• Is your shop's laser cutter functioning properly?

Is your shop's laser cutter functioning properly?

A new laser power meter could help metal fabricators ensure their laser cutters are running properly.Getty Images
Your company paid over $1 million for a new laser cutting machine with automated material storage and sheet handling.Installation is progressing well, and early signs of production indicate that the machine is operating as expected.Everything seems to be fine.
But is it?Some fabs won’t be able to answer this question until bad parts are produced.At this point, the laser cutter is turned off and a service technician makes a call.Wait for the game to start.
It’s not the most efficient way to monitor important and expensive laser cutting equipment, but it’s often how things happen on the shop floor.Some people think they simply don’t need to measure the new fiber lasers like the previous CO2 laser technology, for example, it does require a more hands-on approach to get focus before cutting.Others think laser beam measurement is something that service technicians do.The honest answer is that if manufacturing companies want to get the most out of their lasers and want the high-quality edge cuts that this technology can provide, they need to keep checking the laser beam quality.
Some manufacturers even argue that checking beam quality increases machine downtime.Christian Dini, director of global business development at Ophir Photonics, said it reminded him of an old joke often shared in manufacturing management courses.
“Two men were cutting down trees with their saws, and someone came and said, ‘Oh, your saw is dull. Why don’t you sharpen it to help you cut down trees? The two men replied that they didn’t have time to do that because they had to It takes constant chopping to bring the tree down,” Deeney said.
Checking laser beam performance is nothing new.However, even those who engage in this practice may have been using less reliable techniques to do the job.
Take the use of burning paper as an example, it is often used when CO2 laser systems are the primary laser cutting technology in the shop.In this case, an industrial laser operator would place burnt paper into the cutting chamber to align optics or cutting nozzles.After turning on the laser, the operator can see if the paper is burnt.
Some manufacturers have turned to acrylic plastic to make 3D representations of contours.But burning acrylic produces cancer-causing fumes that shop floor employees should probably avoid.
“Power pucks” were analog devices with mechanical displays that eventually became the first power meters to more accurately reflect laser beam performance.(The power disk is placed under the beam, where it absorbs the light and measures the temperature to calculate the power of the laser beam.) These disks can be affected by ambient temperature, so they may not really give the most accurate readings when testing lasers Performance.
Manufacturers don’t do a good job of keeping an eye on their laser cutters, and if they were, they probably weren’t using the best tools, a reality that led Ophir Photonics to introduce a small, self-contained laser power meter for measuring Industrial Lasers.Ariel devices measure laser power from 200 mW to 8 kW.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the laser beam in a new laser cutter will function consistently throughout the life of the machine.It should be monitored to ensure its performance meets OEM specifications.Ophir’s Ariel Laser Power Meter can help with this task.
“We want to help people better understand that what they’re dealing with is the need to get their laser systems to operate in their sweet spot — within their optimal process window,” Dini said.”If you don’t get everything right, you risk getting a higher cost per piece with lower quality.”
The device covers most of the “relevant” laser wavelengths, Deeney said.For the metal fabrication industry, 900 to 1,100 nm fiber lasers and 10.6 µm CO2 lasers are included.
Similar devices used to measure laser power in high-power machines are often large and slow, according to Ophir officials.Their size makes it difficult to incorporate into some types of OEM equipment, such as additive manufacturing equipment with small cabinets.Ariel is slightly wider than a paper clip.It can also measure in three seconds.
“You can put this little device near the location of the action or near the work area. You don’t have to hold it. You set it up and it does its job,” Deeney said.
The new power meter has two modes of operation.When a high power laser is used, it reads short pulses of energy, basically turning the laser off and on.For lasers up to 500 W, it can measure laser performance in minutes.(The device has a thermal capacity of 14 kJ before it needs to be cooled. The 128 x 64 pixel LCD screen on the device or a Bluetooth connection to the device app provides the operator with up-to-date information on the temperature of the power meter. It should be noted that the device is not fan or water cooled.)
Deeney says the power meter is designed to be splash and dust resistant.A rubber plastic cover can be used to protect the device’s USB port.
“If you put it in a powder bed in an additive environment, you don’t have to worry about it. It’s completely sealed,” he said.
The software included with Ophir displays data from laser measurements in formats such as time-based line graphs, pointer displays, or large digital displays with supporting statistics.From there, the software can be used to create more in-depth presentations covering long-term laser performance.
If the manufacturer can see if the laser beam is underperforming, the operator can start troubleshooting to find out what’s wrong, Dini said.Investigating symptoms of poor performance can help avoid larger and costly downtime for your laser cutter in the future.Keeping the saw sharp keeps the operation going fast.
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: Mar-03-2022