Small footprint maximum functionality

New design technologies are helping to reduce the size of laser systems without compromising on power or price. Katherine Crichton writes.

New design technologies are helping to reduce the size of laser systems without compromising on power or price. Katherine Crichton writes.

THEY say good things come in small packages and when it comes to modern industrial laser systems at least, this certainly seems to be true.

Advances in methods of laser excitation, improvements in cooling systems and integration of automated components are helping to make the modern laser system more powerful, productive and compact.

When it comes producing laser power, Hugh Evans, GM of Laser Resources, says new ways of generating laser light such as disc and end pump lasers are making laser systems more compact in their structure just by the nature of the design.

“These newer technologies are allowing the heat generated by the laser to be removed much more effectively efficiently, resulting in a reduced requirement for cooling, or enabling the use of a less complex air cooling system,” Evans said.

Evans told Manufacturers’ Monthly that one of the main advantages of new laser technologies is the reduction of consumables and required maintenance over the life of the laser, ultimately reducing the overall cost of ownership.

“The ability for users to run lasers at a lower cost, use less energy and minimise maintenance and service requirements is making laser machines a far more attractive option for manufacturers.

“If you compare lasers to other competing technologies in marking applications for example, traditional methods of pad or ink printing have significant consumable costs, whereas with lasers you can reduce or eliminate these altogether,” he said.

Water vs. air cooling

With the introduction of air-cooled systems, laser users now have a wider choice of cooling technologies to use with their laser machines to make them more compact without compromising on efficiency.

Evans says air cooling, for example, is ideally suited to manufacturers who have a particular space problem or want to reduce the life cost of the laser system.

“As opposed to traditional water-cooled systems which required components such as pumps and heat exchangers which tend to be large in size and incur high purchasing and running costs, air-cooled systems offer less consumable parts and obviously eliminates the need to change the water/chemicals etc,” he said.

While there are many benefits air-cooled systems can offer users, Evans advises the technology is not suitable for all applications such as high-end performance laser operations.

“In applications such as laser cutting for example, because of the amount of energy that needs to be removed it requires some type of liquid cooling to successfully take the heat away.

“However, air-cooled systems are suitable for most general purpose welding and marking applications which require a laser system around 50W in size.

“We are finding in these applications, air-cooling technology is becoming the norm rather than the exception,” he explained.

Like when considering any new technology, Evans says it is important to choose the right laser for the application.

“There are a range of different laser technologies each with its own benefits and limitations.

“Each technology can cover a range of applications but is typically best at one or a selection of processes based on the technology’s parameters or performance capabilities.

“This makes it all the more vital to speak to a reputable supplier or manufacturer of laser systems to ensure you get the right laser for your business,” Evans said.

Cutting down to size

Other factors helping to reduce the size of laser systems include the integration of several functionalities in one system, made possible by new engineering concepts and the increased incorporation of automation.

Eberhard Wahl, Product Manager with Trumpf, says more automation and reduced energy consumption are key factors when it comes to more compact and productive laser systems but warns that anyone seeking to save energy will have to take a different approach from the beginning.

“Energy efficiency is often associated with the use of less electrical power alone. However, there is more to it.

“High productivity, together with optimal energy use, creates the best balance per produced unit,” Wahl explained to Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“The key advantages these systems offer users is a reduction of floor and labour costs and continuous one-piece flow which is particularly beneficial for high volume manufacturing,” he said.

“In the end, the manufacturer saves money while increasing productivity.

“Automated, multi-functional laser machines can minimise downtime, turn out top quality parts to eliminate rework, and increases the number of machining steps without re-chucking the workpiece,” he said.

Laser machines are now available which have the pallet changer located perpendicular to the machine, which Wahl says shaves a full 20% off the footprint.

“These features also facilitate and promote continuous linear flow production.

“For example laser systems can now offer automatic loading and unloading of sheetmetal as standard.

“Pallet carts can also be added as an option by which different materials can be handled without interrupting the working process.

“Occupying only 90m2, the machine requires a small installation area since it implements a linear material flow.”

According to Wahl, modern laser cutting machines are also providing a higher productivity per m2 with features such as two cutting heads, a 6kW disk laser with beam splitting and a cross member made of race car tested carbon fibre (CFK) making these types of machines highly productive.

Similarly to Evans, Wahl advises users to careful consider the application they want to employ these new systems in.

“Does the integrated machine fit to the needs of the application? Or would an individually configured machine be the better choice?

“These type of questions need to be asked and thoroughly consider before buy a new laser machine,” Wahl said.

Headland Machinery 03 9244 3500.

Laser Resources Management 03 9753 2244.