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Press Brake Tooling

A matter of precision

By Russ Olexa

July/August 2010 - Although East End Welding, Brimfield, Ohio, always has considered itself a welding shop, it offers services from machining to building large sheet metal structures 120 ft. long or larger.

As president of East End Welding, John Susong’s strategy is to diversify the company’s services to ensure it won’t turn away jobs. When an economic downturn depletes work in one area, he has other areas of expertise on which to draw.

East End needs an ample amount of space to build large fabrications, so the company operates in 135,000 sq. ft. with 100 employees working two shifts. It originally operated in a 10,000-sq.-ft. facility in southeast Akron, Ohio, when Susong’s uncle founded the company in 1949. Susong joined him in 1971 and eventually bought East End in 1983.

As the company grew in floor space, it was able to produce ever-larger fabrications. East End builds complete products for companies that sell equipment to coal-fired energy producers that might be 120 ft. long, 10 ft. high and 14 ft. wide and for end users to transport fly ash from burning coal. They are made of multiple steel-plate fabrications, along with small parts that could fit in a person’s hand. The company has worked with steel plate up to 8.5 in. thick and 20-gauge sheet steel.

Optimum productivity
Susong believes in vertical integration for growth, giving East End the capability to produce these types of parts. As the company grew, so did its needs for various equipment types. Although it had several manual press brakes, Susong realized he needed a faster, better way to produce bent parts. Precision bends were becoming an issue, and they were difficult to execute on a manual brake. Susong eventually bought a CNC Accell 150-ton press brake from Accurpress America Inc., Rapid City, S.D., with a 12-ft. bed for precise bends. His next choice for productivity was using precision brake tools instead of nonprecision ones.

"There were two or three other manufacturers that we looked at for this style of press brake tooling, and we ended up going with Wila USA," Hanover, Md., says Dave Dockery, plant manager. "We didn’t want to use a 12-ft. piece of American-style, nonprecision press brake tooling that would be needed for every style of bend we produced. Later on we might [do] this, but we needed the accuracy to match these pieces of tools up whenever we would add another segment of tooling. This was part of the decision to go with Wila’s American-precision-style press brake tools. This would allow us to start off with the tooling that we needed for various jobs."

Another reason the company chose a CNC press brake and precision tooling was because it often experienced a bottleneck for bent parts. With manual press brakes, East End would put the layout lines on the sheet metal using its laser, says Dockery. This added to the laser’s time while often causing a bottleneck for laser-cut parts.

"This was holding us up to get work through the plant," he says. "With the precision tooling, we’ve taken cutting time away from the laser, and we’re using it for other work. We also went with the precision tooling because I figured we would eventually need it, as many of our jobs required more precise bending that we couldn’t offer with our manual machines. I thought, ‘Why buy two sets of tooling? I should go with the precision tooling right from the start.’

"Also, we found that standard tooling did not come in small, segmented lengths, while precision tooling does. We can order very small, manageable lengths and not have to fight with a large piece of standard press brake tooling."

The press brake tooling East End uses is precision ground and has a repeatability of ±0.0008 in. over the entire tool. When the company orders an identical tool, it will match its other tools perfectly.

Precision tooling also gives East End the option to set up multiple jobs on the press brake’s table, says Ted Bates, press brake operator. "We go from one bend to another in an order established by the brake’s software. It gives us a lot more productivity. With standard tooling, if you need a small tool, you would usually have to cut it down to the size you need and end up with all these small tools all over the shop."

Growing popularity
Precision tooling also is gaining in use. "Precision tooling is now so widely accepted in the industry that it dominates the sales to fabricators that are looking to increase their productivity and produce better parts," says Gary Nadzam, Wila Midwest business-development manager. "A prime reason companies are switching to precision tooling is because it complements their precision air-bending press brakes. In the air-bending world, you need a number of things. It starts with the precision press brake that’s CNC controlled. In addition, an integrated hydraulic upper clamping system that seats, centers and aligns the precision punches is necessary. A multi-axis back gauge and integrated crowning system is also needed by the brake for it to produce precise parts. So the last piece of the puzzle that’s needed is the right tooling to complement this system, and this is where the precision tooling comes into play."

Precision-ground tooling comes in fixed lengths, predetermined by the factory. The lengths often range from 0.787-in. segments up to 20.276-in. segments. Larger tools are available as specials. Typical nonprecision, American-style tools are available in varying lengths, generally 10 ft. to 12 ft.

"When these longer lengths are saw cut, these seem to never match up with any other tools except the original ones in that particular segment length," says Nadzam. "New precision-ground tools will always match up to the ones that a customer already has. The small lengths are very ergonomic and easy for the operator to place in and out of the brake and store. They also allow a very versatile tool library."

Although there is a cost difference, Nadzam says it’s less of a factor than most users might think.

"While a precision-tooling system certainly is higher priced, it’s worth it when you think of what goes into its production," he says. "It uses a premium-quality tool steel, a higher steel hardness--typically HRC 55-60--and very tight grind tolerances of ±0.0008 in. for American-style punches and dies. But the trade-off is that these tools will last anywhere from six to 10 times longer than standard tools. So you buy a lot less tooling when using them.

"The key to precision tooling is to accept that it’s best used in a precision-air-bending environment, utilizing the CNC-control tool libraries and inherent accuracies of the press brake. You use less punches but more versatile punches, and for most metals, the die controls the inside radius of a part." FFJ

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Sources

  • East End Welding
    Brimfield, Ohio
    phone: 330/677-6000
    fax: 330/677-6006
    www.eastendwelding.com

  • Wila USA
    Hanover, Md.
    phone: 443/459-5496
    fax: 443/459-5515
    www.wilausa.com

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