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Pressing forward with higher technology

By Lincoln Brunner

Part of The Gas House's operations are located in an old cotton warehouse, a testament to the way life used to be in northeast Alabama.

Take a look at the technology inside the growing job shop, though, and you will see the way things are shaping up for the future. Across the 200,000-sq.-ft. facility, lasers cut and presses stamp. But when Edwin Stanley, vice president of operations, surveyed his bending capabilities he "felt like we weren't on the leading edge of press brake technology and where we needed to be." It wasn't that the press brakes he was using were bad machines. They just didn't have the kind of technology that other lines were using to jump ahead of the game. Hence Stanley's leap into the latest-generation V series press brakes from Trumpf.

The Gas House, Fort Payne, Ala., purchased a V-850 in June, followed shortly by a V-1300. The numbers correspond to the units' metric tonnage capacity, which translates to about 85.3 tons and 130.5 tons, respectively. The brakes offer three features--offline programming, Trumpf's automatic control bending (ACB) system and a six-axis backgauge--that Stanley believes have poised The Gas House for the future.

Stanley oversees a 175-employee operation that serves a variety of industries, including lawn and garden, disposal truck, overhead cranes and forklifts. The business has relied on several older-model press brakes for most of Stanley's six years at The Gas House. However, Stanley was looking for machines that could accommodate complex part designs and produce those parts more quickly than the old line.

Offline, on time
Behind the flexibility of the new V series lies Trumpf's ToPs 600 offline programming software. The software allows users to import CAD-CAM files from 3-D programs straight into ToPs. The ToPs software then delivers the NC code that runs the brake and provides the graphical instructions and setup documentation for the operator.

"It's taken us steps and leaps forward," says Rodger Yount, Trumpf press brake product line sales engineer, of the ToPs 600 system. "Before, [customers] would engineer something in the office and then they would take it out to the floor and the guys would have to recalculate it and work with it again. ToPs 600 now gives you the ability to link whatever you do in the design stage to take that information and pass it without recalculating it right to the shop floor."

Since purchasing the two brakes, Stanley finds he has more flexibility because his press brake operators aren't trying to program components with multiple bends at the machine. Rather they're allowing software to plot those bends straight from drawings.

"I really felt offline programming was where we needed to go," Stanley says. "We were getting more complex parts that were more difficult to program at the machine. We needed the offline programming badly."

Usually a draftsman at The Gas House constructs parts for the press brake in SolidWorks, then exports it to an add-on program from Trumpf that makes the exportation of drawings to ToPs 600 a little easier, Stanley says. "We can program the part offline, and it puts a visual on the screen," Stanley says. "Then they can make other choices such as backgauge and bend sequences. There are several different ways you can look at that and check it to make sure it's what you want.

"All things perfect, you send the program to the machine, the guy looks at the setup sheet, loads up the tools as it says, bends the part, and he's got a good part right out of the gate."

As easy as ACB
Because of springback, that does not always happen. However, with another one of Trumpf's latest innovations, Automatic Control Bending (ACB), the machine can compensate for variables in material while the material is being bent. ACB accomplishes this by reading bend angles in real time and restriking the part if necessary.

The purpose of the ACB is to increase productivity and decrease costs by reducing or eliminating test bending, rework and scrap. It does that by detecting the relaxing point of material inside the angle of the bend and calculating the springback angle of the material with a pair of sensor disks inserted in a specialized upper bend tool.

Contacting four points inside the bend angle, the ACB system calculates the angle, determines springback angle and then sends the information to the brake's control system, which completes the bend with the proper angle.

The Gas House already has used ACB to its advantage. Before the arrival of the Trumpfs, Stanley and his crew were wrestling with a certain part because of the tight tolerances on the bends. They fabricate the part regularly--about one run every two weeks. That part was the first one they tried the ACB system on, and "it's a world of difference," Stanley says. "It improved productivity on that part dramatically."

Stanley notes that the shop is still doing a considerable amount of test bending on its old brakes, while it already has eliminated some on the Trumpfs.

"It's the adjusting of the parts that we're trying to eliminate, and I was interested in trying that ACB system to see if it would help us, and it has," he says. "We gave them good parts either way; we just had to work harder [before]."

Stanley says the ACB system running on his machines hasn't been able to measure all the angles they do, but then again, the shop is still on a learning curve with the system and is still building its ACB tooling library. "If the ACB can measure the angles, then theoretically you can have a good part, first part," Stanley says. "And we have."

Stanley believes that with a little more education for his employees on how to use the brakes and integrate ACB features into their programs, The Gas House will be able to set up parts completely offline in six months to a year. That will give him time to add tools to the library, as well.

"We're not programming the ACB in every time, and I think we should just go ahead and put it in there," he says. "Heck, if you don't use it, turn it off."

In addition, employing the ACB has helped Trumpf to triple the speed of its brakes, Yount says. And in a world of higher material costs and the demands of just-in-time manufacturing, it's important for jobs shops to boost output while maintaining accuracy.

Pushing the backgauge forward
The V-850 and V-1300 also employ a six-axis backgauge that Stanley says has decreased setup time for his operators. The backgauge's stop fingers are housed in two independent motion units, allowing operators to position parts quickly and to position work in any imaginable position.

None of The Gas House's old brakes has a six-axis backgauge on it, so when operators were doing trickier jobs such as tapered flanges, they were forced to do a lot of special back stock gauging, Stanley says. Consequently the shop has "swung some of the more complex parts over to the Trumpfs," he says.

At the end of the day, the new brakes have pushed The Gas House forward in producing more complex parts more efficiently with greater accuracy.

"Our guys can get the complex stuff done, but it might take them half a day, because they're having to do test bends and scribe and figure out how they want the backgauges," Stanley says. "With the Trumpfs, in combination with the offline programming and the six-axis backgauge, it gives us the flexibility to do more complex parts on the computer without tying the machine up." FFJ

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