In the early 80s, we worked with many sheet metal startups and usually their first or second investment was a manual panbrake or folder. Often a locally produced Kleen or Hyclass. When they evolved to higher volume or were looking to produce better quality products, they inevitably turned to a Press Brake.
The Press Brake was seen as the better alternative in terms of speed and bend quality, which was not surprising because although the locally produced Panbrakes were good value, they were relatively agricultural in terms of ergonomics, accuracy and speed.
Meanwhile, in Europe since the end of WWII and given the rapid need to rebuild so many steel roofs, the manually operated Schwenkbiegemaschinen (Swing folder) was gaining momentum and rapidly improving in both application and technology.
So the question today is when is a CNC Folder or Panbrake (Schwenkbiegemaschinen) a better solution than a Press Brake?
A couple of points upfront, If you need to bend thicker than 4.0mm mild steel, a folder will probably not be viable. The cost of the heavy capacity machines is crazy, and if you think it will be cheaper than a quality Press Brake, sorry it won’t be. Unfortunately, there are no free passes.
However, if you are bending sheet metal less than the equivalent to 4.0mm mild steel, a quality CNC folder or panbrake might still be a very wise investment.
Here are just a few of the benefits compared to a Press Brake.
You don’t need to change tools when moving from one thickness to another or if you are doing safety edges (hems).
It doesn’t mark the material in the same way as your Press Brake as in you won’t get those bending lines from the Vee.
They are more simple to program, and it is easier to be accurate.
With the combined use of a backgauge table with ball transfers or brushes, large sheets and panels are easier to handle. What is often a two-person job on a Press Brake is a one-person job on a CNC Folder.
It is possible on some models to bend up then down without taking the sheet metal out of the machine and flipping it. When handling large panels, this can save improve productivity and safety enormously.
There is a lot more to talk about when it comes to the benefits of Folders.