Laser Technology

Siouxland Fabricating combines expansion with Mazak Optonics new laser technology

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Siouxland processes thin sheet and thick plate with Mazak’s Optiplex 3015 direct diode laser.

Siouxland Fabricating combines expansion with Mazak Optonics new laser technology to maintain a strong lead

September 2018 - Siouxland Fabricating Inc. has been doing the heavy lifting for a diverse group of customers since 2004. The Rock Valley, Iowa-based custom metals fabricator is able to prototype, laser cut, flame cut, form, bend, blast, weld and assemble products for most any job that comes through the doors.

“Heavy plate is our strength,” says Siouxland President Christopher Schuett. The company recently completed a 40,000-sq.-ft. expansion. In need of greater capacity and looking to enter the light-gauge sheet market, Siouxland bought an Optiplex 3015 Direct Diode Laser (DDL) with a LaserFlex automation system from Mazak Optonics.

“We have eight different Mazak lasers on our production floor,” says Schuett. “That makes us knowledgeable about the level of their service and the quality of their equipment. And we gained a competitive advantage since Mazak is the only OEM with a DDL.”

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Siouxland President Christopher Schuett, left, and Vice President Mike Van Egdom.

Mazak introduced the Optiplex DDL to North America in 2016. “Direct diode lasers were limited when it came to industrial cutting applications because watt-level output was less than 2kW,” explains Tim Tapper, applications manager for Mazak Optonics. “When power output evolved to 8kW and higher, Mazak developed a proprietary, cost-efficient DDL for the industrial cutting space with processing speeds and edge quality that haven’t been seen in fiber and disc.”

The cutting process is where everything starts, says Toby Boogerd, chief technical officer for Siouxland. “From there, blanks flow downstream to other operations such as stamping, welding, bending, machining, cleaning and assembly. Cut quality is critical for these processes.” The company cuts approximately 1,500 tons of sheet and plate a month.

Thick and thin

Originally Siouxland planned to use the Optiplex DDL to process material under 0.25 in. because of the laser’s cutting speed capabilities. But the fabricator found that the machine’s high speed and piercing capability works equally well for thick plate.

“You can tweak the machine and push it to see how fast it will cut and still maintain quality,” says Boogerd. “Operators find the feed rates amazing. The Optiplex DDL gave us eight more hours of cutting time per day. When we automated the operation with Mazak’s LaserFlex, that number jumped to 22 additional hours of cutting time a day. Our throughput has realistically doubled with processing time cut in half.”

Schuett affirms, “The machine doesn’t sit still.”

Optiplex DDL cutting speeds are higher than conventional CO2s or fiber laser generation systems for thin and medium thickness sheets, including highly reflective materials. A shorter wavelength and higher heat absorption supports faster processing while energy conversion efficiency is four to five times that of a CO2 laser.

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Siouxland added 22 hours of additional cutting time when it automated its Optiplex DDL with Mazak’s LaserFlex automation system.

“The combination of wavelength and laser beam profile makes these performance characteristics possible,” says Tapper. “The Optiplex DDL’s beam profile, similar to a CO2, is absorbed more effectively by metal, which increases cutting speeds. The machine averages an increase in feed rate of about 15 percent for mild steel. Mazak’s applications department has developed optimal cutting conditions for several different grades of carbon steel, which gives the operator flexibility when processing material of varying compositions.”

Running the gamut

Siouxland is running carbon, aluminum and stainless steel on the Optiplex DDL for parts that range from construction applications to utilities. “We pretty much run the gamut,” says Schuett.

“And we’re able to cut thicker material,” adds Boogerd. “Processing 1-in.-thick grade 50 steel used to be challenging but the Optiplex DDL eats it right up.”

Nest patterns can be modified from the office, saving operators steps. The PreviewG control is another feature Siouxland finds attractive and it makes training new employees easy.

The ergonomic control has a 19-in. adjustable touch screen. Graphics help operators locate the right commands at a glance. Other user-friendly screens include maintenance with preventive service due dates; programming that verifies production-ready status or the presence of a code error as well as tool, setup and cutting data.

Smooth Monitor AX software using MTConnect communication protocol via the PreviewG control makes the Optiplex DDL Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) ready. “The MTConnect allows us to collect and retrieve data from our robot welding cells,” says Boogerd. “The communication protocol’s open architecture also means we can monitor and gather data from the Optiplex DDL. Our CO2s don’t have this capability. We’re upgrading to this standard as we replace machines.”

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The Optiplex DDL cuts and pierces thick plate with speed and accuracy.

Entering the light gauge market has gone well for Siouxland but Schuett admits the company has been so busy that “we’re still in catch-up mode. When you are cutting light gauge, you need automation to make it efficient,” he says.

Like most companies, Siouxland grapples with short lead times. Recent backlogs have “pushed lead times back a bit.”

The Optiplex DDL with LaserFlex automation gives Siouxland the flexibility it needs to adjust to fluctuating market conditions. The fabricator is moving full-speed ahead on automation and sees additional Optiplex DDL lasers and robots in its future. Two other trends are driving the company’s choice to automate and incorporate lights out operations.

“It’s getting harder and harder to staff second and third shifts,” notes Boogerd. “And kids coming out of school would rather program code and run robots than operate a machine [manually].”

One thing that hasn’t changed is Siouxland’s commitment to customers. “After all these years,” says Schuett, “we have stayed true to our core belief: We deliver a quality product on time.” FFJ



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