Laser Technology

Strong hold

By Gretchen Salois

Building containers to withstand tough use and the elements, a fabricator chooses an automated fiber laser cutting line

April 5, 2018 - Toolboxes for utility trucks, if they fail in service, can lead to disaster. Hardiness and craftsmanship determine whether the design and execution can be entrusted with the crucial cargo for anyone in need of transporting equipment.

Toolbox demand prompted RC Industries Inc. to look beyond the capabilities of its used CO2 lasers “[At the time] we found that we could get reliable lasers that had three to four years on it and reap 90 percent of the benefits,” says Chris Curtis, president. That strategy served the company well until laser technology advanced beyond any used or refurbished piece of equipment Curtis could purchase.

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The shop fabricates truck toolboxes from carbon and stainless steels and aluminum from 0.25 in. down to 0.032 in. According to RC Industries, its toolboxes are designed with more bend lines and fewer welds to eliminate leak points. Many are made from heavier gauge stainless steel to prevent rust and withstand daily wear and tear.

RC Industries opened its machine search to all manufacturers, “but ultimately it made sense to go with Cincinnati Inc.,” Curtis says. With Cincinnati equipment already employed in its shop, RC Industries determined it would be the best fit.

Cincinnati’s local presence was a major selling point. As an Indiana-based fabricator, “we like to buy American where we can,” Curtis says. “But most of all, they have a strong support team and are willing to adapt to customer needs, not the other way around.”

Equipped with a new CL-960 series fiber laser from Cincinnati with the March 360 load/unload tower, RC Industries’ leaders believed the capital investment would improve productivity and quality while adding to capacity, Curtis says.

The CL-900 series fiber laser is configurable for thin and thick cutting and optimized for red metal cutting as well. Automation systems can be integrated with the laser at the time of sale or down the road.

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RC Industries designs carbon and stainless steel and aluminum toolboxes with more bend lines and fewer welds to eliminate leak points.

Confident carryover

The fiber laser has made a positive impact on RC Industries’ production line. Automated fiber technology provides fast and consistent cutting the manufacturer needs to meet growing demand. Instilling a faster cutting method meant shifting production expectations across the floor. RC Industries has also partnered with ACIETA, purchasing a RIBS3 cell (robotic bending cell) that is placed next to the output tables of the automated fiber laser.

“We’re going to have an automated press brake and bending cell in addition to the fiber [laser],” explains Curtis. “We’re dealing with the difficult balance between labor and selective automation to find the right mix that will best serve our customers’ needs.

“The faster cutting meant we needed to reevaluate how we loaded and offloaded material,” he continues. “If your laser cuts a nest in 90 seconds, but it takes your material handling automation 3 minutes to offload and unload, the fiber laser ends up sitting idle for 50 percent of the time—that’s a major productivity loss.”

Cincinnati worked with RC Industries to automatically load and offload material so that the laser keeps running. “Since it’s automated, we’re less worried about finding qualified candidates to staff our lasers,” adds Curtis. “The material is loaded and unloaded from the tower reliably every time. We know there are some steps of the process we can automate and others where our skilled workforce provides the best solution.”

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Cincinnati Inc. worked with RC Industries to ensure material handling processes adjusted to accommodate the fiber laser's faster cutting times.

Confident customization

With more than two decades in the industry, Troy Wilson, product manager for CNC table products at Cincinnati Inc., knows how to work with customers who need customized fiber laser technology.

“Cincinnati offers a flexibility some of the larger fiber laser manufacturers don’t offer,” Wilson says. “We’ve come up with a system that is simple enough to customize on an engineering level.

“All our engineers and designers are here in the U.S.,” he continues. “If a customer wants specific changes, we can get everyone in the same room to break down what is needed right then and there.”

At RC Industries, Cincinnati’s fiber laser technology is coupled with nLight technology. “nLight has developed technology specifically for cutting red metals. A challenge with red metals is the reflective energy coming back off those materials and potentially damaging the light source. nLight is able to absorb that reflected energy,” says Wilson.

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Installing a faster, automated cutting method meant RC Industries could shift its production expectations across the shop floor.

Cincinnati is using that technology as an addition to its fiber laser platform. “We can target companies that cut red materials and offer this new technology [to them],” he notes.

The latest technologies and automation are at the forefront of Wilson’s mind when designing solutions for customers. “We are constantly evaluating new technologies so that CI lasers are at the forefront of addressing customer’s needs.” 

Cincinnati does similar upgrades to existing equipment as well. “We’re in the process of increasing capability and decreasing process time within the laser platform,” Wilson says. “As advancements become available, we look at how we can apply it to the existing equipment we have in the field and then offer upgrades to customers.”

When possible, older platforms can be upgraded. “We’re able to offer customers additional ways to implement efficient process improvements as time goes on,” Wilson says. “In the case of RC Industries, we worked through the layout and set up three or four times until we came up with what would work best for their needs.” FFJ



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