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Punching Automation: Simplicity or Complexity?

Punching automation was once considered simply a tool for large production runs. But now even small job shops are automating to free operators to perform other tasks or prepare machines for their next job. Here’s a look at how punching automation now fits to meet any shop’s needs.


In modern manufacturing takt time has become a crucial part of every business model. Makes no difference whether it’s a small job shop or a large OEM, takt time can make or break the company.

A demonstration of the TRUMPF TruMatic 7000 combination punch-laser machine. This productive and flexible fabrication machine combines punching, forming, tapping and laser cutting into a single high speed work center. To extend the flexibility further, the SheetMaster offers many options for part unloading.

Initially, the assumption was that punching automation was only advantageous for big manufacturers with large lot sizes, but now a wider variety of shops are realizing the return that automation provides by improving takt time. Automation, particularly for punch machines, has become a key factor for any manufacturer looking to make parts faster, cheaper and with less error.

Potential users must understand the benefits of adding automation to the machine before trying to determine the return on investment. Automation for punching machines runs the gamut from a simple design of loading and unloading material that requires the manual removal of tabbed parts, up to a sophisticated system which loads raw material from pallets and removes parts from the skeleton in a true lights out capacity.

Automation can also eliminate additional production steps, such as removing and stacking parts when the nest is done, or grinding tabs left on finished parts. Not only does this save time, it also makes it easier to complete any subsequent downstream operations, such as any bending, painting, or assembly. Also note that the parts will arrive to the press brake operator pre-stacked in the same grain direction, increasingly the likelihood they will be bent correctly.

Choosing the right automation to fit the specific machine relies on a few key factors. First, the shop must consider the size of the parts being run. There is a common misconception that automation is only suitable for machines running large parts, however, alternative automation concepts for punching machines producing small parts also exist.

For example, small parts can be separated with a system designed to drop finished parts down a chute as they are formed. Here, parts smaller than 20 in are freed from the nest before entering the chute and organized into four bins. These bins can also sort small scrap pieces released from the nest. For job shops and other companies where part size and production changes on a daily basis, flexible solutions such as varied suction cup arrangements on the material handler are also available.

Once the job has been completed and all of the parts are loose from the sheet, a skeleton removal system can remove the scrap from the table and allow the next run to start immediately while the raw sheet is loaded onto the machine. This seamless operation will boost production capacity, freeing the operator to prepare the machine for the next job. A storage tower for material retrieval and finished part storage can be added to this configuration to operate in a true lights out system.

Additional factors to consider are the physical limitations of the production facility and the amount of space that can be dedicated to an automated system. There are standard layouts for a punch machine with automation, but with a layout of the shop floor, a team can customize your system to fit in a designated space.

Once a suitable machine and automation system have been chosen and laid out, the shop is on its way to a personalized system, designed to fit its needs. Another competitive advantage of punching automation is the flexibility to add pieces modularly as needed or as production grows. If a user recognizes this advantage but isn’t sure exactly what pieces they are looking for, or cannot immediately dedicate the funds or floor space, the user does not have to immediately invest in a full system.

Punching automation can be added piece by piece, which means the user can purchase a machine prepared for automation in the future and then add extended technology at a later date, such as a material handler or automatic tool loading system. With this sort of foresight, a manufacturer can grow from a base machine to lights out operation as their business expands.

Regardless of the system chosen, benefits will be observed immediately. The punching operator will dedicate less attention to monitoring the machine with automation, allowing him to set up his next job offline and reducing the transition time between jobs to a matter of minutes. This immediately increases productivity and makes it easier to plan production capacity.

Allowing the operator to process production runs in a timelier manner frees resources for the shop to take on additional work or to take some of the burden from another machine. Punching automation was once considered simply a tool for plants with large production runs. But now shops with a variety of lot and part sizes have realized the benefits of adding it to their system to improve takt time.

Automation frees operators to perform other tasks or prepare the machine for the next job. Whether a machine is equipped with a simple material handling concept or is a fully automated system running free of human interaction until the finished part is complete, there is a system available that can fit any company’s needs.


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