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Metal Folding: How the Magic Happens at Vineland Manufacturing

Workers working on the machine for cutting metal sheets
Metal Folding: How the Magic Happens at Vineland Manufacturing
Posted May 1, 2019

When discussing sheet metal folding, there's no need to argue over which tools are best. Vineland Manufacturing is able to use both press brakes and sheet metal folding to meet our clients request, as each has its appropriate place and use. For example, sheet metal folding machines are a great complement to press brakes. In fact, FabShop Magazine Direct says, "What the folding machine should do for a shop that has press brakes is to make those press brakes more productive at what they do best."

Folding machines have been incorporated into the North American manufacturing process since the 1990s. Even though there are far fewer folding machines than press brakes, the number of folding machines is increasing. Why should you choose a manufacturer that has both tools available? Let's take a look at the advantages of a folding machine or "swing bending machine."

Folding Machine vs. Press Brake

Think of folding machines as complements to press brakes, not competitors. What is the difference? While both tools bend metal, the biggest difference has to do with force. Press brakes use a tremendous amount of force, and they are best for heavy, thick sheets of metal. Sheets that are used for support pieces often require the use of a press brake. Conversely, folding machines use much less force and are best for thinner, more delicate, sheets of metal. Jobs where look and style are critical (as opposed to structure) are best performed on a folding machine, since a press brake could scratch or damage the sheet. 

Fabricator shops that have both tools available are more productive. How so? Folding machines can take the smaller, more delicate jobs while freeing up the press brake for heavy panel work. While the press brake could potentially handle the more delicate work, a folding machine can do it more accurately and with fewer operators. Fewer operators, plus more efficient use of machinery results in higher productivity. And a productive environment means faster turnaround times and cost savings for our customers. 

Key Perks of Folding Machines

Sheet metal folding machines are an incredibly useful addition to our operations at Vineland Manufacturing. Here are five key advantages and a little more about why we use them:

  • Bend larger pieces of metal. Folding machines such as a sheet metal bender have an integrated support back gauge which helps hold the sheet in place for the operator, requiring fewer trained workers for the job. The sheet literally rests on a table. They are also able to bend multiple set-up parts that would normally require more manual interference from an operator. Even though folding machines don't have the force needed to bend thick pieces of metal, they are the best option for larger pieces that are thin. 
  • Reduce surface damage. The amount of movement between the tooling of the folding machine and the surface of the sheet metal is greatly limited compared to press brakes, eliminating or reducing surface damage. 
  • Create complex bends with minimal operator input. The sheet support system holds the metal while the back gauge moves it, allowing for multiple-station setup for complex operations. 
  • Streamline setup time. Folding machines are ideal for jobs that would require multiple tooling changes on a press brake. They typically have a single set of universal tools used for all applications. Setup time is quick, and the time needed to change tooling is minimal. In fact, Canadian Metalworking said, "In folding, tool changes are the exception rather than the rule."
  • Get an incredibly accurate radius bend. The smaller the radius bend, the more strain is put on the workpiece, often resulting in material fatigue and cracking. This is avoided when using a sheet metal folder. The distance between the contact points of the clamping and folding beam tools determines the bend radius. The folding beam swings up and overbends, releases pressure and the sheet springs back to the desired angle. Did you know that  bend angles can be created with incredible accuracy, with some estimates being plus or minus 1/2 to 1/3 degrees?

Bidirectional Bending: A Catalyst to Productivity

As noted, folding machines entered the North American market in the 1990s. However, they had been long established in Europe. Modern advances have made this decades-old technology even more useful. A key advance was bidirectional bending, or an up-down folding beam. Older folding machines only swung upward to create a positive bend. Creating a bend in the other direction required the operator to manually flip the sheet, negating the primary function of the folding machine, which was to bend large sheets without manual interference. Modern folders can accomplish this bidirectional bend, sparking greater productivity.

Here's how it works:

  1. The beam moves outward so it does not collide with the previously formed flanges. 
  2. The folder changes the pivot point to ensure the edge of the swing beam's bending tool hits the sheet in the right place.

Tooling Options Add Versatility

We talked about minimal setup time with folding machines because usually one set of tools are sufficient for all consumer parts. The folder can bend for any angle and thickness (that it's rated for, of course). However, that doesn't mean there are no tooling changes. Instead of changing tools based on the thickness or angle of the material, though, tools are changed because the folder needs to form without colliding with the workpiece. The ease of tooling adds to the versatility available for the consumer. For example, the folder may need to use segmented clamping tools to form boxes of different lengths and widths.

A special folding beam tool might be needed to reach tight areas in return flanges. Or, a specific tool may be used to approach the sheet from an angle, creating a 90-degree internal flanges. Some modern folders even have mechanized grippers that automatically make tool changes, further reducing manual interference and boosting productivity. All of this means that we have more options available to you when it comes to manufacturing to your specifications.

Vineland Manufacturing 

The first sentence in Vineland Manufacturing's mission statement is: "Vineland Manufacturing Ltd. is dedicated to the future." That dedication means we're always looking for the latest advances in fabrication and manufacturing. If there's a better way to do it, we're on it. We invest heavily in research and development, stay ahead of industry trends and are constantly looking for ways to make our business and yours more efficient. Contact us to learn more about metal folding options for your next project. 

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