“This is not your father’s press brake” could start a description for just about any press brake available on the market today. Even press brakes on the low end of the market have smart controllers which can be programmed at the brake or programmed offline and uploaded to the controller. These programs can be stored and called up later for the same or similar jobs.
At the upper end of the spectrum, there is a wealth of automation. Let’s look at some of these areas of automation and describe them briefly. If you have not purchased a press brake in a while, you will want to take advantage of some of these features that have been added in the last five years or so:
- Material delivery: Blanks come in sometimes by conveyor, sometimes by automatic guided vehicle (AGV), and these days, expect more to come in via autonomous mobile robot (AMR). AMRs are low enough and agile enough to get into areas unavailable to big carts or other methods of transport.
- Setup: There are two ways to accomplish this in automated fashion. The first way is to take advantage of a robot, which is on a moving shuttle that places it in front of punch and die storage (most often, these are immediately off to the side) so it can grasp a tool, then shuttle back to the proper place along the length of the bed and attach the tooling. This robot is also used for the bend. The second way is to have a built-in automated tooling center, which moves much faster–most tooling setups can be done in a few minutes. You can still have a separate robot to bend the metal, but you have faster setups with the automated built-in system.
- Pre-bend: Before making the bend, you can have the system check a few items: 1) Did the suction cups on the robot arm (or whatever method you happen to use to grab a blank) grab only one item? This can be ascertained by a caliper, although manufacturers are experimenting with other methods. 2) Was the blank stored squarely? By putting the blank into a jiq that squares it up to be true with the grabber, it stops unintentionally angled bends before they happen. 3) Is this the right part for this bend program? Typically, automation of a part bend is based on where the blank sits before it is picked up by the robot. If the part is in the right place, it will be bent with the right program.
- Bend: The bend happens at the robot gripper. Automated press brakes either a) allow the program to delay with a part captured between the punch and die, giving the robot gripper time to turn in space and regrip the part for a different bend; or b) have an area made to either regrip the part or change the gripper for the next bend (perhaps moving to fingers instead of suction cups, for example).
- Offload: Many options exist for the offload, including using the same robot that may have set up the tooling and made the bend to, at the end, palletize the parts as they are completed. Much of this depends upon the software being used.
Of course, there are more automation examples, including safety and ergonomic features, but here we are talking about near-total automation. About the automated modern airliner, a pilot once said: “In the cockpit, it’s me and a dog. My job is to feed the dog.”