As mentioned in our previous series, we’ve identified some of the most common areas for process variability and bottlenecks in the metal fabricating value chain. Press brake efficiency and capacity are at the top of most fabricator’s minds when bottlenecks are in question.
It is at this point in the fabrication process chain that bottlenecks can be quite obvious. Stacks of cut parts from multiple fiber lasers over multiple shifts can pile up fast and can cause unplanned waiting times if not managed properly. This non-productive waiting time is probably not being accounted for in the schedule, and more than likely is affecting your promised customer delivery dates.
Finding Press Brake Capacity
As productivity levels have increased due to the introduction of high-speed Fiber laser cutting systems, so has the demand for additional bending throughput and capacity. Offline programming capabilities have certainly freed up additional press brake capacity; however, in most cases, there is still a need for further increases. One of the biggest opportunities to gain additional throughput and capacity is with press brake automation.
Keeping Pace with Fiber Lasers and High-speed Press Brakes
Press brake automation comes in many different sizes and equally for many different applications. Many of the parts that require bending automation do so, not only for the larger lot sizes but also for keeping pace with fiber lasers and high-speed press brakes as well. Bending speeds of one inch per second are not unusual for high-speed brakes, and the level of speed and endurance required from the operator can also be demanding. Over time, press brake automation maintains greater consistency in productivity, and with fewer errors eliminates operator fatigue factors.
Fixed Press Brake Automation
Heavier and larger parts that require handling by multiple operators are prime candidates for press brake automation. Automation eliminates operator fatigue and possible injuries when bending these types of parts over a prolonged period of time. Most of the dedicated robot bending cells are primarily geared towards a specific product or product family, typically in a low-mix, high-volume environment. To sustain high production requirements, these systems run automated around the clock.
Mobile Press Brake Automation
Mobile bending cells on the other hand offer the flexibility of running manual operations during the day and automated operations during the evening and off-shifts. Advances in offline robot cell programming have made these systems fast and easy to program, typically around 2.5 minutes per bend, and thus can handle a high-mix as well as a high-volume of smaller light-gauge parts.
Off-Shift Press Brake Operations
One of the key opportunities derived from press brake automation is the ability of the systems to operate in off-shifts to increase throughput. Utilizing automation provides the flexibility to operate a press brake in the off-shifts and fully utilize the additional bending capacity created by press brake automation. The flexibility to run in off-shifts and over long weekends greatly increases productivity, efficiency, capacity, and revenue. Operator tasks can now focus on managing the flow of materials and programs in and out of the cells as well as managing multiple cells simultaneously.
Quick-Change Press Brake Tooling
One of the biggest opportunities for reducing press brake setup time is the use of hydraulic tool clamping in conjunction with quick-change, segmented front-loading tools. Spring-loaded safety mechanisms and safety tangs allow the tools to be quickly loaded from the front. They also allow the tools to move freely for alignment prior to clamping. This type of tooling system, coupled with the robot’s ability to change the tools automatically, accelerates the tool change process and also reduces handling wear on the tooling.
Addressing Press Brake Bottlenecks
Increasing bending capacity and throughput is critical to managing the volume of work in progress. Adding capacity in off-shifts and weekends with press brake automation provides the flexibility to meet increasing production demands, reduce the cost per part, and maintain production schedules to meet customer deliveries.
In part 5 of ‘Analyzing the Metal Fabricating Value Chain’, we will address ways to monitor machines for productivity, and through production data analysis identify opportunities for improvement. Continuous improvement and continuous innovation are how leading-edge companies continue to grow and expand. It’s not about how the process is today, but the vision of how it could be given advancements in technology.
By Frank Arteaga, Regional Director of Marketing, Bystronic Inc., Hoffman Estates, IL