Press Brake Tooling


By David Bray, Product Manager, National Press Brake, MC Machinery Systems Inc.

Macro forces drive changes in forming departments and press brake technology

April 2020 - Three macro forces drive significant change in the world of forming. They don’t necessarily paint a rosy picture, but there is good news to come.

The introduction of fiber lasers about a decade ago injected excitement and optimism into the profiling sector of fabrication, but faster speeds and higher throughput has created new issues downstream. The long-held standard for CO2 lasers was two press brakes for every laser. With fiber, that number can double depending on the part makeup.

OEM and job shops alike are being challenged to find profitability in low-volume/high-mix manufacturing environments. An easy task for a laser but, without the right technology in place, this type of manufacturing environment can significantly reduce the efficiency of the bending process due to increased setups per day on the press brake.

FFJ 0420 pressbrakes image1

Videre operator support system turns a press brake into a setup specialist, familiarizing the operator with tool shapes and names.

According to a 2018 Deloitte report, 89 percent of manufacturing executives agreed that companies cannot find qualified applicants for their manufacturing-related positions. Pair this with the high price of adding floor space and the idea of “throwing more labor at the problem” is not a feasible option.

One might call this a perfect storm. But all is not lost. These changes have sparked the emergence of exciting press brake technologies that not only address these challenges head on, but may also prove to be a viable alternative to custom automation or large-footprint capital equipment. In essence, these advances make operators’ time more efficient.

Automatic tool changers

Almost every tool changer is fixed for a certain material range. When tools were being changed less frequently, lower capacity wasn’t much of an issue. Today, flexibility is of added value because more frequent tool changes are being performed by less experienced operators. New automatic tool changers (ATC) address this problem. MC Machinery’s newest ATC, for example, comes standard with tool storage from 32 m up to 52 m.

In addition, if there are tools that won’t go into the tool storage—they are either used infrequently, are heavy or are a special shape—operators can still create programs using such tools offline or through the control. The program will then be sent to the machine, allowing the operator to use the press without using the tool changer associated with it. When the press brake is done with the tools, the operator can take those tools out and the press brake will change tools just as it would for any high-run part. The tools don’t have to be in storage in order to use the press brake.

Another feature customers find of interest is an ATC cleaning tool. Instead of operators performing a secondary operation, new ATCs feature a system that cleans both the tools and the surface of the bed. As tools move in and out, the system removes debris and dust from surfaces. It is one more thing operators do not have to remember to do.

FFJ 0420 pressbrakes image2

MC Machinery Product Manager David Bray operates a Videre-equipped press brake.

Augmented reality

Looking at a press brake operator’s time on any given day, 30 to 50 percent of it is categorized as setup time. Production or bending time is as little as 30 percent. Add in the variables of inexperience, low skill or training situations and those productivity numbers can be even lower.

If they aren’t printed out, most companies will have their dimensioned drawings, tool layouts, CAD data or setup information on a separate PC or at a remote location. Any time a part is sent to a press brake, the operator will generally set up the tools needed for the job, locate material and look at the control to figure out how to bend the part. If the operator needs to check a dimension, he or she puts the part down on a table and goes to the control, or walks to the control with the part in hand, to review dimensions or bending sequence.

This scenario happens among operators of every kind of press brake made today, from standalone to ATC-equipped. Not only are these non-value-added steps taking time away from forming parts—time that’s often not accounted for in quoting or planning—but they are difficult for inexperienced operators, especially in high-mix environments where pressure is intensifying on forming departments.

While it is a form of augmented reality, we prefer to call our solution, Videre, an operator support system, because that’s exactly what it is. By displaying the actual tool (shape, length and install orientation) just above the install location in front of the operator, real-time every time, guesswork is all but eliminated. I believe this has the chance to revolutionize press brake operations.

FFJ 0420 pressbrakes image3

MC Machinery’s automatic tool changer’s capacity ranges from 32 m to 52 m.

There are multiple options for setup verification and display. These operator support tools can display in a top-down view in front of the bending location or in an isometric view before or during the bend, showing the operator how to handle the part and how the part will bend. If part features are asymmetrical, left/right importance can be seen, so operators don’t bend hundreds of parts incorrectly.

The implications for training are significant, too. Standard training practices typically involve an experienced operator training new brake operators. Another common scenario is to have a setup specialist place the tools into the press, get the program running and the first article completed, so that all the operator has to do is run a job. The issue is that manpower is doubled. What’s more, it could have taken six months or more to train an operator on a product or machinery. Now it’s possible to have an operator trained in a matter of weeks.

An on-machine operator support system essentially turns the machine itself into the setup specialist, helping the operator to learn tool shapes, names and metrics. It helps teach length requirements and locations for the selected program.

This type of program shows the operator what the parts look like, not only in the flat but also at every stage of bending until its final 3D state. Operators can understand what they are forming and why each bend is required to form that part in a visual way, within an interactive touch format similar to mobile devices younger employees have grown up using. FFJ



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