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Laser Technology

Complementary systems

By Meghan Boyer

A new fiber laser paired with existing capabilities enhances productivity at Metko Inc.

May 2012 - Purchasing equipment for a job shop isn’t about only solving a company’s immediate productivity needs, says Michael McCarthy, CEO and president at Metko Inc. A fabricator needs to consider the long-term outlook as well—a philosophy McCarthy put into action with a recent laser system investment.

“I look for the long term because once these machines are here, they’re here for a long time. You want to make sure you don’t just solve today’s issue—you solve today’s issues and those down the road a ways,” he says.

For McCarthy, accomplishing this requires careful consideration to ensure each equipment addition complements the existing mix of capabilities and enhances productivity. “You don’t want to buy a new machine and obsolete all the others,” he says.

Metko, a New Holstein, Wis.-based family-owned job shop, has multiple fabricating capabilities at its facility, including laser cutting; punching; forming; rolling; hardware insertion; and robotic, TIG, MIG and spot and seam welding. The business serves a variety of different markets and clients, fabricating everything from tanks and reservoirs for off-road vehicles to lawn equipment.

A unique vision
When it was time to purchase another laser for the plant last year, McCarthy weighed his options. Metko already had three CO2 lasers, and McCarthy is very familiar with the technology. The company purchased its first laser in 1989. His most-recent CO2 laser purchase, roughly three years ago, was a 6,000-W model from Amada America Inc., Buena Park, Calif.

“The primary purpose for [the 6,000-W Amada laser] was to cut 0.25 in. and thinner with nitrogen,” says McCarthy, noting the 6,000 W gives him the power to cut at higher speeds when using nitrogen, something he could not have achieved with a lower-wattage system. “Combining the higher-wattage laser with a nitrogen generator together makes a very productive/cost-effective combination,” says McCarthy.

McCarthy has a unique vision for his laser cutting, says Jason Hillenbrand, laser product manager at Amada. McCarthy had been cutting parts with oxygen for years, “so he spent a lot of time with secondary processes, and he wanted to get rid of that,” says Hillenbrand. McCarthy ultimately made the decision to make the larger equipment investment to achieve the speeds he wanted with nitrogen. “Most people would just bite the bullet and cut slower or cut with oxygen and just perform the secondary processes of removing the oxidized edge,” says Hillenbrand.

For his next laser purchase, McCarthy saw an opportunity to increase speed further with a system that complemented his 6,000-W laser—the FOL3015AJ 4,000-W fiber laser from Amada.

“His philosophy was he doesn’t buy a machine because of the money it saves him; he buys a machine because of the productivity it gives him,” says Hillenbrand. “That’s the mindset he had when he bought the 6,000-W CO2, and that’s the mindset he had when he investigated the FOL-AJ fiber machine.”

The 6,000-W CO2 laser and the 4,000-W fiber laser complement each other, says McCarthy. “Because we have the 6,000-W, we have some speed advantage as we get thicker. We’re going to basically cut 10 gauge and thinner on [the fiber laser] at this point. It’s certainly capable of cutting thicker than that, but I’m thinking with our combination, it lets us use both machines in their sweet spots,” he says, noting both Amada lasers at his facility have automated material-handling systems.

Amada invested a lot of time and research in developing its fiber machine, says Hillenbrand. The company unveiled the 4,000-W system last year and will introduce a 2,000-W fiber machine later this year, he says. The 4,000-W fiber system has a maximum cutting area of approximately 120 in. by 61 in. and can cut a maximum material thickness of 0.875 in.

Competitive advantage
The job shop market is competitive, which means companies like Metko need to do everything they can to stay ahead, says McCarthy. “You’ve got two choices with equipment. You can go with current technology … or you can innovate,” he says, noting his previous positive experience working with Amada helped make the decision to add a fiber laser to his operations easier. “We have a tendency to step out of the comfort zone, but you have to do that with a good machine manufacturer, somebody that’s a good partner with you,” says McCarthy. “Things can come up. You have to be with a company that’s with you and doesn’t walk away when there’s a problem. Amada is such a company.”

Ultimately, the decision to bring fiber laser technology to Metko was not difficult, says McCarthy. “When you start looking at the fiber and adding up all of the things that the fiber technology brings, it was really pretty easy to decide,” he says.

Speed is a major advantage with the Amada FOL3015AJ fiber laser. With linear drives in the X, Y and Z axes, the system can reach 5G acceleration for the entire work envelope and more than 13,000 ipm rapid traverse speeds. It can cut up to three times faster than CO2 on some thin-gauge materials.

The machine has a lot of power per square inch, says Hillenbrand. “We placed the fiber oscillator on our FOL linear drive machine, which is the fastest laser available,” he says. “We could have put it on any motion system, but to take the most advantage of what a fiber can do, we put it on the fastest we have.”

Another major benefit McCarthy experienced is increased part consistency with the fiber laser. “It’s almost like a cookie cutter,” he says. “You cut that first piece and you cut the last piece on the sheet and they look the same. The quality of the cut is the same. It just seems to be more consistent.”

The operating costs for the fiber laser are significantly less, notes McCarthy. Through Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program, which works with residents and businesses to install energy-efficient projects, Metko was able to secure a financial incentive from the state because of the electricity savings associated with the fiber laser.

The fiber laser also is presenting Metko with additional opportunities. The company has started cutting some exotic materials, specifically 0.25-in. copper, with its newest laser. Copper and brass were not good fits for the CO2 lasers, but with the fiber laser, “because of its different frequency, it actually can cut it nicely. The opportunities may be few but it definitely opens up another window,” says McCarthy.

Metko was in a good position to add a fiber laser to its operations because of the company’s existing CO2 technology, says Hillenbrand. For fabricators selecting their first laser systems, the decision is not always cut and dried regarding which technology—CO2 or fiber—to choose. “CO2 technology has come a long way. Just in the last 12 months, the operating costs have been reduced greatly. But there’s a lot of advantages to fiber technology,” he says.

It’s no question the fiber laser combined with Metko’s existing capabilities will be able to create a competitive advantage for the company, says McCarthy. “We’re still working through everything as far as trying to integrate it into our production, but it’s going to be a big plus,” he says. “This new fiber technology is not evolutionary but revolutionary for our industry.” FFJ

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Sources

  • Amada America Inc. 
    Buena Park, Calif.
    phone: 877/262-3287 
    fax: 714/739-4099
    www.amada.com
  • Metko Inc.
    New Holstein, Wis.
    phone: 920/898-4221
    fax: 920/898-1389
    www.metko.com


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