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Laser Technology

Breaking barriers

By Lynn Stanley

Above: The TruLaser 3030 fiber pierces 1/4-in. steel.

Automation breakthroughs give fabricators control over high-speed laser cutting operations and reduces cut losses

January 2020 - “I feel the need—the need for speed!” Peter “Maverick” Mitchell, played by Tom Cruise, uttered the iconic line in the 1986 film Top Gun. The sentiment behind the famous quote can be heard among fiber laser users.

“Over the last five years, there has been a demand for higher and higher fiber laser speeds,” says Brett Thompson, TruLaser sales engineer for Trumpf Inc. “Manufacturers want to cut faster and cut thick metal reliably.”

Fiber lasers have established a strong track record for industry and defense. Flexible, versatile and cost efficient, fiber lasers can cut, weld, mark and process metal. Changes in beam mode, fiber optics, geometries and other component advances have made 8kW to 10kW machines common over the past few years. The drawback to fast cutting speeds is, says Thompson, “how do you keep up?”

Bottlenecks in downstream operations have driven the development of automation for these racehorses, but a high-speed fiber with a material handling system still requires operators to sort and de-nest parts on the back end.

FFJ 0120 laser image1

Active Speed Control makes the TruLaser 5030 fiber the first and only machine that adapts in real time to ensure optimal cut quality, with productivity gains of up to 20 percent.

Preserving profits

“Whoever wants to make money with laser cutting must take the whole process into consideration,” says Thompson. “The TruLaser Center 7030 was created to achieve just that.”

The machinery builder evaluated its components, redesigned them and integrated them into the first full-service laser machine. Unlike a traditional 2D laser, the TruLaser Center 7030, introduced in 2017, separates parts while the laser is cutting. It can place components onto pallets, into storage shelves or into bins on a conveyor under the cutting head and eliminates downstream processes. Brush tables and intelligent automation combine to ensure reliable parts handling.

Because the laser integrates all production steps into one process, it eliminates workpiece tipping, parts getting caught in the skeleton and the need for microjoints. Process reliability and production costs improve dramatically.

At Fabtech 2019, suppliers’ attention was focused on sorting materials, Thompson observes. “Most people associate material handling with automation. The assumption is that taking that step eliminates hiccups but defects such as inclusions, split layers or bubbles in the steel can compound cut losses.”

In addition to identifying factors that contribute to cut loss, Trumpf engineers studied ways the equipment could move beyond automating material and parts handling. “Our goal is hands-off production,” Thompson says. “For customers who are trying to embrace and incorporate the Internet of Things (IoT), the connectivity of their production floor and data retrieval, the next steps need to be automation of the work process from software to material, parts and downstream operations like bending.”

FFJ 0120 laser image2

The TruLaser 7030 integrates loading, cutting, part separation, skeleton removal and part sorting all into a single machine.

Taking control

Able to promote digital networking through its TruServices, TruConnect and TruTops software products, Trumpf unveiled at Fabtech what it considers the next step in that evolution: Active Speed Control, which Thompson says will “revolutionize laser machine operation for fabricators.”

A specialized vision system inside the cutting head peers through the nozzle during operation to monitor the cutting process and maintain optimum parameters despite material variations. Inconsistencies in material thickness, poor surface condition, varying material quality and heat input into the part are variables that can contribute to poor cut quality and, ultimately, a loss of cut.

Active Speed Control is able to adjust laser parameters on the fly to maintain cut stability and reliability. Because the system works independent of the operator, analyzing the real-time, scrap and rework rates are “on their way to zero.”

“Whether an operator is running hot-rolled or cold-rolled steel or a different alloy, the control can accommodate for that,” Thompson explains. “It can respond to any scenario that might cause a customer to throw away material. If the control can’t identify the problem, it will stop the machine. We want to help manufacturers be proactive instead of reactive. The technology also takes the guesswork out of laser cutting operations for companies that have trouble finding employees with the skill sets they need.”

FFJ 0120 laser image3

Raw material enters the TruLaser 7030 from the back while finished parts are stacked onto pallets and sorted into containers that can be accessed from the front.

Next steps

If material quality allows, Active Speed Control can increase cutting speed by up to 20 percent above the programmed feed rate. This means that fabricators processing quality material often see a 10 percent increase in feed rates, on average, without having to manually adjust machine parameters.

Trumpf is working on its next technology breakthrough. “When throughput goes up, part costs go down and fabricators gain more cutting time on their machines,” says Thompson. “That’s why we want to move beyond the need to program parameters.”

Power, speed, beam quality, beam diameter, focus and gas pressure are just some of the defining characteristics required to run material.

“For example, Chinese hot-rolled steel is typically poor quality versus what we source in the U.S.,” explains Thompson. “We have a parameter to account for that. But even an experienced operator can struggle with material variations. We want to get away from having to plug in those parameters. We ultimately want the machine to pick the best way to cut the material regardless of what it is or where it came from.”  FFJ

Sources

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Company Profiles

AIR FILTRATION

HYDRAULIC PRESSES

NESTING SOFTWARE

SERVICE CENTERS

Camfil APC - Equipment Beckwood Press Co. Metamation Inc. Admiral Steel
Camfil APC - Replacement Filters Triform

PLASMA TECHNOLOGY

Alliance Steel
Donaldson Company Inc.

LASER TECHNOLOGY

Messer Cutting Systems Inc.

SOFTWARE

BENDING/FOLDING

AMADA AMERICA, INC.

PLATE

Enmark Systems Inc.
MetalForming Inc. Mazak Optonics Corp. Peddinghaus Lantek Systems Inc.
RAS Systems LLC MC Machinery Systems Inc.

PLATE & ANGLE ROLLS

SigmaTEK Systems LLC

BEVELING

Murata Machinery, USA, Inc. Davi Inc. Striker Systems
Steelmax Tools LLC TRUMPF Inc.

PRESS BRAKE TOOLING

STAMPING/PRESSES

COIL PROCESSING

LINEAR POSITION SENSORS

Mate Precision Tooling AIDA-America Corp.
Bradbury Group MTS Sensors Rolleri USA

STEEL

Burghardt + Schmidt Group

MATERIAL HANDLING

PRESS BRAKES

Alliance Steel
Butech Bliss Fehr Warehouse Solutions Inc. AMADA AMERICA, INC.

TUBE & PIPE

Red Bud Industries UFP Industrial Automec Inc. BLM Group
Tishken

MEASUREMENT & QUALITY CONTROL

MC Machinery Systems Inc. Prudential Stainless & Alloys

CONVEYOR SYSTEMS

Advanced Gauging Technologies SafanDarley

WATERJET

Mayfran International

METAL FABRICATION MACHINERY

PUNCHING

Barton International

DEBURRING/FINISHING

Cincinnati Inc. Hougen Manufacturing Flow International Corporation
ATI Industrial Automation LVD Strippit

SAWING

Jet Edge Waterjet Systems
Lissmac Corp. Scotchman Industries Inc. Behringer Saws Inc.

WELDING

Osborn Trilogy Machinery Inc. DoALL Sawing American Weldquip
SuperMax Tools

METAL FORMING

HE&M Saw Strong Hand Tools
Timesavers FAGOR Arrasate USA Inc. Savage Saws T. J. Snow Company

 

MetalForming Inc.

 

 

 

MICROFINISHING TOOLS

 

 

 

Titan Tool Supply Inc.

 

 


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