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Ironworker Machine Buying Guide

What Is An Ironworker machine?
An ironworker is a compact, multi-functional machine that is considered the workhorse of the Steel Fabricating industry. Often called the swiss-army-knife of machine tools as well.
An ironworker can be an important and versatile machine in a metal fabrication shop. Ironworking is quite often the first step in the manufacturing process, and one ironworker can typically provide enough fabricated material to keep up to seven welders or assemblers busy. These machines generate force using hydraulic systems or mechanical leverage. Modern systems make use of hydraulic rams that are powered by heavy AC electric motors.
Since its invention in the late 1800s, the ironworker’s main strength has been its ability to perform a variety of operations. For example, it can punch a range of materials with punches of various sizes and shapes; it can shear rod, flat bar, angle and channel; it can notch angle iron, pipe, channel and flat bar. That’s not all. Many ironworkers are available with special tooling to bend, stamp and form, too.
The functions of an ironworkers are:
  • Punching: round holes and oblong holes
  • Shearing: plate, channel, angle, rod and tube
  • Notching: plate, angle and tube
  • Bending: plate
There are numerous models available with different capacities and specifications.
ironworkers have optional accessories that can be added to the stations
How to choose an Ironworker?
As versatile as the ironworker is, it is still possible to purchase the wrong machine – or at least not the best one – for your application. Here are some reasons why careful examination of these factors will prevent that from happening.

Choosing the right sized Ironworker is more critical than choosing the right brand. While there are many options in sizes each manufacturer will rate their Ironworkers by Tonnage.
When choosing your ironworker there are a few initial questions you need to answer which will help you determine the approximate capacity for your shop:

What is the maximum diameter hole and material thickness you need to punch? This will determine your punching tonnage.
What is the material grade, in PSI, that you will be punching and shearing? Harder materials require more tonnage.
What is the maximum distance from the edge of the material that you need to punch a hole? This will determine the throat depth.
What is the maximum angles size and thickness that you need to shear? This will determine the shearing tonnage required.
What is the maximum width and thickness of the flat bar you need to shear? This will determine the shearing tonnage required.

The principal consideration is the punch tonnage rating. This will determine the maximum hole diameter that can be punched through the maximum material thickness. Just as important is the shearing capacity of plate, angle or flat bar. The shearing tonnage determines the maximum size and thickness of the profile that can be sheared.
Most structural steel fabricating shops require ironworkers in the 80 to 120-ton range, as 120 tons allows for punching a 1-1/4” diameter hole through 1” plate, shearing 6” x 6” x 1/2” angle, and 12” x 1” or 24” x 5/8” plate (55,000 PSI steel).
Typically, a small fabrication shop requires about 60 tons of punching capacity. a 60 ton ironworker will punch a 1-1/16” diameter hole through 5/8”plate depending on tensile strength; will shear 4” x 4” angle, and a 10” x 5/8” flat bar, (55,000 PSI steel). Ornamental iron shops, welding shops and miscellaneous steel fabrication shops often use ironworkers of this capacity. Machines are available up to 192 tons .
Make sure the tonnage / capacity of the Ironworker is right for your application so make sure you look at ALL the manufacturers specifications (not just punching) before you decide the right size / capacity / tonnage ironworker that's right for you.
Beware! Not all tons are created equal. A metric ton actually is heavier than a U.S. ton (2,200 lbs. versus 2,000 lbs.). A machine rated for metric tons should be able to punch a larger hole than a machine rated on the same number of U.S. tons. For example, 80 tons of pressure by U.S. standards can punch a 1" hole through 1" material; 80 metric tons should be able to punch a 1-1/8" hole through the same material thickness.
Be sure to compare the rating of the machine not only in tons, but also the diameter of the hole and thickness of material it can punch. Ironworker tonnage ratings can vary from ironworker to ironworker.
Always allow for headroom above your maximum requirements so you do not work your ironworker at its maximum capacity all day as this will dramatically shorten its life.
Because many different types of steel and ranges of hardness in mild steel exist, it is advisable to get a machine that is at least 20 percent larger than you think your everyday use requires.
When punching hard steel (such as stainless steel) it is better to increase the estimated tonnage by 50 percent, depending on the grade of steel.

While the weight of a machine tool is not, in and of itself, a critical factor it is an indicator of the rigidity and strength built into the machine. Weight can be increased by several factors but the most common factor would be the frame and ram of the machine. These items, when increased in size add a factor of rigidity and thus longevity to the design.

Ironworker machines differ in core capabilities without having to purchase a myriad of options.  The basic options you will need are punching, shearing plate, shearing angle, shearing rod/bar and notching. These will be tasks that most fabricators will repeat on a daily basis. Other features may be plate bending, tube/bar bending, channel shears, oversized punches, gang punching and many other features. The more capabilities available on your Ironworker the better.
Ironworkers are available with different designs to enhance versatility. For example, the stations on some machines are permanently built in. These machines offer punching stations, angle shears, rod shears, notchers, and short flat bar shears.
If you are a structural steel fabricator, you may prefer these machines because the stations cover the majority of the materials you process and do not require tooling changes.
If you are a general welding, fabrication, maintenance, and structural steel fabricator who does not know what a customer will bring in the door tomorrow, you may want an ironworker that offers the capability to adapt to all customer needs.
Tabletop tooling concepts, which provide a wider variety of tooling, may suit your needs.
In addition to angle shears, rod shears, notchers, and flat bar shears, tabletop ironworkers offer options such as press brake bending attachments, tube shears, channel shears, pipe notchers, V notchers, picket tools, square tube shears, and a variety of special tooling. Although these machines can use a larger variety of tooling than those with built-in stations, time is required to switch from one operation to the next.

Just like every other machining process today there are a variety of ways your ironworker can be automated. From automatic or programmable backgages to positioning systems for punching , the standard ironworker can be equipped with simple electric back gauge or add-on programmable devices to improve your capabilities in repeat operations, or be purchased with sophisticated CNC controls from the manufacturer.   
guillotine, or fixed-rake-angle shear?
All ironworkers are equipped with flat bar shears. The main differences between flat bar shear stations are the length and the approach of the blade to the metal. Some ironworkers use a guillotine, or fixed-rake-angle shear, and others use a scissors-type shear .
The advantage of the fixed-rake-angle shear is that the blade angle remains constant throughout the cut, sometimes offering larger capacity without increasing machine tonnage. The advantage of the scissors-type shear is that it can vary the rake angle of the blade, thereby minimizing distortion.
The advantage of a scissors-type shear is that it can vary the rake angle of the blade. Thicker material is cut closer to the pivot point, and thinner material is cut farther from the pivot point, where the rake angle of the blade is flatter, thereby minimizing distortion. Scissors machines typically have a longer flat bar shear, some up to 24 in. long.
The advantage of the fixed-rake-angle shear is that the angle of the blade as it approaches the work remains constant throughout the cut, sometimes offering larger capacity without increasing machine tonnage. The disadvantage is that without the ability to vary the rake angle, the distortion of the drop piece will remain the same throughout the cut.
On some ironworkers, the rake angle of the bar shear blade is adjusted by inserting and removing wedge-shaped shims above the shear blade. This may require substantial mechanical ability and substantial time. Also, if the shims are not adjusted each time material thickness changes, the machine could be damaged.

Safety Issues
Safety is an important factor when choosing an ironworker.
Examine the guarding. Be sure it can be adjusted down to within 1/4 in. from the top of the material to be punched, and to the bottom of the guard or stripper (this is an ANSI standard). This will prevent operators from placing any part of their bodies between the material being punched and the stripping mechanism.
All other stations should offer complete safeguarding as well.
Beware of machines with automatic urethane hold-downs. Most operators realize the danger of the blade but do not expect to be hurt by safety guards and may not watch them. Automatic urethane hold-downs, if not adjusted properly, also come down with many tons of force and can be dangerous pinch points.
For productivity as well as safety, the machine you choose should offer an infinitely adjustable stroke control to minimize machine movement, decrease the number of pinch points, and increase strokes per minute and production. This is especially important in bending applications and for special tooling for which the upstroke must be adjusted in addition to the downstroke.
Electric stroke controls offer advantages over mechanical linkage controls. Electric stroke controls have quicker cycle times and more precise stopping because they use switches that send signals to the control valve almost instantly. Machines that use mechanical linkage stroke controls must be in motion to cause the linkage to close the control valve. As the valve closes, the machine slows down and is more difficult to regulate.
Safety instructions should include proper alignment of the punch and dies. Because punches are usually hardened to 58 Rockwell, the punch will not bend as it collides with a die. If it is out of alignment, it is more likely to flake or even explode, causing serious harm to the operator.
The preferred and most widely used method of aligning the punch and die is similar to the way punch presses have been aligned for many years. This is done by bringing the punch ram to the bottom of the stroke and installing the punch and dies with the stroke down. This way, the punch already has been entered into the die, the alignment can be checked, and guards may be replaced without machine movement.

In trying to determine quality, consider the size of the pivot points and beam strength of the steel that is under pressure. Since your ironworker produces many tons of force, the force must be generated and transferred through the pivot points as well as the beam.
Another good indicator of quality is how much shock is produced when the ironworker punches. Excess shock, which can be identified by a loud popping or banging noise as the punch goes through the material, could indicate the beam or side frame is stretching and snapping back into place. Continued shock can cause welds to break, as well as other failures. Higher-quality machines control this by increasing side frame, beam, and pin size.
automatic lubrication unit also can be an indicator of quality. Although all machines have grease points on pivot points and guide assemblies, some machines have an excessive number of grease points as many as 20 or more. Usually these additional grease points have been added in an effort to correct galling problems. It is unrealistic to expect operators to grease more than five or 10 grease points, and machine failure or galling most likely will occur.
Because an ironworker is an important part of most shops, when even one ironworker breaks down, the negative impact on production is significant, even paralyzing. Before purchasing an ironworker, take the time to analyze your needs and carefully assess the quality of the ironworker. It will be time well spent.

Type of ironworkers:
Single operator: only one person may operate any of the tool stations at one time.
These types of ironworkers are more prevalent in smaller shops and, in many cases, provide floor space savings over dual operator units.
Dual operator: provide the added capability that more than one worker may operate other stations besides the punching station at the same time. This capability increases the shop’s production capacity and efficiency.
The dual operator capability is achieved by the incorporation of a second cylinder. One cylinder will power the punching station, while the other cylinder will power the other tooling stations.
With the right application these “Dual Operator” machines can be production powerhouses allowing for nonstop punching while all the other features of the ironworker are available for other uses.
Dual operator units are more expensive than single operator units; however, this price difference is quickly erased with the higher productivity achieved.

Where to Get Ironworker?
NovoTech Machine tools is a great resource for Ironworkers and Ironworker accessories and Attachments. We specialize in Fabricating Machinery and can help you select the right attachments and accessories for your application.

How To Use a Hydraulic Ironworker Machine?

The punch station on Ironworker allows for a wide variety of punching, stamping or embossing applications. The removable table allows for flange or leg down punching of standard channel and angle sections.
Punching Capacities
You can determine the tonnage required to punch A36 mild steel (yield strength 32,300 psi, 65,000 psi tensile) by applying the following formulas for round or shaped holes. For materials other than mild steel please refer to the multiplier table.
Round Holes:
Punch Diameter x Material Thickness x 80 = Tons of pressure required
How many tons of force do I need to punch a 3/8" hole in ¼" mild steel?
.375 x .25 x 80=7.5 tons
Shaped Holes:
1/3 Punch Perimeter x Material Thickness x 80= Tons of pressure required
How much force do I need to punch a 3/8" x 1" rectangular hole in ¼" mild steel?
(.33 x 2.75) x .25 x 80=18.2 tons

Material Multiplier
When punching materials other than mild steel first calculate tonnage as shown above then apply the multiplier for the listed material.
Material Multiplier:
Aluminum: 0.38
Brass (1/4 hard): 0.70
Copper (1/2 hard): 0.52
Steel (50% carbon): 1.50
Steel (cold rolled): 1.24
Bar/plate shearing
Ironworker machine will include a bar/plate shear as a standard feature. The bar/plate shear will provide a distortion and burr free shear cut to mild steel bar or plate stock as listed in the Ironworker Specifications. The Shearing Station on Ironworker allows for straight or angled cutting applications. The material hold down adjusts with a simple hand crank to safely restrain the material being cut.
Angle shearing
Ironworker include an angle iron shear as a standard feature. The angle shear will provide a distortion and burr free shear cut to mild steel angle stock . The Angle Shearing Station on Ironworker allows for straight cutting and miter cutting applications. An oversized material hold down adjusts with a simple thumb crank to safely restrain the material being cut.

Angle Mitering

Rod shear / multi-shear tooling
"bump-die" shear tooling is available for Ironworkers. Rod Shear or Multi Shear Tooling will provide distortion and burr free cuts to mild steel rod and square bar stock.

Notcher tooling
Notch tooling will provide a distortion and burr free, three sided shear cut to mild steel bar, plate or angle stock. The Notching Station on Ironworker allows for shaped, straight or angled notch cutting applications.

V-Notch Tooling (OPTIONAL)
Optional V-Notch tooling will provide a distortion and burr free, two-side, 90 degree shear cut to mild steel bar, plate or angle stock. Common use of this tooling is in the fabrication of angel iron frames.

Pipe notch tooling (OPTIONAL)
Optional Pipe-Notch tooling will provide a distortion and burr free notch cut to mild steel pipe stock.
Press brake tooling (OPTIONAL)
Optional Brake tooling is available for your Ironworker. Brake tooling will allow for the graduated bending of flat, bar or angle stock up to 90 degrees.

Electric stroke control (STANDARD)
Electric stroke control is standard on most Ironworker machines. Stroke control enables the Ironworker operator to shorten up and down stroke with minor adjustment of two hand screws. Utilize stroke control to control precision bending with your brake tooling, control stroke when using embossing or bump dies or simply increase production from your punch, notch or shear stations.

Central lubrication unit
Grease your machine minimum of once for every 8 hours of use. This is the most important thing you can do to make your machine last a long time.
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