Press brake, panel bender or automated bending machine? What is the difference?

As a manufacturer active in sheet metal fabrication, there are a range of options available to you when setting up your production process and there are numerous suppliers who can help you with this too. You will choose a party or parties to approach based on your business case and your organisation values, which the supplier you select should ideally share. Your business case will determine whether you choose press brakes, panel bender, a fully automated bending machine or a combination of these. What output do you require? What level of flexibility? What product quality? What is your budget or, even better, what return on investment do you want to achieve?

There is some overlap between the features of a press brake, panel bender and automated bending machine. But what is the big difference between these solutions?

How flexible are the press brake, panel bender and fully automated bending machine when it comes to the products produced, and how does this affect the cycle time?

All three solutions offer a high degree of flexibility. The panel bender and bending machine make use of the CNC bending technique, which delivers a high level of flexibility in terms of the bending shape. The panel bender allows you to create more complex shapes than a press brake or a bending machine. This is due to the clamping arm that pushes the product into the bender. This means that the panel bender can produce triangular and pentagonal products in addition to square and rectangular products. Theoretically, the panel bender can handle this flexibility in bending shapes, but in practice not all shapes are used.

The clamping arm on a sheet-bending machine allows even more complex shapes to be bent, such as triangular and pentagonal products.

In terms of the cycle time, press brakes have the longest cycle time, with an average of 150 seconds per sheet. Assuming completely manual operation, without the use of a robot. The panel bender has the next longest cycle time, with an average of 60 seconds per sheet. The clamping arm on this machine rotates the steel sheet after every bend. This means that the steel sheet needs to be rotated four times, which increases the cycle time. In the case of a bending machine the bends are performed one after the other. The bending functions are carried out separately, which means that a cycle time of between 6 and 15 seconds per sheet can be achieved.

Automation; replacing labour with automation delivers consistent product quality

Choosing to use press brakes means that human input will play a significant role. Much of this process is carried out by hand. We call this semi-automation, as an employee or employees (depending on the size and thickness of the sheet) repeatedly load a steel sheet into the press brake, bend this with the press of a button and then unload it from the press brake again. A person cannot perform optimally for eight hours a day. When lifting heavy sheets, fatigue increases and alertness automatically decreases. This has an impact on the quality of the product. The result is that the quality of the product decreases over the course of the day and, as a company, you are not able to deliver consistent product quality.

It is also possible to use a press brake in conjunction with a robot, which ensures correct loading and unloading of the steel sheets and switching of the tools. The robot replaces the employees.

By automating the process, as in the case of a panel bender or a fully automated sheet metal bending machine, you can produce high-quality and super-consistent products. The product quality is the same for these two solutions.

As previously stated, the outputs of the panel bender and the fully automated bending machine differ. In a bending machine, the bending functions are performed separately, which results in an optimal balance between cycle time and flexibility.

press brake versus panel bender versus bending machine differences wemo

Press brakes are becoming less popular with manufacturers, due to product-quality and safety considerations but also due to the fact that fewer people want to perform difficult, repetitive work.

 A good example is one of our own customers, a steel cabinet manufacturer in Poland. They previously used 40 press brakes, in three shifts, and required a total of 60 employees spread across these three shifts to keep the production process on track. Speed, reduced reliance on employees and consistent production quality were the requirements in their business case. Since purchasing a WEMO automated bending machine they now need 9 employees rather than 60 to ensure the entire process runs smoothly. This solution offered the customer the best return on investment of all the options they had considered.

The footprint in m2 of the press brake, sheet-bending machine and fully automated sheet metal bending machine.

 If space plays a role in your business case, you will see that a press brake takes up the least space and a fully automated bending machine takes up the most space. Space is not the only consideration in your business case though. You will also need 10-25 press brakes in order to achieve the same cycle time as a bending machine.

The footprint of the press brake, sheet-bending machine and fully automated bending machine (from left to right).

WEMO versus the rest

Small and large series

If both smaller and larger series need to be produced on the same machine, the panel bender and fully automated bending machine will be most suitable. Both solutions use an automated clamping beam changeover for the production of small series.

Standard and customised solutions

Suppliers of press brakes and panel benders only offer standardised machines chosen from a catalogue. These do what they are designed to do, nothing more, nothing less. Suppliers of panel benders also offer additional production techniques through modules for punching, welding and shearing, for example.

WEMO also offers standardised modules, working with the customer to configure an automated bending machine. In addition to these standardised modules, WEMO offers customised options, in order to meet customer-specific requirements.

Below are some examples of customer requirements for which WEMO delivered a customised solution:

  • A producer of steel doors wanted the two parts of the door, i.e. the top (box) and bottom (cover) to be automatically placed on top of each other and joined, after manual application of insulation material.

  • A producer of electrical enclosures wanted the earth connectors and mounting bolts, to which the mounting plate is secured, to be automatically welded into the switch cabinet during the process. Click here for an example.

  • A customer wanted to integrate a bending machine into an existing line.

  • A producer of shelves wanted to produce a reinforcement profile in parallel with the production of a shelf and secure this to the shelf just in time. The shelf would then be able to hold a heavier load.

  • A customer wanted to make its products available for warehousing and transport immediately, by packing these and stacking them on a pallet, together with instructions and fixing materials. The full pallet was then transported.

  • A customer wanted to integrate a milling machine for products up to 17 metres in length, so that these could be manually bent over the milling line.

  • A customer wanted to fully automate their process; the punching of the panel, the hanging of the panel on the painting line and, after painting, unloading from the painting line and bending. Finished products were stacked, packed and placed on a pallet. The pallet was then taken to the warehouse.

WEMO ensured that these customer-specific requirements were met by providing a customised solution. If the customer-specific requirement involves technology provided by a third party, WEMO can integrate this technology and take responsibility for the whole project as a System Integrator. These are two very important elements that other suppliers cannot offer.

Through the standard modules that WEMO supplies, if requirements change in the future, one module can be switched for another, which fits better with current market demand. This means that there is no need to replace the entire production line, ensuring a significant reduction in future investment. WEMO can optimise and repurpose the returned modules ready for reuse, ensuring customers do not have to sell or dispose of these themselves. This means that WEMO’s solution can transform and evolve in the future! We work with our customers to make sure they become winners.

Which is the best choice?

That is a good question. Look at the requirements in your business case and consider the return on investment. In terms of budget, the costs for a press brake are of course much lower than for a panel bender or a bending machine. But this is not the only thing you look at in your business case. What output, product quality and flexibility do you require? Which supplier fit best with your organisation? Which supplier can also help you in the future? Use key performance indicators such as purchase price, cycle time, bending shapes, switching time, employee input and technical availability to calculate the return on investment and find the best fit for you.

If you have any question about this blog or about our other solutions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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