Laser Technology

Making time

By Lynn Stanley

Above: High part accuracies on Ermak press brake technology (upper right) and comparison study results convinced Container Services Group to invest in its first fiber laser (foreground): an Ermak Fibermak Momentum-Gen 3.

Higher throughput, lower operational costs and the flexibility to process diverse parts prove fiber technology’s mettle

May 2016 - When Container Service Group (CSG) needed to replace aging equipment, it initially sought to keep its shear and punch operations status quo. CSG Co-owner John Driscoll and his son, Operations Manager Mike Driscoll, attended a demonstration of a new turret punch at Ermak USA’s showroom in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. 

While there, Mac-Tech Regional Sales Manager Adam Quoss piqued their interest by showing the two an Ermak Fibermak Momentum-Gen 3 fiber laser machine and some sample parts. The Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company is a metal fabrication equipment distributor and service provider for the Greater Midwest Region.

“We had talked about this technology in the past but, frankly, we were skeptical of its fit at CSG,” says John Driscoll.

FFJ 0516 laser image1

The Fibermak fiber laser has helped Container Services Group reclaim lost production time, eliminate the hand labor previously required to produce and clean parts, and reallocate manpower to value-added assembly work.

Previous purchases through Mac-Tech—a 193-ton Ermak Evo Hybrid press brake and a 44-ton Ermak Microbend press brake—persuaded CSG to consider the idea. Says Driscoll, “They were competent and prompt with response times, qualities that meshed well with our own core business values. The high part accuracies we achieved with the Ermak press brakes also demonstrated to us Ermaksan’s ability to design and construct a precision machine frame with tier one components.” (Based in Turkey, Ermaksan produces sheet metal fabrication machines and markets its products to North America through Ermak USA and its distributor Mac-Tech.)

A comparison study of the Fibermak laser’s machine production capability, flexibility and capacity with that of a turret punch proved revealing.

Can conveyors

“Elimination of tooling and cost-efficient operation caught our attention right away,” says Driscoll. “Higher production levels were significant but at the end of the day we justified the cost of the technology with the breadth of work the laser could handle.”

Customers’ evolving demands make flexibility crucial for Driscoll and Co-owner Steve Sowski, who founded CSG in 2002. The manufacturer serves the container handling industry, specializing in mechanical and air conveyor systems for beer, beverage and food cans. Engineering, fabrication and installation complement CSG’s production of mat top, tabletop, cable conveyors and gravity fittings as well as single-lane and mass air conveyors with single air filters. 

The partners gained their industry experience working at a local conveyor company and later for American National Can. 

“Production, spoilage and line speeds are some of our customers’ biggest challenges,” says Driscoll. 

“Can plants add to the complexity because each one carries its own custom designs.” 

FFJ 0516 laser image2

The Fibermak produced this part in 20-gauge stainless steel grade 304, measuring 11 mm by 18 mm and with 100 square holes and 100 round holes, in 30 seconds.

CSG installed an Ermak Fibermak 2kW fiber laser and ramped up production in December 2015. “Prior to the laser we fabricated all our components on the turret press or on manual machines,” says Driscoll. “The operations required hours of cleanup. Punch-formed parts and louvers are reserved for our existing turret punches but the laser has taken on 90 percent of the workload with minimal cleanup. We’ve been able to reclaim that time and move our manpower from the hand labor it took to make and clean parts to assembly work instead. As a result we’ve increased output, stepped up assembly time and cut fabrication time by weeks for some components.”

Repeat business makes up the bulk of CSG’s market share and service is its primary conduit. The Fibermak allows the manufacturer to easily shift between long and short runs depending on customer requirements. 

When parts production was run on the turret punch, sheet metal had to be sheared prior to punching. Because the fiber laser eliminates this step, material handling is reduced. Mac-Tech training made the transition from turret to laser easy for CSG’s machine operators, notes Driscoll.

CSG uses the fiber laser to cut mild steel up to 3⁄4-in. thick. In some cases sheet metal can be cut at three times the speed of a CO2. Cutting tables are dual-pallet design ranging in size from 4 ft. by 8 ft. to 10 ft. by 26 ft.  

“The ability to offer custom table sizes is unique to us,” says Quoss. We’ve built our name on providing customers with individualized support, after sales service and the newest advances in technology and software.”

Numbers game

Senol Rodoplu, vice president of sales at Ermak USA, breaks down the functions of the fiber laser. “A pneumatic ball transfer table allows part processing to continue on the table in the machine, freeing the operator to collect cut parts or load other material for processing,” he says. “The ball bearings allow material to move easily on the table without scratching it, and are especially suited to applications that require stainless steel and aluminum.”

A high-precision Precitec ProCutter cutting head and IPG resonator equips the machine to cut a wide range of materials up to 1 in. thick. The head is also lightweight for fast acceleration and cutting speeds. Its fully integrated sensor system monitors the cutting process and provides users like CSG with information that supports repeatability.

FFJ 0516 laser image3

Stainless steel grade 304, 11-gauge brackets and air-handling conveyors.

“I’m air cutting stainless steel up to 3⁄16-in.,” says Driscoll. “I’m saving $20 an hour in nitrogen costs. I’ve increased production for all of our jobs across the board and lowered my operating costs. The Fibermak is cheaper to run than my hot tub.”

Small components are nested for optimized assembly. The laser runs 65 to 70 hours a week, processing parts ranging in size from 1 in. by 1 in. up to 60 in. by 10 ft. Because parts are either bolted together for assemblies or welded for larger components, accuracy is essential.

“The Fibermak comes with a rack-and-pinion servo drive, which allows it to work continuously under demanding conditions while maintaining a 0.001-in. positioning accuracy and a repetition accuracy of 0.0006 in.,” says Quoss. 

The fiber laser gives CSG the agility it needs to remain competitive and “the machine is exceeding expectations,” Driscoll notes. “You have to make investments in technology that can equip you to keep pace with customers’ changing requirements. That’s especially important to us because we finish what we start and stand behind our products on time commitments.” FFJ



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