Press Brake Tooling

AmeriTex Machine & Fabrication supports growth and breaks up bottlenecks with versatile ToolCell press brakes from LVD Strippit

By Lynn Stanley

Above: ToolCell’s tool storage system offers a flexible tooling configuration to suit specific application requirements.

February 2019 - To avoid drowning, shark species like the great white and the mako must swim constantly to maintain the forward motion that keeps oxygen-rich water flowing over their gills. The need for continual propulsion is a characteristic that Zack Fennell has also observed with the company’s largely millennial workforce.

“We have a young employee population [130 workers], most of whom had never touched a piece of metal before coming to work for us,” says Fennell, manufacturing engineer and co-owner at AmeriTex Machine & Fabrication LLC. “They want to learn everything and then move up to something better. New technology facilitates that.”

Fennell is referring to the recent acquisitions of two LVD Strippit ToolCell press brakes with integrated automated tool changers. AmeriTex purchased its first ToolCell press brake in June 2018 and installed a second ToolCell machine in November.

FFJ 0219 press image3

The ToolCell press brake uses a touch-screen controller with intuitive graphical icons that help quickly and easily manage machine parameters.

“We can make anyone a press brake operator because this equipment is so easy to use,” he continues. Putting inexperienced operators in the driver’s seat is practically foolproof because features on the new machines ensure personnel don’t go astray and divert from part requirements programmed offline.

Heavy lifting

Headquartered in Willis, Texas, AmeriTex grew by about 20 percent between 2017 and 2018, prompting the company to add employees and open a second location. The manufacturer’s need to bend a large variety of material 3⁄16-in to 1⁄2-in.-thick spurred the decision to invest in the press brakes.

“We can design and build just about anything from sheet metal, structural or plate up to 1 in. thick,” says Fennell. “We have a very aggressive approach to sales, too. Couple that with quick lead times and fast deliveries [two to four weeks] for welded components and we’re able to get most any job we want.”

In 2017, AmeriTex found new space equipped with overhead cranes in nearby Conroe. The facility houses the company’s heavy plate work, which ramped up in 2017 in anticipation of increased product demand.

“It quickly became obvious to us that our bending operation was our bottleneck,” Fennell says. “We had a stand-alone press brake that was struggling to process the large variety of thick parts we were producing. We were impressed with LVD Strippit’s ToolCell and made the leap into their 3-meter machine. We then sold our stand-alone [model] and bought a 4-meter ToolCell.”

AmeriTex uses the press brakes to run primarily carbon steel with some aluminum and stainless in sizes ranging from 20-gauge sheet to 3/4-in.-thick plate.

Parts are being fabricated for products like stairs, walkways, platforms and electrical enclosures along with miscellaneous brackets and weldments for end users ranging from the oil and gas industry to restaurants.

FFJ 0219 press image1

CADMAN-B programming software.

The ToolCell press brakes the company purchased handle bend lengths up to 157 in. and deliver up to 240 tons of bending force. An open height of 19.6-in to 23.6-in. accommodates a range of tooling. LVD Strippit also offers ToolCell Plus models for bending parts with higher flanges. These press brakes can be enhanced to an opening of 26.4-in. (670 mm) and a stroke of 15.7-in. (400 mm).

Unlike other press brakes equipped with automated tool changers, the ToolCell gives operators the flexibility to load dies manually, a key feature for AmeriTex.

“Our automated system stores a library of top and bottom tooling,” says LVD Strippit Vice President of Sales and Marketing Elizabeth Victor. “Tools are held within the machine and automatically changed as the job requires, which minimizes tool changeover time for better bending productivity.”

Fennell says that on many press brake models, users can either load tools manually or automatically, but cannot do both. “And most machines will only load up to 60 mm dies. The ToolCell allows me to manually load a larger die to accommodate thicker plate while automatically loading the punches required from my ToolCell. If I need to switch over to the automatic tool changer for thinner parts or assemblies in multiple thicknesses, it’s easy and quick to do. We struggled with our other equipment to move back and forth between material thicknesses, but not with these machines.”

Angle detection ensures the ToolCell delivers consistent bending results from the first part to the last. “We had a mechanical version on our other press brakes, which commonly goes unused,” says Fennell. “I see our operators using this feature more often than not, which tells me it is user friendly and fast. The console is based on the offline program. This keeps new operators on track.”

Unexpected benefits

“Our Easy-Form laser adaptive bending system provides in-process angle monitoring via laser scanners located on the front and back of the press brake table,” says Victor. “The system transmits information in real time to the CNC control, which adjusts to ensure the correct angle without interrupting the bending process.”

The Easy-Form system allows the press brake to adapt to variables like sheet thickness, strain hardening and grain direction and automatically compensate for changes, she adds.

Fennell has noticed other benefits that aren’t discussed in the equipment’s product brochure. “With this technology, individuals who come to work here don’t have to have a decade of experience to make a good part,” he observes. But the press brakes also cater to the work culture needs of millennials.

FFJ 0219 press image2

AmeriTex sample part.

“I grew up in this industry,” Fennell says. “My grandfather, Lawrence, started Cleveland Manufacturing in Houston in 1975, making electrical enclosures and E housings. He decided to get out of that business, sold it and opened AmeriTex in 2004 with my father, Kenny. I started working at the facility while I was in high school, learning to weld and run press brakes along with [gaining] other skill sets.”

After earning a manufacturing engineering degree from Texas State University, Fennell returned to AmeriTex in 2013. “I’m a millennial,” he says, “but on the production floor I’m considered an old-timer. I understand the mindset, though. I didn’t want to run a laser my whole life. It’s hard work, but in the end it pays off as long as there’s opportunity to keep moving forward. I’m 27 years old and a co-owner of the company.”

He notes that company president Jeff Curbo started as a shop hand after graduating from college in 2005. “He worked his way up as I did.” Curbo and Zack Fennell each acquired a stake in AmeriTex last year.

The company’s momentum continues. It recently added powder coating to the Conroe location. “Our goal is to have two fully equipped shops that can make just about anything out of metal,” Fennell says.

AmeriTex is in the process of purchasing an LVD Strippit 10kW Electra 3015 fiber laser with a 10-shelf tower and CADMAN-Job software. “The software will allow us to monitor the lasers and press brakes to get real-time updates on statistics that are difficult for us to track right now,” he notes. “We’re also looking into technology to monitor welding machine productivity. These are important steps in our evolution as an adopter of IIoT practices.” FFJ 



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