Building Blocks

A fiber laser machine manufacturer builds on its foundational assist gas technology to provide even more savings

YOU CAN ALSO LISTEN TO THIS ARTICLE

Since its invention in the late 19th century, the automobile has undergone continuous innovation and improvement – from performance and safety to design, comfort and efficiency. While today’s vehicles are unrecognizable from Karl Benz’s first gas-powered car, his original set the foundation from which to grow and evolve. Innovation tends to happen that way – by building on a good idea.

MC Machinery Systems Inc. knows the concept of building on a good idea. The company has been doing it since 1982. In fact, a recent advancement harnesses that philosophy and is saving customers significantly in both time and money.

Consumption reduction

At MC Machinery, innovations have resulted in a variety of equipment improvements and upgrades, including its recent assist gas reduction (AGR) nozzle technology for those that have invested in the Mitsubishi GX-F Advanced series of fiber laser machines. With the new technology, customers can expect less gas consumption and fewer to no burrs on cut material, which, in turn, results in lower overhead and higher productivity.

The combination of low-pressure air and nitrogen within MC Machinery’s proprietary AGR-MIX nozzle results in a blended gas that is adjustable for specific material needs.

“For most manufacturers running a laser, assist gas is one of the largest costs in terms of consumables,” says Ryan Conroy, laser product manager at MC Machinery, the North American supplier and servicer of Mitsubishi lasers. “It’s the cost of the gas itself plus, potentially, the infrastructure being used, be it air compressors, nitrogen generators or external blending tanks.

“Assist gases can have a lot of impact on overhead, but they can also create a lot of effects downstream,” he adds, “on processes like de-nesting, welding and painting, and, in turn, productivity.”

And that’s where the AGR technologies come into play. The most recent iteration comes in the form of the newly patented AGR-MIX nozzle, which builds on the previously released AGR-eco technology also referred to as AGR-N2, both of which are possible thanks to the design of the GX-F Advanced fiber laser machine.

“The GX-F Advanced is one of the only lasers on the market that can run dual gas ports at the same time,” Conroy says. “For most lasers, you’re only processing with one type of gas at a time: air, nitrogen, mixed gas or oxygen. But, with the dual ports, you can actually run two gas types at the same time, which is necessary to leverage the AGR technologies.”

Nitrogen is often chosen as the assist gas due to its ability to efficiently evacuate debris from the cutting process while maintaining a high edge quality and oxide-free parts. The problem, however, is that a lot of the nitrogen can be lost in the process as it hits the surface of the material and is deflected out. To keep the costs low, AGR-N2 utilizes a specially developed nozzle that surrounds the nitrogen with low-pressure air, which is much lower in cost. Therefore, if any of the assist gases are lost along the way, the cost isn’t as significant due to the lower price of the low-pressure air.

“Because we’re substituting some of the nitrogen with air, AGR-N2 also allows us to shrink down the inner nozzle diameter, which further reduces the consumption of nitrogen,” Conroy explains. “In the case of thicker mild steel, we might typically use a 7-mm or 10-mm nozzle, but with the AGR-N2 technology, we can shrink that nozzle down to 4.5 mm or smaller. The more you restrict that nozzle diameter, the less consumption you’re going to have.”

Overall, with AGR-N2, edge quality isn’t compromised because while low-pressure air is substituting some of the nitrogen, the nitrogen is still doing the processing work. According to Conroy, AGR-N2 delivers users consumption savings of up to 75 percent while the newer AGR-MIX technology delivers a further reduction of up to 50 percent.

Mixing it up

Building on the efficiencies delivered by the AGR-N2 nozzle technology, MC Machinery released its AGR-MIX nozzle in mid-2023. As with AGR-N2, nitrogen is routed through the center of the nozzle with low-pressure air coming from the outside of the nozzle to shroud the nitrogen.

“What really separates AGR-MIX from AGR-N2 is that some of the air is channeled into the nitrogen stream into a mixing area to create a blended gas,” Conroy says. “Mixed gas has a ton of benefits. There are increases in productivity and feed rates for certain materials, but its main purpose is for burr reduction in mild steel and, as with AGR-N2, for reductions in nitrogen consumption.”

The alternative to AGR-MIX is an external blender, which is leveraged by some customers using previous generation machines. For those customers that have invested in an GX-F Advanced machine, however, the process of using a blended gas has been greatly simplified.

MC Machinery’s AGR nozzles route nitrogen through the center of the nozzle with low-pressure air coming from the outside of the nozzle to shroud the nitrogen.

“With AGR-MIX, we’re reducing nitrogen consumption and taking oxygen out of the equation,” he says. “We’re also making it easier and less time consuming to achieve a blended gas.”

To achieve a blended gas with an external blender, nitrogen and high-pressure oxygen are required, but with AGR-MIX, low-pressure air can take the place of oxygen. Not only does the requirement of the high-pressure oxygen add time and cost, but it also adds complexity to the blending process.

“If you need to change the mixture level within an external blender, an experienced operator has to make various adjustments to the blender’s valves to balance the different gas pressures,” Conroy explains. “Even if you’re not trying to change the mix and are simply trying to use a tank that perhaps hasn’t been in use for a while, the operator will need to check to make sure the mixture is still intact for processing.”

With AGR-MIX, however, the desired gas ratios for various cutting parameters can be preset in the machine controls and then automatically blended within the nozzle. For operators, the process of switching from one gas mix to another is essentially accomplished with the touch of a button.

“Once they make the decision on the assist gas they need, the program will have the correct info to tell the machine, ‘Okay, we’re using this technology,’” Conroy says. “From there, the machine takes over and chooses the right nozzle, the right conditions of the air pressures and the type of gas. So, there’s not a big learning curve other than to learn when certain assist gases come into play and when they might be most beneficial. Operation-wise, it’s pretty hands-off.”

Ample options

The beauty of AGR-MIX technology is that it doesn’t replace the existing technology; it builds on it, giving users more tools in their toolbox. That’s because the AGR-MIX and AGR-N2 technologies can coexist thanks to the ability of the GX-F Advanced machine to quickly and automatically change nozzles when the cutting job calls for it.

As an example, if an operator needs to process oxide-free parts, the GX-F Advanced machine will pull up the AGR-N2 nozzle. If the operator, however, needs to process mild steel with reduced burr levels, the machine will automatically change out the AGR-N2 nozzle for the AGR-MIX nozzle as well as the desired recipe for the blended gas that will be created within the nozzle.

The Mitsubishi GX-F Advanced fiber laser machine features the latest in artificial intelligence and gas-reduction technology, giving users more power while reducing their nitrogen consumption and the need for operator intervention.

“There was a time when fabricators had nitrogen and oxygen as assist gases, and that was it,” Conroy says. “Today, however, new assist gas technologies are available and are offering fabricators so many more options.”

In terms of additional AGR technologies, MC Machinery also offers GX-F Advanced machine users AGR-AIR, which offers the strict use of cutting with low-pressure air. At a slightly higher psi than shop air, AGR-AIR can be used to process thin to thick mild steel, aluminum, galvanized and stainless steel at a low cost.

“It’s incredibly helpful that operators have such a variety of technologies to choose from and that they can use a mix of all of them throughout the day,” Conroy says. “If they want to keep costs low, AGR-AIR is great choice. In terms of electrical costs, maintenance costs, footprint and the cost of equipment, processing with low-pressure air is going to be the lowest cost of operation achieved on the laser.”

Broad benefits

The full AGR ecosystem offers fabricators a range of gas assist options. While any of the technologies can be applied to thin material, particularly AGR-AIR, Conroy recommends AGR-N2 and AGR-MIX for middle thicknesses and above. Across the board, however, customers can rely on AGR technologies to lower their nitrogen costs and the creation of burrs.

“In terms of oxide-free cutting, AGR-N2 is going to be the next lowest cost of operation while also achieving gas reduction and quality parts,” he says. “Once you get into the middle thicknesses, such as 7-gauge, 1/4-in. material up to 1 in. material, that’s where you’re really going to see the benefits AGR-MIX.”

Watch the video to learn more about MC Machinery’s AGR-MIX nozzle technology, which provides blended gases.

Determining when to use each of the AGR technologies often comes down to the edge quality that’s required for the job at hand and if oxide on the cut surface can be accepted or not. Historically, manufacturers look to oxide-free processing for the clean edges it produces – be it from air-shrouded nitrogen or pure nitrogen. Experienced fabricators know full-well the issues that excessive burrs can create.

“If customers aren’t accepting parts that have burrs, it’s probably because they’re part of an assembly that won’t fit together because the burrs keep them from properly mating up,” Conroy says. “Also, when you’re trying to paint parts, a burr can present some problems. At the end of the day, customers just want to see nice clean-cut parts.”

Another consideration when painting or welding raw material is the creation of an oxide layer, which can present issues. But, because AGR-N2 is an oxide-free process, cut parts can be taken directly from the laser to the paint department with no problem.
No matter the application, the AGR suite of technologies gives fabricators the low-cost, effective gas assist options they need. And it’s all possible without the need for external blending tanks or high-pressure, higher cost oxygen.

MC Machinery Systems Inc.

Get industry news first
Subscribe to our magazines
Your favorite
magazines
under one roof