http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/laser-equipment-acquisition-to-improve-processing-speed-2012-03-02

Equipment acquisition to improve processing speed

Published 02 Mar 12        By: Leandi Kolver
An investment in new laser-cutting equipment will enable sheet-metal components and subassemblies manufacturer Fabrinox to achieve a higher processing speed on thin metals.

The efficiency of the fibre-guided TruDisk 3001 is twice that of the current carbon dioxide beam source machines Fabrinox operates, and when the machine is in full production and all processes are optimised, the output will double the current capacity.

MD André Visser tells Engin-eering News that the company expects to take delivery of a TruLaser 5040 Fiber L47 machine from manufacturing technology provider Trumpf in May this year.

“This machine is part of a bigger expansion programme worth R14-million and will be the second machine to be commissioned this year. The balance of new equipment will follow in early 2013 and includes new processes to broaden the company’s service offering,” says Visser.

The TruLaser 5040 Fiber L47 machine, with a maximum laser power of 3 kW, is being imported from Germany. “This technology was only made available to the market in December 2011 and is very new,” he says.

He notes that a definite advantage of this machine is that it consumes less energy.

In addition to the energy efficiency of the laser’s fibre-guided TruDisk 3001, the machine features an efficient cooler, which adapts the cooling power as needed by means of four compressor stages, reducing energy consumption when lower cooling power is required.

The machine also has an automatic shutdown system that is activated or deactivated by a switch element. It automatically shuts down if a program end or job end is indicated for longer than five minutes, or if there is no axis motion for ten minutes.

Besides saving energy, the automatic shutdown also reduces wear and tear on the machine, says Visser.

The TruLaser 5040 is able to process a range of metals. “The laser cuts thin stainless steel and aluminium as well as nonferrous metals, such as copper and brass, reliably and [with great precision],” he says.

It can also easily cut mild steel up to 20 mm.

Visser notes that the machine’s single cutting head technology, automatic nozzle changer and focus setting are what make it unique.

“With the TruLaser 5040, different material thicknesses can be processed without having to change cutting heads, reducing nonproductive time.”

Further, as the cutting head does not need to be changed, contamination of any kind is prevented from infiltrating the beam delivery system, which has a positive impact on the process reliability of the machine, he states.

In addition, the machine’s automatic nozzle-changer option eliminates the need for operators to exchange nozzles, providing optimal support, especially during automated system operations.

Local Laser Industry
Visser comments that the use of laser technology has increased rapidly over the past ten years and has become standard in most industries. He adds that it is, therefore, no longer a company’s biggest competitive advantage.

Nevertheless, he notes that, despite challenging market con-ditions, the number of projects requiring the use of laser technology has increased over the past five years.

Currently, Fabrinox is especially active in Africa, with the number of projects having “more than doubled over the past two years”, he says.

Visser believes that one of the reasons for this increase in projects is that companies in Africa are realising that they can rely on South African companies to provide them with the required products. “Also, we are in the same time zone, which simplifies trade between countries,” he explains.

Further, he points out that laser technology is becoming more user friendly.

In addition, Visser expects the automated loading and offloading of material onto laser machines to become more prevalent in future. “These automation technologies are mostly available in Europe at the moment but will be available in South Africa within a few years,” he says.

Meanwhile, Visser highlights rising electricity costs as being Fabrinox’s biggest challenge, adding that the energy efficient TruLaser 5040 will significantly benefit the company.

Further, the lack of skilled operators and programmers is proving to be another significant challenge.

For this reason, Fabrinox runs a training programme for its employees.

“We employ a certain number of young people, not older than 25, who are then given in-house training and sent to Europe to receive training from the machine suppliers,” he explains.

Fabrinox will, this year, focus on increasing its capacity as it diversifies into new markets and on training artisans and operators to provide customers with high-quality products and services.