Press Brakes

A sweeping change

By Russ Olexa

September 2010 - Software often plays a major role in the flexibility and productivity of a CNC press brake. Without it, even the best machine could be slow and cumbersome, and a company would have to rely on the operator’s skill to compensate for its inefficiencies.

With the production of large industrial and parking lot street sweepers, Schwarze Industries Inc., Huntsville, Ala., needs precision tolerances for each of the sheet metal pieces that make up their construction, says Wendell Hatton, Schwarze drafter designer.

Especially critical are holes that must match up perfectly during the assembly process, otherwise Schwarze will experience costly downtime and secondary processes to rework or reproduce these parts, he says.

Schwarze’s website states it manufactures more parking lot and street-sweeper models than any other company. Additionally, Schwarze produces, maintains and markets durable, high-quality power-sweeping equipment. It also builds a line of patching and asphalt repair units called RoadPatcher.

Hatton has years of press brake experience along with extensive knowledge of press brake tooling and operating software. He performs design work; MRP, ERP and CNC equipment programming; and engineering IT support for the company.

To manufacture precision sheet metal parts, Schwarze uses both laser and plasma cutting systems. For parts with more critical dimensions, the company uses the laser. However, secondary processes for these parts are just as important as laser cutting. For instance, if the holes don’t match up after a bending operation, the laser’s precision is useless.

"The sheet metal bodies of these vehicles do not use a body-on-frame construction style," says Hatton. "We manufacture just about all of our sheet metal parts in-house, and they must be precise for easy assembly."

Ease of use
When Schwarze purchased an Accell press brake from Accurpress America Inc., Rapid City, S.D., it discovered it needed a CNC control program that addresses its specific production needs. The company needed one that would allow it to achieve perfectly bent parts without relying on the craftsmanship of the operator.

"Before we bought a software package for the Accurpress, we were looking at several different manufacturers’ packages at the time," he says. "We decided on the Metamation Bend CAM press-brake software because of its easy-to-use interface and how quickly someone can learn it."

The software allows operators to quickly and easily perform functions without extra steps in the process, a quality not all CNC control programs share.

Hatton downloaded trial versions of different software and went through the demos on his computer. From his research, he decided on Bend CAM press-brake software from Metamation Inc., Reno, Nev. Once installed, the company experienced a dramatic increase in bending productivity.

"Our parts are much more consistent every time they come from the Accurpress brake," he says. "Weldments that we put together from the parts that come off the brake are going together easier, and our assemblies are going together much better because they are accurate.

"Metamation’s software first off allows us to see on the control screen if a part is going to collide with the brake, tooling or part. It allows us to quickly observe whether or not the part is manufacturable, too, based off of our tooling and material requirements."

The Metamation software interacts with the press brake more easily by having an operator position the back gauges graphically on the touch screen and move them to where they’re needed, he says.

Asked if the software helps an operator who has not used a particular press brake before learn it quickly, Hatton says, "Yes, we have some operators that are not very knowledgeable on this type of press brake. They have run ones using manual mode before, but the Metamation software has really allowed them to quickly advance their skills and deliver the precision we require for our parts."

The software can unfold parts given to the company in a 3-D form and not flat, says Hatton. Some of its parts have holes that will protrude across a centerline. The Metamation press brake software enables it to handle this type of bend.

Although Schwarze can produce part bends at the press brake, it primarily makes them offline and sends them to the brake through the company’s intranet system, says Hatton.

"While the interface is easy to use and easy to follow, the tools that Metamation’s software offers are wonderful," says Hatton. "With the collision avoidance offered and its interaction and simulation, it gives you the feedback needed before you produce the part as a flat pattern and even start cutting it. You know very quickly whether or not you can manufacture that particular part on the machine. This manufacturability is also based on our tooling capabilities because we have very limited tooling."

One machine or thousands
Metamation sells its software to individual users and to OEMs like MC Machinery Systems Inc., Wood Dale, Ill., which uses the software for many of its production sheet metal processing machines.

The company uses Metamation software packages for its Mitsubishi equipment because "along with its unbelievable functionality, we try to standardize software from one company for our lasers, press brakes and waterjet machines," says Ed Zidek, product manager for press brakes.

Rather than Metamation developing specific software for each machine, the company has one software package with modules for each machine, says Zidek. "There’s a bending module, a waterjet module and one for a laser. They also have modules for turret punch presses."

A benefit the software offers for bending equipment is its standards for bending allowances and tooling defined for materials, says Zidek. "When you open a drawing a customer sends you, the software will pick out the material thickness. Then you can choose the material composition you’re cutting, and with the choice of this material and thickness, the tooling has already been assigned in the software. So there’s no guesswork anymore by the operator about material stretch. You can get an accurate flat blank."

The brake’s software provides formulas regarding material springback allowances, says Zidek. "Our new Mitsubishi control using the Metamation preloaded software has the ability to draw a part using the touch screen and then turn it into a 3-D model and auto tool it.

"But the preference is for a finished program where the operator just loads the tools into the brake by looking at the 3-D view of the part on the brake’s control screen. The tool setup plan and sequencing is already finished and viewable by static 3-D images and high-resolution movie sequences. If there is any angle adjustment or a small bit of difference in the way the material stretches, these corrections can be made in the bending program, and then the part is ready to run. We call our specific Metamation software package DiamondSoft."

The Metamation brake software also offers 3-D part unfolding, says Zidek. It can use a 3-D SolidWorks, IGES, DXF or DWG drawing and will unfold it to develop the flat drawing. The exact unfolding bend allowances used are unique to the customer’s tools, so there are no inaccurate flats generated from unfolding engines with no real tool data, says Zidek. The correct blanks are made and folded up as the 3-D model intended.

Metamation directly provides software support for MC Machinery Systems’ customers. The company will train them and set up the system at customers’ facilities. FFJ

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