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Laser Technology

Fit for a new era

By Gretchen Salois

Advanced technology guides Midwest fabrication operation into highly accurate, predictive outcomes with sheet metal

February 2018 - What began as a steel shop 20 miles outside of Madison, Wisconsin, has grown into a stamper and fabricator that celebrated its centennial in 2017. Dane Mfg. today serves as an integral supplier to OEMs in a shift from a small owner-operated facility to a three-shift operation across two locations.

“As lasers grew more popular, Dane didn’t jump on board and purchase the technology right away,” says Mike Lisle, president. “As we ventured beyond the stamping and processes associated with sheet metal into a more diverse product line, we needed a more consistent and cutting edge technology.”

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Trumpf's BrightLine fiber can cut mild steel to stainless steel as well as highly reflective materials such as copper and aluminum in gauges from 1 mm to 25 mm.

Dane turned to Trumpf for various machines including a Trumpf 2020 punch and a laser machine in 2005. “By 2015 we realized that laser technology had come a long way since our initial purchase,” Lisle recalls. “We looked at different manufacturers but found that Trumpf had the technology and ease of use we needed.”

Dane consolidated its shop floor by purchasing additional punches and laser equipment from Trumpf. “There is consistency on the shop floor between the common programming language and familiar console, to the tech support. If there are any problems, there’s only Trumpf to call,” Lisle says. “It makes it easier for us to do business. We can focus instead of trying to orchestrate different tooling and consumables from different manufacturers.”

Long-term investment

“We have a [second] Trumpf 3030 ordered right now and expect to have that up and running on our floor in March,” Lisle says. Dane Mfg. has evolved since being purchased by CEO Troy Berg in 2001.

“Before Dane provided a certain amount of pieces per job,” Lisle explains. “Today we produce several fully assembled parts for customers.” Dane fabricates assemblies for home appliances, HVAC, construction, among other industries. This range includes geothermal heat pumps designed by Dane engineers and produced in house from sheet metal. The company produces parts for forced-air furnaces and is in the process of acquiring a maker of low-voltage heat exchangers used primarily in the telecom and communications sector.

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Even foil-coated sheets are no match for a laser cutter. Edges are smooth and parts are ready without refinishing.

Performance advantages, like adding processes to machines that allow customers to replicate all manner of job complexities and volumes, are what Trumpf customers want, according to Brett Thompson, a TruLaser engineer at Trumpf Inc. in Farmington, Connecticut.

Trumpf has honed in on sources of potential inconsistencies found when laser cutting high volumes of different parts and has engineered solutions so customers can get accurate outcomes with every production run.

“We have a monitoring system that operates in real time on our protective glass in the cutting unit,” Thompson explains. “Most fiber lasers use a protective glass to protect the focusing lens, and as a lens on a CO2 gets dirty and contaminated, so too does the protective glass.

“Eventually, it becomes so contaminated that it begins to absorb the laser beam, resulting in poor cutting conditions [And this] can become a pretty big problem for those trying to automate.”

Instead of waiting for cut quality to suffer, a Trumpf laser will identify the problem and pause the cutting program and alert the operator to ensure consistent part quality.

“The protective glass monitor feature is unique to us,” adds Thompson. “More companies are producing cutting units for fiber lasers, but Trumpf has done so since the introduction of our first fiber laser. We have experience building optics/laser source from small power ablating solutions to high-power cutting and welding solutions.”

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At the automatic pallet changer, pallets convey the raw sheets into the machine and to loading and unloading positions after processing.

Transitioning from cutting thin to thick material is achieved quickly and reliably. Traditionally, he says, thin material was cut with fiber and thick material with CO2. That is no longer the case. Evidence of that has been the parity between sales of fiber-laser cutters versus CO2 technology.

“There used to be an even split between CO2 and fiber-laser units sold. That shifted to where we’re selling fiber lasers almost exclusively,” Thompson says. “Fiber-laser machines are the vast majority of what we sell now. We can make a beam that is four times larger than the average ‘thin to thick’ machine,” he claims.

“The way Trumpf’s BrightLine fiber changes beam diameter allows for not only a substantial increase in part quality but, perhaps more importantly, a substantial increase in process reliability when compared to systems simply by changing focal length with a zoom optic.”

Trumpf also offers LaserNetwork, in which a single laser source can be shared with up to four machines. “You might buy a TruLaser 3030 fiber today and decide  down the road to buy a TruLaser Weld 5000,” says Thompson. “To keep investment costs low, rather than buying a dedicated laser source for the welding machine, you can choose to simply borrow the beam from the TruLaser 3030 fiber already purchased.”

Smaller footprint

The Trumpf laser allows Dane to cut more material while using less real estate. “The Trumpf 3030 takes up half as much space as our older model did,” Lisle says. “It cuts faster and we’ve saved time during the steel sheet transfer process.”

Faster cutting has shrunk Dane’s lead times dramatically, according to Lisle. “Our workload changes dramatically week to week but we’re able to turn around full formed and delivered parts in a week’s time,” Lisle says. “Our customers’ expectations are changing—they expect us to move quickly and not many of our competitors can match how fast we’re able to move.”

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Dane Mfg. no longer wastes time manually laying out cutting jobs or moving sheet.

Real-time analytics are conducted in the cloud, allowing anyone from production to management to review inventory, job status and delivery schedules.

“It’s helped us a lot. Instead of cutting and stacking leading to a queue of backed up material, we can now transfer material through the shop a lot quicker to get it out for delivery,” Lisle says.

Coupled with a material handling solution, Dane’s automated shop floor moves swiftly, picking up speed as orders arrive. “Automation capability alone is worth the investment in the Trumpf laser,” Lisle says. “The operator inputs the cut process, the software nests the parts and the material moves across the floor easily. There is no wasted time manually figuring out how to lay out cutting jobs or dead time wasted moving sheet. [This is completed] in a 20 ft. by 20 ft. space.

Intuitive software and team support and training conducted between Trumpf and Dane has paid off, according to Lisle. “The laser software puts the tools in place and it fits into our business metrics.

“It’s not a secret sauce, the metrics are visible and well-aligned in production and management systems. The analytics fit right into our financials—it’s been great.” FFJ

Sources

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