How is Additive Manufacturing Proving to be a Boon for Low-Tonnage Bending?

3D-printed tools make the low-tonnage press brake even more flexible and light-tonnage press brakes, often electric or a hydraulic-electric hybrid, which is gaining popularity.

Fremont, CA: In recent years, shops strayed from light-tonnage brakes considering their low tonnage and short bed lengths. Investing in longer-bed machines that can form whatever they are provided with is preferred rather than a machine that can mechanize only small parts. Fiber lasers have enhanced capacity to another level, and now shops have to do the same for forming. Simulation and offline programming can formulate a complicated stage-bend program in a short period, which means that an intricate part can be formed with tools spanning throughout the bed. As programming is mainly automatic, the bed-spanning setup makes sense even for short runs.

Considering all this, sending tiny parts to a large extraordinarily capable machine is not practical. A small electric or hybrid brake might make sense.

Strength in Printed Tools

Numerous examples of how fabricators can integrate additive manufacturing into their operations were seen in the halls of FABTECH in Chicago in 2019. The industry has been adopting two distinct approaches for press brake tooling. Numerous vendors are selling printers that the fabricators can utilize to print the tools themselves. For example, a company which has been an active player in AM for some time now is heading towards 3D printers with “recipes” customized for a specific toolset, which can be customized by the fabricator to suit their need.

Press brake tooling is not the first thing to come in mind when thinking about 3D printing outside the metal additive arena. Fused filament fabrication (FFF) and various extrusion-based processes deposit thermoplastic polymer layer by layer, and its use continues to augment in prototyping and low-volume production.

Flexibility in Printing

A fabricator with 3D printers often chooses to print the entire punch or die, but this is a time-consuming task. In a genuinely flexible bending environment using printed tools, the shops start with standard tool bases so that on the arrival of a custom job, the shop can design the appropriate punch tip and die geometry required. This cuts down the printing time and, if the base is made of steel or another material, it increases the overall strength of the tool.