Though basic, Chris Bilan’s small shop in Pickering, ON has all that’s needed to fabricate some beautiful sheet metal components.Click image to enlargeby staff writer | Photos Bilan Metalworks

Avoiding broken tools, damaged fingers, and long setup times

THE PROBLEM: Increasing throughput on low-volume press brake jobs without jeopardizing operator safety

THE SOLUTION: A quick-change tooling system that uses magnets to hold punches in place

Chris Bilan likes to create beautiful things. He’s built stainless steel range hoods, residential shower enclosures and kitchen racks, copper trim pieces for a vintage tugboat, and a host of other custom fabrications. As the owner and operator of Bilan Metalworks in Pickering, ON, he and his small crew have been serving the Greater Toronto Area since 2018, when Bilan “made the executive decision to part ways with his day job” and pursue his love of fine manufacturing. 

Continual changeover

Despite his passion for the ornamental and artistic, however, Bilan’s happy to whip up a few angle brackets or a bent flange for a customer, provided it’s low-volume work. “We specialize in luxury residential products, but if a contractor needs an emergency piece of some kind to complete a job, of course we’ll help them out,” he says. “But our focus is on the design and manufacture of quick turnaround, turnkey solutions that are both unique and highly functional.”

The challenge is to be profitable in the face of nonstop setups and very low production volumes. Bilan has more than 20 years of industry experience, but he'd be less successful if he hadn’t made another executive decision just after founding his company—to set aside tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of conventional press brake tooling and switch to an entirely new concept: American Precision Style with the Maglock Magnetic Safety System, from Mate Precision Technologies

This assortment of American Precision Style tooling with the Maglock Magnetic Safety System from Mate Precision Technologies has become Bilan Metalworks’ go-to for all press brake work.Click image to enlargeMate’s regional sales manager Peter Visser describes the Maglock system as revolutionary, in that there are none of the buttons, springs, or pins that can fail in competing systems. As its name implies, the toolholding system uses a series of rare earth magnets to hold punches in place. This novel approach makes it possible to install even large gooseneck tools in either the backward or forward direction. 

Most importantly, it eliminates the safety concerns over a punch falling out of the upper holder, damaging the tool and possibly harming the operator. And because there’s no separation between
the punch and holder, there’s also no need to seat the tooling before use, a significant timesaver. 

A grain of salt

Mate’s product development team had to overcome some preconceived notions—what Visser suggests were “myths.” Some said the entire tool would become magnetized over time or that the magnets would slowly lose strength. Others felt they would collect chips and shavings and be hard to clean. And as with any magnetic product, they had to certify that shipment via commercial air would be safe, and that people with pacemakers wouldn’t suffer ill effects due to the product’s strong magnetic field. 

“It’s also backward compatible with any generation press brake that uses American-style tooling,” says Visser. “And while I’m admittedly biased, the idea was spot on. I’ve been in the business for two decades and have to say tooling advancements have been few and far between. In my opinion, this is the greatest contribution to press brake tooling technology in my lifetime.”

 

Specializing in custom architectural work like this, Bilan Metalworks will take on a rush order or whatever else is needed to make his customers happy.  Click image to enlargeFrom minutes to seconds

Bilan thinks so as well. Shelving a huge tooling investment a few months after its purchase would be a difficult decision for any manufacturer, but especially so for a startup company with limited cash flow. “I bought the Mate tooling a couple of months after the machine. And as I said, I’d already invested maybe $40,000 in competitive brands, but I won’t use any of it unless there’s no other choice.”

Safety considerations aside, the primary reason for this is setup time—what once took Bilan ten minutes to do can now be accomplished in as little as 30 seconds. He also enjoys the flexibility of reversible tooling, and because the Maglock system is sold by the inch, he can buy only as much as he needs, or replace a worn or damaged section as needed.

“A dozen pieces is a big run for me, so as you can imagine, I’m changing over constantly. In addition, my machine is only four feet long and I might have three different setups for a typical job. With conventional tooling, it’s practically impossible to seat this many sets of tooling at once without crashing. This is especially true if you’re using short segments, something that’s almost unheard of with American-style tooling. Simply put, the Maglock system offers some huge advantages. It’s been a real game-changer for me.” SMT

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