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Fiber laser cutting as a game changer

By Tom Klemens

Gregg Simpson, president of Ohio Laser, explains how advanced technology and the fiber laser have changed contract laser cutting

FFJ-0913-face-leadQ:How has laser cutting changed and evolved in recent years?

Gregg Simpson: Automation and advanced technology have been the driving forces for change, with more laser machines being sold every year because of the advantages they offer. Laser reliability and accuracy have improved and control technology has advanced while becoming much more user friendly. But it’s the advent of fiber laser technology that has been the game changer, almost as big a game changer as the first laser machines I started using in the early 1980s.

Ohio Laser has been in the business of laser cutting since 1997, when CO2 laser cutting machines were starting a significant change in cutting capability. While the fiber laser evolution has not quite equaled that degree of change, it still represents significant improvement.

To begin with, the fiber laser cuts much faster than conventional CO2 machines, increasing plant throughput while lowering operational costs. This is possible because the fiber laser resonator generates a superior beam and is delivered through a fiber cable that maintains the beam quality to the cutting head. There are no moving parts in the laser or beam delivery. Conventional lasers have a very long beam path with numerous moving parts and are prone to contamination and decreasing efficiency.

Additionally, fiber lasers offer huge wall-plug efficiency. Conventional CO2 laser machines are about 6 percent to 10 percent efficient at converting electrical energy into light. In contrast, fiber lasers offer 28 percent wall-plug efficiency. That difference represents huge cost-savings potential.

At Ohio Laser, we have been using a fiber laser machine for almost two years. We were one of the first beta test sites for the Trumpf TruLaser 1030. Although conventional CO2 laser machines are still a better fit for cutting materials more than 1⁄2 in. thick, especially stainless and carbon steels, the fiber laser cuts thinner materials faster and more efficiently, allowing us to penetrate additional markets. For instance, it’s been a door opener with respect to highly reflective metals. Now we can cut copper, brass and bronze with speed and efficiency. These materials were difficult to cut before.

Q: Have these changes introduced significant new challenges to the industry?

Simpson: Because technology continues to advance at such a rapid pace, the biggest challenge is determining when to jump in and make the investment. Fiber laser technology requires a  higher capital investment per kilowatt, which includes paying a premium for the new technology and machinery. 

The questions become when is the best time to acquire a new fiber laser cutting machine, and how—do you buy or lease? These are big questions when you consider a machine might cost as much as $1.5 million and you risk obsolescence in only a few years.

Q: What benefits does a contract laser cutting service offer? Why shouldn’t a company just buy its own laser and do the work in-house?

Simpson: Besides avoiding the large capital outlay for equipment, using a contract service gives you the benefit of the core competency that such firms offer. This is our niche. It’s what we know and what we do best. If you are manufacturer of a particular set of products, you are probably focused on designing, manufacturing and marketing those products. That’s your core competence. Metal cutting and fabrication are probably secondary. At a contract laser service, metal cutting and fabrication are our primary concerns. It’s why we maintain a diverse array of cutting equipment for tube laser processing, flat laser processing, press brake forming and robotic welding. It’s why we currently offer a full range of CO2 laser cutting services for stainless and carbon steel from 3,000 W to 6,000 W (where it makes most sense), and target other products with our new fiber laser, which offers customers high quality and larger quantity orders while lowering their costs. It’s all about synergy.

A good example is a customer who recently brought us a design for a medical cart. By bringing together all of our value-added laser cutting and fabrication capabilities, we took a product initially designed to include eight different parts and reduced it to four parts, which cut our customer’s costs by 50 percent. That’s a significant savings on the fabrication side. Plus, in our opinion, it now also looks better and works better. FFJ

Interested in purchasing reprints of this article? Click here

Sources

  • Ohio Laser LLC
    Plain City, Ohio
    phone: 614/873-7030
    fax: 614/873-7040
    www.ohiolaser.com
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