When choosing press brake tooling, there are many factors to consider. Understanding these factors is crucial to get the correct results from your manufacturing processes of sheet metal bending. Press brakes are an integral part of almost all modern metal fabrication shops. Due to this, there has been an explosion of options for press brake tooling to accommodate a wide variety of applications.

This article explores the details of press brake tooling materials, styles, types, and important factors when considering press brake tooling.

What is Press Brake Tooling?

Press brake tooling is composed of dies and punches used in the operation of bending sheet metal. The tooling is not built into the machine, but rather swappable parts that are used for specific bends. The tooling is what comes into contact with the workpiece. As said before, the wide variety of applications calls for a wide variety of tooling.

What is the Main Purpose of Press Brake Tooling?

The purpose of press brake tooling is to make the machine capable of bending various metals into different angles. Without this tooling, your press brake will be very limited in the type, shape, and size of bend it can perform. However, by incorporating different tooling into your shop, you can expand the application of a press brake. Different bend angles and radii can be formed by swapping the tooling. This allows press brakes to adapt to changing jobs.

What are the Key Elements of Press Brake Tooling?

Press brake tooling consists mainly of two parts; the top tool called a punch and the bottom tool called a die.

Punches for Press Brakes

The punch is the top portion of the press brake tooling. It is responsible for exerting force onto the workpiece that is necessary for the bending process. It is important to use quality punches since they are the central component for exerting that force. There are many types of punches for different bending needs. These punches include:

The standard punch as the name suggests, is the most widely used press brake punch. Its thicker body and narrow punch tip exert a higher tonnage. This is useful for bending thick material. The inward side of the standard punch has a slight concave curve with flat outsides. This concave provides an ability to bend a shorter flange.

An acute angle (smaller than 90° but greater than 0°) punch is used to bend small angles. Acute angle punches are often referred to as acute punches. Most commonly, these punches are used in bending angles less than 30°. However, they can easily bend angles greater than this up to 89°. These punches are generally bulky with a sharp tip.
A narrow punch is uniform throughout the length and has a low thickness. Narrow punches are used with little clearance that does not accommodate other punches easily. These are referred to as sword punches as well. The most common application of sword or narrow punches is closing a square or box profiled bend.

Sash punches are a type of tooling with a narrow body and an angled tip bent towards the inside of the press brake. The angle on the tip allows the ability to work around corners to create bends. A common application of a sash punch is to create door jambs. 

Swan neck punches are used to create U-profile bends in the workpiece. The shape of these punches is specifically engineered so the legs of the bent workpiece do not collide with the tooling. A variation of the swan neck punch called a gooseneck punch, is also used for U-profiling. These punches create an unsupported line of force, meaning they can handle a lower tonnage force. 

The most distinctive feature of a radius punch is the rounded tip as opposed to the sharp tips of other punches. These punches are used to create U-shaped bends instead of the traditional V-shaped bends. This punch has a more impactful consideration of die choice as it is typically coupled with a u-shape die for the rounded corner.

Press Brake Tooling Options

Dies for Press Brakes

The die is the bottom portion of the press brake tooling. It provides support and precision in the bending process. Dies absorb the force exerted by the press brake, through the punch. Due to this, it is important to choose quality-made dies. Like punches, dies come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit various operational needs. Some common die shapes include:

A single V die, as the name suggests, has a V shape cut into the tooling. They are the most common dies used on press brakes due to their versatility. Single V dies are chosen simplistically by the rule of 8. The rule of 8 states that the length of the V die opening should be 8 times that of the material thickness you are bending.
Two-way self-centering V dies have two V-shaped cuts running parallel to each other. This provides a faster workflow than the traditional single V die. This is due to not requiring retooling if another bend angle is required on the workpiece.

Multi-V dies have a number of V-shaped cuts in the die. The benefit of a multi-V die is having options of different V openings on a single piece of tooling. Changes in bend angle or material thickness can be accomplished by a quick rotation of the die.

Flattening and hemming dies are used to close a previously formed acute angle to a given degree of opening, or to complete a hem. Older versions of hemming dies were spring-loaded.
Channel-forming dies create U-shaped channels on metal sheets. Creating this U-shaped channel requires two passes of traditional V dies. However, with the channel forming die, this can be accomplished in one pass.

Tool holders are used for mounting the tooling on the press brake. Modern tool holders, such as the manual tool clamping system most commonly found on our Accurl Press Brakes, come with features to increase productivity such as quick tool change levers. The quality tool holders we use have the added benefit of increasing precision by minimizing tool vibration.

Shipbuilding Machine

What Material is Press Brake Tooling?

Chromium-molybdenum alloy steel (or chrome moly)is widely regarded as the best material for press brake tooling. Chrome moly steel has exceptional strength and is resistant to corrosion. Due to this strength and corrosion resistance, chrome-moly provides a long service life for tooling. Read more about chrome moly here from AZO Materials.

What is the Typical Hardness of Press Brake Tooling?

The typical hardness of press brake tooling falls right around 45 HRC on the Rockwell scale. There are press brake tooling options that offer higher hardness based on bending application needs. In comparison, the hardness of stainless steel is approximately 28 HRC which is why tooling can bend parts made from these materials without incurring damage.

However, it is important to remember that when calculating bending needs, the hardness of tooling is not indicative of tonnage. The hardness instead indicates the ability to resist scratches and indentations when bending material. Indents lead to internal defects and compromise the press brake tooling. This is why the consideration of material used in press brake tooling is crucial.

Styles of Press Brake Tooling?

The three most common types of press brake tooling are American, European, and New Standard.

American Tooling

American tooling is a style of press brake tooling that has a reduced surface area of the clamping mechanism. American tooling directs pressure through a straight line down the tool. This requires tool manufacturers to accurately grind the surfaces to the left and right of the holder in relation to the tip position. American-style tooling is generally cheaper than other options and is characterized by an ½ inch-broad tang.

European Tooling

European tooling has the defining characterization of having an offset holder. Being one of the most common styles, European tooling offers more options comparatively. Press brake operators and owners will typically have double the options of European-style tools compared to American styles. Due to their offset design, European tools tend to be more slim and therefore offer greater geometry options when bending. Additionally, because of the locking mechanism and design, clamping pressure is typically higher on European tooling. This achieves greater precision when conducting bends with your press brake.

New Standard Tooling System

The new standard tooling system introduced by Wila has been adapted by various tooling manufacturers. This system provides an auto-clamping mechanism that seats itself. This ensures the tooling is in the proper location for bending applications and helps to minimize user error in changing tooling. This provides high precision in the operation of the press brake. The design of these tools supports high-speed changeover. Typically tooling under 27.6 pounds utilizes a spring-loaded fast change button and tooling over 27.6 pounds utilizes a pin-locking system.

Choosing the Right Press Brake Tooling?

Making the right decision on press brake tooling is crucial to the optimal operation of the press brake. Tooling is the main component that absorbs the forces in the bending process. A wrong tool can break during operation, which results in investment waste, can damage the press brake, or worse still cause injury or death.

Does Press Brake Tooling Affect Accuracy?

This is a resounding yes. Press brake tool selection plays a pivotal role in the accuracy of a press brake. Choosing the wrong type of tooling will lead to the wrong shape of the bend. Additionally, when air bending, the angle of the finished workpiece is dictated by the angle of the punch. This angle is controlled by punch and die in the case of bottoming. Other tools can help to enhance precision in bending such as the back guage.

How to Choose the Right Press Brake Tooling?

When considering press brake tooling options, there are many factors to take into consideration. These factors include:

The type of material to be bent is the primary factor that influences tooling choice. Certain materials have low flexibility and a high hardness that require high-quality tooling. These difficult materials also tend to degrade tooling at a much higher rate. 

Material thickness is another factor to consider when choosing press brake tooling. The major factors derived from thickness are the die opening size, the bending angle, and the bending radius. Thicker material limits the bending angle possibilities, making sharp bends difficult. Additionally, thicker material requires a higher bending radius which means a bigger die opening.

A good rule of thumb is to follow the rule of 8 as mentioned before. An important thing to note is certain situations may require bigger or smaller V-die openings. Luckily, our experts here at Moore Machine Tools can pass on our years of experience with press brake tooling to you. Reach out or call us today to speak to one of our dedicated team members.

When considering the length of the workpiece the two important considerations regarding length are the minimum flange length and maximum flange length. The die opening should be small enough to accommodate the minimum flange length because if the die opening is bigger the flange will fall into the die. Large flange length requires bigger tooling or additional tools. The punch size must also be sufficient so the maximum length does not cause damage to the machine. 
The bend angle influences the angle of the punch tip and thickness (when air bending). Large bend angles can use thicker punches. However, acute angles require special tooling, like an acute angle punch. 
Stronger materials will require a bigger bend radius. The bigger bend radius is only possible with a bigger die opening. The ratio between the bend radius and the die opening depends on the type of material used for the workpiece. For instance, mild steel requires the bend radius to be equal to V/8, whereas V is the open die width. Materials stronger than mild steel will have a higher value in the bend radius so the denominator will have a smaller value than 8. 
The obvious consideration is the bend shape. The shape of the bend will determine which punches and dies to use. There are a wide variety of tooling options to accommodate many specific bend shapes. The right press brake tooling will provide the shape desired with the least amount of passes. For example, channel-forming dies can create U-shaped channels in one pass compared to two passes through a V die. 
There are three different types of bending; air bending, bottoming, and coining. Not every type of tooling is suitable for all of these bending types. It is important to remember which type of press brake you are using and what bend type it uses.
Budgetary constraints determine the tooling you buy. However, expensive quality tooling is a higher up-front cost but provides a longer service life. The cost of accessories such as tool holders should be included when evaluating your tooling budget. 

Special and niche tooling is worth investing in for large production volumes. However, low-scale production may make use of standard tooling if they can create the required bend, even in more than one pass.  

Press brake dies and punches come with a tonnage capacity rating. Choose punches and dies that meet your tonnage requirements for your bending applications. Otherwise, you’ll be breaking tooling when utilizing them on high-tonnage applications.

How to Maintain and Store Press Brake Tooling?

Proper maintenance and storage are key to prolonging the service life of press brake tooling. The first step is thorough cleaning; ensuring the removal of grease, dirt, and other contaminants to prevent wear and corrosion. It’s essential to wipe down the tooling at the end of each workday using recommended cleaning solutions. Additionally, maintaining sharpness is crucial for press brake operation. Regular resharpening and reconditioning help prevent dull edges, which can lead to increased wear and decreased precision. Lubrication before operation reduces friction and should be applied according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Adhering to rated limits is vital to avoid tooling and machine breakdown. While not in use, tooling should be stored in a moisture and chemical-free environment to ensure its integrity. Regular inspection for signs of damage, cracks, or excessive wear is necessary. Damaged tooling should be promptly replaced to maintain bending quality.

By following these maintenance and storage guidelines diligently, users can extend the lifespan of their press brake tooling and optimize machine performance.

Conclusion

Choosing the right press brake tooling is a decision that directly impacts the quality, efficiency, and longevity of operations. By understanding the various factors such as material type, thickness, and bending requirements, manufacturers can make informed decisions that optimize performance and minimize downtime. Additionally, investing in high-quality tooling, coupled with regular maintenance and proper storage practices, ensures consistent precision and extends the service life of the equipment. To start on your press brake tooling quote, contact the press brake experts at Moore Machine Tools today!