How exactly do newer CNC press brakes create more parts than older mechanical or hydraulic press brakes? Find out in this article by Marcel Fiedler of Bystronic Inc.
Do you remember getting your first cellphone? What was the first thing you took out of the box and spent time with? It was probably the user manual. The cellphone was a new technology, and you needed time to understand and learn to use it. It wasn’t intuitive, and you absolutely needed that manual.
What happens when you get a new smartphone today? You unwrap the well-designed package, admire your shiny new device, turn it on, and get started. It’s probably already charged and just waiting for you to use it. That’s it. It doesn’t have any buttons or dials; the entire surface is a human-machine interface, or HMI. And it probably doesn’t have a manual. A pop-up notification shows you received a new message, and you just tap to see what it is. It’s intuitive.
Press brakes last much longer than cellphones, of course. That’s why in many job shops today you might find both mechanical and hydraulic press brakes with old controls. They can last 30 years or longer and still bend parts. Of course, just because a machine turns on does not mean it can produce parts efficiently. If you see less seasoned operators attempt to run the shop’s oldest brake, you’ll probably hear them say, “Does anybody know how to operate this machine?”
Learning and understanding bending theory is probably as challenging as learning to be a good welder. It takes time and patience to learn the differences between every machine. Those differences can be significant, especially in a bending department with both old and new equipment. They require different training strategies, all driven by technology that has literally changed how operators learn about sheet metal bending: the software and machine control.
The Pre-Smartphone Era
Imagine starting a new job as a press brake operator around the same time that you received your first cellphone, before the smartphone era. You spend most of the time going through the manual, guided by a veteran who knows the machine inside and out. You read the blueprint and adjust the machine settings as necessary. You learn how to adjust the position of each axis, determine where the backgauge needs to be, dial in the part, make other adjustments by typing nominal values into the controller, then run production until you need to switch over to the next part. Once you understand the basic concept of one machine, you walk to the next press brake and learn this process from the beginning again, with your experienced tutor and the manual right next to you.
You receive a printed blueprint, and you write the program at the machine control. You determine the material type and thickness, define your bend angle, then position your backgauges manually for each bend. If not provided on the print, backgauge positions are defined as an actual absolute value that needs to be calculated manually
Overall you spend 10 minutes (or longer) getting the press brake ready to make the first bend—and that old machine control gives you no indication of how to do this. By looking at the control alone, you don’t know which tools to pick or how to set them up. That’s why you need an experienced operator by your side. He knows the setups and best ways of doing it by memory. Still, even with all his knowledge and experience, he pays very close attention to his choices so he doesn’t make any mistakes. Setup is time-consuming, and the old machine control doesn’t give much if any assistance.
At some point, you’re on your own. You position the peripherals of the machine first so you know where to place the tools. What tools do you select for this job? You’d better have a quick guide or “little black book” close to the press brake to know which tools to pick.
The Smartphone Era
Fast-forward to today. Imagine you just graduated from school and you’re now looking for your first real job in the sheet metal industry. Thing is, you aren’t on the shop floor with an experienced employee who has operated just one machine his entire career.
Instead, you’re in a classroom environment. You sit by a desktop PC with the press brake operating software installed. You don’t have a printed machine manual, and on some days you might not work with someone with decades of press brake experience, especially if they’re needed on the floor. But that’s not a problem—and here’s why.
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