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Bending/Folding

Alternatives

By David Prokop, Metalforming Inc.

Technology helps fabricators cope with labor shortages while increasing output

May 2022 - Supply chain disruptions, soaring raw material prices, transportation bottlenecks and war in Ukraine continue to make headlines. Making matters worse for fabricators is the massive labor shortage while manufacturing booms. By 2030, an estimated 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will remain unfilled, costing the U.S. economy up to $1 trillion. Retirements are outpacing replacements. Entry-level positions remain unfilled, and mid-level positions are left vacant as required skills become harder to find.

Identifying ways to attract a new workforce remain problematic for the industry. But technology solutions can help to curtail the need for labor while increasing output. For example, automated lasers, punches and combination machines have drastically reduced the need for operators and made it easy to produce large volumes of blanks. Once those blanks move downstream to forming operations, however, labor costs can become difficult to recoup.

Despite the advances in press brakes, forming is still a highly labor-intensive operation. Lifting, flipping and supporting parts, coping with the effects of material variations on accuracy, loading blanks and unloading finished product often require two or more operators.

Small robotic press brakes are often chosen for high-volume production of smaller profiles, while panel benders are typically used for mass production of thin-gauge panel-type profiles. But for those applications in between, metalformers are turning to the high-tech folder.

FFJ 0522 bending image1

Fabricators obtain precise, repeatable parts that require little operator oversight when they remove material impact on part accuracy.

Ergonomics and material variation

Folding eliminates two of the biggest issues press brake users struggle with. The ergonomics of handling parts, and material variation in thickness and tensile strength each have a huge impact on labor and are the primary reasons behind the enormous labor content of bending parts. Not so with a folder.21ft barterwebads 140x140

A blank is fed onto the folder’s gauge table and positioned against a reference stop. The vacuum gauge system grips the part, and from a single datum point automatically feeds it from one bend to the next. Bend-to-bend dimensions are accurately held regardless of part size. And one bend has no impact on the next.

The part is brought back to the operator when done, rotated to the next side, and the process continues. The part never leaves the horizontal plane. It is never lifted or flipped and is easily manipulated on a ball-transfer gauge table. One operator on a single folder can easily replace the production value of multiple press brakes.

While material variation has a huge impact on the repeatability of parts formed with a press brake, a folder eliminates that problem. Unlike a punch and die, which uses both surfaces of the material, a folder bends using only the outside surface. The nominal variation in material thickness has little to no impact on the resulting angle.

Tensile variation has significantly less impact on folded parts as well. Springback is compensated for in the same manner, but the over-bend calculation holds true with little variation between parts. By removing material impact on part accuracy, a manufacturer obtains precise, repeatable parts that require little operator oversight.

FFJ 0522 bending image2

Folding consistently accurate parts improves the efficiency of downstream operations.

Downstream operations

Folding consistently accurate parts also supports downstream operations by contributing to improved part fit-up, faster assembly, less scrap and higher quality. Alternative methods can also be employed for further labor reductions. For example, consistent part fit-up makes robotic welding easier to employ. Depending on downstream processing, these savings can be the biggest source of a folder’s return on investment, sometimes larger than upstream savings.

The number of companies taking advantage of folding technology’s benefits is growing rapidly. Labor-intensive operations are no longer sustainable, making folders an attractive solution for manufacturers seeking low-labor alternatives to traditional bending methods. FFJ

Sources

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Company Profiles

AIR FILTRATION

IRONWORKERS

NESTING SOFTWARE

SERVICE CENTERS

Camfil APC - Equipment Trilogy Machinery Inc. Metamation Inc. Admiral Steel
Camfil APC - Replacement Filters

LASER TECHNOLOGY

PLASMA TECHNOLOGY

Alliance Steel
Donaldson Company Inc. AMADA AMERICA, INC. Messer Cutting Systems Inc.

SOFTWARE

BENDING/FOLDING

Mazak Optonics Corp.

PLATE

Enmark Systems Inc.
MetalForming Inc. MC Machinery Systems Inc. Peddinghaus Lantek Systems Inc.
RAS Systems LLC Murata Machinery, USA, Inc.

PLATE & ANGLE ROLLS

SecturaSOFT

BEVELING

TRUMPF Inc. Davi Inc. SigmaTEK Systems LLC
Steelmax Tools LLC

LINEAR POSITION SENSORS

Trilogy Machinery Inc. Striker Systems

COIL PROCESSING

MTS Sensors

PRESS BRAKE TOOLING

STAMPING/PRESSES

Bradbury Group

MATERIAL HANDLING

Mate Precision Tooling AIDA-America Corp.
Burghardt + Schmidt Group EMH Crane Rolleri USA Nidec Press & Automation
Butech Bliss Fehr Warehouse Solutions Inc.

PRESS BRAKES

STEEL

Red Bud Industries UFP Industrial AMADA AMERICA, INC. Alliance Steel
Tishken

MEASUREMENT & QUALITY CONTROL

Automec Inc.

TUBE & PIPE

CONVEYOR SYSTEMS

Advanced Gauging Technologies MC Machinery Systems Inc. BLM Group
Mayfran International

METAL FABRICATION MACHINERY

SafanDarley HGG Profiling Equipment Inc.

DEBURRING/FINISHING

Cincinnati Inc.

PUNCHING

Prudential Stainless & Alloys
ATI Industrial Automation LVD Strippit Hougen Manufacturing

WATERJET

Lissmac Corp. Scotchman Industries Inc.

SAWING

Barton International
Osborn Trilogy Machinery Inc. Behringer Saws Inc. Jet Edge Waterjet Systems
SuperMax Tools

METAL FORMING

Cosen Saws Omax Corp.
Timesavers FAGOR Arrasate USA Inc. DoALL Sawing

WELDING

HYDRAULIC PRESSES

MetalForming Inc. HE&M Saw American Weldquip
Beckwood Press Co.

MICROFINISHING TOOLS

Savage Saws Strong Hand Tools
Triform Titan Tool Supply Inc.

 

T. J. Snow Company

TPMG2022 Brands


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