ASK THE EXPERT: Supplementing your mainstay sheet metal business with some tube processing

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Amada's Ensis 3015 RI is equipped with two cutting tables for flat sheet processing and a separate table with the rotary index mechanism for tube. PHOTO courtesy Amada.

Sometimes a “this OR that” question is best answered with a “this AND that” solution. That would seem to be the case if you’re looking to supplement your mainstay sheet metal processing business with some tube processing. SHOP discussed the best way for fabricators to do this with Jean-Philippe Nadeau, blanking product manager with Amada, in an exclusive interview.

SHOPAre there a lot of Canadian fabricating shops that need the flexibility to transition from sheet to tube? Is this a growing trend?

NADEAU: Nowadays with the lack of skilled labor and the super high cost of shop floor space, there is more demand for flexible types of machines that will do as much as possible with one operator within less floor space. For example, with Amada’s Ensis-RI you have basically two machines in one place. One for flat and one for tube cutting. I see it as a growing trend.

SHOPLet’s discuss Amada’s Ensis 3015 RI in more detail. As you mention, it allows users to transition from flat sheet cutting to tube cutting thanks to the rotary index. Can you explain the main features and how the rotary index allows for transitioning from sheet to tube?

NADEAU: The Ensis 3015 RI is equipped with three separate processing tables. You have two cutting tables for flat sheet processing and a separate table with the rotary index mechanism for tube. When the machine is set up in sheet mode it will process sheets automatically using two cutting tables for non-stop production. Within 30 seconds you can bring new raw material in and start removing the processed parts on the other table. When you want to go from sheet to tube mode, the operator just presses a button and it will move out the cutting tables for flat sheets and bring in the tube processing table with the rotary index automatically. This operation takes one minute.

SHOP: The rotary index is an integrated unit. What is the significance of that?

NADEAU: The rotary chuck is attached to the tube processing table.  When you bring that table in, you are right away ready to process tubing.

SHOPTube processing involves the tube being moved back and forth during the job and the rotations are often at high speed, making accuracy in cutting a challenge. Also, heavy tubes apply stress to the machine with shocks and vibrations that require the machine be robust. How does the design of the Ensis 3015 RI address the need for both accuracy and robustness?

NADEAU: The machine is equipped with two separate chucks.  You have one chuck at the end of the process table and one chuck that moves along the tubing following the cutting head. That chuck has roller bearings inside that hold the tube in place so it can freely move to different locations along the tube. The two chucks are motorized and synchronized. That allows for very accurate, fast movement and scratch free processing. When processing longer or heavier parts, there are two additional support chucks that can be used to hold the part during the final cuts.

SHOPA challenge with cutting tube is that the tubes are not always as straight as they should be. Does the machine have the capability to assess straightness and compensate for it? What specific features for accuracy assurance are important to consider? How long does it take for the touch probe to make a measurement?

NADEAU: The two motorized and synchronized chucks assure that the tube stays straight. The machine is also equipped with a programmable touch probe. When making a program offline and you see a situation where very tight tolerances are required, you can activate the touch probe for these specific features.

SHOPI understand you have new software to help fabricating shops increase their efficiencies?

NADEAU: Now all our machine line-up can be programmed with our new software VPSS-3I. (Laser, press-brake, punching and tube cutting) The big advantage is that it can process 3D models. Starting from a 3D sheet metal drawing, it will unfold the part using the proper bend radius by utilizing the actual bending tooling library from the floor. From there we can use that unfold drawing for laser cutting and offline Press-brake programming. This prevents making non-accurate parts right from the beginning. For cutting, the software can quickly make nests for flat sheets and tubing. This can significantly increase material utilization.

SHOP: If I am a job shop owner looking to invest in a machine that can handle both sheet and tube, what should I be considering?

NADEAU: The first thing you should be looking at when buying this type of equipment is how easy and quickly you can make the transition from flat sheet to cutting tube. Next thing to consider would be the tube capacity – weight, length – and also what type of tubing it can process. Can it do rectangles, squares, C-channels?  The setup of the tubing itself is also important. How quickly can it be done? Does it need a special tool to tighten it up? Do you need to manually place supports for the tubing? Is it equipped with touch probes? Another important thing to consider is the safety features. With fiber laser everything has to be properly enclosed. You don’t want the laser beam reflecting anyhow out of the machine. And to finish; the most important one, technical support!  You need a supplier who will be able to guide and support you when needed.

Jean-Philippe Nadeau is the blanking product manager with Amada.


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