The CNC Punch Press Productivity Push
Twenty five years ago, Tim Brady started his career in metal fabricating as an applications engineer, focused on helping fabricators leverage technology to drive productivity and quality initiatives. Today he’s a product manager with Amada, specializing in CNC punch-press and tooling technology. We leveraged his background and industry experience to learn a few tips fabricators can use to optimize throughput and quality from their CNC punch presses.
Tip one, says Brady: Focus on sequencing, and the order of tool selection. “Many of the programming software products on the market feature automatic optimization routines,” he notes, “yet not every shop uses them. There are two basic programming methods. The first is used to punch out an entire, single part in a nest of similar parts, continuing on to the remaining parts in the sheet. While this proves convenient for performing a first-piece inspection, it does not always result in the most efficient program.
“The second programming method,” Brady continues, “develops the optimum tool path needed to punch an entire nest on the sheet.”
Best practice, when first-piece inspection is required: Use both programming methods, says Brady, so that the fabricator can perform a first-piece inspection and then switch to the optimized program to produce full sheets as quickly and efficiently as possible, minimizing tool changes and movement across the sheet.
Accuracy and dimensional tolerances are a whole different ballgame, and Brady also has advice here.
“To optimize accuracy from your CNC punching machine, the order in which the last few hits are made is critical,” he says. “Always make the longest parting hits the final hits in the sequence across the sheet, as you liberate parts or make microtabs. This will keep the sheet as rigid as possible. Also, start the horizontal parting tool at the top of the sheet and work toward the clamps, so that the last hits are made closest to the clamps. This also helps to ensure optimum sheet rigidity during punching.”
Shorten Those Tool Paths
Most fabricators understand the potential benefits from commonline punching—using a punching tool to simultaneously create, for example, the right edge of one part and left edge of another part. Material utilization climbs, as more parts, if not entire rows of parts, can be added to a sheet nest. Brady points out additional benefits of commonline punching, then explains why some fabricators have tried the technique and failed, fearful of trying again.
Nests made with wire joints (left) and parallelogram parting tool—the parallelogram tool (right) is a much safer option, as it allows the part to break completely from the nest with the parallelogram-shaped tab adhered to the skeleton. Often, the wire adheres to the part, endangering machine operators.
“Not only does material utilization improve with commonline punching, but so does tool-path optimization,” Brady says. “By eliminating the ½ in. or larger gap between parts, tool travel is reduced. And, you’re reducing the number of hits per part, so tool life increases.”
Here’s how the bow-tie tool looks on a sheet nest.
“When do metal fabricators struggle with commonline punching?” I asked Brady. “The reasons relate back to my previous directive regarding sequencing,” he notes. “Lack of sheet rigidity is the most common problem fabricators experience with commonline punching. So, develop programs that make the longest parting hits at the end of the job, and always work toward the clamps.
“Also, when commonline punching small parts, say 6 by 6 in. or smaller, nested in a large sheet, create mini-nests of the parts within the sheet that leave a skeleton between the nests,” Brady suggests. “This will keep the sheet rigid and optimize part quality.”
Make Use of Special Tools
The increasing part complexity emanating from many a product designer often leaves programmers scratching their heads, struggling to find the most efficient method to produce parts seemingly designed by engineers with no compassion for those required to fabricate them. Tricky contours make designers happy when it comes to shaving weight, eliminating downstream assembly operations or creating cosmetically attractive parts. But they can cause fabrication operations, including punch-press processing, to bog down.
One way to keep up the speed as contours become more intricate is to use special-designed punching tools. Rather than program a nibbling tool to carve a complex path, or using a group of tools to punch an intricate or multifaceted profile, “investing in a special, custom tool can easily pay off in short notice,” Brady says.
This special tool, for use in an auto-index station, is designed to create four different corner radii.
“Also, you can design a special tool to punch more than one profile,” Brady adds. “The bottom half of a tool can punch one profile and the top half a second profile—just place the tool in an auto-index station.”
As an example of where this type of tool design might shine, Brady notes corner-radiusing operations. “Rather than use separate radius tools on parts requiring varying corner radii, why not design a tool that has a different radius on each corner?” he asks rhetorically.
Off-the-Shelf Special ToolsNew tooling concepts developed in recent years aim to reduce or, in many cases, completely eliminate the need for secondary operations. Case in point, says Brady: fine-contouring tools, and tools for deburring and tapping.
The fine-contouring tool nibbles at nearly 800 strokes/min., and makes contours unachievable with standard tools at pitches less than material thickness. This often results in a near-laser-quality edge. Fabricators leverage these capabilities, Brady says, to improve their ability to take on prototype work.
Another off-the-shelf special tool of which Brady speaks fondly is a bow-tie tool—used not to eliminate secondary operations but rather to help fabricators avoid the use of dangerous wire joints. Wire joints, he notes, often find use to connect punched parts to the sheet until they can be released by the operator.
“These wire joints,” says Brady, “are useful in place of microtabs at radiused corners. However, when the parts are shaken out of the nest, the wires can stay attached to the parts and endanger operators. A great option to avoid this hazard is the use of a bow-tie tool, which creates a diamond shape (typically ¼ in. wide by 3⁄8 or ½ in. long) at the radiused corner of the part edge. When shaking parts from the nest, the diamond snaps off easily without leaving slivers.”
One issue when using a bow-tie tool: The diamond may adhere to the part rather than the skeleton, requiring an operator to snap it off. As an alternative, fabricators can opt for a parallelogram tool, which allows the part to break completely from the nest with the parallelogram-shaped tab adhered to the skeleton.
“Programming with the parallelogram tool is a little more complicated than with a bow-tie tool,” Brady says, “but is quickly learned by experienced fabricators.”
Say So Long to Shakers Altogether
Of course, eliminating shaker parts altogether has become the mantra at many a sheetmetal fabricator, and automation is the way to make it happen. Automated parts removal from the press table, particularly for fabricators cutting multiple nests of smaller parts, is becoming more common, says Brady, to augment automated sheet-load systems.“Automated part unloaders pick parts out of the sheets as they are punched,” Brady says, “avoiding the need to use microjoints. The parts are then stacked onto pallets. While it might take an extra 5 to 7 sec. to remove each part from the nest, eliminating the post-processing time to shake the parts out and sort and stack them more than justifies the automation investment in most cases.” MF
See also: Amada North America, Inc
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