Press Brakes

Not-so-basic bending

By Lauren Duensing

Above: Flux is a completely new engine and interface built around speed and accuracy for CAD file processing and bending.

Metamation’s new Flux platform streamlines machine setup

February 2017 - “Less is more,” Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe famously said of his minimalist style. The same maxim can be applied in fabricating: less time or fewer steps in production will equate to higher profits. Machine technologies continue to evolve and provide manufacturers with the features they need to save hours and cut costs.

“Manufacturers are focusing more and more on two things,” says Kartik Iyer, president and CEO of Metamation, Rolling Meadows, Illinois, a developer of sheet metal CAD/CAM software. “One is the speed at which their machines can be run—and when I say speed, it’s not necessarily the speed of the ram. What manufacturers are looking at is how they can use the machine to make more parts.”

Apart from speed, manufacturers also are focused on safety, which is particularly important in bending because the process is so operator intensive. “The operator is constantly working with parts and has his hands near the machine,” Iyer says.

Metamation is atop these trends so it can develop software that helps manufacturers maximize their capabilities. “Customers are recognizing that the bending area has a lot of potential to improve productivity,” notes Iyer, because fabricators typically need several press brakes to keep up with the output from a single laser cutting system, which is producing the blanks for downstream bending operations. “And the higher the part mix, the more press brakes they need,” he says. 

Each of those press brakes needs to be set up and staged with the proper tooling before beginning a part run. When an operator is programming parts on the machine, “the press brake is not moving,” Iyer says. “That’s time that it should be bending. If you can avoid having to program the press brake at the control, you’re going to have more time to make parts.”  

FFJ 0217 press image1

Flux’s interface is designed to be clean and intuitive, which helps reduce the number of clicks.

The amount of programming time increases if the part mix is varied. “If you can set up the press brake and make 1,000 parts for the next eight hours, that’s great use of the press brake because you don’t have to stop to program it,” Iyer says. “But the industry trend is toward smaller and smaller lot sizes. Everybody is bending to order. Nobody is bending to stock.”

Built for bending

In late 2016, Metamation released Flux, its new engine and interface, which was created with speed, accuracy and ease of programming in mind. “Flux is our latest launch of our next-generation software for sheet metal,” Iyer says. “It is a completely new product; it has been built from the ground up to take advantage of technologies that are available today, both in the hardware and software platforms, that were not there 15 years ago.

“Having the luxury of rewriting the platform gave us carte blanche to do anything we wanted,” he notes, which meant “we could leave behind some of what we didn’t like from the past and adopt some of the new things that we think are the future.”

When developing Flux, Metamation rethought the classic icon-based user interface, removing a majority of the icons to streamline the bending process and make it intuitive and easy for an operator to follow. “The new interface does have a few icons—we didn’t totally eliminate them—but they appear as you move through the software,” Iyer notes.

The software mimics the actual bending operation. “How do you change a tool? You grab the tool and remove it from the press brake,” Iyer continues. “It’s the same [in the software]: you click on the tool and it will open a panel that will give you your options, such as changing the tool or adding an adapter.” 

Flux is also able to run 3D files and import them from a variety of different types of CAD software. “Our customers are OEMs or job shops,” Iyer says. “As their customers branch into the 3D world, they have no control over the types of files they receive. So we’ve added a new 3D importer that can import any of the 3D CAD file formats” and do so quickly. “In one of our tests, we imported 100 models in less than 10 seconds.”

Metamation engineers put a lot of thought into the 3D importer “because it’s the entry point. If you can’t get the file in, you can’t create a bend solution.”

Analyzing parts

Once the part imports to Flux, uses have a multitude of options. For example, they can “unfold” the part prior to bending to ensure it’s optimized for their particular set of tooling. “Customers can import parts and create a flat pattern for a laser that is calculated based on the tools they use on their press brakes. This will give them a more accurate blank,” Iyer says.

If a blank isn’t matched to a specific set of tooling, it won’t be exact once it’s formed. Iyer says it’s important to understand why the 3D model doesn’t match up because time is otherwise spent on scrapped parts or standing at the press brake making tweaks. 

Flux also benefited from Metamation’s analysis of many different types of parts, as well as operators’ working habits. “We found that when a part is of a certain weight, you would prefer not to have more than 50 percent of the part behind the press brake because you are going to have less to hold in the front. The center of gravity is inside the press brake, so the part is going to tilt backward,” Iyer explains.

The software will adjust the part based on its weight, as well as simulate overbending. “If you’re bending a 90-degree angle, you have to bend slightly over 90 and let it spring back to 90 degrees,” says Iyer. “Flux has the springback coefficient built in.”

Finally, to handle a high part mix, Flux has a Tool Setup Optimizer feature that can analyze a set of parts composed of different sizes and materials and calculate the most efficient method for running them through the press brake. 

“Typically, the most common way operators will run parts is they’ll start with the longer part and come down to the smaller ones. If you have to change back and forth, you’re increasing your setup time,” Iyer says. “How can you put together a set of tools and run as many parts as possible before you are forced to change tools? Flux will come up with a merge setup that looks at all the parts and groups them together in the best sequence.”

Advanced software programs like Flux are especially needed within companies facing the retirement of longtime, experienced press brake operators, who “take all that knowledge with them when they move on,” Iyer says. “There’s no golden notebook that’s going to be handed off to the next operator. And we believe Flux can reduce manufacturers’ dependency on operators,” in addition to helping them streamline operations and set up their press brakes more rapidly. 

“Flux can tool up parts at an average of 200 to 300 milliseconds. It used to take a few seconds in our older software, which is not bad compared to an operator standing in front of a brake for five or 10 minutes keying it in. By the time you’re done with one part, you’re ready for the next program,” Iyer says. FFJ



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