TRUMPF's new “nano joints” technology allows parts to be nested closer together. The nano joints hold the parts in place during cutting and are easily broken off later.Click image to enlargeby Noelle Stapinsky

Leveraging software capabilities and assist gas innnovation is helping fine tune fiber laser cutting process efficiencies

Over the past two years manufacturers have had to change gears rapidly to keep pace and remain competitive as they navigated through the overall global disruptions caused by the pandemic. The skilled labour shortage became even more accentuated, accelerating the adoption of automation and fully integrated process systems. And now, amidst a global supply chain crisis, job shops and OEMs alike are not only focused on reshoring vital suppliers, but further improving overall efficiencies on the shop floor. And while fiber laser cutting technology is already widely adopted and known for its speed and accuracy, the real game changer is the software running these machines and developments in assist gas, taking the process to the next level. 

Technology manufacturers all offer software suites of programming modules that allow shops to fully integrate the entire production flow. The focus is to make these solutions push button simple and allow the software to interpret imported files and communicate parameters from one process to the next. Real time data can also be harvested and analysed to fine tune production capacity and allow companies to make informed decisions on operational costs.

 

Smart Suitest
TRUMPF machines all have an OPC UA monitoring interface that allows customers to easily extract data, according to Brett Thompson, laser technology and consulting manager, and the TruTops Fab MES system, which is a module designed to manage production flow, also gathers a fair amount of data. 

Before there were integrated suites, parts cut with a fiber laser, for example, could be ruined in the forming process if by chance the wrong tooling combination was used to bend the part. “What we’ve done is develop a suite [of modules] where files are imported, and the software interprets them,” says Thompson. “Within the modules there are areas where you program the cutting and bending processes. So rather than treating those things as separate, which they absolutely are not, one depends on the next. If there are modifications made to either the cutting or bending process, the system will indicate if it is correct or if it needs to be reprocessed. The amount of internal intelligence and algorithms has grown a lot.”

TRUMPF has recently added some new software features to its suite. The first, Thompson points out, is the EdgeLine Bevel solution that gives the machine the capability to produce bevels for hardware countersinks or as an edge preparation for welding. “This process is very much dependent on the software, which has a post processor that determines the behaviour of the laser’s power level and positions.” 

Typically, fabricators would perform beveling processes before welding using milling or grinding machines, which is very cumbersome and time consuming. The EdgeLine Bevel feature creates the beveled edges while cutting the contours of the parts. During the welding process, metal flows into the bevels to create a high-quality weld seam.

“Another feature called TruControl, I think is quite profound, as it’s somewhat software dependent but also a machine function. It’s a beam management system for our TruDisk laser cutting machine tool. We can measure the power and consistency, and can split it to different outlets,” says Thompson. “It runs through an advanced control interface that gives us the ability to quickly process information, even spatially.”

To reduce post processing, TRUMPF has also introduced a new “nano joints” technology that allows parts to be nested closer together. The nano joints hold the parts in place during the cutting process and are easily broken off when parts are removed from the nest. This means reduced costs, as the parts don’t need to be moved to a tab removal station, and material usage. This technology is available on TRUMPF 1000, 3000 and 5000 series machines and it’s offered as a software update on existing machines. 

LVD'sCADMAN-L software, automatic part nesting feature shown.Click image to enlarge CADMAN suite is a fully integrated software package for designing, production planning and programming for laser cutting, punching and bending sheet metal parts. “CADMAN is comprised of different modules,” says Stefan Colle, laser product sales manager for LVD North America. “It starts, of course, with the laser module to program the laser profile, but it can go much further than that. We have a software called SDI (smart drawing importer) that helps you import parts or drawings from different sources more easily and prepares the part for any further steps in the programming.”

Too often, people that are creating part drawings, using programs like Solidworks or Autodesk Inventor, mistakenly draw lines twice or copy lines that you can’t see from a visual perspective. “Or if you have a right and left side and the designer mirror faces those, sometimes lines can be drawn twice,” says Colle. “The software has to use that information to turn the drawing into a part and that second line needs to be taken out otherwise the laser will cut twice.” SDI will catch those design flaws and prepare the file. It also can recognize and deconstruct an assembly of components in a drawing and prepare them as separate files for cutting. 

CADMAN-JOB, another module, is designed to automate the programming portion, making that process less time consuming, and taking it out of the programmers’ hands. It communicates with a company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. “When an order comes in from a customer, that order will communicate with our CADMAN software, telling it the due date, what parts are involved, the quantity, material information and where the drawings or files are located. All that information can be processed by CADMAN-JOB and communicated directly with CADMAN-L where the nesting software is located,” says Colle. “It can then start to organize production jobs in terms of priority. For people buying these high-powered lasers, cutting speeds are quite high and a lot of material gets processed per day. To keep track of all these elements without the help of software becomes challenging and CADMAN-JOB can be a very powerful tool to have.” 

 

In the Mix
Of course, the fiber laser power race is still in full force and most technology manufacturers have already launched 20 kW systems designed to process thicker materials. But with this increased power and speed, manufacturers are exploring how the envelope can be pushed even further with assist gas mixing technology. 

While gas mixing—blending oxygen with nitrogen—is not new, many manufacturers have always defaulted to a saturation of oxygen between five and seven per cent, but that saturation level sometimes changes based on material type, thickness and grades. To dial the mix in and recalibrate the system can be a very lengthy process, meaning production downtime. 

“Let’s say a job shop is running a 3000-grade aluminum and is using seven per cent oxygen in the mix, but when they’ve finished that job they’re going to cut mild steel, which performs better at five per cent,” says Dan Cortez, application manager of the Americas market region for Bystronic. “Normally they would have to turn their laser down, shut off a bunch of valves and bleed out all that pressure, then go through the process of reinitiating for that correct saturation level. Bystronic is pioneering some new technologies that will allow us to change the saturation on demand with the user’s HMI. So with this on-demand system you can now go from one obscure grade of aluminum to production mild steel in about 45 seconds.”

Bystronic is pioneering technologies that allow changing the saturation of oxygen on demand with the user's HMI.  IMAGE: BYSTRONICClick image to enlargeTo help alleviate the implementation of a new gas type, Bystronic has recently launched a new parameter tuning function that is an upgradable feature for its laser cutting machines. “It’s a user interactive software functionality that prompts the user to cut parts, the operator then ranks the parts one through five, and picks the best part based on that selection to make more parts,” says Cortez. “As you go through this evolution, the machine tool is selecting certain parameters and auto tuning the process, allowing the user to dial in that new gas type in 20 minutes or lesss—a process that could take significantly longer.”

For fiber laser cutting systems, a dialed in gas mix will improve edge quality and push the technology beyond its typical limits for faster processing times. “With a 20-kW laser you can cut thicker material, up to 1 1/2 -inch (3.81 cm). But by mixing nitrogen with oxygen in the assist gas, you will achieve significantly faster cutting speeds and with a good edge quality,” says Colle. “With pure oxygen you’d normally be cutting at 50 inches (127 cm) per-minute. But with new mixed assist gas, you can now cut thick mild steel at 180 inches (457 cm) per minute.”

Thompson adds that when considering what assist gas should be used for cutting there is always a calculation you need to do. “Is it cheaper to use nitrogen, cut a bit quicker, but deal with burrs? Or use oxygen, cut slower, use less gas, but you’ll need to remove an oxide layer after? You’re still having that formula you need to work out, but it depends on the thickness of the material. Fusion cutting changes that formula. And you have the benefits of speed, quality, process reliability and even capacity.”

The days of metalworking shops looking at just a laser cutting solution are all but gone. Today’s manufacturers want a complete solution for the automation around the machines, the software driving them, and technological advancements to push capacity and improve quality. And those developing such solutions are clearly stepping up, helping the industry move closer and closer to smart factories. SMT

The Chamber of Commerce’s take on the federal budget

Given the unprecedented challenges Canadian businesses have faced the past two years, it has it has never been more important for the federal government to focus on economic growth. 

CMTS keynote: Why Canada is a great place to grow a manufacturing business

Canadian manufacturers can compete and win on a global scale if they devote themselves to innovation in their products and processes, and efficiency in their operations. That’s the message from the keynote speaker at the Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show (CMTS) Linda Hasenfratz, CEO Linamar Corp.

Toyota to build EV battery packs in North Carolina

Toyota will be spending $1.29B to build an electric vehicle battery plant in North Carolina, creating a beachhead for such batteries in the US market.

High-resolution weld monitor

The high-resolution, compact MM-L300A from Amada Weld Tech detects production errors such as gaps between parts, missing parts, over-penetration, incorrect focus and cover gas absence.

BC to see fastest growth, Quebec to follow: report

In yet another report about economic growth for Canada's provinces, BC is expected to post more than 3 per cent growth in the next two years followed by more modest growth by Quebec of 2.1 per cent in 2016 and 3 per cent in 2017, according to the latest figures in the Conference Board of Canada's latest Provincial Outlook.

1 Source to take on Frank Cox products and services

1 Source Metrology of Cambridge, ON has concluded an agreement with Frank Cox Metrology Ltd. of Brampton, ON to take on many of the products and services Frank Cox has provided for almost 60 years.

ArcelorMittal to invest $70 M in Quebec steel production facilities

Steel production manufacturer ArcelorMittal Long Products Canada plans to invest close to $70 million by 2020 in its Contrecoeur, QC, facilities.

Newly merged Dormer Pramet launches website

The newly merged Dormer Pramet has launhced a new corporate website to bring both companies and their respective technologies together in one location under one corporate identity.

Canadian manufacturer supplies waterjet impellers to US Navy

A Canadian manufacturer has supplied the US Navy with 2 sets of four waterjet impellers. Dominis Engineering, Gloucester, ON, is one of only a few manufacturers in the world capable of machining these large, complex rotating components, says president Bodo Gospodnetic.

Okuma's summer showcase event

Okuma held its 2017 Summer Showcase event July 19-20 at its North American headquarters in Charlotte, NC. More than 200 customers from 100 companies attended the event. Okuma created a video to highlight the event.

Automating your press brake

Shop Metalworking Technology Magazine speaks with Shane Simpson, TruBend product manager, North America, TRUMPF, Farmington, CT, about developments in press brake automation.

Auto parts group, mould makers collaboration

The Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association (APMA) and the Canadian Association of Mold Makers (CAMM) have joined in a collaborative relationship in which they will share common industry initiatives.

Ontario college opens advanced manufacturing centre

Seneca College is the first college in Ontario to offer a unique advanced manufacturing facility. On February 12, it celebrated the opening of the Mechatronics and Demonstration Centre to help students develop skills for advanced manufacturing.

Sandvik to acquire ICAM Technologies

Sandvik Coromant has signed an agreement to acquire Canadian company ICAM Technologies Corp., a developer of software that translates CAM data into optimized coding for guiding CNC machining operations.

CME wants manufacturing workers vaccinated next

Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) is urging the Government of Ontario to vaccinate manufacturing workers so that the sector can continue to keep workplaces open and safe and compete against a largely vaccinated U.S. market.

Stay In Touch

twitter facebook linkedIn