Fiber Laser Cutting Machine For Stainless Steel

Chicago Metal Fabricators’ new fiber laser cutter is not a gantry machine.The X-axis is the steel structure extending along the middle of the cutting chamber.It is designed to provide more support for high-speed cutting heads.It also allows access to the entire length of the laser cutting table.
Located on the southwest side of the city, the Chicago Metal Fabricators have been around for over 100 years.But even in this day and age, it has shown a willingness to embrace the latest technology — most recently one of the largest fiber laser cutters in the U.S.
If you travel near the manufacturer, which is shared with Chicago-style bungalows and other single-family homes, you might be surprised by the size of the manufacturer’s facility.It covers 200,000 square feet, about half the size of a city block.Since its inception in 1908, the building has expanded one room at a time.Brick-walled rooms give way to other brick-walled rooms until you reach a larger bay behind the facility.
In the early 20th century, Chicago Metal Fabricators manufactured metal cabinets and plumbing systems using presses driven by spool pulleys and flywheels mounted near the ceiling; in fact, several companies still occupy the same positions as they did nearly a century ago , which is a nod to the company’s manufacturing history.Today, it focuses on heavy components and large assemblies from 16 gauge to 3″ boards.A workshop can have up to 300 jobs open at any one time.
“We have large, heavy-duty fabrication areas,” said Randy Hauser, president of Chicago Metal Fabricators. “Obviously, as a metal fabricator, you want to have long bays, but we don’t. We have the big bay area in the back, but we have Lots of big rooms. So the room we used was more cellular.
“For example, we do stainless steel fabrication in isolated rooms to keep away from carbon pollution. Then we do a lot of light work and assembly in some other rooms,” he continued.”We cellularized our work in this way. It took advantage of our current situation.”
As the types of manufacturing jobs have evolved over the years, so has the customer base.Chicago Metal Fabricators now provides metal parts for the aerospace, aviation ground support, construction, rail and water industries.Some jobs are very delicate, like a 12-ton 6-inch aerospace component.A514 steel requires sophisticated thermal control and magnetic particle inspection of each weld pass after a 24-hour hold period.Gone are the days of making simple piping systems at the southwest side factory.
While these large, complex fabrications and welds make up a large portion of the company’s business, Hauser says it still does quite a bit of sheet metal work.He estimates it still accounts for about a third of the overall business.
That’s why new laser cutting capabilities are so important to the company as it looks for future opportunities.
Chicago Metal Fabricators got into laser cutting in 2003.It purchased a 6 kW CO2 laser cutter with a 10 x 20 foot cutting bed.
“What we like about it is that it can handle larger, heavier boards, but we also have a fair amount of metal boards,” Hauser said.
Nick DeSoto, project engineer at Chicago Metal Fabricators, inspects the new fiber laser cutter as he finishes work.
Manufacturers have always been keen on maintenance, so CO2 lasers are still able to deliver high-quality cut parts.But making sure the laser cuts correctly to meet quality specifications requires quite a bit of knowledge.In addition, routine beam path maintenance requires the machine to be offline for extended periods of time.
Hauser said he had been eyeing fiber laser cutting technology for years, but only wanted to pursue the technology after it was proven.At the same time, he has received positive feedback from trusted sources, and he has seen how cutting head designs have evolved to allow fiber lasers to cut thicker metals than previous generations of technology could handle.
Additionally, he wanted to find a manufacturer willing to build a custom 10-by-30-foot cutting table.The largest standard cutting table is about 6 x 26 feet, but Chicago Metal Fabricators have two 30-foot long press brakes, the largest of which provides 1,500 tons of bending force.
“Why buy a 26-ft. laser, because you know the next order we get is going to be a 27-ft. part,” Hauser said, admitting the company actually has about 27-ft.Parts in the workshop that day.
As the search for fiber lasers became more serious, a machine tool salesperson suggested Hauser take a look at CYLASER.After learning about the company’s long-standing association with fiber laser technology and experience building large-scale cutting machines, Hauser knew he had found a new technology supplier.
Before entering the metal cutting field, CYLASER was a manufacturer of custom welding machines.It is close to the Italian manufacturing facility of IPG Photonics, a major supplier of fiber laser power supplies to the world’s machine tool builders.That proximity has prompted the two companies to develop a strong technical relationship over the years, according to company officials.
In the early 2000s, IPG began offering high power fiber lasers for the welding market.It provided CYLASER with a generator to try out, which fascinated the company’s product developers.Soon after, CYLASER purchased its own fiber laser power supply and started using it for metal cutting applications.
In 2005, CYLASER installed the first laser cutting machine in a manufacturing workshop in Schio, Italy.From there, the company has developed a full range of 2D cutting machines, combined 2D cutting and tube cutting machines, as well as stand-alone tube cutting machines.
The manufacturer makes very large fiber laser cutters in Europe, and the way it accommodates the X-axis motion of the cutting head piqued Hauser’s interest.This fiber laser cutter does not have the traditional gantry system to move the cutting head through a large cutting table; instead, it uses an “aircraft structure” approach.
Since the fiber laser does not need to follow the traditional gantry bridge feed mirror path, CYLASER is free to think of another way to move the laser cutting head.Its aircraft structural design mimics an aircraft wing, with the main support structure extending down the middle of the wing.In the laser cutter design, the X-axis consists of an overhead steel structure that is stress relieved and precision machined.It runs down the middle of the cutting chamber.The steel structure is also fitted with a rack and pinion and precision rail system.Below the X axis, the Y axis is connected by four precision bearing sets.This configuration is designed to limit any bending of the Y axis.The Z axis and cutting head are mounted on the Y axis.
Long parts used to house cables in commercial buildings are cut on new fiber laser cutters and bent on the company’s large bending machines.
The large gantry design on the 10-foot-wide table carries considerable inertia, Hauser said.
“I just don’t like large sheet metal gantry very much when you’re cutting and processing small features at high speeds,” he said.
Aircraft structural designs allow manufacturers access to either side and the entire length of the laser cutting chamber.This flexible design also allows manufacturers to place machine controls almost anywhere around the machine.
Chicago Metal Fabricators acquired an 8 kW fiber laser cutter in December 2018.It features a dual pallet changer so the operator can unload parts from the previous skeleton and load the next blank while the machine does another job.The laser can also be accessed from the side if the operator wants quick access, such as throwing remnants onto a cutting table for quick work.
The fiber laser has been up and running since February with the help of Nick DeSoto, a Chicago-based metal fabricator project engineer, who was also key to bringing the company’s older CO2 laser cutters and keeping them running for years.Hauser said the laser performed as expected.
“What we found on older laser machines is that when you go over three-quarters of an inch, the laser can cut it, but it’s more of a problem with the edge quality of the plate,” he said.”So when we get to that range, our HD plasma cutters are fine for most applications.
“We’ve invested in a variety of material types from 16-gauge to 0.75-inch in this new laser,” Hauser said.
CYLASER cutting heads are designed to provide high quality cuts on different types of metals in different thicknesses.The Vortex feature adjusts beam power in combination with assist gas flow and pressure, resulting in reduced streaks and a more uniform appearance on laser cut edges, especially on stainless steels 0.3125″ or larger.Vega is the name of the beam mode modification function of the cutting head, which adjusts the beam size for optimal cutting conditions in different situations.
Chicago Metal Fabricators, which process large volumes of aluminum and stainless steel, have shifted most of their work to new laser cutters.Hauser says the machine really proves its worth when cutting thick sheets of aluminum, typically up to 0.375 inches.The results were “really good,” he said.
In recent months, manufacturers have run new fiber lasers six days a week in two shifts.Hauser estimates it runs twice as fast as its older CO2 laser cutters.
Long parts used to house cables in commercial buildings are cut on new fiber laser cutters and bent on the company’s large bending machines.
“I’m happy with the technology,” Hauser said.“We only need to replace the lens once a year, and the maintenance is probably 30 percent of our CO2 emissions. The uptime [with the new laser] couldn’t be better.”
With the performance and size of its new fiber laser cutter, Chicago Metal Fabricators now has new capabilities it believes will help it further diversify its customer base.To say this is a big deal is no exaggeration.
Dan Davis is editor-in-chief of The FABRICATOR, the industry’s largest circulation metal fabrication and forming magazine, and its sister publications, STAMPING Journal, Tube & Pipe Journal, and The Welder.He has been working on these publications since April 2002.
FABRICATOR is North America’s leading metal forming and fabrication industry magazine.The magazine provides news, technical articles and case histories that enable manufacturers to do their jobs more efficiently.FABRICATOR has been serving the industry since 1970.
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Post time: Feb-21-2022