Extreme makeover

By adding modern components, older press brakes get a new lease on life


It’s not often that a house and a press brake are given a side-by-side comparison. But, when it comes to buying a new home and investing in a new press brake, there are a lot of similarities.

For starters, there’s the major determining factor of affordability. There’s also the time-consuming process of selling that older home or that used piece of equipment.

Lost time also comes into play when making the actual move. For homeowners, time and effort are spent boxing up their belongings when they could be focused on other tasks. For shop owners, moving out a piece of equipment can cost more than just the time involved. Any amount of equipment downtime can result in lost business and revenue.

Those reasons, among countless others, are why many homeowners and shop owners are opting to renovate instead of buying new. There’s a lot to be said for preserving the value that’s still left in a well-built home – and in that older press brake, too.


Thanks to Wila’s Universal Press Brake concept, it is possible for all press brakes to be equipped with Wila’s precision tooling and clamping systems.

New lease on life

Even if a press brake is 10 or 20 years old, it might still be reliable enough to add new components or modifications to bring it up to modern standards. To do so, the team at Wila USA can optimize everything between the ram and the bed: the tool holders, tooling system and related auxiliary equipment. The process starts by assessing whether a press brake is a candidate for an upgrade or if it’s time to be put out to pasture. 

“It starts with a physical inspection,” says Gunter Glocker, senior advisor at Wila, “checking the wear on the guides, rails and so on. This is fairly simple as you can easily see if there are pits in the bed or if the ram is worn out. The assessment also includes a conversation with the customer about the repeatability of their machine. It’s fairly straightforward, and as it turns out, a lot of customers know long before we talk to them whether their press brake is still good or if the wear is too excessive and it’s time to move on.”


When older style press brakes are upgraded with Wila’s clamping systems and precision tooling, operators discover reduced setup times and increased throughput.

For the press brakes that are still mechanically sound, the transformation can be significant. By incorporating new components into the machine, such as a new crowning system, hydraulic clamping and precision tooling, a customer can expect major increases in productivity.

“Our goal is to assess each situation individually, asking customers about the biggest hurdles they face with their older machine,” Glocker explains. “We ask them about any quality or setup time issues that they’re experiencing and about their business goals and restrictions. From there, solutions for an upgrade come into light.”

The benefits of upgrading an older press brake are far reaching. But the main advantages include faster setup times, higher part quality, increased flexibility and throughput, as well as improved operator safety. Once the decision to upgrade has been made, the actual process of retrofitting the machine requires only a few hours.


Streamlined setups

According to Glocker, the largest number of press brake upgrades Wila has performed have been for shop owners going from American Planer Made (APM) tooling to precision tooling with hydraulic clamping. APM tooling, which has been in use for nearly a century, is typically long, heavy and difficult to load, which means that setups require a lot of time, sometimes up to 30 minutes or more.

“Compared to APM, the setup time is on average five to 10 times faster with Wila hydraulic clamping and precision tooling,” Glocker says. “For shops with European style tooling, the transition to hydraulic can deliver setups up to three to four times faster. It enables the customer to do short-run jobs faster and much more efficiently. It’s a huge benefit.”

Modern press brake components also don’t require operators to waste a bunch of time aligning and readjusting the tools and dies between jobs. That’s because the tooling and tool holders are precision-ground and built to last a lifetime. Whether it’s the upper hydraulic clamping system that goes into the ram of the machine or the crowning system or bottom tool holder that goes on the bed, an upgrade can take out a lot of the tolerance issues found in older machines – even if they have some significant wear areas.

“With older press brakes, it’s not uncommon to see operators shimming dies, loosening the die holder and moving it front to back to get it to line up because it’s not accurate with the center line across the length of the tool,” Glocker says. “After an upgrade, making a quality bend is as easy as just dropping the punches and dies into the upper and lower holders and pushing a button. From there, you’re ready to bend.”


Safety-click technology from Wila allows operators to vertically load and unload punches that weigh up to 28 lbs., significantly improving speed and safety in vertical tool changes.

Quality control

Thanks to the precision-ground tooling and tighter tolerances that come from an upgrade, operators see part quality and consistency rise. Glocker says that instead of having to go through one, two or three parts to get accurate bends, operators get it right the first time. The result is less time spent on setups and a major reduction in scrap.

Depending on the style – Wila offers a few different lines and brands – the tooling has ±0.0004-in. accuracy or ±0.0008-in. accuracy. The company’s tool holders are also built to that accuracy.

“Throughout the life of a machine, much of the bending is done in the center, which is where you’ll find most of the wear,” Glocker says. “Even if it’s a newer machine, if you’re dealing with 10-ft. to 14-ft. ram lengths, you’re going to have some tolerances that are off. With our top and bottom holders, you can adjust those up or down and front to back and take out those tolerances.”

These days, finding operators that are capable of fine-tuning an older machine grows increasingly difficult. Therefore, the benefits of repeatability, consistency and getting a good part out the first time are crucial. With an upgrade, almost any operator can deliver short part runs with ease.

“Another thing to keep in mind is that once a part makes its way to the press brake, it’s already been value-added,” Glocker says. “An example of that could be a part that’s been laser cut with holes. Especially when you’re dealing with high-cost materials, you don’t want to scrap those parts once they get to the press brake.”


Flexible, fast

In addition to higher tolerances and higher quality parts, a press brake that has been retrofitted with precision tooling will deliver more flexibility in setups and more overall shop throughput. This allows operators to focus more of their time on making actual parts. With a new hydraulic clamping system, the tooling is automatically seated and aligned in seconds versus the time-consuming task of manually adjusting, loosening and tightening the tooling for each job.

Additionally, modern precision-style tooling enables air bending, which means an operator can do the same amount of work with fewer tools. With air bending, all angles larger than the angle of the punch or die can be formed. And as Glocker says, “The fastest tool change is having to not change a tool at all.”

A press brake upgrade also allows a shop owner to take better advantage of upstream and downstream capacity. Faster part setups will, of course, increase throughput, but higher quality parts also benefit downstream operations.

If, for example, a part’s flanges are off or the angles aren’t accurate, it’s going to cause fit-up issues in the next process, such as welding or assembly.

When it comes to upgrading a press brake, the biggest winner might just be the operator. As mentioned, APM tools are often long and heavy and difficult to handle – so much so that sometimes it takes two operators or a forklift to place the tools onto the equipment. And often, APM upper tools don’t have a safety tang on them, meaning the tools can drop out of the machine if an operator isn’t careful.

“Our tools are manufactured at 20 in. or less in length, which is a lot more ergonomic for the operator to handle,” Glocker says. “One operator can load it and unload it, and all of the tools have some type of safety mechanism, such as a safety click to vertically load them. Additionally, if a tool segment weighs more than 28 lbs., it features a safety pin, which keeps it securely in place when it is not clamped.”

Anything but standard

At Standard Sheet Metal in Kansas City, Mo., the press brake operators are experiencing a much improved work environment thanks to a machine upgrade. After investing in a new Accurpress 150-ton press, the company quickly realized the benefits that come from modern precision tooling.

This realization ultimately led the company to retrofit its older Cincinnati 230-ton machine. An added bonus was that the two machines could also share tooling. 

Throughout Kansas City and beyond, Standard Sheet Metal’s thumbprint can be found on a range of architectural projects. From building facades, parking garages and large-scale art installations to the custom wheat-motif railings found at a local brewery, the company puts its quality stamp on every job it gets – whether it’s a high-profile building or a one-off job for a customer.

“In addition to our architectural fabrication department, we also do a lot of job shop work,” says Craig Burke, plant supervisor at Standard Sheet Metal. “We have a good reputation for being able to do quick turnarounds for a lot of customers in the area. After they call us, we can get their orders programmed, laser cut and over to the brake pretty quickly. But now, it takes even less time to knock out those jobs.”

Since upgrading its older press brake, Standard Sheet Metal has experienced virtually every benefit Glocker and his team laid out. Setups are faster, easier and more accurate and, in turn, the employees – and customers – are benefitting.

“Before the upgrade, we’d have to round up two or three guys to put in one of our dies, some of which weigh up to 400 lbs., or we’d have to use a forklift,” Burke explains. “On top of that, some of our older dies just didn’t make sense. The operators would have to put a heavy 10-ft. die into the machine even though he was just breaking up a 4-ft. piece. Now, they just pop the new dies in, press the hydraulics and they’re done.”

Productivity truly is just the tip of the iceberg, however. Employee morale and retention also rise when operators are given the best equipment possible. And that’s especially true at Standard Sheet Metal. 

“We’re a union shop, which means that a guy can easily move around from employer to employer if they want,” he says. “But our guys won’t. Equipment like our new press brake and the newly upgraded press brake helps us get the most talented employees possible – and keep them.”

Standard Sheet Metal

Wila USA

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