A press brake can be a highly valuable tool for bending metal. However, the key part of that sentence is "can be"; in order for the press brake to deliver real value to your operations, you’ll need to ensure that you have the right one for your needs. And as you might expect from a machine that’s so widely used, there’s more than one option to choose from. 


There’s no such thing as the perfect press brake. Only the one that’s perfect for you. In this blog, we’ll run through everything you need to know about press brakes, including the different models available, how to figure out which one is right for you, and some other key considerations you’ll need to keep in mind. 


What Type Of Press Brake Do You Need?


As we mentioned above, there’s more than one press brake available. The two most commonly used brakes are hydraulic brakes and mechanical brakes. Both have the same purpose — to form and bend mental — but the process of how they do it differs between the two. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.



Hydraulic Press Brakes


Unlike a mechanical press brake, which uses a motor that the worker operates, a hydraulic brake uses, as the name suggests, hydraulic pressure to push the brakes’ ram into the metal. 


The brake consists of two cylinders, one larger than the other, which are interconnected. Both of these cylinders contain hydraulic fluid. When the plunger is activated, the fluid interacts and drives the ram into the item — in this case, metal — that is placed in between the two cylinders.


Advantages 

There’s much to love about hydraulic presses. They work well and don’t require the same level of oversight as other press brakes. They’re also pretty quiet, so they don’t disturb the workspace too much when they’re in operation. They can also be more affordable than other options, making them a good option for businesses that are looking for a press but who don’t have an unlimited budget to play with. They’re also generally long-lasting and reliable, though repairing any issues and staying on top of maintenance can be expensive. 



Disadvantages 

But hydraulic presses are not perfect. For one thing, they’re not as energy-efficient as other options. The press is ‘working’ even when there’s nothing in the machine. There’s also an issue of tonnage; there is no way to enhance the tonnage. This makes them less ideal for companies that need to have a degree of flexibility in their projects. There is also no way to control the speed of the machine. 


Mechanical Press Brakes 


A mechanical brake works a little differently than hydraulic press brakes. They’re powered by a motor that spins a flywheel at great velocity. The motor and flywheel are controlled by an operator, which then sets in motion the forces needed to bend the metal into place.


Advantages


Part of the charm of a mechanical press brake is that its mechanics are more straightforward, especially when compared with a hydraulic press. This means that, first of all, using one is simple, and, second of all, it’s easy to stay on top of maintenance. They’re also extremely good for companies that need some flexibility in tonnage from their press brake; they’re capable of handling tonnage greater than 2.5x their rating.


Disadvantages


However, there are a couple of downsides to the mechanical press brake that you should be aware of. One is that once the machine is engaged in a cycle, it cannot be stopped; it will complete the full cycle before coming to a halt. This can be an issue if you realize that the operator has made a mistake, and there could also be some safety concerns. There’s also a chance that the brake locks up if the ram does not retreat in time. Finally, while there’s greater flexibility in the range of jobs that these machines can handle, it can take more time than you’d like to change the bend angle. But this may only be a factor if you’re regularly changing the settings and there are time constraints. 



What Will It Be Used For? 


There’s no press brake that can do everything. As such, you’ll need to make a decision between the two. The starting point for figuring out which one will work best for you is to understand what it will be used for. By that, we mean what you’ll be using the brake to produce.


If you’re making products using stainless steel, then the hydraulic press will likely be the way to go. There are normally added features of a hydraulic press, such as molding, bending, and clinching, that can be effective for stainless steel projects.


Mechanical press brakes are best for projects that require a high level of precision. Hydraulic presses aren’t inaccurate, per se, but they’re less accurate than mechanical press brakes. 


Key Considerations 


There are a few considerations you can keep in mind that’ll help to push you in the direction of getting the correct press brake for your needs. These include:


Understanding the metal that you’ll be using the press brake to bend. If it’s thick, strong metal, then you’ll need a press brake that provides plenty of tonnage. If it’s a thinner metal, then lower tonnage will be required. It’s important to get this correct, as choosing the wrong tonnage can damage both the metal and the machine.


The size of the press brake. You’ll need it to be large enough to handle the size and shape of the metal that you work with.


The overall cost of the machine. This means both the initial cost to purchase and the cost of repairs and maintenance.



In Summary


Both mechanical press brakes and hydraulic press brakes can be powerful, effective tools for shaping metal, but only if you select the right one. The takeaway? Take a close look at the specific tonnage you need for your projects, determine the type of machine you want (“automatic” versus “operated''), and stick to your budget.