A polished performance for the automotive sector 

When it comes to world-class tube bending, First Cut – a leading manufacturer and supplier of cutting welding and grinding equipment – is streets ahead, thanks to its extensive range of tube bending machinery from the Italian-based BLM Group (‘BLM’). 

As a pioneer of the global tube laser industry, BLM is dedicated to designing, manufacturing and digitising systems for processing of tubes, wires and sheet metal.

Due to the company’s excellent software and technology, First Cut has been able to offer BLM’s tube bending solutions to clients in a wide variety of sectors – guaranteeing performance together with a high degree of precision, accuracy and productivity.

According to Anthony Lezar, General Manager of the Machine Division of First Cut, all-electric tube bending machines are far superior, as they offer significantly more control and speed than their hydraulic predecessors.

“Thanks to the performance of BLM equipment, First Cut has an extensive footprint in South Africa. We currently have 11 machines installed on the tube laser side and some 20-30 machines on the tube bending side,” says Lezar.

“Fortunately, we have a substantial installed base that has been created over many years, and this has given First Cut the edge in the tube laser and tube bending industries locally. Given that your average capital investment per machine is substantial, strong client relationships are key to the creation of these sales,” Lezar comments.

Automotive company Adient PPC, a long-standing client of First Cut, recently invested in the purchase of two BLM Elect 40 All-Electric multi-stack CNC tube benders.

The company chose the Elect benders due to their impressive capabilities:

“These tube benders are used in the production of car seats, and have ultimately been acquired to increase the accuracy and speed of production,” says David McIntyre, Project Engineer at Adient PPC.

“With a capital equipment investment of this size, we wanted a guaranteed improvement on what we were currently using, which were earlier-model hydraulic tube benders. The Elect has more than surpassed our expectations,” McIntyre explains.

A key competitive advantage of the tube benders is their distinctive software capability.  Programming and 3D simulation software add a whole new dimension to the tube bending process – in which operators can use part geometry data or 3D CAD (Computer-Aided Draughting) data to instantly create a parts programme.

Furthermore, operators can quickly check for parts feasibility and accurately calculate cycle times. The software allows operators to simulate the machine, tooling and parts bending sequence. In this way, collisions can be visualised, or the software can be preset to select the most efficient sequence automatically. The entire system reduces the time required to create cycle time estimates – and shortens the response time to the customer.

“When a client is making a substantial investment into their business, there must be a definite return on that investment,” says Johan Raubenheimer, First Cut’s National Service Manager. 

“Because the BLM Elect 40 tube bending machines are so much more intelligent and intuitive than their predecessors – with quick programming and short set-up times – operators save substantially on production time. Repeatability and accuracy are maintained because all of the information about the part, machine and tooling is saved in the bending programme.”

The Elect range covers a variety of tube diameters from 40 mm to 150 mm. The machines have multiple tool stack capability, and can produce both fixed and variable radius bends. A maximum of up to 8 tool sets can be mounted simultaneously within the stack height.  Loading options are manual or automatic.

Tubing, as a raw material, comes with a host of imperfections (dimensional tolerances, chemical composition) that causes it to react inconsistently when bending. This often results in bends that are created out of specification for tolerance, repeatability or quality. Operators can now select a BLM exclusive special working cycle that makes it possible to obtain high part-to-part repeatability even in complex shaped parts.

The power of control that an operator has over the Elect 40 is also marked when compared to its hydraulic predecessor: “When it comes to precision tube bending, control is critical,” advises McIntyre.

“Being fully electric and automated, with state-of-the-art software programming, the Elect 40 tube benders enable multiple tool change-overs between the different size tubes. The precise control and positioning of all the electric axis guarantee the optimum parameters can be produced exactly, first time and every time. This is a game changer!”

When running in fully automatic mode, on-board process sensors can stop the machine when problems arise, allowing for unattended production on site. The right torque can also be accessed when needed, allowing for continuous control over the entire bending sequence, taking into consideration material behaviour and spring-back.

Spring-back correction is another notable feature of the Elect 40 tube bender. A special bending cycle can be used on stainless or other high tensile tubing to eliminate deformation, reduce excessive tooling wear and deal with spring-back. The cycle automatically calculates the necessary programme corrections needed to produce good parts – and good cosmetic finish with minimal marks or scratches is a given.

First Cut has over the years, supplied a number of automotive manufacturers with tube benders and laser cutters. Clients invest in BLM tube bending equipment for the manufacture of exhausts, bull bars, seat wiring, seat frames and windscreen wipers.  Automotive industry aside, there are many industries that require the use of tube benders.

Installation, service and technical support from First Cut and BLM are included with any sale. Tube bending requires a high degree of skill so a client must know that a full package of support, backup and training comes with their purchase.

“Most of the technical support and training on the machines, we do ourselves on site,” says Raubenheimer.  “We can also access remote diagnostics from BLM at any time by simply connecting the machine to a LAN (Local Area Network) cable.”

Furthermore, First Cut offers standard service contracts or tailored contracts to clients – depending on the use of the machine.

In the automotive industry, high production requirements allow no time for error: “The BLM product is of such high quality, that our customers know they will have nothing but good results. In fact, BLM equipment is viewed as being pivotal to the success of most of our client’s businesses,” says Lezar.

As for Adient PPC, the benefits of using the BLM Elect 40 tube benders far outweigh any initial concerns they may have had about the scale of their investment: “When we finally purchased the two BLM Elect 40 tube benders we were ready – and we have never looked back,” concludes McIntyre.