3. Assess Pain Points
Frontgauging or Backgauging. Which makes more
sense, backgauging or frontgauging? The dimensions that are the most critical define whether backgauging or frontgauging is the right method.
For example, if you’re making a simple, two-bend
part with a flange on each end but the lengths of the
two flanges are not as critical as the bend-to-bend
dimension, front gauging would be best. If you use
a front gauge to measure from the first bend to the
second bend, you maintain the critical tolerance in
the center of the piece, pushing any variance to occur on the flanges. Back gauging ensures that the
flange dimensions are the most accurate.
Tool Changes. Are you making frequent tool
changes? If you are, do your die heights change? If
so, you’ll find yourself adjusting the height of your
gauging surface or fingers frequently to accommodate the new tooling. It may be more productive to
incorporate an R axis with a backgauge system. The
R axis lets you program the height adjustment of the
gauge surface for every bend.
Depth/Angles. Do you have to manually adjust
the ram depth or angle very o;en? If so, you can
probably increase productivity by adding the ram
axis or Y axis to the backgauge/frontgauge system
(see Figure 2). Do angles vary within the same
part? Adding a Y axis to your press brake will allow
you to adjust the angle and depth of the ram for
each bend in your job sequence.
Frequent Part Handling, Gauge Adjustments.
Are you handling the same part multiple times? Using the X axis, Y axis, R axis and Z 1, Z 2-axis (
independent fingers moving across the gauge bar) can
increase operator productivity dramatically.
Is your gauging surface/plane changing within a
part? Using the R axis, or Z 1, Z 2-axis can help increase productivity.
Do you adjust the fingers frequently or do you use
multiple sets of fingers? Z1, Z 2-axis will o;er programmability and reduce the setup time between
The complexity of your parts and the quality of
your tooling will determine how many axes you
can justify adding to a backgauge system. The ROI
for a backgauge system is likely to be achieved the
soonest the more you can reduce setup time and
Operator Programming Errors. Are operators
4. Determine Appropriate Approach
capable of programming at the machine? Some of
the high-end retrofit controls o;er o;line program-
ming so that engineers can pre-program a job from
their computers. He or she can determine the tool-
ing to use, the bend sequence, and sometimes even
run a simulation to make sure the process is most
productive. Then the job can be sent down to the
press brake control for an operator to open and run.
This process helps to eliminate mistakes operators
might make programming at the machine. It also
helps to ensure that the bend sequence and pro-
cess are optimized. If operators are making a lot of
programming errors, you may be able to cost-justify
Size of Backgauge System. Typically, retrofit companies need to know the overall length of the press
brake or distance between the side frames. They
also would like to know a little about the application. Are you bending light-gauge sheet metal or
heavy plate? Is a single operator or multiple operators supporting the sheet?
Control Capabilities. Many retrofit companies
have a few di;erent controls to accommodate different applications. They can range from very basic
applications, like a go-to position-style control for
job shops making one-o; parts, to a multiaxis control o;ering some job storage, to a PC-based control
with networking, o;line programming, and unlimited storage.
As a rule, the more sophisticated controls o;er
great benefits, but require more front-end planning.
This is because they require accurate measurements of your tooling and materials so that the control calculates dimensions correctly.
When determining the appropriate control for
5. Implement a Solution
your application, some great questions to answer
are: Do I need job storage? If so, how many jobs?
(see Figure 3). Would I like to add ram program-
mability, programmable gauge bar height, and pro-
grammable fingers to the backgauge system? Do I
want to program the ram in “angle mode” versus
“depth mode” (Enter a desired angle in degrees or a
depth into the die to get the angle)? Do I want some-
one in an o;ice programming the jobs and sending
them to the press brake, or an operator doing the
programming at the machine? Do I want a full tool
library? Do I need networking? Will I be importing
DXF, AutoCAD®, or SolidWorks®? The answers to
these questions will help you determine how so-
phisticated your retrofit control needs to be.
If your press brake is functioning properly but you
want to add productivity to your bending process,
you are le; with three options. You can:
• Leave the machine as is at no additional cost
and limp along for the time-being.
• Purchase a brand-new multiaxis press brake.
• Retrofit a complete backgauge system or just
If your press brake is functioning properly with all
factory parts and settings, you’ll save a significant
amount of money by choosing to go the retrofit
route. Single-axis retrofits can be added to press
brakes for less than $10,000. Typically, you can expect to pay $5,000 to 7,000 per additional axis within the system.
Control-only retrofits also can be a cost-e;ective
way of regaining the productivity of your press
brake, as long as the backgauge control is where
the problem lies and the mechanical aspects of the
backgauge are sound. These control-only retrofits
can interface with the back gauge, ram, and additional axes within the system. Typically, the drives
can be replaced at an additional cost.
You can expect to pay anywhere from $10,000 to
$25,000 for a control-only retrofit, depending on
how complex your system is. Regardless, this cost
still is likely to be significantly less than purchasing
a brand-new press brake as long as your existing
machine is working properly—mechanically, electrically, and hydraulically.
If your current press brake is not functioning
properly, it is best to first calculate how much it will
cost to get the press brake back up and running,
then contact a retrofit company to estimate the cost
of upgrading to increase productivity.
A;er proper research, you may find it more beneficial to throw in the towel and replace the machine. If that’s the case, a number of great options
are out there. The newest technology trend is ser-vo-electric-driven press brakes. These brakes are
low-maintenance, have no hydraulic pumps or fluids, are accurate and repeatable to 0.00008 in., and
consume significantly less energy than a traditional
hydraulic press brake.
William Helinski is sales and marketing manager for
Automec Inc., firstname.lastname@example.org,
It’s best to consider all aspects of your application and
the functionality required, such as job storage, ram
programmability, tool library, o;line programming,
and networking in determining the best control.
With a ram axis control an operator can vary the angles
within a single part.