Following any period of rapid growth, challenges will likely ensue. Laser 3D (Melbourne, Australia), a shop that supplies formed metal and plastic components predominantly to the automotive industry for clients such as Ford, Toyota and GMH, realized this first-hand.
The company rose to the occasion, however, as evidenced by its acquisition of 13 laser cutting systems—a LaserLab Profile, four LaserLab Contours, a Cincinnati CL7, three LaserLab Pentacon machines, a Trumpf Laser cell, two Trumpf 3030 machines and a Trumpf 3050—across its two job shops. This machining inventory has enabled Laser 3D to broaden the range of laser cutting and welding services offered to its customers. The issue of programming them effectively to accommodate the increasing metalcutting requirements warranted immediate attention.
“We were looking for possible ways to improve our response time and accuracy for five-axis laser cutting equipment,” recalls Brian Finn, managing director at Laser 3D. “Our initial programming on the LaserLab systems was accomplished by teaching.”
Teaching usually entails manually moving the laser along the part, with the control saving the movement. It is said to be a time-consuming, imprecise method. With this in mind, the company explored alternative methods.
Another downside of teaching was that the production of fixtures was slow, Mr. Finn notes. A common occurrence was that programs were not accurate enough. As a result, machining time was often wasted.
To accomplish five-axis programming, the company subsequently selected PEPS SolidCut Laser from Camtek USA Inc. (Acworth, Georgia). One selling point was the system’s capability of programming both the Laser Lab and Trumpf machines.
“We evaluated other systems, many of which either could not program both machines or didn’t use circular interpolation in the NC code,” explains Mr. Finn. “This meant that the programs were quite long. Making simple program modifications at the machine was also impractical.”
The implementation of PEPS Solidcut Laser yielded considerable time savings associated with designing and building fixtures—to the tune of 50 percent. Setting up programs generated by the new program at the machine routinely requires 50 percent less time than does manual teaching.
Among other benefits, accuracy was increased. According to the company, the most significant improvement resulted from the use of circular interpolation and the capability of using the machine’s built-in macros for holes and slots. The software can automatically identify and profile 3D component boundaries and apertures, and with appropriate technology settings, says the manufacturer. The programmer can therefore identify standard shapes supported by the post processor and output the CNC code using the canned cycles of the machine tool. Various jobs can be programmed in seconds. In addition, collision checking and simulation features, which display head and pipe positions, are said to further reduce the possibility of errors.
In terms of savings related to fixturing, Laser 3D says it experienced an 80 percent improvement. When dealing with five-axis laser, fixtures must be provided to hold the part. These typically consist of a grid of plates to support the complex 3D part. Manually, this process requires a fair amount of time and necessitates making numerous adjustments. The automated method in Solidcut produces the fixture in 20 percent of the time normally required while removing previous human limitations.
Mr. Finn points out another benefit of using the program: different machines can be programmed using a single system that operates on low-cost hardware.
Using a CAD system for much of its 3D development work, the company transfers completed components into PEPS SolidCut Laser. Cutting paths are then applied, simulations are run and NC code is generated. A range of CAD translators accept CAD files in a variety of formats.
The fact that the system can accommodate various customer-specific requirements is also a noteworthy aspect, says the company.
“We’ve found the system to be conducive to customization,” says Mr. Finn. “After requesting a modification to the post output, it was implemented within a few days. The support overall was and is excellent.”
There are ongoing plans to expand the company’s existing plant, and Solidcut is an integral part of that plan.
“Our equipment works well in conjunction with the new program, allowing us to meet tough deadlines,” explains Mr. Finn. “We can deliver finished products with a greater level of accuracy, as cutting is performed using design data direct, substantially eliminating human errors. The major advantage of SolidCut is that it allows us to run an existing job on any available five-axis machine using correspondent machine geometry, configuration and post processor.
“Also, we are not tied to one machine manufacturer in the future, as the PEPS machine library covers practically all existing multi-axis laser cutting machines,” he concludes. “We are now looking to use PEPS to drive our two-axis laser machines.”