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Chapter 1 PROCESSES IN SHEET METALWORKING

Processes
in sheet metalworking

As in other manufacturing technologies, the production of metal fabricated


parts requires several processes before completion, including product design,
job preparation and production. Because of the direct relationship between
these processes it is more efficient to perform them simultaneously than
sequentially.

1.1 production process


The sheet metalworking production process is shown in figure 1.1. The objective is to produce the part direct from the design.
These days most designers use a CAD system (Computer Aided Design) rather
than a drawing board. A CAD system is user-friendly and allows each drawing
to be created in a digital format. As a result, the model is immediately available
for job preparation.
There are several popular digital standards to describe the geometry of a part.
The most commonly used two dimension standards include DXF, DWG and
MI. The most commonly used three dimension standards are STEP, IGES and
SAT. The first step in the sheet metalworking production process is the import
of the model using one of the possible digital formats.
If the imported model is a 3D part, the flat blank needs to be developed in such
a way that after bending it will be reproduced in the desired form. This process
is called unfolding, and the flat part is called the unfolded part. The unfolded
part has a constant thickness and is described in 2D. The unfolding function is
the first step in the job preparation and is referred to as Computer Aided
Manufacturing (CAM) when it is done by means of a computer.
The unfolded part will be produced from a standard size of sheet from stock.
To optimise production times, the unfolded part can be produced in conjunction
with other parts. The process of filling a sheet with several unfolded parts is
known as nesting. Nesting is the second step in job preparation.

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CAD

fig. 1.1

CAM

PRODUCTION

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The nested information is then sent to the machine tool for processing. The
machine tool could be a shear, a laser cutting machine or a CNC punch press
that is able to produce 2D contours and shapes.
A press brake is used to bend the unfolded part into a 3D part. The bending
process should begin when it is established that the part can be produced. This
is the third step in job preparation, which should be completed during the
design of the part. This method of concurrent engineering ensures that parts can
be produced with the available production resources and leads to lower
throughput times.

1.2 integrated job preparation


The different steps of job preparation for sheet metalworking are only fully
effective when they are completely integrated (figure 1.2).
1.2.1 unfolding
The basic module for job preparation in sheet metalworking is the unfolding
module. This module is the interface to the CAD world. All common formats
can be imported, 2D as well as 3D models. All information required for bending is automatically recognised during this import, including sheet thickness,
bending radius and bending angle, however the bending radius defined by the
designer is only approximated. Intelligent importing replaces this approximate
figure with the true bending radius which depends on the material and the
bending tools used.
The unfolding module makes it possible to unfold a 3D part into a 2D unfolded part and to generate a 3D part from a 2D part. Material parameters as well
as bending technology must be known during transformation from 3D to 2D,
and vice versa. This is why the bending module makes use of a material database that is linked to the bending technology database. Only by knowing the
bend allowance (cf section 5.1.4) is it possible to accurately calculate the
unfolded lengths. Today, bend allowance data is stored in the bending technology database.
Material from different suppliers will often result in different bend allowances.
Therefore, it makes sense to define the unfolding only after the specific material is identified. It is also possible that a particular bending tool is not available.
Using a slightly different tool will influence the bend allowance and will consequently change the unfolding, so the unfolding module must calculate the
unfolded part based on the correct data and transfer it to the nesting modules.

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3D

Tools

Bending technology

Parts

CAD
Material

Sheets
Tools

Laser technology

2D

fig. 1.2

The unfolding module automatically modifies corner notches which means


perfect bending where the planes fit closely in each corner. Therefore each corner position in the unfolding must include an appropriate notch (figure 1.3).
The dimension of this notch depends on the bending radius, which is defined
by the material and the parameters in the bending technology. The unfolding
module automatically modifies the unfolded part, in relation with the selected
material and bending tools.

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fig. 1.3

1.2.2 bending
The 4 steps of job preparation for bending include:
Definition of bending sequence
Calculation of gauges
Set-up of tooling
Post-processing.
A tool set-up and an optimal bending sequence must be established in order to
avoid a collision of the part with the machine or tooling. The positions of the
gauges are automatically calculated and the tools are placed on the machine
(section 5.3). The production of a part can be simulated in virtual reality (figure
1.4). Finally all information is converted into a machine-compatible code,
which is known as post-processing.

fig. 1.4

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1.2.3 laser cutting


When the 2D model of the part is made available by the unfolding module, job
preparation for laser cutting can begin. This preparation also requires 4 steps:
Sheet nesting
Applying laser technology
Defining the laser cutting sequence
Post-processing.
Flat parts are nested so that several parts can be produced from a single, standard sheet. The system strives for optimal use of the sheet during the nesting
(section 4.4). A cutting sequence, having a minimal production time, is fixed.
The complete job can be simulated on the computer (figure 1.5). Finally, all
information is converted into a machine-compatible code.

fig. 1.5

1.2.4 punching
The job preparation for punching is similar to that of laser cutting:
Sheet nesting
Applying punching technology
Defining the punching sequence
Post-processing.
Unlike laser cutting, the sheet processed on a punch press is held in work
clamps and moves in two axes during the punching cycle. Stability of the nested sheet is critical in order to maintain accurate parts and efficient production.

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See section 3.3 for information on restrictions for punching. The complete processing can again be simulated on the computer (figure 1.6). Finally, everything
is converted into a machine-compatible code.

fig. 1.6

1.2.5 shearing
When cutting rectangular strips with a guillotine shear, there is no need for job
preparation after calculating the unfolded part. Most right angle shears are integrated with a punching machine, so job preparation for this type of application
is combined with the punching process.

1.3 job follow-up


After job preparation, the necessary NC programs are held in a central database. The database also defines how many times the NC program should be
executed. The combination of an NC program together with the number of
times that the NC program must be executed is called a job. For a job on a
2-D machine, such as a punch press or laser cutting system, the complete nesting is produced a particular number of times. For a job on a press brake, the
part is formed a particular number of times.
Each sheet metalworking machine can load jobs from the general database.
Once a machine control has a job loaded it is automatically locked to avoid
modifications by the operator (figure 1.7).

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fig. 1.7

Machines with an automatic sheet supply and/or with automatic part evacuation must be able to perform several jobs without operator intervention.
Therefore these machines are equipped with a job-list (figure 1.8) which
defines the sequence in which several jobs can be executed together with the
sheet that each job must use. During the preparation of the job-list, jobs can be
loaded from the central database using a custom-defined selection criterion.
During the execution of the job-list, the machine will automatically provide a
production status to the central database.

fig. 1.8

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The production follow-up can easily be accomplished by consulting the central database. Status information about each part and each nesting can be
requested (figure 1.9), including the production machine that produced the
part, the number of parts to be produced, the number of parts already produced, and the production time and cost once the part is finished.

fig. 1.9

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1.4 logistics
1.4.1 manual sheet warehouse
To maximise floor space, batches of sheets are often stacked in a tower storage
system. The tower, which is equipped with a loading system, is placed near the
sheet metalworking machine (figure 1.10) to facilitate loading operations and
minimise material handling time.

fig. 1.10

1.4.2 automatic sheet warehouse


The pallets with sheets should be sent automatically from a warehouse to the
machine when using an automated machine with job-lists (figure 1.11). The
transport of the pallets from and to the warehouse is controlled by the job-list.

fig. 1.11

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The status of the automatic warehouse is also stored in a central database. In


the job preparation, one can consult the central database for the availability of
sheets when producing a part nest. During the execution of the job-list, the
machine will automatically communicate the sheet utilisation to the warehouse
database. The warehouse-status can also be obtained on the controller of the
sheet metalworking machine (figure 1.12).

fig. 1.12

job preparation

bending

sheets

automatic warehouse
sheets

fig. 1.13

2D
part

3D-part

laser

2D-part

punching

2D-part

NC

2D-part

NC

sheets

NC

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1.4.3 integrated sheet metalworking


Total integrated sheet metalworking can be achieved when all sheet metalworking machines are positioned around one central warehouse (figure 1.13)
where both sheets (raw materials) and 2D parts (semi-finished products) are
stored. Punching machines and laser cutting machines, automated with joblists or not, request sheets from the warehouse. These machines produce 2D
parts that are stacked on pallets and stored in the warehouse. The press brakes
are loaded with the 2D semi-finished parts from the warehouse when bending
is required. Information on the consumption of sheets and the creation of semifinished products and finished products is reported in real time to the central
database.
An automated sheet warehouse consists of one or two rows of towers and a carriage, which travels between these towers to transport the pallets from tower
positions (figure 1.14). Input or output stations (figure 1.15) are used to connect
sheet metalworking machines with the warehouse.

fig. 1.14

fig. 1.15