When it comes to automation on a shop floor, there are many processes that need to be automated, and these processes occur in many places. One of these places has multiple areas of potential automation: the press brake.
When you break it down into its simple, constituent processes, it becomes obvious where you can gain from automation. This is what must happen to make a part at a press brake:
- You have a part plan in software
- You get a blank from somewhere
- You have tooling set up in the press brake
- You bend the blank into a part
- You offload the part for the next step in the process, OR
- You offload the part for shipping
Let’s look at each process and see where automation can help—and how.
Software: Every modern press brake is driven by software, and the best and latest software can make the most optimal bend strategies. It can simulate the bends to detect collisions with punches or other parts of the bending system. Additionally, today’s software often breaks up the job into software modules, and in effect writes its own program (in this case, for bending).
Blanks: They can come from a laser, a punch, or maybe a water jet machine. They could also be custom cuts from a metal center (many such distributors are adding custom cutting as a service). Whether they are from the loading dock staging area or the output from a laser, the parts must travel and it’s becoming more common to see these parts arrive in automated fashion. Conveyors, AGVs and of course the newer autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are being used to do that task and deliver to specific handoff locations.
Tooling: There are many ways to attack the problem of installing and uninstalling tooling for jobs (or job sets). Some units have a built-in mechanism that moves the tooling either from within the press brake enclosure or from a separately attached enclosure. Alternatively, a robot arm can grab the correct punches and dies—one at a time—and put them in the correct place along the bed of the brake. However, this method is somewhat slower than the built-in systems mentioned.
Bending: More equipment makers are putting a robot to work, grabbing the blank and putting it through the bending motions. That process can itself trace a complicated path through space, and thus many of these systems have a place to set down the part and reverse the grab, or change the grabber. The repeatability of such a system is high and highly accurate.
Offloading: Your choice here might depend on the next step in the process. If the bend signals the last process necessary, you offload the part for shipping. This might mean palletizing everything. If that is the case, you’re in luck, because every major robot manufacturer offers some kind of palletizing solution. If you just want to offload to the next step, that works well too, and you can use a conveyor, basket, cart, or AMR to transport to, for example, the welding department and you are done.