Laser cutters – an edge for global competitiveness

LASER cutting is gradually gaining its place in Australia and New Zealand. If adoption of this technology overseas is an indicator, as our fabricators grow their markets we can expect more laser cutting technology to come into play.

LASER cutting is gradually gaining its place in Australia and New Zealand. If adoption of this technology overseas is an indicator, as our fabricators grow their markets we can expect more laser cutting technology to come into play.

An overseas example which is likely to be a similar (if scaled-down) occurrence here is that of Great Lakes Manufacturing, Inc.

Using the latest technology combined with a commitment to lean manufacturing the company has differentiated itself through automation, robotics, information technology, and a high level of employee skill.

Great Lakes Manufacturing in the past two years has invested more than US$3 million in its facility. Part of that investment was earmarked for the procurement of a new laser.

After investigated the best lasers on the market the company selected he FINN-POWER L6 Laser Work Center, which utilises a flying optics/moving beam system driven by a linear drive motor system to achieve maximum speeds, even while cutting small notches or narrow contours.

The L6 features a 4 kW fast axial flow CO2 laser. Cutting speeds up to 60 m/min (2.362″/min) are reached using nitrogen as cutting assist gas. The L6 can process sheet sizes up to 60″x120″ and 0.78″ in thickness.

Performance values include a positioning speed of 11,811″/min., acceleration of 2 g, and cutting speeds up to 2,363″/min. Unlike conventional repositioning, where straight line movements of the cutting head waste time, FINN-POWER optimises the cutting head movement with “Ping Pong” repositioning.

This smooth and efficient transition translates to added production speeds – up to 1,000 holes/min are now possible. A patented L6 rigid frame design withstands all the forces of high-speed positioning and provides a solid base for stable beam delivery optics.

Automation was another reason for choosing FINN-POWER. With other lasers, automation involved taking down an entire shelf of material and working with that. With the L6, the company only takes down one sheet at a time, so it can nest and kit parts.

Management can run a 13 gauge sheet and then a sheet of 16 gauge and then a sheet of aluminum. Over the last year and a half, Great Lakes has had a heavy flow of lean manufacturing – it is not batch manufacturing anymore.

Thinking Thin

On the L6, Great Lakes runs anything from 24 gauge cold rolled steel to 1/4″ hot rolled steel; .060″-3/16″ aluminum; and 20 gauge – 13 gauge stainless. The high productivity of the L6 in thinner sheets is very important.

Other laser builders make 5 kW resonators and different laser beam shapes and styles that will do beautiful jobs on big thick sheets – but great Lakes is not a thick sheet producer and it doesn’t do plate work. It fabricates thin sheets so high speed and high quality in thin sheets is very important.

The L6 replaced two older technology turret punch presses and has enabled Great Lakes to add 30-40 per cent to its output.

The biggest impact has not been the mass of parts it has been making but the flexibility. Now it can make one part without a setup and do a certain amount of business in what is called ‘design changes’.

The L6 has enabled reduction of setup so as to make fewer parts for the same price as doing a large batch.

Great Lakes reports that the L6 has allowed it to fully embrace lean/flow manufacturing. It has reduced inventory of the sister company by $1-million in 12 months.

Advanced Sheetmetal Technologies

P – 02 8536 5800