if it were able to capitalize on a forming process
that took advantage of housing components that
were consistent in length and had similar bend patterns—and also happened to be difficult to bend in
a press brake. Roll forming fit the bill.
One part that was shifted to roll forming was feed
troughs, which were made up of four sections, each
8 ft. long, 14. 25 in. wide, and 20 gauge thick. (Alaso
primarily works with steel that is as light as 22 gauge
and as thick as 10 gauge.)
“If you can imagine bending that 10,000 times per
order, you realize that’s a lot of work,” Millard said.
Alaso recently shifted some of the housing supports away from the press brakes to roll forming.
Again, these were high-volume, light-gauge parts, 8
ft. long and 7 in. wide.
“It took a long time to do those parts in the press
brake. It’s so much faster to put them on the roll
former,” said Jill Mullis, a guiding force in the press
brake area of Alaso’s Lakeland facility.
Even with the gradual migration of parts from
the brake to the roll forming line, press brake bending remains a key part of the fabrication process at
Alaso. That’s why the company has 12 press brakes,
including eight CNC models. It has even torn down
and rebuilt two older hydraulic press brakes, incorporating new hydraulics and new controller technology.
“We know no matter how much roll forming that
Maximizing Safety and Output
we will bring into the facility, being that we are mak-
ing a sheet metal designed product, we are never
going to get away from press brakes,” Millard said.
“So we started to look for better technology.”
That led them to consider electric press brakes,
and they found what they were looking for at the
2013 FABTECH® tradeshow in Chicago.
Having rebuilt two press brakes, Millard said that
as the team considered new bending technology,
it wanted to stay away from hydraulics if it could.
He said that maintenance time increases with each
passing year of a hydraulic brake’s life, and they
wanted to avoid that hassle.
Additionally, they wanted a brake with the latest
safety system technology.
“If we are looking to pick up speed, we don’t want
to do it at the cost of safety for our employees,” he
said. “In other words, I don’t want you to work fast
and haphazardly. I want you to be able to work fast
and even safer than you did before.”
When Millard first saw the SafanDarley electric
press brakes, he noticed something different about
them. The servo, belt-driven system was fast, but
that wasn’t exactly it. It was the integrated safety
system. The light curtain technology wasn’t simply
added to the press brake after it was manufactured.
It didn’t protrude from the machine like some odd
sheet metal growth.
After watching the brakes in action, Millard also
When the light curtain does pick up unauthorized
noticed something else. The operators were using
the light barrier technology to control the press
brake. He saw that as an immediate advantage for
a press brake operator who normally might have to
use a foot pedal over a shift.
“Sometimes hanging on one foot for eight hours
a day while you are trying to press a foot pedal with
the other foot can grow tiresome,” he said.
So just how does an operator use a light curtain to
operate a press brake? It begins with a switch from a
foot pedal operation to light barrier control. With the
latter mode of operation, the operator simply brakes
the light curtain to signal the ram to come down.
For instance, the operator can wave his or her
hand into the focus area of the light curtain, and the
ram will proceed down to a predetermined height
that is millimeters above a pinch point. With anoth-
er wave of the operator’s hand, the ram is instruct-
ed to come down and complete the bend. It then
retreats so that a new blank can be put into place
or the part can be removed and reset for the next
bend. This entire bending process takes place over
a second or two; hydraulic brakes may need several
seconds to complete the forming action.
So why doesn’t the light curtain simply shut down
the bending job when a human hand enters the
bending window? The light curtain is able to keep
tabs on the bending area while also allowing other
movement in the press brake window because the
sensors focus on an area of about 30 mm, or a little
over 1 inch, where the bending takes place.
When the light curtain does pick up an unauthor-
ized presence in that bending window, the ram
stops within 80 milliseconds. A hydraulic system
simply can’t match the ram control that an electric
press brake’s servomotors provide.
The Alaso team liked what they saw and pur-
chased two SafanDarley E-brakes, one with 110-ton
capacity (see Figure 1) and the other with 35 tons.
The latter is designed for small parts that require
multiple, precise bends and came with a chair and a
worktable that mounts to the front (see Figure 2).
“You never have to touch a foot pedal, and you
are never going to pinch your fingers because the
brake won’t actuate if your hand is in it,” Millard
said. “It knows when you are there.
The incorporation of the light curtain control in the 35-ton SafanDarley E-brake is important because operators
are typically dealing with smaller parts, and the precision bends require hands to be near the bending window.
The light curtain keeps the operator safe during production.
presence in the bending window, the ram stops within