By Dan Davis
The ubiquitous press brake is hard to miss in the world of metal fabricating. The panel bender, meanwhile, is not so
prevalent. But maybe that is changing.
Metal fabricators are constantly looking for
shop floor efficiencies, and as a result, they
need to be open to technologies and processes that they may not have considered before.
That’s where panel benders come in. They can
produce bends, like a press brake, but they often can do it more efficiently and without the
requirement of having a skilled machine operator at the helm.
From a technology standpoint, the panel
bender relies on bending blades to make the
programmed bends, instead of a ram that
forces the sheet metal blank into a die opening. A machine operator inserts the blanks into
the machine where hold-down clamps keep
the blank from moving while a pair of bending
blades contact the material to make upward or
downward bends. The blades do not move in a
straight up-and-down line, but rather oscillate
around a single bend point until the desired
angle of the bend is achieved.
Older panel benders require operators to
switch out tooling manually. But like more
modern press brake setups, panel benders
have evolved to incorporate automated tooling
changeovers as well, minimizing the machine
To further understand how panel bending fits
into a modern metal fabricating operation, let’s
look at how two companies are using the technology to stay on top of increased production
demands. Datum Storage Solutions Inc., Emigsville, Pa., and NSA Industries LLC, St. Johnsbury, Vt., adopted panel bending for different
reasons, but they are finding that it’s delivered
a similar result—additional bending capacity
when they needed it most.
The Panel Bending Veteran
Almost 20 years ago, the owner of Datum Storage Solutions asked Brett Eaton and his co-workers to check out a video he had seen about
a bending machine that he thought could help
them. Eaton, then a press brake operator, saw
the same potential in the panel bender that the
“We were like, wow, this could be a big help
to us,” he said.
In 2001 Datum purchased a Salvagnini P2 panel
bender and put it to use bending low-volume
jobs, typically 20- to 16-gauge in thickness. Impressed with the panel bender’s performance,
the manufacturer of shelving and storage products purchased another P2 two years later. The
company pretty much has been running those
two machines nonstop over two shifts since then.
“We used to bend everything on a press
brake. We would have an operator set them
up, bend a couple of pieces, and then change
over the tooling for another job,” Eaton said.
“What really drew us to the panel bender was
the setup time and the bending speed. It was
completing bends in 40 to 45 seconds, whereas
it was taking the press brake operator a minute
to a minute and a half.”
To illustrate the more efficient setups, Eaton
pointed to Datum’s four-post shelving products
as an example. When it was bent on a press
brake, operators had to set up two different
stations on the brake, placing both the forming
tools and dies in the right place, to complete
the 135-degree bends necessary for the posts.
To change the tooling on a semiautomatic panel
bender, the operator unlocks a lever on one of
the machine’s sides, slides the tooling in, and
locks it back up; the same steps are repeated
on the other side of the machine.
“So you’re looking at a three- to five-minute
setup on the panel bender compared to 10 to 15
minutes on the press brake,” Eaton said.
The quick tooling changeover is pretty important because Datum does quite a few of
them over a shift. Eaton said the company averages 10 to 15 setups per shift between the two
P2 panel benders and two punching machines
that make up a cell. The jobs are run according
to length. For instance, the operator that runs
all four machines in the cell will set up 36-inch
parts and run all that size. Then a tool changeover will occur to run 42-in. parts.
In all, Datum has five common lengths: 24, 30,
36, 42, and 48 in. It also offers a range of widths,
starting at 9 in. and going to 48 in., increasing in
1-in. increments. Additionally, all of these offerings might require some combination of knockouts, perforations, punches, and slots. These
and other options also are available in shelving
in the four-post line.
“There are days when the operator will do
upwards of 30 to 40 setups when they are run-
ning oddball jobs,” Eaton said. “We generally
run the oddball parts once a week.”
Even with the changeovers, Datum has one
operator tending this workcell. How is that
done? The operator places a blank in the punch-
ing machine, while taking the already punched
part off, and then initiates the punching cycle.
The operator then walks to the panel bender
and loads the punched part while pulling the
bent part from one panel bender. At this time
the bending cycle is initiated. The bent part is
stacked on a skid, and the operator walks to the
other punching machine, where the previous
actions are repeated. When the bending cycle
is initiated on the other panel bender, the op-
erator then repeats this process, depending on
quantities, of course. The operator does a fig-
ure eight through the area all day, maintaining
all four machines.
Achieving bending efficiencies with
Two metal fabricating companies find that the technology has
changed the way they think about processing metal
» NSA Industries jumped into panel bending three years
ago to assist with new cabinet work from a growing