Fiber laser technology continues to advance
You would be hard-pressed to find a field within the sheet-metal industry that offers as much new and fresh innovation as the field of fiber lasers.
Fiber lasers are young, bold and constantly changing. It’s not surprising then that manufacturers are thus offering fiber-laser machines with greater and greater power, cutting speeds and material versatility, and not to mention reduced energy consumption, too. And the machines from Hypertherm, IPG and TRUMPF discussed in this article are no exception.
In late October, Hypertherm will be introducing their HyIntensity HFL030 3kW fiber laser to the market.
“Our market analysis work over the years is what brought us into the fiber-laser space in the first place,” says Doug Shuda, Hypertherm’s product manager. “And we regularly go out into the market to try and better understand market direction, trends and opportunities.”
This regular market analysis led Hypertherm to create the HyIntensity HFL030, which represents the next step in the evolution of the company’s fiber-laser-product line, as well as an increase in power from their current offering of 1kW, 1.5kW and 2kW fiber-laser systems.
“The uniqueness of the 3kW HyIntensity HFL030 is two things,” says Shuda. “One is the additional power – a 3kW fiber laser is the effective equivalent to a 6kW CO2 laser. With that additional power, you can do thicker material with the same fine feature cutting quality. The other is that you can also do thinner materials much faster. You have higher productivity on the thinner sheet than the lower power levels of fiber lasers.
“We don’t have the 3kW numbers finalized, but with our 2kW system, you can cut up to about 16 mm or 0.625 in. With the 3kW HFL030, I think we’re going to get probably another 4 to 6 mm.
Another benefit of the 3kW HyIntensity HFL030 that Shuda mentions is that it was designed from the ground up as an off-the-shelf turnkey cutting solution. “It’s a complete system that you can integrate onto a table. You don’t have to go looking for a cutting head, a beam-delivery system, a gas console or anything else. You don’t have to invest time in process development or validate the process. It has all been done for you.”
As a result, Shuda says that their systems deliver a consistent and predictable outcome to the end user – no matter what OEM or system integrator is used to produce the cutting system, the customer will get what they expect.
“If you do that with our competition, you may or may not get a consistent system optimized outcome,” explains Shuda. “It depends on who is doing the integration; based on their capability, you may get more or less out of what power level you’re buying.”
In addition to the confidence in proven outcomes, Shuda also notes that with Hypertherm’s modular approach to the system, components like the cutting head, gas console and beam delivery are common across their fiber-laser line.
“From our channel partners’ point of view, that’s nice, because they don’t have to support multiple configurations,” points out Shuda. “They can simply match the power level to their customer’s application needs. They already have the familiarity – and may have the inventory of our cutting head, gas console and other system components that go along with the complete cutting solution.”
Hypertherm’s HyIntensity HFL030, along with the rest of the company’s HyIntensity Fiber Laser line, can also be supported by their automation accessories, such as their EDGE Pro CNC controller and ProNest CAM software.
“Those all plug and play very well and very efficiently with our laser systems, so you can take Hypertherm’s turnkey laser solution and extend it even further,” comments Shuda.
When it comes to laser technology, IPG is a household name. And though they don’t offer a flatbed-fiber-laser cutter, the company’s Laser Seam Stepper LSS1 utilizes fiber-laser technology and is useful for job shops – most notably those supplying automotive companies.
“The Laser Seam Stepper emulates or replaces a lot of resistive spot welding equipment in automotive factories, for example,” explains Mike Klos, IPG’s general manager. “It has been adopted in Europe – the first adopter was Volkswagen. And now it has started in North America. But it’s not just automotive. It can be used anywhere where there’s spot welding for sheet metal.”
Klos reveals that the main reason IPG developed the Laser Seam Stepper was to reduce the weight of welds, because it requires less material to complete a spot weld.
The Laser Seam Stepper also allows the geometry of the weld to be specifically programmed. “It can be a saw tooth. It can be continuous. Or you can do a staple weld or a circular weld, depending on what you need.”
In addition to programming the geometry, the Laser Seam Stepper monitors every weld made and feeds the information to a statistical database.
“When you do a conventional spot weld, the only way to tell if it’s good or not is to tear it apart, but this destroys the part,” elaborates Klos. “With the Laser Seam Stepper, you can monitor one hundred percent of all the adjoining weld locations. Through this and the statistical database, you know that all of them are good, period. This means less welding.
“It actually reduces the footprint of the welding cell or system by a dramatic amount. You can replace up to four robotic spot welders with one of these devices.”
According to IPG’s website, the Laser Seam Stepper can include up to a 4kW fiber-laser-power source and also features an integrated chiller, an air-management system and process diagnostics. It’s also available with either a C-gun or picker.
The newest solid state laser offering from TRUMPF is their 5kW TruLaser 5030 fiber. Though the TruLaser 5030 itself isn’t new, the fact that TRUMPF has put a 5kW solid-state laser power source on it is an innovation.
“What we want to give our customers in this respect is really the power of choice,” says Stefan Fickenscher, TRUMPF’s TruLaser product manager. “The power of choice to get really the best suitable machines with the right laser power for their respective application.
“We’re the only company in the world that’s putting a 5kW-solid-state laser on a flatbed laser cutting machine,” specifies Fickenscher.
With its increased power, the TruLaser 5030 is able to process 1-in.-mild steel and 0.8-in.-stainless steel and aluminum on a 5 ft. by 10 ft. working area with a cutting speed up to 4,000 IPM.
“Especially in the thinner range of materials, we can reach cutting speeds up to five times higher than those on a comparable CO2 laser source,” says Fickenscher. “On top of that, another big topic with lasers is wall-plug efficiency, which, for solid state lasers, is 25 to 30 percent compared to the 10 to 15 percent of CO2 lasers.”
According to TRUMPF’s website, the TruLaser 5030 also features collision protection for all sheet thicknesses on its cutting head, as well as an automatic nozzle changer. The cabinet requires up to 20 percent less space due to a space efficient design that uses integrated switch cabinets and a compact dust extractor.
In addition to using less space, the TruLaser 5030 also offers increased efficiency and feed rates thanks to its TruDisk solid-state-laser source, power consumption savings of up to 9,040 kWh per year due to enhanced chillers and less wear on the lens resulting from its protective glass.
Hypertherm, IPG and TRUMPF have succeeded in delivering higher efficiency and productivity – innovations backed by increased power and speed – in the various models discussed here. That’s something that job shops can be excited about.