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Press Brakes

Straight & even

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Offline programming with BySoft7 software helps operators recapture production time at the press brake.

A manufacturer reclaims production time and influences a culture shift with press brake technology

December 2014 - Necessity. It’s often the catalyst for resourceful solutions. Take Lee Hunter Jr. An architect student in St. Louis during the Great Depression, Hunter found himself frequently frustrated by a dead car battery. Recharging the cell could take days. Determined to find a faster method, Hunter developed Kwikurent, the industry’s first rapid battery charger. This and other inventions like Tune-In, the first on-the-car balancer, led to the formation of Hunter Engineering in 1946.  

Today, the company designs, manufactures and sells auto service equipment for a global market including wheel alignment systems, suspension and brake testing systems, computerized wheel balancers, on- and off-car brake lathes, tire changers and vehicle lifts.

Hunter manufactures equipment at both its headquarters facility in Bridgeton, Missouri, and its plants in Durant and Raymond, Mississippi. In 2011, Hunter opened a subsidiary office in Beijing to support rapidly expanding demand for vehicles in China. It also has sales offices in Canada and Germany. Despite reaching across the world, Hunter remains firmly anchored to its core values: quality and innovation.

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Growth spurt

“We’re the market leader in vehicle alignment systems,” says Doug Foht, Hunter’s senior manufacturing engineer. “Our equipment is the Cadillac of the industry.” 

A partnership with Bystronic formed in 2011 when Hunter purchased two Xpert press brakes—a 165-ton, 10 ft. model and a 220-ton, 14 ft. version with an integrated hemming table—for the Durant plant. Looking to further improve part quality and increase process capabilities, Hunter acquired a third Xpert at 550-ton, 20 ft. capacity, and installed that one at Durant, too, in 2012. 

Next, an Xpert 220-ton, 10 ft. press brake with a hemming table was added to the Raymond facility in 2013. Those acquisitions were followed by a 165-ton, 10 ft. Xpert delivered and installed at the Raymond plant in 2014. 

More, more, more

Foht describes the reason behind the company’s multiple buys in one word: capacity. Growing pains prompted Hunter to purchase Bystronic’s BySoft 7 software as well, giving it the capability to easily program parts offline.

“We wanted to pull that task into our engineering office,” Foht explains. “Previously, our operators were responsible for programming jobs at the press brake, work that could keep the machine idle for more than an hour. BySoft 7 allows us to remotely write programs and download them to the press brakes in as little as four minutes.”

BySoft 7 also helps Hunter avoid potential collisions between the press brake’s ram and part by giving Foht the chance to detect and correct bending issues before they happen. “The software helps us verify a design before we release a prototype request to engineering and laser cut blanks,” he says. “If there are bending issues I can bring the engineer to my office, show him the problem, and we can work out the solution on the spot—whether it’s increasing flange length or adjusting degree of bend. It’s easy to use and intuitive. It also helps us avoid scrapping costly material.”

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Hunter runs 20 gauge up to 3⁄8-in. hot-rolled plate on its Bystronic press brakes. A varied part mix can mean as many as four die changes per press brake during a shift. Ninety-degree bends make up 80 percent of the work performed on the machines. Five to 10 percent of the company’s jobs require acute bends or hemming. 

The technology behind Bystronic’s press brakes ensures that Hunter meets customer demand requirements. “We run pretty lean,” Foht says. “Turnaround from sheet metal to paint and assembly is fast. The Bystronic press brakes are far more accurate than our other press brakes. A bend coupon analysis revealed that we hit our target angle within half a degree whether we were bending 20 gauge or 3⁄8-inch material. That’s pretty impressive. Especially with thicker material which carries variations that can affect bend angle.”

Accurate angles

The Xpert is the only machine that produces no angle errors itself, allowing it to deliver high repetition accuracy, Bystronic Regional Manager Tom Price says.

Greater accuracy during bending has improved Hunter’s downstream processes, giving the manufacturer better fit and assembly whether parts are welded or fastened. The performance feature also aids Hunter with its complex jobs. 

“Forming double hat-sections can be tricky,” says Foht. “When job specs call for multiple or negative/positive bends, angles for the same part go up and down. Obtuse bends are the most challenging because it’s difficult to measure the bend line position accurately.” 

Operators are able to achieve a straight, even bend each time regardless of where forming takes place on the bed, success Foht credits to Bystronic’s dynamic hydraulic crowning. Hunter also forms parts with what he describes as asymmetrical voids along the bend line. 

“One of the parts we make requires 6 in. of bend length and 80 in. of void with another 100 in. of bend length,” explains Foht. “This requires the operator to hit the material once, flip it and hit it again. You get a formed part with long voids that are not symmetrical along the bend line.” Without dynamic hydraulic crowning, “the operator would consistently under break or over break along the bend line of these parts.”

The consistent flow of high quality components have made it possible for Hunter to add robotic part welding of its RX series runway lift rack components to its menu of capabilities. “Bystronic’s dynamic hydraulic crowning is really the heart of the machine,” Foht observes.

Precise pressure measurement determines sheet metal position and length. Pressure is regulated during bending. If part geometry during the forming sequence requires different bending forces, the adjustment is made automatically. “This crowning system automatically guarantees bend accuracy regardless of bending length,” Price says.

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Tool time

Hunter equipped its Xpert press brakes with Wila NSCL II tooling to gain added efficiency through faster setup times. Hunter went a step further this past July, adding Bystronic’s new XPT tooling to its newest machine. 

“Our tooling, built by Wila for Bystronic, is 100 percent compatible with Wila tooling and Wila’s hydraulic clamping system,” Price explains. “Since XPT punches are identical to the Wila new standard punch, Hunter can put our punch next to a Wila BIU punch in the same tool setup because they match up perfectly. Our upper tooling also uses the same tang so it’s self-seating. The clip allows it to hang easily in Wila’s clamping system.”

“We were running an average setup time of 27 minutes on our other press brakes,” Foht says. “With our conventional setups, tooling was loosely installed and the ram lowered to bottom the punches on the dies, which were then secured. The method isn’t accurate so we experienced more first piece variation and a greater need for adjustments. Once we dial a program in for the Bystronic machines, adjustment is minimal and setup time has been reduced to about five minutes.” 

In terms of production efficiency, the difference is significant, says Foht. “We perform roughly four setups per shift. We’re gaining an additional 763 hours of productivity a year.” Foht estimates each press brake operates 3,000 to 3,600 hours a year. 

Ease of use

While the investment in the Xperts, software and tooling have helped streamline Hunter’s workflow while boosting its bottom line, Foht notes the new production lines have also influenced a major culture shift for plant personnel. 

“When we initially pulled programming away from our manufacturing facilities, there was a fair amount of resistance among press room personnel about accepting job programs generated offline,” he says. “With bending sequences, solutions aren’t always obvious. But when you can see the part in 3-D and its bending sequence calculation, modifications become easy to spot. With just a couple mouse clicks you can make the change you need. 

“Now the guys practically chase me down to ask me to write programs for them. Winning over the operators and supervisors to buy into offline programming is something I’m pretty proud of.” FFJ

Sources

  • Bystronic North American Headquarters
    Elgin, Ill.
    phone: 847/214-0300
    fax: 847/214-0299
    www.bystronicusa.com
  • Hunter Engineering Co.
    Bridgeton, Mo.
    phone: 800/448-6848
    www.hunter.com
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