Automated laser boosts productivity

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Vac-Con, Green Cove Springs, FL, is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of sewer cleaning and excavating equipment, producing such products as combination sewer cleaners, jetters, and industrial vacuums.

Vac-Con manufactures these products to be sold to municipalities and contractors across North America, as well as South America, the Middle East, and Europe.

Most of the products that Vac-Con manufactures are cut from steel plate — 20 gauge up to 2 ½ in. In 2007, Vac-Con’s management decided that its fabrication shop needed more capacity. The company had two large plate plasma cutting centers and a laser cutting centers on site. After attending trade shows and doing a great deal of research, Vac-Con purchased a Prima Platino 2D Laser System with the 10-shelf TowerServer automated work handling system.

The Platino is equipped with lasers developed and produced at Prima Industrie in laser powers ranging from 3000 to 5000 W.  The laser cuts a broad range of materials and thicknesses with speed and precision without the need for manual adjustments. Platino’s laser cutting head gives users a choice of a 10 in. focal length in addition to the standard 5 in. and 7.5-in. lenses. The 10 in. lens enhances the application flexibility by increasing the depth of focus and enlarging the spot diameter for high and uniform cut quality of thick stainless (5/8 in.), thick aluminum (1/2 in.) and thick mild steel (1 in.). 

Offering a compact footprint along with a Cartesian Cantilever structure that provides three-sided access, Platino is a cost-effective machine that is easy to operate and quick to program. Its unique stonecast frame reduces vibration and increases stiffness by about 4 times compared to cast iron and about 6 times compared to welded frames. Its low heat conductivity results in much higher thermal stability compared to traditional cast or steel frames. 

According to Bob Graden, plant manager, the Prima Platino has been a wise investment for Vac-Con. “We decided on the Platino because of its “footprint”, which fit within the production space of our building,” explains Graden. “As we researched the laser market, we also discovered that Platino and the TowerServer was the most economical system on the market at that time.”

Flexible Automation

Prima’s 10-shelf TowerServer allows easy loading/unloading for blanks and processed sheets.  It has an elevator for loading and unloading the pallets on and off the tower, and features single sheet separating, control systems, and sheet reference.  “This system has proven to be one of the better investments that we ever made. It has allowed us to gain about a 30-35% increase in output,” says Graden. “The Prima TowerServer improves our efficiency to quickly produce parts and increases our flexibility by allowing us to store different gauges and types of material. We run this unit unmanned throughout our 2nd shift. Before we bought the Prima, we were producing about 80 sheets a week off the two plasma cutting centers.  Now we are cutting anywhere from 200 to 300 sheets per week. The Platino’s efficiency has allowed us to take one of the plasma cutting centers off-line. During the past four years, we have improved our manufacturing efficiency by 15-20 per cent.  I attribute a large part of that to the Prima laser cutter system and tower.”


The TowerServer not only helped produce more parts for Vac-Con, but allowed the company to better manage its sheet steel inventory. “Every day our engineers look at parts in a different light because we now have capabilities throughout our laser cutting operations which allow us to not only to improve the quality of the part, but in some cases to be able to combine pieces that we used to have to make and then weld together,” explains Graden. “We are able to cut it on our laser cutting center and then go to our press brake operations and greatly reduce our welding time and increase the appearance and quality of parts that we produce.”

According to Graden, since installation, the Prima laser system has proven itself time and time again at Vac-Con. “When we first brought the Platino online, we had two operators operating the machine 16-20 hours per day,” says Graden.  “As we gained a better understanding of the machine and got more familiar with the nesting of the parts we produce, we found that we could actually move one of the operators to another function within the fabrication area. Because we can run “lights out” with the Prima Platino laser system, it is nice to come to the shop in the morning and find parts sitting there ready to go to other processes.  We can now build the trucks more efficiently.”

Reduced secondary operations

The Platino laser system also helped improve quality at Vac-Con.  “We have seen a great improvement in the quality of parts that came off the Platino,” explains Graden.  “The parts coming off the plasma cutting machines had to be put through a secondary operation.  We have a sanding machine that is located next to the plasma cutting machines, and we had to put all those parts from the plasma cutter through the sander.   The Prima laser has eliminated secondary in about 99% of the parts that we process through the Platino.”

Increased Productivity

Prior to purchasing the Prima laser system in 2007, Vac-Com produced 18-20 combination machines per month. “Once we brought the Prima, our on-line efficiency and production continued to increase until we were producing between 32-34 units per month,” reflects Graden. “The Prima laser system was responsible for a 30-40 per cent increase in our productivity.  Approximately 50-60 per cent of all metal in our shop is processed by the Prima laser system.”

Quality & Service

Every unit that Vac-Con produces goes through its rigorous testing facility. Every unit is raised in the air and inspectors walk underneath it to check the wiring and electrical, hydraulics, and plumbing that is mounted underneath the truck.  Vac-Con inspectors operate every function on each truck for 2-4 hours. Then the company repeats the process on the lift again to look for any issues from the practice run. 

“Another reason we chose Prima was that in years past, we’ve had some issues with the customer support and service support,” says Graden. “Prima management made a commitment to us that if we bought the machine that they would continue to support the system as long as we had it in our operation. And for the past three years, every time we’ve needed assistance, they’ve honored our partnership.”  Bill Barnes, plant engineer /maintenance manager adds: “We still communicate on a regular basis with the tech that did the Prima install in 2007.  We have each other’s phone numbers. They do a good job of supporting me.  Whether it is a quick software calibration fix, parts, or service, they have always been there for us.”  

Prima Power

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