Press Brake Tooling

Practically perfect

By Lynn Stanley

Above: New Standard die with V-lock groove in the rear and New Standard crowning system with hydraulic die-clamping pins.

Production demands change, prompting new path for pneumatic tool technology

October 2017 - Larger hydraulic press brakes have traditionally held the catbird seat, but the rise of compact electric and hybrid press brakes is starting to change that. These “minis” are enjoying broader acceptance and the growing trend has ushered in the need for a new generation of clamping systems and bottom tool holders. Wila Business Development Manager David Bishop explains.

“As parts have become smaller and lighter, there has been a strong movement among manufacturers toward the purchase of smaller, faster and more efficient press brakes,” he says. “These machines support advanced, high-precision air bending technology. Throughput is higher, setups are faster and manufacturers now have the flexibility to support small parts production from one-offs to volumes of 5, 10 or 25.”

But until recently there was one thing these diminutive models couldn’t do—take on taller tooling. “Taller tool heights compounded dramatically to produce a much wider range of higher quality finished products,” says Bishop.

FFJ 1017 press image1

Operators can perform multiple setups quickly with Wila’s pneumatic clamping and bottom tool holders, developed to keep pace with small electric and hybrid press brakes.

Yet the tang design on American and European punches at the time put a cap on how tall punches could be built before they became unstable. “Wila chose to build tooling with a taller, thicker, more robust tang to provide greater accuracy and stability. “We introduced our taller New Standard tooling line about the same time electric and hybrid press brakes first entered the marketplace,” Bishop explained. “But the open height limitations of these smaller machines prevented the use of taller tooling until more recently.”

Over time, open height and stroke length dimensions have increased, making taller punches and more versatile tooling possible. Monitoring changes across the manufacturing landscape, Hanover, Maryland-based Wila USA observed something else. Companies were looking for ways to make their electric and hybrid press brakes even faster. But traditional tool holders (many of which are manually operated) weren’t keeping up. Wila responded by developing a new line of pneumatic clamping and bottom tool holders as part of its New Standard line. The patented systems allow operators to make tool changes that match the speed of the nimble electric and hybrid press brakes and accommodate the increasing number of setups.

“No one wants to use a 10-ft. press brake to bend a 6-in., 12-in. or even 24-in.-long part, especially when you are paying a higher hourly rate to run that bigger machine,” Bishop notes. “Once pricing for electric and hybrid machines became more competitive, buyers found they had equipment and software that was faster. The ability to add taller tooling was a big value add. But clamping and tool holder systems were, for the most part, outdated. It was a little bit like taking a high-powered Ferrari and putting bicycle tires on it.”

Pushing parameters

“Our next-generation self-locking pneumatic clamping and bottom tool holder systems changed that,” Bishop says. Working on standard shop air, clamping pins clamp the punches and dies, which are held in place by a locking wedge.

“If the operator should experience a sudden loss of power or air pressure, these wedges keep the clamping pins locked,” says Bishop. “This is a huge safety factor for operators, especially when taller, heavier tools are in use.”

Tooling also has to be able to withstand the sometimes harsh shop environments. All wear surfaces on the New Standard tooling are CNC-Deephardened to 56-60 HRC to support finished part accuracy and durability. “Tooling is no longer a consumable item,” Bishop says. “Precision ground CNC Deephardened tooling has become a durable good that users can depend on to remain in new, or like-new, condition for up to 10 years if used as intended.”

New Standard tooling comes in lengths of 515mm; sectionalized choices that consist of eight pieces that equal lengths of 550mm and 200mm as well as sets of two 100mm-long pieces. Punches weighing 28 lbs. or less are equipped with Safety-Clicks for vertical loading and uploading. Self-seating, a feature on all Wila punches and dies, allows an operator to clamp, seat and align tools with the push of a single button.   

Closing gaps

“Setups have to be fast in an environment where electric and hybrid press brakes are in use,” Bishop says. “With the expanding use of laser machines, we frequently see bending operations with as few as one to five parts. As a result, it has become common practice for a press brake operator to make 15, 20 or more part setups in a single shift. When you have that many part changes, setup speed is more critical than ever. Every second counts.”

New Standard products can also help companies hurdle the skills gap. “Operating a press brake is a skills- and labor-intensive job,” says Bishop. “Unlike a laser, which works in 2D geometry, a press brake operates in a 3D world. Newer software programs help, but an operator still has to be able to envision how a part is going to look before making it. One mistake during the bend sequence and all the value-added processes performed earlier on other equipment end up in the trash can with that part. Costs can add up quickly.”

FFJ 1017 press image2

Wila’s Smart Tool Locator can be mounted in the cover strip of the New Standard clamping system to identify where tooling needs to be positioned.

To aid manufacturers, Wila developed the Smart Tool Locator. It is an optional built-in, LED-lighted scale that can be mounted in the cover strip of New Standard clamping systems to immediately identify where tooling needs to be positioned during setup. Exact part location is also identified prior to each bend.

“Regardless of skill level, this helps the operator maintain production speed and consistent, precise bending while reducing errors—factors that boost productivity and reduce scrap,” says Bishop.

Positioning of New Standard dies is further improved with Wila’s V-Lock technology. Bottom tools are automatically aligned and clamped into place in the X and Y directions with the help of a groove at the back of each tool. Dies are prevented from sliding left to right or being pulled up during the bending process. Accuracy is improved along with safety.

“Sheets usually swing left or right when operators load and unload a press brake,” Bishop observes. “If an operator hits a die from the side, it could be knocked out of position. That means the operator has to stop and reposition the die and perhaps even run a test part to verify that it’s in the right location. Companies can’t afford that kind of downtime. And with the increasing use of automation, accurate tool positioning is more important than ever.”

Rolling along

Another new product to aid manufacturers that handle taller tooling is Wila’s Easy to Move (E2M) system. The technology consists of rollers mounted on large heavy punches and dies to make it easy for operators to move tooling in and out of Wila’s Tool Station storage systems and left and right across the ram and bed of the press brake. E2M makes the setup process faster and improves operator safety.

The New Standard clamping, crowning and bottom tool holder systems are also equipped with a manually operated spring-loaded safety lever that prevents tools from accidentally sliding off either end.

“Customer feedback on our new products has been really positive,” says Bishop. “The accuracy, finished part quality and other features that characterize the New Standard pneumatic clamping and bottom tool holder system are undoubtedly going to change the way that sheet metal fabricators view bending operations with these small yet highly efficient machines.”

As manufacturers continue to streamline their bending operations, the quick-stepping diminutive electric and hybrid press brakes with their swift software and ultra-fast tooling systems are poised to take production to an unprecedented level. FFJ



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