Press Brakes: Ultimate Buying Guide

Press brakes are one of the most essential metal forming machine tools in the shop, offering manufacturers the capability to do the simplest and most precise metal bends. The most advanced models can perform precise bends on a variety of materials in a wide range of sizes. Basic models execute easier bends on thinner materials, efficiently completing projects on budget. 

Today’s press brakes also come equipped with features that improve productivity and allow these workhorses to make the most precise bends. It can be difficult to sort through the models and features; this buying guide explores the types of press brakes, things to know before buying, key advances in press brake bending, factors to consider during the purchase, and features to consider so you can get the best press brake for your projects and budget.

Types of Press Brakes

There are several types of press brakes, each designed for specific applications and manufacturing needs. Here are some common types of press brakes:

  • Mechanical Press Brake. Mechanical press brakes use a mechanical flywheel to generate force for bending metal. They are known for their reliability and durability but may have limitations in terms of speed and flexibility.
  • Hydraulic Press Brake. Hydraulic press brakes use hydraulic cylinders to apply force for bending. They offer precise control over bending operations and can handle a wide range of materials and thicknesses. Hydraulic press brakes are often used for high-precision and high-volume applications.
  • Servo-Electric Press Brake. Servo-electric press brakes use electric motors and ball screws to control the bending process. They are known for their accuracy, speed, and energy efficiency. These machines are suitable for applications that require high precision and fast setup times.
  • CNC Press Brake. CNC (Computer Numerical Control) press brakes are equipped with computerized controls that allow for precise programming and automation of bending sequences. They are highly versatile and can handle complex bending tasks with ease. CNC press brakes are commonly used in modern sheet metal fabrication shops.
  • Synchro Press Brake. Synchro press brakes have multiple hydraulic cylinders that work together to maintain parallelism and synchronization during the bending process. This ensures uniform bending across the entire length of the workpiece.
  • Pneumatic Press Brake. Pneumatic press brakes use compressed air to apply force for bending. They are often used for lighter sheet metal bending applications but may lack the precision and power of hydraulic or servo-electric press brakes.

Press brakes can also be configured for max productivity, such in bending cells or in tandem. Tandem press brakes are multiple press brake located together to bend longer and heavier sheets or plates. They are typically used when the length of the workpiece exceeds the capacity of a single press brake.

What to Know Before Buying

There are several factors that influence the price of a press brake and add to the price (i.e. longer bed length, higher tonnage, etc.) Therefore, if you want to purchase the right machine (without overspending for features you won’t use), you should compile the following information:

  • Type of metal being formed. The type (or types) of metal (i.e. steel, aluminum, etc.) you bend is a significant factor in a press brake purchase. You may need a machine with more ram stroke or a higher tonnage if you are bending certain materials because of their tensile strength.
  • Max metal thickness. If you are bending a thicker metal, you are going to require a press brake with a higher tonnage. Remember, it is best to overestimate the amount of tonnage required; underestimation can lead to machine damage and significantly increase the risk of costly workplace injuries.
  • Size of metal sheets. The width of the metal sheets is an important factor when choosing the right bed length. The correlation is simple: bigger sheets need to be bent on machines with a longer bed length. Additionally, for bigger or heavier sheets, you should consider purchasing a machine with front support arms or sheet lifters that can assist with the bend. These features can boost productivity because less operators are required for sheet handling. Sheet lifters can also reduce the risk of workplace accidents. (Support arms and sheet lifters can also be purchased separately and added to the press brake.) Multiple press brakes can also be configured into a tandem set-up to bend larger sheets.  

Ideally, it would be best to have specs for parts you plan to bend on the press brake before you purchase a machine. If that is not an option, you can contact your sales team with a few general specs and ask them connect you with the right press brake.

Press Brake Technology

The first press brakes were invented in the 1920s, though today’s machines are capable of much more than their predecessors. As technology advances, press brake bending has evolved to become more efficient and precise. Here are some advanced techniques and tools that have revolutionized the industry:

CNC Control. Computer Numerical Control (CNC) systems have automated and streamlined the bending process. CNC press brakes allow computers to control the processes of the brake, offering precise control over parameters, and reducing errors and setup time.

4-Point Bending. This technique utilizes a special tool setup to achieve complex bends with minimal deformation, making it ideal for parts with stringent geometric requirements.

Offline Programming. Software solutions allow operators to program bending sequences offline (often while the machine is running). The result is optimized production efficiency and a minimized risk of trial-and-error during setup.

Material Handling Systems. Automated material loading and unloading systems increase throughput and reduce manual labor, improving overall productivity. The most advanced systems include a combination of robotics and material handling systems for a completely automated metal forming process.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Press Brake

There are a number of factors to consider when buying a press brake, so you don’t “overbuy” and purchase capabilities and features you don’t need. In the same way, you don’t want to “underbuy” and purchase a press brake that can’t meet all your needs. 

Once you have the specs for future projects, as well as an idea of the scope of the press brake technology needed (i.e. automation, offline programming, etc.), it’s time to consider the following factors.  

  • Tonnage. Basically, tonnage is the force needed to bend material. Materials require more or less force because of their different tensile strengths. Therefore, it is important to have an idea of the types of materials you are bending on the press brake; a material like stainless steel typically requires a press brake with more tonnage than mild steel or aluminum. (Get more information about calculating press brake tonnage in this article from The Fabricator.)
  • Ram Stroke. Put simply, the larger the ram stroke, the deeper the bend. The ram stroke is the amount of space the ram has to bend. This is the area below the punch and above the die. In terms of price, a press brake with a larger ram stroke cost more.
  • Features. Typically, if you need more precise bends, you need a press brake with more features. This leads to the next question, “what features do you need?” This is an answer that depends on the complexity of the project. Some press brakes come with features that ensure precise bending by accounting for the spring back of the material. While many of these features are optional, the features that shouldn’t be optional are the safety features that prevent costly workplace accidents. 
  • Control System. The right control system can impact your operations significantly, by allowing you to utilize offline programming and/or to reduce set-up errors. 
  • Accessories and Automation. Support arms and sheet lifters can boost productivity, minimize workplace injuries, and even decrease the amount of labor needed for material handling. Some press brakes come with these accessories included, while others require an additional purchase. In the same way, material automation can boost productivity and improve efficiency. 

When it comes to purchasing the right press brake, it’s important to make a careful and informed decision. The right press brake can significantly impact production efficiency, accuracy, and overall cost-effectiveness. Several factors must be considered to make the best selection. 

Firstly, understanding the specific needs of your operation is crucial. This involves evaluating the range of materials, thicknesses, and bending angles you'll be working with. Additionally, the required tonnage capacity and bending length must be determined to ensure the press brake can handle your projects effectively. Next, considering the control system and automation features is vital, as modern technology can greatly enhance precision and productivity. Furthermore, assessing the reputation and support offered by the manufacturer is essential to ensure reliable performance and responsive service. In summary, purchasing the right press brake is a strategic investment that demands thorough research and thoughtful consideration of your operational requirements and long-term objectives. Fortunately, it’s not a process you need to navigate through alone. Contact a knowledgeable sales person who can help you choose the right press brake for your operation.

Get started with steelpoint

Let's Get Started Today!

Global Technology
Local Support
Excellent Performance