If you are on the brink of steeping up your sheet metal fabrication abilities, you may have had your eyes on press brakes recently. You may already know that a press brake is in principle a hydraulic sheet metal brake. You may have a vague idea of what is possible with a press brake – or you may be rather well informed about the increase in throughput and the extended flexibility you can expect from an upgrade to such a machine. You have indeed arrived at the starting point for your journey toward press brake- ownership. Ready to dive deeper?
When you bought your manual sheet metal brake, there probably wasn’t much to think about.
You just need to figure out what size you needed, what quality you wanted, and what you could afford. There really isn’t much more to a manual brake.
With press brakes it is different, because these are different beasts:
- The addition of the hydraulic ram means heavier materials can be bent
- Electronic automation and ram control means much more consistent results when you bend
- Cnc control on some machines means the ability to perform complex operations on a workpiece – without having to handle it, or to manually change adjustments to the machine.
But perhaps the single most important, basic difference to a manual brake, is the punch and die. These are the basic tooling elements of the press brake, and replace the functionality of the bed, clamping leaf and bending leaf of a manual brake press brake. The essential thing to understand here, is the incredible flexibility you get with a punch and die – simply because the tools themselves don’t have a fixed width or shape like clamping leafs or bending leafs do. Instead, they are fully replaceable pieces of tooling that come in many shapes and sizes. They deserve an article to themselves, but some of the things they can do include multiple bends in one stroke, box and pan-style bending, etc – all with the same machine.
Obviously then, the tooling is an important point to consider. But tooling can be added and replaced later, as you learn more about the use of press brakes. There still is the choice of the machine itself. Here, multiple factors come into play:
- Physical size of the machine, like the max length and depth of blank sheets it will take
- Tonnage, understood as the amount of pressure per metre of working length it (the hydraulic ram) can exercise
- Flexibility, for instance in how many sizes and types of tools it will accept, adjustability of ram speeds, of the back gage, etc.
- Automation – mostly relevant for cnc press brakes. Which parts are automated, and to which degree. Is the back gage five or six-axis types for example.
A general advice about prioritizing and choosing between these many factors, would be to try and make an optimistic guess as to what your needs might be just beyond the immediate future. If you get a machine that is sufficient for your present needs, or what you think those needs are, then chances are you might have underestimated the development of your business after you have bought and implemented a press brake. Living with a bit of excess capacity for a while is easier than quickly outgrowing a machine, having to consider investing in another similar or bigger machine. Buying once is expensive enough, so make your purchase the right one – right away. If in doubt, don’t be afraid to consult a metalworking business similar to your own, and simple ask them what they would do in your shoes.