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The Jaw-Dropping Perks of 3D Printed Press Brake Tooling


During FABTECH 2018, there was a consistent attendee reaction at the CINCINNATI booth: People were shocked that it’s feasible to bend metal parts with plastic, 3D printed press brake tooling. What’s more, it’s not simply a cool trick to show colleagues. Rather, 3D printed press brake tools can positively impact your fabrication profitability. 

In this story, we’ll cover custom tooling applications, custom back gauge fingers, pre-fab fixtures, go/no go fixtures and automation—the ideal applications for additively manufactured press brake tooling. 


As you likely know, the bending process can be broken out into three types: coining, bottom bending and air bending. Our 3D printed press brake tooling is intended solely for air bending, thanks to the minimal contact required in the bending process. 

 Now, 80% of your fabrication jobs are likely best done with standard tooling. The remaining 20% could be non-standard tooling, aka custom tooling. For that 20%, consider 3D printed tools. It can save you time and money in many ways, including:

  • Prototyping.You just got an RFQ for a new type of bending contract. The client sends you a part and it obviously requires non-standard tooling. They’d like to see a prototype. The big question: Do you invest in metal tooling for a contract you may not get? It’s a tough call. But with 3D printed tooling, you can get by for this initial prototype without having to heavily invest. You’re not waiting for custom metal tooling to be made and your prototype is in the client’s hands much faster. Then, if you win the business, you can opt for metal tooling if necessary.

  • Short runs. This is a reality with 3D printing. CINCINNATI’s current testing shows that with standard PLA material, you’ll get about 1,000 bends per 3D printed tool. Got a simple part that requires 3 or 4 bends? You’ll get 250 to over 300 parts with that lone plastic tool.

  • Modifications.If you’re not keen on spending the money for custom metal tooling, you can hack into standard tooling to create a tool profile that suits what you need. The bad news? That’s temporary, and you may have mangled a perfectly working tool and stripped it of its full potential. Instead, print custom tooling that instantly has the ideal profile for the work.

  • Surface finishing. Bending prefinished material? Get ready for die marks, a common problem in fabrication. Nylon die inserts are a current solution, but 3D printed tooling might be a better one if it matches your production volume.


A part may have complex features and flanges that standard back gauge fingers can’t optimize. But if you have the right bending sequence based off custom, 3D printed back gauge fingers, it could help in meeting required bend tolerances and result in a more efficient process.


Bending at the press brake in a non-automated setting requires a human operator. And humans, for all their remarkable qualities, commit errors from time to time. As the blanks come off of the laser cutting machine and are delivered to your press brake station, you could have 3D printed fixtures that the blanks fit into. This ensures the blanks are always oriented the proper way as you grab one to start to the bending operation. Comes in handy for expensive or sensitive blanks


After you’ve gone through a bending process on a part, you can 3D print a go/no go fixture to check for accuracy of the bends. If the metal part fits the printed fixture, the part is good. If not, you need to make some changes.


When automating a press brake cell with a robot, there are uses for 3D printed fixtures. One example: the pickup process and nesting after fabrication. This may result in a faster, more efficient process that could nearly double your output. 


The beauty of 3D printing is just how open ended it is. All you need is a little ingenuity and your Small Area Additive Manufacturing (SAAM) system to develop tools that best suit your fabrication processes. If you own and operate a press brake, your shop would benefit immediately from a SAAM that provides tooling support. 

 3D printing, of course, has many uses aside from press brake tooling. If you have a need for continuous, high-capacity and functional 3D printing, drop us a line and we’ll have a quick SAAM chat.