Laser Technology


Above: Handling blanks and processed sheets for lights-out operations is easy with the Prima Power 6 kW Laser Genius and Compact TowerServer.

Midwest job shop solves challenges by upgrading to automated, high-performance equipment

July/August 2019 - Companies hungry for new business will often consider customers’ appetite to support equipment purchases and, in turn, they want to feed the machine as full as possible for the sake of revenues and profits.

For the past five years, R & M Manufacturing has been in a strong growth cycle. And projections are even stronger for the future because of growing customer demand from the electrical, power generation, solar, air purification, HVAC, and home and building industries. The challenge, however, was to keep pace with a rapidly growing production requirement with two older CO2 lasers, one of which was worn out and needed to be replaced.

Managers at the Buffalo, Minnesota-based company decided to purchase a fiber laser and obtained quotes from multiple manufacturers. Time studies, cost-of-ownership studies, efficiency comparisons, ease of operator usage and programming specifications were also evaluated.

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Prima Power fiber cutting head technology helps to make it a more accurate and versatile tool for 24/7 lights-out production.

The company had specific needs to consider prior to purchasing the equipment. It needed a small-footprint machine that had a large capacity to process materials. Reliable automation that could run lights out every night and every weekend was a must since the company only runs two shifts. The only downtime this machine would have was for scheduled maintenance. Material thickness requirements varied from ¼ in. to 20 gauge.

“We started with six possible sources,” says Jeff Nelson, operations manager. “We decided on the Prima Power 6 kW Laser Genius with a Compact TowerServer that allows easy loading/unloading for blanks and processed sheets for lights-out operation.” The decision was based on the Genius model’s high performance characteristics and because the footprint for the automation “is much smaller than the competition, which suited our needs extremely well. After doing all the studies and evaluating the cost of ownership, the Prima Power laser came out on top.”

High productivity

Laser Genius is a high-range 2D laser cutting machine that is designed for high productivity, quality and flexibility and can cut a wide range of materials and gauges. Fiber lasers are more effective than other laser sources for cutting highly reflective materials, such as aluminum alloys, copper and brass. Productivity improves when processing thin- and medium-gauge sheet metal. Because of its wide range of automation modules, the Laser Genius is suitable for both small batches and large-scale production.

High-dynamic linear motors ensure a 15 percent increase in productivity compared with conventional drive systems. The Laser Genius has a comprehensive range of automation modules, and the CNC proprietary management guarantees accuracy in cutting and head positioning.

Nelson says the laser’s speed was a big factor in R & M’s purchasing decision because it was crucial to process more product at a faster rate. “Laser Genius has increased our efficiencies by 30 percent,” he continues. “When you are in my position, you have to justify every piece of equipment. You have to earn a return on investment. Some companies base ROI on new work they are trying to get; I did my ROI on work that was already in house.

“The efficiencies that we gained from the Laser Genius reduced my ROI from five years to three and a half years. The Laser Genius made us more competitive when quoting in the laser cutting market. These days, a lot of OEMs won’t even look at you unless they know you have a fiber laser with automation.”

Prima Power has installed nearly 2,000 flat laser machines worldwide.

The Laser Genius has linear motors on the X and Y axes, carbon fiber carriage and a synthetic granite frame—characteristics that allow it to maximize the fiber laser technology. Another feature of note is the proprietary hardware and software for laser process control and the high brilliance 6kW fiber laser.

The Prima Power fiber cutting head features single-lens strategy, safe impact protection system, high dynamic focal axis with 35 mm stroke, lens drawer with quick alignment system (OPC) and protection glass drawer for easy inspection. These features help to make it a more accurate and versatile machine capable of 24/7 lights-out production.

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R & M Manufacturing COO Jeff Nelson holds a laser-pierced blank. The Laser Genius improved cutting efficiency by 30 percent.

Plow through parts

The Prima Power sales personnel walked R & M through the entire purchasing process. “They were with us from the beginning until the decision was made, and they did an exceptional job of understanding what our needs were and what we were trying to accomplish,” Nelson says. “They explained what the Laser Genius would accomplish for us. And their assurances and the time they spent reassuring us of the impeccable service levels and reliability of the machine had a major impact on our purchasing decision.

“I’ve been in this business for 27 years, and I am a realist when it comes to manufacturing equipment,” Nelson continues. “I know that machines break down. I know things happen. There will be service issues. We understand that we are not the only customer of these machine manufacturers, and service can’t always come out here as soon as we call. But that being said, the responsiveness of Prima Power service and their techs have been phenomenal. I would give them a grade of A+.”

Most issues resulted from the need for more training or operator error, he says. Prima Power provided ongoing training, in addition to spending two weeks with operators during installation and ramp-up.

“This machine gives us so much more flexibility and so much more capability, I don’t call it the Laser Genius—I call it The Hog,” says Nelson. “Because all this machine does is eat metal. The reliability of this machine has been phenomenal—far beyond what we’ve expected.” FFJ


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