RIGHT TOOL FOR THE RIGHT PARTS
On a panel bender, a manipulator holds the workpiece in place as a pair of bending blades contact the material to make upward and downward bends. The blades oscillate around a single bend point until the desired angle is achieved in the workpiece. Because the workpiece is bent in such a way, only certain types of parts are suitable for such a machine. That’s why panels, such as those that are part of a cabinet design, are a good fit for these devices.
A panel bender can’t do it all, which is why FlexMet still has press brakes. (In fact, Bean said he is looking to add a new press brake in the coming months.)
“First of all, all the flanges have to finish up so the part can be removed by the manipulator. It’ll bend in both directions, but the last bend has to be in the up direction,” he said. “Also, if you have a part under 25 in. or so, it just doesn’t make sense to put it on this machine.”
DOESN'T REQUIRE SKILLED OPERATORS
Bean said that he can get an operator in position to run the panel bending machine after only a week of training. That allows the individual to become a valuable contributor on the shop floor in short time and frees up more experienced personnel for tasks that add value to the metal parts being processed, which doesn’t happen when they are mentoring their less experienced colleagues.
Bean said that almost all jobs for the panel bender are programmed offline using Master BendCam. The software has 3D simulation capabilities to help errorproof the bending sequences. Because of this, the operator only needs to be able to pick the job, load the part up, and unload the part when it is done.
To run the machine, the operator places the sheet onto the brush table and then starts the job, which is the signal for the manipulator to engage the sheet and automatically center it for the start of the bending cycle. Unlike a press brake operator, who has to be exact with centering the part against a backgauge, the panel bender’s manipulator does this for the operator.
The manipulator feeds the sheet incrementally as the bends are made on one side, and then spins the sheet around and feeds it in a similar fashion for further bending. For asymmetrical sheet edges or partial flanges on one side of the sheet, the panel bender has auxiliary blades that can move into place to accommodate the nonregular activity. Called the ASP option, the blades move back to their resting places outside of the bending area when these atypical forms are completed.
The panel bending machine operators don’t need to know anything about tooling setup. It’s done automatically.
An automatic tool changer minimizes the time between jobs. In just a few seconds, the tools that hold the sheet in place can be removed or added quickly to create a tooling setup that matches the workpiece scheduled to be placed on the brush table. Bean estimated that only 15 to 20 seconds is needed for a tooling changeover, which is faster than tooling changeover on fully automated press brake cells.
“This manufacturing process is one where we can run 10 different part numbers at a very low volume during the same day without suffering the effect of long setup times,” Bean said.