Cutting Choices: Machine builder helps customers navigate options amid power and automation race

Above: The touch screen tracks and monitors sorted parts and quantities, making it easy to know when the pallets are ready for the next stage of production

March, 2024- The market for kW-Class high-power fiber lasers is expected to see substantial growth by 2026, driven by increasing demand for high precision, high-speed cutt ing. Industrial automation is also undergoing a metamorphosis triggered by the evolution of artificial intelligence, collaborative robots and IoT integration.

“Right now, it’s either a power race or an automation race,” says Hank White, laser product manager for Mazak Optonics Corp. The company builds 2D and 3D fiber lasers from 4 kW to 20 kW. Smart Cell, a six-axis robotic sorting system, is supported by Smart System software, available in different sizes and can be customized to meet most job shop requirements. Mazak’s Elgin, Illinois-based 75,000-sq.-ft . technology center is a hub for laser symposiums, training and application development.

White says fabricators need more power to increase cutting speeds and material range but points out several challenges a job shop or manufacturer should consider before investing in a high-power kW fiber laser.

“It’s important to keep green light time at around 70 to 90 percent,” he says. “If a manufacturer purchases a larger, more powerful machine with no automation, human operators won’t be able to keep up. If the fiber laser is powerful enough, automation may not be able to keep pace with production. That means machine idle time and a negative return on investment.”

Mazak builds 2D and 3D fi ber lasers from 4 kW to 20 kW


White also points to the lingering after effects of the pandemic as a contributing factor in the rush to automate. The Great Resignation forced companies to adjust work environments to retain employees. Despite the focus on people-first cultures, 2023 saw a large number of resignations comparable to previous years.

“Manufacturers trying to fill the personnel gap continue to look at simplifying their processes with automation,” says White. “Currently, 50 percent of fiber lasers are being sold with automation. Following the initial post-pandemic surge for equipment, our production activity is just now beginning to even out. We either have it in stock or there is a fourto six-month waiting period. But we’re still selling a lot of fiber lasers. For automation though, you could be looking at a lead time of up to 12 months. No one can keep up. It’s a sign of the times.”

Mazak’s Smart Cell uses customized, interchangeable magnetic and suction cup grippers to sort laser-cut parts.

Smarter machines are another indicator. Intelligent fiber lasers are making it possible for job shops and fabricators to employ people who don’t have the previously more common skill sets to run equipment. Controls have been designed to resemble oversized tablets, and machine operation has a smoother, more futuristic feel. “Companies want to get people excited about making things,” White says. “It’s a whole new demographic of people who are coming onto to the shop floor.”

Mazak’s Smart Cell, a six-axis robotic sorting system is available in diff erent sizes and can be customized.


Technology advances are making machine operation easier, but the job of handling the parts that come off the fiber laser can be problematic for personnel. “That is hard work,” says White. “It can weed people out pretty quickly. Pick and sort automation designed to palletize parts and ready them for downstream operations removes the potential for operator error and injury. Robots don’t get tired. They also free up a company to move personnel to more value-added roles.”

Artificial intelligence is poised to take laser cutting and automation for parts offloading to the next level but, for now, operations like removal of nested parts still need a human touch. Parts can sometimes shift under the skeleton, requiring the operator to lift the framework and manipulate the piece in order to remove it. Nitrogen-cut 1/2-in. aluminum requires a rubber mallet to knock parts out of the skeleton because a small kerf makes the fit tight. Thicker material may need heavy-duty magnets for part removal.

“Nested parts are like a puzzle,” says White. “A robot needs to be able to recognize the different things that can happen during cutting and understand what to do. AI will continue to develop and likely be the answer to helping robots expand their capabilities from rote programming to knowledge.”


While demand for high-powered fiber lasers isn’t going away, it’s important for manufacturers to consider how the new purchase will impact downstream operations. It may mean a company has to upgrade its press brakes, stamping presses or welding operation. It’s also prudent for a manufacturer not to run its cutting processes too lean by purchasing a high-powered fiber laser to replace smaller machines. “You always need a backup in the event a machine breaks down,” he says.

Mazak helps manufacturers determine the right fiber laser/automation package by evaluating the parts a company wants to cut. The applications staff will run a customer’s parts, perform studies and analyze the results. Mazak engineers also find out how a customer removes parts from a fiber laser, if they have existing automation and how much floor space they can commit.

With a comprehensive lineup of 50 different fiber laser models, Mazak can customize automation to the cutting machine selected. Cutting ¼-in carbon steel with nitrogen, for example, will deliver a better quality cut four times faster than oxygen. Bottom dross is also greatly reduced.

“We’ve seen a jump in these applications,” says White. “A 10 kW fiber laser will fit any application and accounts for about 50 percent of our sales. Automation can easily support two or three 10 kW fiber lasers.”

As manufacturers continue to keep their eye on ways to simplify operations and boost productivity, White says that customer service remains a Mazak hallmark.

“All equipment manufacturers make good machines,” he says. “Our level of service is what sets us apart. We take care of our customers like family. When they call us, we’re there to support them; even if a company buys a second-hand machine. Once customers install a Mazak fiber laser, their success is our number one priority.”

Mazak Optonics Corp., 847/252-4500,