Laser Technology

First impressions

By Gretchen Salois

Above: TruLaser 2030 fiber is now available with optional automation. The TruLaser Series 2000 combines the advantages of a compact machine with the performance of higher machine classes.

Industrial strength produces silken smooth goods

December 2015 - You make a first impression once. A freshly pressed shirt implies someone wants to be taken seriously. A fluid, draped tablecloth topped off with carefully ironed linens separates an upscale event from a backyard barbeque. These areas of detail are achieved on a grander scale with the appropriate equipment. 

In the case of Leonard Automatics Inc., Denver, North Carolina, industrial laundry equipment is produced in part with its TruLaser 2030 from Trumpf Inc. The equipment Leonard Automatics produces is used to automate the traditionally labor-intensive pressing and finishing of garments and flat items, such as cloth napkins, in high-production facilities. 

The decision to upgrade its laser equipment to fiber technology was prompted by the need to outpace its previous production rate. “We bought our first modern cutting machine, a Trumpf CO2 laser, back in 2010 and ran it for five years,” recalls Jacob Frushtick, manufacturing technology manager, Leonard Automatics. “But since then fiber laser technology has really outpaced CO2.”

FFJ 1215 laser image1

TruLaser 2030 fiber nozzle changer uses a single cutting head with collision protection.

Leonard Automatics was using an older model TruLaser 2030. After upgrading to the fiber version, they realized they could sell their current machine and purchase the new machine without paying much more per month. “Things really lined up perfectly,” Frushtick says. “We cleaned out our remaining loan on the laser we had and swapped out the old one for a new one.”

Cutting 24-gauge stainless steel up to 1⁄4-in. with a fiber laser has doubled the amount Leonard Automatic can cut compared to its previous machine. “The edge quality is better, too,” Frushtick says. “We have less to clean up because of a cleaner cut. Our power bill is also down $900 each month.”

Garments exit washing machines and are hung onto conveyor systems, which then run through the Leonard Tunnel Finisher, explains Frushtick. Once inside the tunnel finisher, the garments are injected with steam and then dried in a high air flow oven chamber, providing the wrinkle-free finish.

The company also manufactures machinery that presses napkins. Its Stack-N-Store napkin stacker counts and stacks linen napkins, towels, pillowcases, aprons and other linens for linen rental companies. 

Smooth transition

In addition to faster cutting times, switching from job to job and running the program on the machine is easier. “Before it would take me 20 minutes to get a program restarted if one of our operators stepped out,” Frushtick explains. “On this new laser even I can start back up in 15 seconds. It’s much easier to use.”

The new machine also gives operators more flexibility for on-the-fly programming. For example, it is much easier to recut a part. An operator can pull up the part on the controller and make the part, whereas before they would need to have a programmer write a new program and send it to the machine. 

FFJ 1215 laser image2

Freshly cut Leonard Conveyor Chain components.

The older laser had automated loading and unloading, according to Frushtick. While the new TruLaser 2030 fiber 4 kW does not, Leonard Automatic installed a suction cup lifting device to move sheet metal to the changing bed before cutting. “One laser is ready and starts cutting once material is placed onto the machine,” he explains. “Afterward, the large pieces are removed using suction and the smaller pieces can be changed out by hand.” Any tabbed material is placed onto a cart and the operator uses a rubber hammer to loosen pieces into a collection bin for the next step.

Leonard Automatic developed and manufactured its own transporter conveyor. “A sheet [of stainless steel] consists of several thousand parts and would take nine to 15 hours on our old laser,” Frushtick says. “Now it only takes two to eight hours to cut the same amount.”

Puzzle pieces 

Using laser technology has changed the way Leonard Automatic approaches jobs. “We used to build our [equipment] frames with tubular steel welded together,” explains Frushtick. “We now cut flat pieces of material that are formed into structure members and assembled like a jigsaw puzzle, and then weld them in place. With the fiber laser we’ve reduced cutting times for our frames in half.”

Cutting speed is not the only benefit with Trumpf’s latest 2-D cutting TruLaser 2030 fiber. According to Dave Dobson, sales engineer at Trumpf, Farmington, Connecticut, it’s also cheaper to operate. “Because of electrical efficiency and less maintenance needed, there are lower operating costs.” For example, there is no longer a need to replace and clean mirrors, which is a critical maintenance point in CO2 lasers, he adds.

FFJ 1215 laser image3

The Trumpf 2030 Fiber cutting Leonard Conveyor Chain components.

Trumpf has offered a solid state laser for nearly 20 years but in a laser welding capacity. In the last few years the company realized there would be advantages to converting that technology to metal cutting operations. “We saw a benefit in efficiency and speed with thin gauges,” Dobson says, noting other models in the 3000- and 5000-series machines offer BrightLine fiber technology, useful for cutting thick sheet.

The laser mimics the cut of a CO2 on thicker material. “It’s really useable on stainless, aluminum or steel that is 3⁄8-in.-thick and above,” Dobson says. “We’re using a larger spot size to cut thicker materials and achieving bigger kerf holding.

The TruLaser 2030 fiber laser from Trumpf also has an automatic nozzle changer and other standard features that give fabricators a productive machine at a relatively low cost, with or without automation. The newer version creates a smaller footprint. The duct collector, chiller and TruDisk laser, for example, are included within the machine frame; a pallet changer is optional. 

The reduction in processing time for Leonard Automatic has been dramatic. The older machine ran 50 hours a week. With the new fiber laser, run time has dropped to 30 hours. “Right now we have it sitting shut off one day a week,” Frushtick says. “So the next goal is to find new opportunities to keep the machine busy because as it is, we’re cutting the same amount of material in two-thirds the time.” FFJ


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