Laser Technology

Flexibility adds capability

By Russ Olexa

Because of the large variety of parts that most job shops produce, having flexible equipment is a vital concern.

Having the wrong piece of equipment without any way to subcontract a part to a company with the right equipment means the shop loses work. If they have too much equipment it just drags down the bottom line with overhead expenses.

So each job-shop owner walks a thin line as to having the right equipment for the work they do. In Israel, with roughly 80 metal forming and fabricating companies to compete with, having the correct equipment means survival in this market. Aharon Josef Quality Electronic Packaging Ltd. is one of these surviving and flourishing companies.

Besides specializing in manufacturing electronic systems enclosures and precise mechanical assemblies, the company produces unique parts for the U.S. military such as air conditioning units for Bradley vehicles, as well as armor plating for a vehicle that looks somewhat like an armored recreational vehicle. In fact, one is used to transport Saddem Hussein to the Iraqi court house from his jail. They also fabricate parts for Israeli tanks.

Founded in 1960, Aharon Yosef also works with businesses in the fields of electronics, communications, telephony, peripherals, medical equipment, microelectronics, machining, automation, machine construction and security. Roughly 90 percent of all the work they do is for export.

To remain flexible in producing parts or complete products, the company’s services include CNC laser cutting, CNC waterjet cutting, CNC punching, CNC bending, all types of welding, and both powder and wet painting.

Its main production facility is in Gan Yavne, north of the Gaza Strip and to the west of the West Bank. Two others are located nearby with all three facilities combined having 35,000 sq. ft. under roof. All of them include production and assembly areas with roughly 160 employees.

According to the son of the owner and general manager, Reuven Aharon, having flexible equipment is of utmost impor­tance to its success as a company. Wages are high in Israel and being able to keep the equipment running 24 hours a day is important for a return on invest­ment. The company also has another unusual challenge. Its employees can’t work on the Sabbath (Saturday) because of religious convictions. One way to solve this dilemma is through automation. Even though the company has one Trumpf TLF 4kW CO2 laser that uses a boom-style material handling system, Aharon found that the company needed another laser.

Aharon reviewed his options with other laser manufacturers and decided he needed something that would allow the company to do untended operation, working the day that his personnel couldn’t. He looked at the material handling systems offered by laser companies along with the laser itself. With a very competitive price, roughly half the cost of what some other laser companies offered for a similar system, he decided to go with a Prima 5kW CO2 Platino laser and its automated tower server material handling system in February of 2006.

Tower server adds productivity
Aharon remarks, “This compact, automatic loading/unloading system has significantly increased production by up to 50 percent. It reduces manual labor and allows us to do lights-out manufacturing.”

Prima’s Tower Server consists of a 15-shelf storage pallet loading/unloading unit, automatic arm with a pick-up device and suction-cup loading, a double-sheet thickness control device, sheet-metal separation unit, controller and standard protection barriers.

To automatically load work sheets on the pallet changer and unload cut parts and scrap remnants, the tower server uses an automatic arm and fork-type pick-up device. For fast and easy sheet movement, it is equipped with a lifting arm with vacuum suction cups that can be manually adjusted for any sheet size. A double-thickness, sheet-detection gauge verifies that only one sheet is lifted at a time.

A fork-type, pick-up device lifts processed parts and scrap remnants and delivers the processed sheet back to the storage unit’s unloading cassette area. The tower server’s control unit is interfaced with the laser’s CNC controller and can handle standard minimum sheet sizes of 40 in. by 40 in. and a maximum of 78 in. by 157 in. The maximum sheet thickness and weight it can handle is 0.787 in. by 2,821 lbs. Maximum single pallet payload is 8,800 lbs.

With this equipment, Aharon says that besides just keeping the tower server filled with the correct materials, it pretty much runs by itself 24/7 except for maintenance.

With his two 4kW and 5kW lasers, the company will cut up to 1.25 in. steel. Armor plate is one material the company often cuts. For highly reflec­tive materials along with glass, ceramics and any other materials that can’t be cut by laser, the company use a Bystronic Byjet 4022 twin-head waterjet. Using two waterjet heads, Aharon can get twice the productivity from the machine. Other equipment that it has in­cludes a Trumpf Trumatic 5000R punch, two Trumpf Truma­bends press brakes, Amada press brakes and several other Trumpf punches.

Along with personnel who do the fabrication work, Aharon has a staff of engineers who develop parts and products with customers. One part its engineers are working on is an all-metal front bumper for a Toyota Land Cruiser along with a heavy-duty all-steel part that would protect the engine in off-road use and allow a winch to be located behind it.

By keeping its equipment flexible and staying with the latest technologies, along with talented personnel, Aharon is poised for growth in its markets.

It’s magic
Two consumables that are very important when running a laser are the focusing lens and gases used for cutting. To keep costs down, Aharon looked for alternatives. He found that using shop air instead of generated nitrogen saves gas costs. However, he notes that the air must be absolutely clean. Otherwise oil in the air can contaminate the focusing lens and mirrors and lead to other problems.

Another product he uses is Ophir’s new Black Magic focusing lens. His laser department manager, Sergey Karpenko, says that the Black Magic lens gives them long life. It averages about 600 hours of use compared to roughly 300 hours to 400 hours with ordinary yellow lenses. Because of its proprietary coatings, it also allows personnel to clean it with little worry of scratching it, which shortens a laser’s life.

Ophir’s Black Magic Duralens is a dark black lens that works in all standard CO2 industrial laser machines. A high-power laser puts more demand on critical components, such as mirrors and lenses, resulting in higher lens-replacement costs. The Black Magic lens has less absorption of the laser beam than standard lenses, especially important with today’s high-wattage lasers. This keeps power at the focal point for cutting, not in heating the lens.

Black Magic lenses are made from the highest grade of low-absorption zinc selenide, and its proprietary coating is less sensitive to the heating effects of the laser beam. As a result, the usual thermal response of a lens during use, causing the focal length to move, isn’t an issue. The focal length of the Black Magic lens stays constant.

Doubling the life of a lens can save money over the course of a year. For small companies, a lower cost of production and an increased profit margin can mean the difference between staying open or going out of business. FFJ


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