The trend towards more complex parts and smaller batches has a profound impact on sheet metal bending operations, which is consequently evolving into a more specialized industrial activity. Nevertheless, margins remain tight, meaning that manufacturers need to ensure increasingly high throughput levels if they want to remain competitive.

In the face of the growing shortage of skilled labor, automation of the entire process seems an obvious choice. However, it’s even more difficult to hire people with appropriate robot skills, let alone specialists who are able to correctly program a fully automated press brake. How to address this Catch-22?

Generating the most efficient manufacturing process

LVD’s Ulti-Form robotised press brake takes the challenges in stride. Ulti-Form consists of an integrated ToolCell press brake with automated tool changer with tooling warehouse, a high-performance Kuka industrial robot with auto-adaptive universal gripper, and LVD’s market-leading Easy-Form® in-process adapted bending system, which in real-time measures and a corrects the bend angle. The crux is in the way these components are programmed to seamlessly and efficiently work together. Programming is easy and is handled completely offline using LVD’s CADMAN software. Using the part’s 3D drawing as the starting point. With just a few clicks by the CADMAN operator, LVD’s CADMAN® software then automatic calculates the most efficient Bending and Robot program, including the bending sequence, the tools to be installed, the robot program with all gripper positions and a complete collision-free robot path. The operator can check the process using a full 3D simulation environment before sending the program to the Ulti-Form job list.

The new World Robotics 2020 Industrial Robots Report shows a record of 2.7 million industrial robots operating in factories around the world. In 2019, sales of new robots remained high with 373,000 units shipped globally. However, this means a slow down in sales of 12% compared to 2018 and this reflects the difficult times in automotive and electronics. 

Nevertheless, this is still the third highest sales volume ever recorded. Asia remains the strongest market for the installation of industrial robots. China and Japan even have incentive programmes in place to integrate the investment in robots into manufacturing. The annual installation of industrial robots in the metal and machinery industry remains 44,000 units per year, representing around 9% of annual sales. 

The average robot density and manufacturing worldwide is 113 installed robots per 10,000 employees. All these numbers show that exponential technologies have accelerated more in the last five years than they have in the previous 50, leading more and more companies to start automating. LVD's journey in automated bending has also been interesting.

We have learned a lot in recent years about the demands of automated bending. 

So what have we learned and what has changed over the last 20 years? 

In the beginning, we were taking baby steps. Early 2000 came the introduction of LVD's Easy-Form adaptive bending system, which eliminated the problem of thickness and grain variation. 

Automation with built-in quality assurance eliminates errors and improves accuracy. Over the past decades, robots have only really been used for repetitive and high-volume applications. They were only practical for bigger batches because robots had to be taught all the moves. Fifteen years ago, automation was all about simplifying recurring activities by letting machines and software do them for you. 

What we have learned with products such as ROBOformER and RoboCell is that the overall cost of the cell and a fast and automated programming solution are vital as both these aspects limited products at the time. In 2012, our ToolCell was a major step forward. After all, executing recurring activities on a daily basis becomes monotonous for employees. 

Automation solved this problem and allowed people to take up more challenging and rewarding activities, thereby heightening employee satisfaction. The ‘small batch, high part makes short lead time culture’ has become commonplace. Our auto tool changing press brake ToolCell provides the solution and improves throughput. 

In 2018, we introduced our Dyna-Cell under the motto that programming must be simple and automated. In the past, using robotised bending typically required highly skilled robot programmers. Today, customers demand a programming solution allowing for automatic programming of both the press brake and the robot. 

Today's bending automation customer is focused on super fast, simple programming, a balanced equipment cost and shortening the order-to-cash cycle, whatever the byte size. Today almost every company concentrates on how to utilise their working capital. WMs are reducing stock inventory and putting more pressure on the supply chain. Therefore, it's all about flow and the speed of the art-to-part journey.

Discover how the Ulti-Form press brake takes bending automation to the maximum

Watch this webinar to see how LVD’s Ulti-Form fully robotised press brake and the intuitive offline CADMAN® software provide the ultimate in automated “Art to Part” production of small to medium sized batches.