A brake, also known as a folding machine, bending machine, or sheet metal folder is a type of fabricating machine that creates accurate bends in thin pieces or panels of sheet metal. Unlike a press brake, which is a more advanced and much more powerful piece of machinery for thicker plates, a simple folding machine is used on non-structural materials since it excels at delicate work where look and style are important.
Brakes are fabricating machines. Most fab shops will also have a press brake, so the question becomes whether and in what way a folding machine distinguishes itself from a press brake. Most shops will be content to use both types of machines since they fill different niches. Press brakes are best for structural work with thick pieces, while folding machines can accommodate perforated, lacquered, or coated material. Since the operation is much more delicate a brake can work with more fragile pieces.
Multiple-setup jobs or large panel work requiring multiple press brake operators can be done by a single operator on a folding machine, since the machine itself supports the bulk of the part. This means that the operator only has to fold the flange, and since only the flange moves, a semiskilled operator can create quality parts after only a few hours of training.
Folding machines are also better than press brakes for jobs requiring multiple tooling changes.
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In contrast to a press brake, in which the flange is inserted and gauged and the larger portion of the part is rotated, on a conventional folding machine only the flange moves. This can be seen in the animation above.
Depending on the style of folding machine being used, an operator may select from a library of programmed bends before inserting the panel. The panel is placed on the bed of the machine and set against the back gauge, and the metal is clamped between upper and lower beams. A third rotating beam then sweeps upward along the flange to create the desired bend. The process can be repeated until the desired bend is obtained.
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