For as long as there’ve been press brakes, those who stand before them each day have argued over which tooling system is best and whether automated, high-tech clamping systems are really worth the significant investment. And while this brief article might not alter the course of that discussion, it will give press brake owners and operators something new to talk about at the breakroom table.
It’s called the Wila AirPower series of pneumatic tool holders, and for shops concerned over hydraulic fluid waste, energy usage or the best way to tool up their new electric press brake, it presents a viable alternative to legacy clamping systems. That’s according to Jordan Edwards, global marketing communications manager at Wila USA. FAB Shop Magazine Direct (FSM) had the opportunity to speak with Edwards and ask him about the new system.
FSM: Thanks for your time today. What can you tell us about the AirPower system?
Edwards: This is a natural evolution of our existing product line, one that’s primarily aimed at shops with smaller electric presses, although it can also be retrofitted to practically anyone’s machine. As its name implies, the AirPower series uses pneumatic rather than hydraulic pressure to clamp and unclamp the tool. Pro and Premium versions are available in lengths up to 14 ft., and, as with our other clamping systems, it’s both self-seating and aligning.
FSM: What are the advantages over a hydraulic clamping system?
Edwards: The most significant advantage is that it’s cleaner and greener. Because there is no hydraulic pump or lines, obviously, there’s no chance of leaking fluids, nor are there any concerns over fluid disposal. And where Wila’s hydraulic clamping systems reduce setup times by 80 percent compared to manual clamping, the pneumatic version is even a few seconds faster. That might not make much difference when loading tools manually, but in automated situations, each second counts.
FSM: What happens if the compressor goes down or the air line is cut?
Edwards: If air pressure is lost for whatever reason, the Premium clamping units will maintain clamping force. The Pro line, which utilizes a different system involving springs, will lose clamping force if pressure is lost, but as long as the system is being used with Wila tooling, there’s no risk of tools falling out when pressure is lost. With either product, our Safety-Clicks ensure that the tools are retained even without clamping force. That said, we strongly advise against using straight tang tooling with any system due to the risk of falling tools and the potential for injury or damage to equipment.
FSM: How much air pressure is required? Will the user need a pressure booster of some kind, or any other equipment?
Edwards: We tell customers that air pressure of 6 to 8 bar (87 to 116 psi) is ideal, but the system is actually rated for 5 to 10 bar (72 to 145 psi). All that’s needed is standard shop air pressure, a line to the machine and a control switch for clamping and unclamping, which we provide. If the shop’s compressor isn’t up to snuff, we’d probably recommend going to a commercially available booster, and if the shop’s air supply has too much pressure, we offer an air regulator. Whatever the case, we have no problem working with the customer on the integration. It’s pretty straightforward.
FSM: Do you have any customer success stories you can share with us?
Edwards: Because the AirPower series is still very new, we not yet at liberty to discuss ongoing projects. But between the benefits of quick-change, smart tool locating and integrated crowning capabilities, I’m confident that, as with our other clamping systems, shops will measure their return on investment in weeks and months rather than years.