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Laser Technology

In-house capabilities

By Meghan Boyer

Davlan Engineering increases production speed with its first laser-cutting system

October 2011- During the recession, many of Davlan Engineering Inc.’s commercial clients slowed their purchases. But as the market began improving, so did customer demand. The St. Louis-based manufacturer once again is receiving more business from its commercial clients—but increasingly they are waiting until the last minute to place orders and are requesting quick turnaround times for their parts. “A lot of our customers wait until the last minute to order. They want it the same day or the next day. That’s pretty substantial,” says Rich Willenbrink, fabrication and welding supervisor at Davlan.

Davlan’s diverse offerings and customer base helped carry the company through the recession. Its military business picked up in recent years, while the commercial side dropped off. Now as more companies have worked through their inventory, they are reaching the point where they need to order again, says David Weitz Jr., Davlan operations manager.

Davlan has been providing precision machining services since 1963, including waterjet cutting, stamping, sawing, welding and grinding. The company grew from a two-person shop to a 60,000-sq.-ft. facility with more than 80 employees.

Though Davlan has two waterjets, the company was subcontracting thousands of dollars worth of laser cutting to meet its clients’ needs—a process that takes longer to complete than fabricating parts in-house. With a large military contract necessitating laser work, the company began to explore different options for purchasing a laser.

“Most lasers are $600,000, $700,000, $800,000. We were a little reluctant to spend that kind of money, because we didn’t want to be primarily a laser cutting shop,” says Willenbrink. Working with Icon Machine Tool, a St. Louis-based machine tool distributor, the company chose a TruLaser 1030 from Trumpf Inc., Farmington, Conn. The machine could meet Davlan’s needs, and “it was priced within our budget,” he says.

The TruLaser 1030 is an “ideal machine for laser beginners who want to bring outsourced work in-house or who for cost reasons are switching from solid material to sheet metal,” says Stefan Fickenscher, product manager of the Trumpf TruLaser Group.

Trumpf launched the TruLaser 1030 in 2009. It was available initially with a Trumpf CO2 laser, a TruCoax 2 kW diffusion-cooled RF laser resonator. “Since then, two other options within the TruLaser 1030 product line have been introduced: the TruLaser 1030 fiber and the TruLaser 1030 with TruCoax 2500 as a replacement of the initial 2 kW laser source,” says Fickenscher.

Increased speed
Davlan now fabricates everything in-house within the capacity of its 2 kW laser. The machine has a 2,000 W resonator and a cutting envelope of 60 in. by 120 in. “We’ve cut a variety of different materials,” says Willenbrink. “We have cut mild steel, aluminum, stainless steel and armored plate. We’ve actually managed to cut up to 3⁄4-in.-thick steel with the machine, even though the machine is rated for 5⁄8 capacity on mild steel.” One customer had a part Davlan had been fabricating using waterjet cutting. The part cost the customer roughly $26 when cut using a waterjet. “We ran some samples in the laser, and Dave approached the customer, and they were satisfied with the finish and the quality of the part,” he says. “It took this $26 part and made it a $7 or $8 part.”

The customer, which was purchasing 100 parts at a time, now has a dramatically lower cost per part. “They love us,” says Weitz.

On most materials up to a certain thickness, the laser cuts roughly 10 times faster than the company’s waterjets, says Willenbrink. “A lot of our pre-existing customers, once they found out we had this laser, they have been sending us more work because the cost of a laser-cut part versus a waterjet-cut part, there is a considerable savings there,” he says.

Many customers are learning about Davlan’s laser through word of mouth, says Weitz. “They found out we had a laser, and their biggest thing is ‘How fast can you get me quotes back?’ and ‘How fast can you get me parts back?’”

Ease of use
The machine’s ease-of-use helps keep customer orders moving smoothly through programming and cutting. “What impressed me is its ease of programming. We can have a program out on the floor in 10 to 15 minutes,” says Weitz. “We usually quote actual. So when we get the job and they want a quick turnaround, we give it to them because we are usually already done with the program and all we have to do is throw it up on the machine and get it going,” he says.

When a customer requests a quote, Weitz runs it through the programming software, which gives the amount of time and material required to complete the job, says Willenbrink. When the purchase order comes in, the preliminary work is finished, so it’s a matter of putting the material on the machine, calling up the program, making minor adjustments and fabricating the parts.

Once it’s programmed, the laser is very straightforward for an operator to run. Both Willenbrink and Weitz attended laser programming training at Trumpf’s Farmington, Conn., facility. “Anybody with CAD experience is going to catch on really quickly,” says Willenbrink. “If you are familiar with drawing formats and if you can navigate around a little bit in CAD, it’s pretty simple to get through.”

Functions such as start, stop and pause are similar to those on a home-entertainment CD player, says Fickenscher. “The development engineers who designed the TruLaser 1030 gave great importance to simple operation,” he says.

Weitz recently brought a new Davlan employee to the TruLaser 1030. “I think it was the second day he was here. I told him I need him to be able to program the laser, and that day he was doing programs,” he says. “It’s so intuitive. It’s basically just steps.”

The laser also has a small footprint that doesn’t require a lot of space on the shop floor. “It doesn’t take up any more space than it needs to. It fits perfectly where we wanted to put it,” says Weitz.

Thanks to the high level of component integration in the basic configuration, the TruLaser 1030 requires half the floor space of a typical 5 ft. by 10 ft. machine, says Fickenscher. The machine ships as one complete package, and installation is easy because the laser does not require special foundations.

“I think in our situation, the laser was just a great complement to our waterjet. It definitely is a different niche,” says Weitz. “It allows us to do it faster, and still the fact that we can do aluminum and stainless up to 1⁄4 in. is great.” FFJ

Interested in purchasing reprints of this article? Click here

Sources

  • Davlan Engineering Inc.
    St. Louis
    phone: 636/225-5310
    www.davlan.com
  • Trumpf Inc.
    Farmington, Conn.
    phone: 860/255-6000
    www.us.trumpf.com

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