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Sheet Metal Bending: A Comprehensive Guide to the Most Common Metal Forming Technique

In sectors like automotive and aerospace, the need for custom parts demands robust and reliable techniques to form metals into various shapes. Sheet metal bending is one of the most common techniques for shaping these metals. You need to understand how this process works if you are in sectors that fabricate metal frequently.

What is Sheet Metal Bending?

What is Sheet Metal Bending

Forming bends on metals is a process that requires specialized equipment and skills. The most common equipment is the press brake machine. This machine has a die and punch as the main components that enable the formation of the bend.

Sheet metal bending takes place in different ways depending on the type of metal, bend design, and production volume. Every manufacturer has set standards to ensure that the process is effective. This process is essential since it is usually the first step in the production process of several metal parts.

The Process of Sheet Metal Bending

Several steps are undertaken during the sheet metal bending process. The most daunting task is choosing what to use. However, if you understand what you need, this will prove to be easy.

The first thing most manufacturers do before making bends is to design the actual bends. This is because the press brake machine requires instruction on the shape, size, and nature of the bend to be made. For high-volume production, fabricators can also make some bends to test how they will appear on the actual material.

Prototyping is an essential step in the process to ensure that the machine produces the required bends. It also helps you see what the final product will look like. In this step, you can also make changes before moving into large-volume production.

The type of press brake is also chosen beforehand. Depending on the bending parameters required, you can select the electric, manual, or hydraulic type. After the material and suitable machines have been selected, the metal sheet is lined up, and the bending operation starts. Finally, the technician inspects the bend to ensure that it is according to the desired specifications.

Metals used in sheet metal bending

Sheet metal bending fabrication is carried out on specific metals. These metals need to exhibit specific mechanical properties that make them bendable. Ductility and malleability are some of these properties. These properties make the metal bendable to a certain degree without losing structure and form.

Additionally, the metals need to be strong enough to make durable parts. Some of the common ones include:

  • Aluminum
  • Copper 
  • Stainless steel
  • Steel
  • Bronze

Sheet Metal Bending Machines

There are several ways of bending metals. In most cases, a manual bender or a press brake will be used.

The press brake

Press brakes are the standard equipment used in sheet metal bending. They are machines that have a die and punch system that exerts pressure on a piece of metal sheet clamped onto a bed.

Manual sheet bender

These sheet metal bending machines are not powered. They have a wheel and axle mechanism, which the technician turns to position the punch before making the bend. Before the commercialization of press brakes, manual sheet benders had entered the market.

Forms of Sheet Metal Bending

The bends formed on metals can be produced using various means. Note that press brake machines mostly make these bends.

Air bending/3-point bending

In this form of sheet bending, the punch is pushed by the ram down to the metal sheet that is placed on top of a V or U bend. Subsequently, the pressure from the ram forces the metal sheet to dip into the die and take up its shape partially. This means that the metal sheet does not fully get into the groove on the die.

There are speculations that air bending does not produce accurate bends. However, when executed right, preferably with a CNC press brake, it can produce good results. Air bending is also known as 3-point bending because it involves three components: the die, the punch, and the metal sheet.

Bottom bending

This is another form of sheet metal bending that involves a U—or V-shaped die. Unlike air bending, this approach ensures that the metal sheet is fully engrossed by the die, meaning that the workpiece touches all the edges of the die. Bottom bending is more reliable in situations where the bend has intricate details.

Other methods

Bottom and air bending are the common forms of metal sheet bending used today. This is because most metal bends are either a U or a V shape. However, there are other bends that are more defined and unique. These bends are made using methods such as joggling, coining, folding, rolling, and wiping.

Significance of Sheet Metal Bending in Manufacturing

The importance of sheet metal bending is usually underscored. However, most people do not realize how essential this fabrication procedure is. It is not until they learn how heavily it is used that they discover that it is practically inseparable from manufacturing.

Advantages of sheet metal bending

Some of the advantages of this metal fabrication process include;

  • It is cost-effective. When compared to methods such as die casting, sheet metal bending uses fewer resources to achieve the desired results. 
  • It is safe. Machines used in sheet metal bending have safety mechanisms to ensure that the operator is shielded from possible hazards.
  • It is a simple process. Simplicity is quite effective in design manufacturing. The ability to form intricate shapes out of metal with a 3 step process is quite rewarding.

Other advantages of the sheet metal bending process include its efficiency, speed, and reliability. This is why it has been used in several industries as an essential primary step in manufacturing.

Industrial Applications of Sheet Metal Bending

Industrial Applications of Sheet Metal Bending

The process of forming bends by press brakes and other related machines can be applied in several industries for various reasons. These are industries where precise shapes of metals are required. Some of the common industries and applications include;

  • Construction – Used to make structural parts such as gutters and roofing panels.
  • Automotive – Most applications here involve body parts of automobiles.
  • Aerospace – Use cases include the manufacture of aircraft equipment such as brackets, wing structures, and engine parts.

Conclusion

Industrial manufacturing processes such as sheet metal bending continue to become critical as manufacturing standards rise. Huge resources are getting channeled to R&D to produce better tools and techniques for bending metal sheets. CNC press brakes are a good example. Learn more about CNC press brakes here.

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