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Automating Fiber Lasers

A company with diverse automation systems and experience, in many types of machinery, outlines their approach to automatic loading and unloading of their fiber laser.

Automating big sheets puts a premium on efficient arrangement of staging and work handling. The Murata system – fiber laser plus automated loading and unloading – can be configured to make the best use of available space.

Currently, fiber lasers, used for two dimensional sheet processing, are rapidly gaining popularity in North American industrial markets and around the globe. Easier to use and often regarded as a more solid method to create a light source than traditional CO2 laser technology, fiber lasers are highly accurate, have a high beam quality, and are often used to form intricate parts in the fabrication sector. In general, two markets heavily involved with the technology are original manufacturers (OEM) and contract manufacturing companies. Overall, there are numerous benefits to processing with fiber lasers; the most notable asset being the rapid processing speed of thin forms of steel. For example, the smaller kerfs found fiber lasers, and increased laser beam intensity allow for speeds as much as three times faster than a CO2 laser. Other strong advantages associated with fiber lasers include part quality and material flexibility.

As global awareness increases, industry customers have begun to recognize the striking benefits automation brings to fiber laser operations. Applicable in various circumstances, fiber lasers coupled with automation can help business owners alleviate common production issues. For instance, one fabrication company client may be looking for a simple solution to load and unload a single stack of material while another needs to load several different material types with varied thickness from one schedule to the next. These requirements can quickly become overwhelming for a contracted shop, with hundreds of customers, working to streamline production for thousands of diverse parts. In addition, original equipment manufacturers have their own unique set of hurdles including engineering product changes, and balancing prototypes in with standard production. For these set of problems and other challenging related obstacles, fiber lasers with automation are the best solution.

However, there are several important factors to consider when contemplating the purchase of a fiber laser with automation. First, floor space is an enormous consideration, because it is often limited. In this instance, one should consider vertical storage with a large weight capacity. When determining if a fiber laser with automation is truly optimal for a work environment, one must look beyond the initial advantage of increased production. This machine tool solution hosts a variety of benefits, can provide consistent efficiency, and have a substantial impact on return on investment (ROI). 

Operator Health and Safety
Lost productivity and workplace injuries cost American businesses billions of dollars each year. Reduced exposure to handling material can help decrease work related accidents. Present in the fabrication sector, handling heavy gauge and large cumbersome sheets introduce many inherent dangers. A safer environment may also help prevent knowledgeable, trained employees from leaving the company as they may be able to increase production and reduce common progressive warehouse aches and pains.

A pallet changer is the heart of Murata’s system, using fork-like fingers to lift and deposit, moving work while another sheet is being cut.

Ease of Use
Ease of use is essential in the procurement of fiber laser with automation, and probably one of the greatest benefits. Choose a laser provider that offers an ample training, and ensure that the operational instructions can easily be translated to new hires and executives in the organization. This is the first step towards shorter production times, and, ultimately, efficiency.
Material Handling Recommendations
Experience from a fiber laser provider is essential to ensure that laser technology and automated systems function as they are designed. Simplicity of design, ease of use and durability are key aspects to consider when searching for potential material handling solutions for your work environment. While manufacturing operations are rarely the same, considerable cost savings can be achieved utilizing standard designs that may cover 90% or more of your material handling requirements. Often times it is better to focus on what is well suited for the bulk of your material handling as it applies instead of the 10% that may not be well suited. Listed below are additional recommendations to ensure the best product purchase is made. 

• Small Footprint
Sufficient floor space is a crucial component in efficiently operating a shop or contract facility. Fiber lasers can reach as long as 50 ft. in length. For this reason, consider an automated material handling solution that has some footprint flexibility. Systems that may be placed in corners and loaders with a small footprint are highly recommended. 

• Quality & Scratch Prevention
 Aesthetic cosmetic concerns regarding the use of stainless and painted automated handling systems are legitimate as they can potentially scratch the exterior of a fiber laser. Search for a solution that will handle material and parts with little marking, and leave your significant laser investment unscathed. Automated material handling solutions containing loaders with vacuum cups are generally gentler and work well on lasers.

• Parts and Service
Continuous support of purchased laser and automation equipment is vital. Often times, standard automation systems have the benefit of common parts and improved availability. Selecting a material handling provider with superior engineering resources and part availability will result in a quick resolution of operational problems as they arise, minimizing downtime, and create a less stressful and more productive business environment.
Our Muratec LS3015FC is an IPG fiber laser comes standard with load/unload automation and allows users to choose between three modes of cutting; ranging from the fastest speed to the most economical. Also, the Muratec LS3015FC features two levels of reflection protection that increases the machine’s ability to process difficult reflective material such as aluminum and brass.
The automated system comes with a pallet shuttle table system capable of performing a rapid pallet change. Its material storage towers can hold up to 3 tons per shelf (5 ft.x10 ft. and 4 ft.x8 ft. configurations) which extends production capability.

As automation for laser cutters matures, systems are evolving into similar configurations, such as the multi-level towers that are incorporated into the Muratec system. Sheets can be stacked on shelves, loaded and unloadled by a built-in vertical lift, and transferred to the machine pallets individually.
There is a lot of refinement involved in these most recent systems. Individual sheets can be selected by the program, allowing one sheet of aluminum, then one thin sheet of steel, or any order that suits the work order. Pallets shuttle in and out of the cutting area; one is loading and unloading while another is being cut, minimizing wasted cycle time. Sheets are handled gently by suction cups; separated by a two-step system that incorporates an air jet; and offloaded so that a nest of parts will remain intact with the skeleton until they’re intentionally separated.

Don’t hurry up and wait
An efficient system is one that does as much as possible simultaneously. Often times, speed is considered the primary advantage of fiber laser and automated systems. However, if not addressed, speed may cause unanticipated problems process-workflow issues. For example, an unforeseen issue may arise regarding the time it takes to process a complete nest. For instance, if a nested cycle time is 80 seconds and it takes over two minutes to load sheet material for the next processing cycle, the fiber laser would have to wait for material to process which may limit production. Also, potential buyers should consider how to reliably handle the faster rate of finished parts that are produced. Ultimately, increased productivity is welcomed by businesses, but it is very important to examine the entire manufacturing process. You can get a big productivity boost from laser-cutter automation that is designed to minimize wasted time and interruptions, and to handle your workpieces safely.

Muratec Machinery