Made-in-Canada: fiber laser cutting

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A Quebec manufacturer has become the first to build and use a fiber laser machine in Canada. 

by Mary Scianna

EBF, a Victoriaville, QC, manufacturer of motion-controlled industrial cutting tables, is using a fiber laser cutting machine it built to make part of its tables, and plans to sell its fiber laser cutting machines in the Canadian market. 

With the exception of the fiber laser system (supplied by Hypertherm), the entire machine is built in Canada.

EBF plans to debut its fiber laser cutting machine in October at a Quebec machinery show. The debut will mark the company’s entry into a market populated by major machine tool builders such as Prima Power, Salvagnini and TRUMPF.

But EBF co-owner Alexandre Gaudet isn’t intimidated by the presence of these global players. In fact, he says EBF will have a cost-competitive advantage in the Canadian market. For one thing, EBF already has a high technology platform for manufacturing its industrial cutting tables that a laser cutting machine typically requires.  As well, unlike its competitors that sell CO2 and fiber laser, EBF is focused on only one cutting technology, fiber, “so we don’t have older laser cutting technology we need to sell first.”

Gaudet says another advantage is EBF’s focus on large cutting tables, measuring 10 ft wide by 50 ft long (3 m by 15 m). 

For us, building a large fiber laser cutting machine is not expensive because we have the large platform and we simply have to buy longer cable from our fiber cutting supplier. The no-loss fiber technology has no length limitations, and therefore enables more flexible and larger table designs with minimal additional cost. On a CO2 machine, building a longer machine is more expensive because it requires attention to detail such as beam alignment.”

The Canadian-made fiber laser cutting machines are built using Hypertherm fiber laser cutting technology. Gaudet says he had considered another supplier two years ago, but the supplier sold only the fiber laser source. 

“If we had taken that route we would have had to buy different components of the fiber laser cutting technology from other suppliers. With Hypertherm, it is a complete fiber laser technology package.”

Gaudet says he waited two years until Hypertherm had finished conducting testing of the technology. 

“Hypertherm spent a year testing fiber laser cutting and developed and validated cut charts for OEMs so I didn’t have to spend a year in a lab to create the information for perfect cut results. The cut chart is incorporated into the same controller we’ve used for years in our plasma machines. It’s an add-on button on the CNC controller for the fiber laser cutting machine. So the cut charts are loaded into the CNC controller and the customer simply inputs the material thicknesses and the modules are electronically linked and will then set up cutting parameters without operator intervention.”

EBF has built its first machine, a 1.5 kW fiber laser cutting machine, for its own purposes. Gaudet estimates that approximately 40 per cent of the components for its industrial cutting tables are cut on the fiber laser cutting machine. He adds that he wanted to test the technology first in-house before beginning to sell it in the Canadian market. 

“For our purposes, we only needed a 1.5 kW machine, but we will be building 2 kW machines. The machines will measure 6 ft wide by 12 ft long with single station pallet changers (with optional second stations) for $400,000, which is quite competitive compared to any industrial laser cutting machine currently in the market.”

Gaudet has high expectations for EBF’s expansion into the fiber laser cutting market. In part, he says the company’s reputation for building high quality, high technology machines will help drive growth. Many of EBF’s customers currently use CO2 laser cutting and have already shown an interest in fiber laser cutting. 

We have 23 customers that have already demonstrated an interest in seeing it and two customers who want to buy it because we’ll be able to offer a Canadian-made machine with technical support, parts supply and maintenance all done locally. “

More importantly, Gaudet estimates there are approximately 400 laser cutting machines in use in Quebec alone and approximately 100 of them are reaching their obsolescence. 

“These 100 machines will need to be replaced within one to five years. We’re already doing a lot of retrofits and machine replacements. The youngest machine we’ve replaced was a 2001 laser, but the average laser cutting machine age is from 1992 to 1996 and fiber laser offers a lot of advantages for manufacturers with the right metal thicknesses—you save in consumables and reduced energy consumption.”

Cutting with Fiber Lasers
Fiber laser cutting can help fabricators improve cutting times and cutting accuracies, reduce energy consumption and slash overall machine operating costs.

The caveat is that you have to have the right application to achieve such benefits. If you cut thin sheet metal (e.g. stainless steel) with thicknesses up to 5 mm (0.2 in.), fiber laser cutting is a good alternative. Some suppliers say their fiber laser cutting machines offer the advantages of fiber for steel in thicknesses up to 17 mm (0.7 in.). (As the material thickness increases, the advantages of fiber laser decreases.) Fiber laser offers energy savings greater than 30 per cent in wall plug efficiency compared to the 8 to 10 per cent of CO2 type lasers.

Fiber lasers are high powered solid state lasers that offer a shorter wavelength (close to the visible spectrum light) compared to CO2 lasers (fiber laser wavelength is 1.07 µm and CO2 laser wavelength is 10.6 µm in the infrared part of the spectrum). A characteristic of a shorter wavelength is that it’s more readily absorbed into metals, especially highly reflective materials, which means higher cutting efficiency. 

The laser beam is generated in the diodes and delivered through the fiber. According to suppliers and industry research, fiber lasers offer higher cutting accuracies. The beam of light gets delivered through the fiber, which is a constant length, so no matter how close or how far from the source that a fabricator is processing, the optical path length never changes. That means you don’t typically need adaptive optics—or the annual maintenance—typically required for CO2 lasersSMT

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