Fabricators, unlike scuba divers, want the bends and they want them quickly. Luckily for fabricators, advances are coming quickly to press brakes of all brands and sizes. There are those situations, however, where fabricators might want to reconsider the bending solution they have always used, and look into other options.

We are talking about panel benders.

What exactly is a panel bender? It might look a bit exotic at first if you’re used to press brakes. The bending happens way on one side of the device, at the back end (the front end, if you’re looking at the bending area). Instead of holding a blank in the “jaws” of a press brake, the sheet or blank is laid flat on a table, against some detents or stops that are variable and hold the piece just right. Next, an arm descends and can spin the blank to any angle (in practice, it’s a lot of 90-degree angles). If the piece is rectangular, there are four sides that potentially have bends, although more are possible at different angles and places. Software helps figure out the bends and the sequences.

What is the appeal of a panel bender? Speed is probably the first thing on the fabricator’s list. Using a free-standing panel bender, you load in a blank to the stops, and you’re finished interacting with it until the part is done. Meanwhile the panel bender is making bends of all types—inside 90s, outside 90s, hemming bends, bump bends, bends other than 90 degrees, deep channel bends…you get the idea.

The panel bender is a big device and it’s somewhat hypnotic while in use. It’s moving a lot of big parts to do the job, but with great speed and high precision. In that sense, the accuracy is more akin to a laser cutter than the large bending device that it is.

One of the breakaway differences is a very basic one and it might even surprise some fabricators. If you are thinking of how much the tooling adds to the cost, don’t bother. The tooling that comes with the panel bender is permanent tooling. You will not change the tooling to accommodate some special application; the onboard tooling can do just about every type of bend you need.

Applications for this machine are many. Appliances and enclosures (for things like computers and medical devices) are great applications. Panel benders are also used for anywhere you have long or complex bends: commercial cabinetry like office furniture, lockers, doors and windows, thresholds and frames, and the like. It can be used for home furnishings and decorating too, and many standard parts that are normally done on a press brake.

The one thing panel benders cannot do is bend heavy-duty, thick plate. Herculean press brakes can bump bend metal plate that is used to construct towers either for high-tension electrical wires, or even towers for wind power installations. It’s not going to happen; an enclosed environment and the need for maximum tonnage rule out bends like this for the panel bender. Its maximum bend thickness is metal that is somewhere around 1/8 of an inch.

If you really pursue speed, the panel bender matched and linked to other tools like the laser, a punch, and an offloading system gives the fastest total times.