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American, Euro or New Standard? Which press brake tooling system is right for you?

Jan./Feb, 2011

If you are considering the purchase of a new press brake or updating one of your existing press brakes, you are about to make a very important decision: which press brake tooling system will you utilize in your new or recently upgraded machine?

Of course, this decision should be based on your goals, which will likely include such things as maximizing the productivity of your press brake, eliminating non-value added time, reducing scrap and assembly time, and any other goals that you deem to be important. You can be sure that your decision is going to have a very profound impact on the productivity of your press brake and your bottom line for many years to come.

So, how do you know which press brake tooling system is best for you? This article is a good starting point. In it, we will examine the features and benefits of the most common press brake tooling systems in use today and provide you with the information you’ll need to make the best possible decision.

There are three dominant press brake tooling systems currently in use. The American tooling system is the oldest of the three. The European tooling system is commonly found on press brakes produced in Japan, Turkey, China, and ironically, to a lesser degree, Europe. The third tooling system is the New Standard tooling system, which currently represents the state of the art in press brake tooling technology.

American Tooling System

The American press brake tooling system is as popular as ever because, in part, it is very easy to use in almost any press brake. It requires only a simple set of manual ram clamps and two load bearing surfaces on the ram for the shoulders of the punches to engage, and a slot with set screws in the lower die holder or the bed of the machine to secure the dies. Another contributing factor to its ongoing success is the fact that many American tooling manufacturers continue to upgrade their product lines with features that make them faster to set up, more durable and more productive than ever. Some of these features include:

• It can be used in hydraulic clamping systems for ultra-fast fast setups.

• Punches with self-seating grooves clamp, seat, center and align with the push of a single button when used with hydraulic clamping systems designed for self-seating tooling.

• Punches are available with Safety Clicks for vertical loading and unloading.

• American tooling can be retrofitted to most press brakes that were not designed for it.

• Retrofit hydraulic clamping systems require very little open height.

• Most punches and dies are available with hardened work surfaces for increased wear resistance. It’s available with CNC deep hardening for maximum durability.

• Precision-ground tooling is available from multiple suppliers.

• Punches can be easily reversed in hydraulic and some mechanical clamping systems.

• It does not require a special clamping system.

• Die holders and crowning systems are available with hydraulic and manual die clamping.

• Costs for standard and special tooling range from moderate to low.

• It’s available from a large number of suppliers.

• Special tooling is readily available in planer milled versions.

Along with the many positive features of the American tooling system, there are limitations which can prove to be disadvantages to some users. For example, the system’s punch tang limits punch height and therefore flexibility. Selection of die heights is also often limited. Other limitations include:

• Punches and dies have two load bearing shoulders, which can compromise accuracy in non-precision tooling.

• Punches with built-in safety tangs cannot be reversed in some ram configurations.

• Long lengths are heavy and require more than one person to load and unload.

• Non-precision tooling will not match when reordered.

• Planer-milled tooling will often not line up after being cut.

• Non-hardened versions wear quickly and often require shimming to compensate for wear.

• Non-precision tooling will frequently require resetting of the backgauge origin when punches are changed.

European Tooling System

In most cases, European-style tooling is sold with new press brakes. In the past, before precision-ground American style press brake tooling became popular, it was common for press brake owners to retrofit European tooling to existing American-style press brakes as they searched for a tooling system that was accurate and fast to set up. However, with the advent of American-style clamping systems and lower die holders equipped with hydraulic clamping, European-style tooling fell out of favor with American press brake owners. This is due to the fact that, with only rare exceptions, the punch holders in this tooling system are not equipped with hydraulic clamping and therefore require more time to load and unload punches.

While Quick-Change 2V Dies and Quick Change 1V Dies are commonly available with the European tooling system, they are generally offered with V-openings of 0.984 in. (25mm) or less. This limits them to bending 10-gage or 0.135-in. (3.4-mm) mild steel and thinner.

Despite its limitations, the European tooling system remains viable. With the right combination of punch holders, die holders, and tooling, it is still very capable of producing extremely accurate parts. Costs for standard tooling are moderate to low, and most punches and dies are available with hardened work surfaces for increased wear resistance. Some of the many other features of this tooling system include:

• Quick-change 2V and 1V dies are readily available.

• Precision-ground tooling is available from multiple suppliers.

• Segmented punch holders extend the height of short punches, making it possible to use short, inexpensive punches.

• Segmented punch holders work very well in deep box bending applications.

• 2V dies work very well in offset bending applications.

• 2V dies enable bending of a wide range of materials using a small number of dies.

Like the American tooling system, the European tooling system also has its inherent design limitations. For example, some European-style press brakes require punch holders with wedges for crowning and/or multiple die holders and die rails to use a full range of dies.

Lead times for special tooling can be long. Hydraulic clamping systems are rarely offered, so set-up times can be long. European-style tooling is the least capable of the three tooling systems for bending heavy plate or high strength steels. Other limitations include:

• Load-bearing surfaces on punch holders and die holders are not hardened.

• Reversing punches can require removal and re-installation of clamps on punch holders.

• Clamp plates on punch holders distort during tightening, creating unbalanced clamping pressure.

• It is unsafe to attempt to unload full length punches vertically from punch holders.

• Quick-change punch holders often require levers that can cause interference.

• Quick-change 2V and 1V die systems require special clamps to secure die segments in position horizontally.

• Punches and dies are not available with CNC deep hardening

New Standard Tooling

The New Standard tooling system was developed to encompass the benefits of both the American and European tooling systems while increasing setup speed, accuracy, durability, flexibility and, when used in conjunction with a crowning system, eliminating the need for die shimming. The newest of the three dominant tooling systems, it represents the current state of the art in press brake tooling technology and for now reigns supreme as the most advanced and most productive.

Key features of the New Standard tooling system revolve around the punches, which are available in multiple heights for maximum flexibility and designed for use in hydraulic clamping systems for fast setups. Punches also have self-seating grooves that clamp, seat, center and align with the push of a single button when used with hydraulic clamping systems.

Punches weighing 28 lbs or less come with Safety-Clicks for vertical loading and unloading. New Standard tooling is the most accurate tooling system available.
Other advantages include:

• All punches and dies are hardened.

• All punches and dies are available with CNC deep hardening for maximum durability.

• Punches can be easily reversed.

• Die holders and crowning systems are available with hydraulic and manual die clamping.

• Dies available in heights of 2.165 in. (55 mm) and 3.937 in. (100mm).

• Constant punch heights work very well in stage bending applications.

• The system’s taller, wider punch tang is far more stable than that of American or European style tooling.

• It is excellent for bending thick plate materials and high-strength steels.

• New Standard tooling is available from multiple suppliers.

But New Standard tooling is not perfect. It’s the most expensive of the three dominant tooling systems, and requires a dedicated clamping system. Special tooling is not as readily available, and clamping systems must be taller to accommodate the taller punch tangs, thus consuming more open height. This means shops must use short punches in press brakes with limited open height. Finally, special punches are not always available with Safety-Clicks.

Qualifying questions

Now that we’ve covered the advantages and limitations of the three most commonly used press-brake tooling systems, the next logical step is to go back to where we started and ask the question, “Which press brake tooling system is best for you?” However, before drawing any conclusions, I strongly suggest that you ask yourself the following questions. The answers to many of them will likely have a significant impact on your decision.

• How much open height does your press brake have?

• How much stroke length does your press brake have?

• Will you need to add more open height and/or stroke length to a new press brake to utilize the tooling system of your choice? If so, what are the costs?

• How important is it for you to continue to use the tooling system that you are already using?

• Do you have some special tooling that you will want to be able to continue to use?

• What is the real value of your current tooling?

• Which tooling system will enable your press brake to perform to its fullest potential?

• What kinds of materials are you planning to bend?

• How much non-value-added time do you currently spend per setup?

• How many setups will you perform per year on the machine that will use this tooling?

• Would taller punches make your press brake more flexible and enable you to make fewer tooling changes?

• Will you have at least 4 in. (100 mm) of space between the punch and die for part manipulation?

• Which tooling system does the press brake manufacturer recommend?

• What affect will the tooling you choose have on your blank sizes?

• Will smaller, modular tooling lengths make your press brake operation safer?

• What affect will your decision have on tooling storage?

• How does your new press brake address crowning?

• What can you expect from your customers in the future in terms of quality and lead time requirements?

• Which tooling system will enable you to take on more jobs and acquire more customers?

• Can you live with your decision for the next ten years?

Of all the information presented in this article, quite possibly the most important is that last question: Can you live with your decision for the next ten years? Purchasing a new press brake along with the accompanying tooling, clamping, and crowning systems, or updating an existing press brake with new tooling, clamping, and/or crowning system technology requires a significant investment.

If you’re like the majority of sheet metal fabricators, you’re most likely going to be living with your decision for at least ten years – and possibly longer. That makes this decision one with long-term ramifications. It is therefore critical that you make the right decision, because your long-term productivity and more importantly, your long-term profitability are going to depend on it.

Wila