In the midst of a competitive landscape that’s requiring manufacturers to achieve higher efficiency and lower costs per part – Shop Floor Lasers sat down with Brett Thompson, laser technologies and sales consulting manager at TRUMPF Inc. During the conversation, he gave his insight on the marketplace and advice for how to persevere in any economic climate. Read on for Thompson’s take on the industry.
Shop Floor Lasers: When talking to your customers, what is their sentiment about the current economic conditions?
Thompson: The economic landscape is quite interesting right now. The supply chain breakdown was surprising for a lot of people, but it was also slightly frightening because of how fragile our supply lines have proven to be. Because of this, the idea of a global manufacturing market is starting to show some potential flaws.
Therefore, a lot of companies are now looking to localize their supply chains, even if it’s just as a redundancy. So, we’re going to see a lot of growth in reshored work, which will be a trend moving forward. Simultaneously, we’re going to see new industries emerging. A big one is going to be the growth of American chip manufacturing, like semiconductors, and that is obviously going to create a big support industry around it.
Another bright spot with big sheet metal potential is in the automotive world. When it comes to traditional automotive manufacturing, the production of products hasn’t changed much. But, with electric vehicles (EVs), the manufacturing process is proving to be different, which is partly due to the diversity in the product line. Last year, there was something in the ballpark of 85 new EVs introduced.
To participate in these emerging markets, flexibility and quickly adapting to design changes will be key. Think about digital prototyping versus spending huge amounts of money for tooling to create the structures of these new EV components, particularly battery packs. It’s a huge potential growth market in North America for manufacturers.
SFL: Will Trumpf have a direct role in the manufacturing of semiconductors?
Thompson: Absolutely. Excimer laser technology makes up a large portion of our business, but from a sheet metal perspective, we’ll play an important role there, too. There will be a lot of industries supporting the chip manufacturing boom – even for simple things, like the tables that workers will use to carry their tools around the Intel facilities being built today.
SFL: There’s a lot for North American manufacturers to look forward to. How can they prepare for that?
Thompson: We have industries that didn’t exist here previously along with industries that are coming back, and they all have one key variable: the cost per part, which often comes down to the cost of labor or the availability of labor.
We as an industry have to be able to address that, and so TRUMPF puts a lot of effort into developing automated processes and process security technologies to ensure maximum overall equipment effectiveness times. For manufacturers that had sent work overseas, we know that the only way that they can competitively manufacture domestically is to address wasted secondary labor.
As an example, if something comes off of a welding process, I don’t want to have to pay somebody to spend just as much time grinding the defects out of the part as they did to actually make the thing. And that’s why TRUMPF is constantly working to develop new technologies that can improve the way our customers go to market.
SFL: Can you give us an example of something new that TRUMPF has developed in that regard? Perhaps something that might seem simple, but can make a big difference for the manufacturers that are trying to achieve so much these days?
Thompson: I have the perfect example for that. Just last year, we introduced nano joint technology for the TruLaser 5000 Series machines, which can be used in place of tabs. Most folks are familiar with a tab or what we refer to at TRUMPF as a micro joint. For those that aren’t familiar, a tab is a material thickness joint between the outer skeleton and the cut part. It’s used to keep interior portions of the part from tipping up and causing a collision with the cutting head.
The issue with tabs comes into play as the material gets thicker, which makes it difficult to separate the tabbed part from the nest. Therefore, manufacturers typically only use a tab if it seems likely that a contour is going to tip up.
Knowing that part separation can lead to unnecessary bottlenecks, TRUMPF introduced the nano joint, which can eliminate a lot of the concerns surrounding tabs. Rather than being a through-thickness tab, it’s only made on the bottom of the cut, leaving approximately 15 percent of the material thickness intact – just enough to hold the part securely in place. This makes it much easier to separate parts from the nest while not having to worry about tip-ups.
As far as part separation is concerned, you simply twist down to release the parts. Better yet, the nano joint doesn’t leave enough material behind that it needs to be ground off. You can send it directly to the next process or even paint it, and it’s ready to go to the customer.
You can also add multiple tabs along any contour with zero impact on productivity. For context, cutting a tab requires an additional 2 sec., so for a part that requires 10 tabs, that adds up to 20 sec. per part. Conversely, if you put 10 nano joints on that same part, there is zero additional processing time because the laser doesn’t have to re-enter the part to create the joint.
SFL: Are there any additional benefits that come from switching to nano joints?
Thompson: Generally, you can have tighter nests when using nano joints, so material utilization improves. Additionally, the risk of injuries and worker fatigue is reduced because it takes a lot more physical force to break a tab out of a nest. Overall, manufacturers will see a lot of time savings because there’s no need for secondary processing to grind off the tabs.
SFL: Are there any caveats to using the nano joint technology?
Thompson: The only limitation would be the thickness of the material – we can only go so thin. Theoretically, you can go as thick as you want, but at a certain point, you wouldn’t bother because a 1-in. part isn’t going to tip up.
Also, nano joint technology is currently only available on the TruLaser 5000 Series machine. Eventually, I’m sure it will propagate, but if you have that machine, I would absolutely be using it and not only in place of tabs, but for times when tabs haven’t been used in the past. Because it doesn’t have an impact on cut times, why not make every cut job as safe and productive as possible?
As we head into the trade show season, people will be looking at new technologies, but – as they should – they’ll question whether the latest and greatest offerings can truly have an impact on their operations. Considering the major bottleneck of part sorting, nano joint technology is one of those technologies that can really make a difference.