Laser cutting was an important part of last month’s FABTECH exhibition in Chicago. Suppliers of laser cutting machinery displayed a variety of models, many of which sported features such as automation, high power and speeds, and smart controls that optimize their use in diverse applications.
Exhibitors emphasized the importance of laser cutting for not only job shops but machine shops, noting that the capabilities can create business opportunities. The emphasis of automation, by one particular machine maker, reduces the need for constant monitoring, thereby alleviating concerns about finding skilled people to operate machinery.
“Our lasers are engineered for job shops looking to run them with fewer operators,” said Frank Arteaga, head of product marketing at Bystronic Inc., based in Elgin, Ill. In an interview at FABTECH, Arteaga noted that the level of automation Bystronic designs into its laser equipment raises their ability to run by themselves, which in turn “makes less critical the lack of skilled workers.” With some of the company’s latest models, one operator can manage three or four machines, he noted.
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Laser cutting does, of course, from simple tasks such as cutting sheet and other forms to fabricating intricate aluminum, stainless steel, and other metal parts for aerospace, medical, and other high-tech markets. There are, moreover, a variety of machine options, from low-cost, entry-level models to fully automated systems that select and fabricate with different materials for different jobs and which can be controlled remotely by smartphone apps.
Among recent developments from Bystronic is the ByAutonom 3015, a CO2 laser system with either a power source of 4,400 or 6,000 watts (the latter was at FABTECH).
Arteaga said ByAutonom machines are engineered for autonomy. Features include automatic lens-cassette changer, nozzle changer, and nozzle-centering capability. This last one activates if the cutting nozzle comes in contact with a part. The machines will pause, automatically re-center the nozzle, and continue cutting.
They also feature Condition Messenger and Maintenance Messenger controls, which monitor the laser source, nozzle changer, laser focal length, and beam path. Should any of these need maintenance, the controls alert an operator.
The ByAutonom has two size formats for sheet fabrication: 5 by 10 ft and 6 by 13 ft. It can also be fitted with a rotary axis for processing tube profiles. Constructed with a rigid frame and lightweight cutting bridge, it has 3 g acceleration, which Arteaga said makes the system extremely fast in positioning and cutting.
It can cut 1-in-thick sheets of mild steel and stainless steel, and 5/8-in-thick aluminum.
Arteaga said all components, including the laser, resonator, and control software, were developed by Bystronic.
Laser cutting models highlighted by Trumpf North America, meanwhile, included the TruLaser 5030, with a 5,000-watt solid-state fiber laser and resonator.
Susan Grohs, a representative of the Farmington, Conn.-based company, called it a “game-changer.” This is because the machine combines the thick-cutting capabilities and speed of a CO2 laser with the thin-cut quality of a fiber laser, along with easy operation and maintenance, according to her.
The system cuts mild steel, stainless steel, and aluminum up to 1 in thick, and non-ferrous metals such as copper and brass up to 0.4 in thick can be worked on — and as much as five times faster than a CO2 laser, Trumpf maintains.
Because the fiber laser operates at a different wavelength than a CO2 laser, the TruLaser 5030 also cuts reflective metals, broadening the material range it works with.
The machine can be equipped with the LiftMaster Compact, a sheet-loading station, and the PartMaster, Trumpf’s sorting station for ergonomic removal of finished parts.
The TruLaser 5030 is at the high end of Trumpf’s 5000 machine series. Other models are the TruLaser 3030, a mid-market offering, and the TruLaser 1000, an entry-level unit with a small footprint.
One machine on display at FABTECH was advertised with a provocative claim: “World’s Fastest Laser … Period!” Making that bold statement was MegaFab, about the Whitney Eagle fiber laser cutting machine.
Paul Hardenburger, vice president of the Hutchinson, Kan.-based distributor for Whitney, said the machine’s features include a 6,000-watt power supply, 6 g acceleration, linear motor drives on all three axes to facilitate rapid movement, and a traverse gantry made of carbon fiber.
The Whitney Eagle’s machine base, moreover, is cast from polymer concrete, which is supposed to remain flat and straight no matter how fast the machine operates and generate far less temperature deviation than a metal frame.
The machine’s high-speed capabilities are suited for thin-sheet fabrication — 3/16 in or less (though the laser can cut metal up to 1 in thick) — and highly detailed cutting, Hardenburger said.
One feature is the laser’s rapid start and stop capability, which permits it to be repositioned extremely fast during complex cuts.