Is a press brake retrofit the right fit for your business?

Accurpress Press Brake RetrofitAre you considering a press brake retrofit as a way to modernize your equipment without spending a lot of money?  If you answered yes, then you have come to the right place.

First you will need answers to some basic questions: How old is your press brake?  Older than you’d like it to be?   Well, it still works, doesn’t it?  All kidding aside!  Like a used car, the best thing about your old press brake is that you’ve already paid for it. But have you added up all those maintenance and repair costs?  Labor costs, extensive setup time, and low productivity can all weigh heavily on the side of replacing your press brake. Smart business owners have to consider all these factors before sending that press brake to the scrap heap.

Fortunately, there is another option that can extend the useful life of your press brake without the substantial replacement costs – a Press Brake Retrofit.

Introducing the press brake retrofit

Press brake owners are sometimes in a quandary about what to do with their old press brakes. They find themselves caught between selling and moving the old machine and installing a new one. Replacing your press brake can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Many press brake owners don’t realize that they can hold on to their old press brake by making improvements in processes known as a Press Brake Retrofit. This process increases the productivity of your existing, properly functioning press brake by retrofitting it with features that can help reduce the costs of operations. The savings can include setup time, product waste, and employee fatigue.

Since computer technology advances so quickly the CNC component is usually the first feature that will become outdated.  Hence, the mechanical structure will last a lot longer than the press brake control system. Therefore, an affordable way to increase your press brake’s productivity is to replace the control system while keeping the mechanical structure of the backgauge.

Seven steps to a successful press brake retrofit

Step 1. Do your market researchA Press Brake Retrofit can save you money!

You should know what it costs for a new press brake, even if you don’t have the budget for one.   Have there been advances in technology since your old press brake came on the market? How can buying a new one help you win new business, improve productivity and lower your maintenance costs?

Step 2. Assess the mechanical structure of your backgauge and drive mechanisms

Are they in good shape? This step will help you determine if you should get a full backgauge system or just a retrofit with a backgauge control system.

Step 3. Identify the upgrades that are best suited for your business needs

How to evaluate your machine’s mechanical condition:

How Accurate and Repeatable is Your Ram?

Is your ram accurate? Is it consistent and level on both sides? Does it hit the same mark consistently? Costly mistakes and reworking can occur from an inaccurate ram or one that doesn’t offer repeatability. If you are getting good results, replacing the press brake will be hard to justify.

Therefore, if your press brake is accurate enough for your applications, a retrofit may improve the productivity of your machine at a lower price than replacing it.

Does your Pedestal Control work?

Evaluate your pedestal control or foot pedal. Does it work properly? Many control retrofits require pedestal control components to be in good working order. Some press brake retrofits may be achieved with replacement boards that function like the manufacturer’s logic boards.

In some cases, the press brake manufacturer might consider these components to be outdated.   Furthermore, the programmable logic boards may be hard to find. Learning the availability of these components is required to evaluate the benefits of investing in a press brake retrofit.

Does your Backgauge Control need to be replaced?

Most backgauge controls on older machines are at the end of their useful life.  However, the mechanical structure of the backgauge continues to operate safely. As a result, reusing the existing mechanical structure of the backgauge and replacing the control that runs it can increase the productivity of your press brake. Therefore, if your backgauge control needs to be replaced, doing so can dramatically improve your operations and make the overall retrofit a success.

Is your Press Brake Control required to operate your machine?

For some machines, all of the press brake functionality operates through the programmable control – signals from the press brake control are required for the brake to run. At worst, the entire machine is useless without the press brake controls, which can make retrofit options complex and very costly.

Fortunately, some press brakes can be run manually without an integrated control. In these situations, press brake control retrofits can produce cost savings and give you 10-20 years of additional productivity from your existing machine.

In summary, if your press brake control is not needed for the press brake to run you have a lot of affordable options to retrofit and upgrade your machine in a short period.

Step 4. Get to know the limitations of your current press brake

Mechanical Press Brakes

If you have a mechanical press brake you have limited retrofit options.

Mechanical style press brakes are very accurate because their tonnage comes from rotation through the bottom dead center.  Hence, the machine can produce very high tonnage at the bottom of the stroke.

While accuracy and speed are two advantages of the mechanical brake, they unfortunately don’t allow for ram programmability. For example, if you have a flywheel style mechanical press brake, you can add a self-contained CNC backgauge system. However, programmability will not be possible for the ram.

There is no way to gain programmability of the ram so you cannot sequence through multiple bend angles. Thus, mechanical press brakes have limited programmability, unlike hydraulic press brakes.

Hydraulic Press Brakes

In the first half of the 20th century, mechanical brakes dominated the sheet metal industry, but soon hydraulics and computer numeric controls turned hydraulic press brakes into the most popular option. Fortunately, depending on your model and manufacturer, most hydraulic press brakes have extensive retrofit options.

One example of a hydraulic press brake retrofit is the rocker-style press brake.  The mechanical features of a hydraulic press brake use significant force and maintain accurate bends.  They use transducers, limit switches, and hydraulics to regulate the ram force and position. Because of these features, their functionality can often be retrofit with a CNC control to offer programmable features, including speed and positioning.

Many other hydraulic brakes have retrofit options. These brakes include a depth stop, pure twin, cylinder hydraulics, torque tube, upstroking, and hydromechanical-style press brakes. The controls used to retrofit these machines are typically PC-based. CNC controls come with numerous features and functionality to help get the most productivity out of your hydraulic machine. Therefore, it makes sense to consider retrofit as an affordable option for most hydraulic machines.

Step 5. Identify Your Pain Points: Ask the Right Questions

Do your applications use front gauge or backgauge systems?

Take time to determine whether backgauging or front gauging is the best way to complete the task at hand.

If you’re making a two-bend part with a flange on each end, and the length of the two flanges is not as important as the bend-to-bend dimension, front gauging your piece might work best. Back gauging is typically more concerned with the flange dimension accuracy.

Do you often manually adjust the ram depth or angle?

You can increase productivity by adding the ram or Y axis to the backgauge or front gauge system. If angles vary within a single part, adding a Y-axis to your press brake lets you change the angle/depth of the ram stroke within one handling of the piece. You would no longer need to stack up a pile of parts after making your first angle, then re-work to accommodate a second differing ram depth/angle. This feature alone can increase productivity significantly, and perhaps allow you to use one press brake, rather than two next to each other with different ram settings.

Can you benefit from a programmable gauge bar height/fingers?

Are you regularly changing your tooling with varying die heights? To accommodate new tooling, you’ll also want to adjust the height of the gauging surface/fingers. With a backgauge system, it can improve productivity to include an R axis (programmable gauge bar height). Before each bend, an R axis allows you to program and adjust the height of the gauge surface or die height.

Are you changing your gauging surface/plane within a part?

If so, you can increase productivity by using the R axis, or Z 1, Z 2-axis.

Do you adjust the fingers frequently or use multiple sets of fingers?

If so, the Z1, Z 2-axis can reduce the time needed to set up between adjustments to fingers.

As a rule, the number of axes your backgauge system should utilize depends on the complexity of your parts and the quality of your tooling. Retrofits will have a higher ROI when you can reduce setup time and prevent reworking parts.

Do your operators have frequent programming errors?

Errors will be most frequent in situations where operators lack options for offline programming. Higher quality retrofit controls offer offline programming. Offline features let engineers pre-program a job from their computers without interrupting production. Operators can use the software to specify the bend sequence, necessary tooling, and run a simulation. This experience can create a productive process before running the job and ensure that the bend sequence and process are fully optimized and compatible. Offline programming features can be cost-justified when operators are making a lot of programming errors.

Step 6. Identify the best press brake retrofit solution

What are the size requirements for the backgauge system? Press Brake Retrofit companies need to have your specifications for the length of the press brake.  These specifications include the distance between press brake side frames. What is the application? Will you be bending light sheet metal or heavy plate?  What are your backgauge travel requirements?

Do you have specific control requirements?

Retrofit solutions providers have various controls to accommodate different types of applications. Applications can include those for small job shops making one-off parts, PC-based controls with networking, multi-axis control solutions offering job storage, unlimited storage, and offline job programming.

Accurate measurements of your tooling and materials are required to calculate dimensions correctly. More sophisticated controls offer significant benefits but need more front-end planning.

When determining the appropriate control for your application, you will want to answer the following questions:

  • Do I need ram programmability, a programmable gauge bar, and independent finger programmability?
  • Do I want someone in an office programming the jobs or should they be doing so locally at the press brake?
  • Will I need to program the ram in “angle mode” versus “depth mode?”
  • Do I need job storage? If so, how many jobs?
  • Do I want a complete tool library with alphanumeric tool numbers?
  • Do I need to be able to control/save everything over my company’s network?
  • Do I need to import DXF, AutoCAD®, or SolidWorks®?

The answers to these questions will determine how sophisticated your retrofit control needs to be.

Step 7. Implement a Solution

Here are three options to take if your press brake is working, but you want to improve productivity in your bending process:

1)      Leave the machine alone and limp along for a while.

2)      Purchase a new multi-axis press brake.

3)      Retrofit a full backgauge system or just the controls.

If your press brake is working correctly and you have all the factory parts, you can save thousands by getting a press brake retrofit. Press brakes can often receive single-axis retrofits for under $10,000.    After that, you can expect to pay $5,000 to 7,000 for each additional axis.

If the backgauge control is where you have most of your problems and the mechanical aspects of the backgauge are fine, control-only retrofits are an affordable way to regain the productivity of your press brake.

The new control can communicate with the backgauge, ram, and other system axes.  At an extra cost, drives can also be replaced.

Expect to pay $10,000 to $30,000 for a PC-based control-only retrofit.  The cost will depend on the complexity of your press brake and the way the OEM control is integrated into the machine, transducers, etc.  But if your existing machine is working properly (mechanically, hydraulically and electrically), the cost is significantly less than purchasing a new press brake.

If your current press brake is not working, you will want to calculate how much it will cost to get it working again. After this, you will want to contact a retrofit company to estimate the cost of your retrofit.

Alternatively, you may realize that it is better to replace your old machine altogether. If this is the case, you will find that there are many options in the market to consider for new press brakes. Popular choices include state-of-the-art servo-electric-driven press brakes. They are low-maintenance, accurate, repeatable to 0.00008 inches, and have no hydraulic pumps or fluids. As a bonus, they are super quiet, and you’ll consume significantly less energy than a traditional hydraulic press brake.

Attention: Hurco Backguage and Press Brake owners

Automec has developed a press brake retrofit upgrade kit that replaces the Hurco® control and electronics with Automec’s CNC 600 and CNC 150 control and electronics. The Hurco ® mechanical structure needs to be in good working condition, but the electronics do not matter as we replace the servo amplifiers, encoder, cables and all other components except for the motor. The Hurco ® DC motor is usually in good shape and only needs replacement in rare instances. We currently do not offer upgrades for dual motor/dual ball screw Hurco ® backgauges.

The CNC150 control will perform as you know it and the Hurco® backgauge will position with approximately the same speed, accuracy and holding force of the traditional Hurco® system. All Automec supplied components come with a one-year warranty.

In this challenging economy, you might save money by repairing your existing system, and the new control will last you another 10-20 years!

Learn about the Automec Hurco backgauge Upgrade Solution!




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