45 different parts, getting approximately 18 pieces per sheet for a total count of 8,000 parts. 

“We used to have to bend tabs on our sheet metal to make the shear line up,” Kingston says. “The SafanDarley shear’s backgauge is so accurate we don’t have to make those tabs any more. Parts come out to the right dimension every time. It’s definitely the most machine you can get for your money.” FFJ


  • Boltswitch Inc.
    Crystal Lake, Illinois
    phone: 815/459-6900
    fax: 815/455-7788
  • SafanDarley B.V.
    Lochem Netherlands
    phone: +31 (0) 573 222 222
    fax: +31 (0) 573 252 057

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