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Laser Technology

Changing tactics

By Gretchen Salois

Above: The Salvagnini L5 laser cutter gives Gensco consistent results. Previous methods meant the top or bottom piece of a stack could be off by as much as 1⁄16 in.

Generations of know-how culminate into a decision to overhaul cutting methods

December 2016 - A third-generation family-owned fabricator of HVAC sheet metal and specialty products, Gensco Inc. has been in business since 1948. Years of process inefficiencies led the Fife, Washington-based company’s leadership to improve its cutting process. “We bought a Salvagnini L5 3 kW laser so we could cut metal without the extra steps we had to take when using a bandsaw,” says Ryan Walters, Columbia manufacturing manager, a manufacturing division at Gensco. 

Previously, Gensco workers would take 1-in.-thick metal plate and spray paint a pattern onto it, then cut it with a bandsaw. “This caused some quality and automation issues further downstream,” Walters says. “We wanted more accurate cutting results that could help us increase productivity. The laser improved quality and our productivity downstream because we only needed to set up the automated build process once and could run it without issue. Automated processes ate up that bottleneck.”

Salvagnini America Inc. President Bill Bossard explains that bottlenecks can be eliminated, in part, because of the consistent cut from the L5 laser, but also the material handling component of the machine design. “Sometimes, the source of inefficiency isn’t the cutting stage, it’s the material handling process,” Bossard says. “The laser machine itself is not paced by the speed with which it cuts, but by the rate the material handling can exchange parts offloading raw to cut material.”

Gensco’s decision to install the L5 model was based largely on its ability to outperform rack-and-pinion type machines, claims Bossard. “Increasing or decreasing cutting time meant we needed to build a material handling system that would function in a very quick manner in order to keep the laser operating as much as possible.”

FFJ 1216 laser image1

Scrap volume is down by 25 to 55 percent on any given job. Nesting software lays out parts to make the most of each sheet.

The search

Gensco processes galvanized sheet metal, as well as aluminum, stainless, copper and perforated metal, Walters says. The Salvagnini was able to meet Gensco’s high volume routine. “We cut about 5,000 pieces a day and our L5 can run lights out,” he adds.

Using the laser has eliminated large burrs on the cut metal. “Before, when we cut using the bandsaw, we were cutting thick stacks of sheet,” Walters explains. “Our employees had to put a decent amount of pressure to cut through the stack so by the end of it, the top or bottom piece could be off by as much as 1⁄16 in. 

“We have an automatic folding process we would set up several times during production [to account for] the 1⁄16 in. variance,” he continues, adding that production would stop during those setups. “Now we can send that material to the laser and cut it accurately without variances each time. We’ve also been able to speed up.”

Nesting has increased material yield. “Scrap volume is down at least 25 percent on any given job” and has been reduced by up to 55 percent, Walters says. “Our guys no longer have to handle sharp edges from the sheet metal, either, making it safer.”

Before the purchase, Salvagnini had Gensco at its facility for a week-long training session. “We were able to test out the machine and run jobs that we do on a daily basis,” Walters says. “Our guys came back with great reports. The learning curve was only about two weeks before our guys could start running things efficiently.”

Walters has cut a variety of metals and a variety of gauges in those metals. “We run our laser about 18 to 20 hours a day,” he says. The process begins with the arrival of 10,000-lb. coils of sheet metal and Gensco processes them to flat, 60-in. by 120-in. sheets. 

“The laser is able to pull those sheets from racking systems and feed the laser,” Walters says. “The L5 cuts our patterns and our cut pieces are automatically moved to the next station for shaking (separating finished parts from scrap). It’s helped us quicken our production processes, allowing us to grow as a company and keep up with demand.” 

FFJ 1216 laser image2

Gensco Inc. cuts approximately 5,000 parts a day and its Salvagnini L5 runs lights out.

Different methods

Machine design and floor footprint play roles in the approach when making choices between cutting technologies. Fiber laser technology, compared to CO2, is a less cluttered design, keeping the machine’s footprint contained. “Bellows, mirrors, beam path, among other parts of the machine, were removed, making for a much cleaner design,” Bossard says. The L3 and L5 models have come out with numerous feature upgrades, including pierce detection, cut confirmation, edge sensing, automatic nozzle changing, “and the list goes on,” he adds.

The L5 offers a compass-type cutting head structure that enables high acceleration within a certain area of the nest, thus greatly reducing the cutting and piercing time, explains Bossard. Automatic modulation of cutting parameters, single-optic head cooled without gas, modular automation, smart process solutions and safety guards all contribute to the L5 machine’s productivity. 

In 2015, Hamilton, Ohio-based Salvagnini introduced a 6 kW laser with beam adjustment capabilities that allow the user to cut thicker material quickly. Machine designs change based on different factors and is especially driven by feedback from customers. “We might hear about a challenge from our sales and marketing group facing customers and from there we begin researching how to approach that problem with a solution,” Bossard says.

Gensco’s success wasn’t so much about cutting faster than it had before, says Bossard, but more about redesigning the complete start-to-finish sequence. “We were able to pull off the non-value parts by reducing the amount of time it takes for the material handling stage of their process,” he says. “The machines we make, the material handling we design and features we add to our machines are all focused on cutting wasted time.” FFJ

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