Here are a few technologies spotted at the 2012 edition of Fabtech, the annual metal forming, fabricating, welding and finishing event.
Associate Editor, Modern Machine Shop
Fiber lasers were ubiquitous on the show floor. Representatives from various laser system manufacturers said the popularity of this platform has been increasing for two primary reasons. First, compared to CO2 systems, fiber lasers generate beams with shorter wavelengths that are more readily absorbed by the material being cut. This enables faster cutting of thinner materials as well as highly reflective materials, such as aluminum or brass. Additionally, exhibitors said relying on fiber optics rather than CO2 gas and mirrors for beam transmission results in lower operating, maintenance and energy costs. However, many pointed out that CO2 lasers still have their advantages—they are generally more versatile, and their longer wavelengths make them better-suited for cutting thicker sheet.
The fiber laser depicted here, an Optiplex 3015 4kW Fiber from Mazak Optonics, uses the company’s new PreView 2 CNC. This control features a 15-inch touchscreen designed for ease of use and automatically determines the required processing conditions for the material prior to cutting.
Trumpf pitted two its entry-level TruLaser 1030 systems—one a CO2 model and one a fiber model—against each other on a series of parts with different geometries, material types and thicknesses. Processing results were displayed in real-time to showcase the benefits of each type of system for on-looking attendees.
While most fiber lasers displayed at FABTECH offered 4-kW power ratings, Trumpf’s TruLaser 5030 fiber offers 5 kW. According to the company, this enables faster cutting as well as the capability to process thicker sheets of material. This particular model was displayed with two automation systems: the LiftMaster Compact, which is designed for high speed material handling in a minimal footprint, and the PartMaster, which transports processed sheet to the sorting station.
Rather than shipping a massive XL Series Fiber Laser to the show, Mitsubishi opted to highlight the series’ expansive work envelopes with this towering display, which was cut on one of the machines. The XL Series lasers are designed for rigidity and use the company’s 45CF-R resonator for beam quality and cost performance. The company did display a smaller model, its new 3015NX-F fiber laser. Designed for users processing materials ranging to 4.5 mm in thickness, the system features the company’s MHC_L laser control, which is said to offer beam on/off timing of 1 U sec as well as a timing calculator that enables fast rise time when the machine needs the power.
Robotiq says its Adaptive Robotic Grippers can provide the versatility short-staffed shops need to automate operations involving a varied part mix and/or frequent changeovers. The grippers are available in three-fingered or two-fingered configurations. As shown in the photos below, the two-fingered model provides three distinct gripping modes: parallel, encompassing and inside grip. This enables handling of flat, square, cylindrical or irregularly shaped parts. The company says the grippers have generated significant interest from manufacturers serving the automotive, optics and medical industries.
Yaskawa Motoman says its SDA10F robot’s dual, independent arms and 15 axes of motion provide “human-like” flexibility for various assembly, handling, machine tending and transfer applications that would normally require an operator. The robot can also fit into small spaces, thanks to a design that incorporates the motor, encoder, reducer and brake for each axis into a lightweight package that is said to be smaller than a traditional AC servo motor drive. Each arm accommodates a 10-kg payload, but the model shown here is using a lift assist to manipulate a heavier assembly.
ESAB Welding & Cutting Products has teamed with KUKA Robotics to develop automated welding cells for steel, stainless steel, aluminum and other non-ferrous gas metal arc welding (GMAW) applications. This model, the Swift Arc AL angle loader robot system, is especially useful for job shops that are implementing their first robotics, the company says. It consists of a Kuka KR-5 Arc Robot with an 11-pound payload, 55.5-inch reach and a PC-based, KRC-2 controller.
A prominent part of ESAB Cutting Systems’ display was the Avenger X large gantry CNC plasma cutting system. Unlike previous designs, this model adds a standard drill station to enable single-setup production of plasma or oxyfuel-cut parts that include precision drilled holes, the company says. Shown here cutting bevels on the company’s Continuous Cleaning Downdraft table, the machine features dual-precision linear ways, a high-stiffness, fabricated beam structure, high-speed AC drives and oversized gearboxes.
Hypertherm’s new edge-profiling technology, True Bevel, enables manufacturers to more easily achieve accurate bevel cuts by using factory-tested parameters with the company’s HPRXD plasma cutting systems. Booth personnel said the development of this technology was driven in large part by demand for shorter setup time, as users often spend hours setting up systems through trial and error.
Unlike bonded-abrasive grinding and cut-off wheels that consist of irregularly shaped ceramic abrasive grains, 3M Abrasive Systems’ Cubitron II line incorporates precision-shaped grains that continuously fracture to form sharp points and edges. The company says this creates a clean shearing action, as opposed to gouging or rubbing. As a result, the wheels cut faster and stay sharp longer while requiring less pressure, thereby improving productivity and reducing operator fatigue.
Osborn International, a supplier of surface treatment and finishing tools, has traditionally provided a two-tiered offering of ATB wheel brushes: the standard line (left), which incorporates hard-drawn wire, and the premium line (third from left), which is manufactured entirely in the U.S. and uses longer-lasting oil-tempered wire that is said to provide better results. Now, the company also offers the professional line (second from left), which represents a compromise between the original two configurations.
Eriez offers the SumpDoc, a coolant recycling system that incorporates a pump, cartridge filter, coalescer, centrifuge, ozone generator, and all other elements necessary to completely rejuvenate machining fluids in a single, portable unit. Perhaps most importantly, the company says, the machine tool can continue production while the unit is operating. For ease of use, the unit incorporates a touch-screen control that guides the operator through the process.
Miller Electric Mfg.’s Multimatic 200 provides the versatility to perform MIG, Stick and TIG welding with a single, portable system. In addition, the system is designed to provide ease-of-use via the new Auto-Set Elite function. This system prompts the operator to select the type of welding process, the wire/rod/tungsten diameter and the material thickness and automatically sets the machine to the optimum parameters for that joint. However, it also enables operators to fine-tune selected weld parameters to further match the arc to the application. According to the company, this capability makes the system useful for novice and expert welders alike.
The VRTEX line of welding simulators from Lincoln Electric uses a virtual-reality helmet and model torch to provide a hands-on experience that mimics real-world MIG and Stick welding scenarios (plans are in the works to provide TIG welding capability). The system can be used to teach new welders in the classroom or the shop, as a practice tool for more experienced welders seeking recertification, or even as an HR screening tool for new hires. Advantages include lack rods of or other consumables, less power consumption than actual welders and the ability to rate and track welding performance over time. The latest addition to the line is the VRTEX Mobile, which, as the name suggests, is smaller and more portable than previous editions.
Rare is the piece of equipment that operates in isolation, and FABTECH teemed with suppliers offering accessories to complement various processes. For example, Diversi-Tech’s Fume Tracker is a welding fume extraction arm that uses arc sensors and proprietary algorithms to automatically position itself above the weld arc (represented here by light bulbs). According to the company, this saves time by eliminating the need to continually adjust the arm. It also provides the proper fume capture by keeping the hood at the most efficient distance.
Omax offers a rotary axes accessory that adds full “turning” capability to waterjet machines, as opposed to just indexing. Paired with the company’s A-Jet tilting nozzle, the new rotary axis permits simultaneous, 6-axis machining of contoured geometries, extending the use of waterjet beyond just 2D parts.
Flow’s flagship Mach 4 C features a number of upgrades designed to make the waterjet easier and more comfortable to use. Examples visible here include the lighting mounted on the underside of the bridge, the plastic shielding—which is not a display element, but comes standard with the machine—and the the fact that the bridge mounts on a low step, a contrast to models where it inhibits access to the worktable. Other features a touchscreen CNC, drawers in the CNC cabinet and water-level control for quieter cutting.
Fabtech 2012 attracted nearly 26,000 attendees to the Las Vegas Convention Center November 12-14. Next year's event is schedule for November 18-21 at Chicago's McCormick Place.