As I visit sheet metal fabrication shops, I am often asked the question “can I use my existing laser automation with a new fiber laser cutting machine?” That is a very good question as often a considerable amount of dollars have been invested into existing automation systems.
When does it make sense to invest in new material handling automation?
As we have seen from the results of Fiber laser cutting times, we often see decreases in cycle times by as much as 300%, depending on the material thickness. A careful analysis will need to be conducted, including the longest cycle time for your current automation and comparing it to the shortest cycle time of your Fiber time studies. If your current automation is inclusive of only the load cycle and not the unload cycle, then you will need to look at whether it may now make sense to invest in new automation due to the frequency of loading and unloading with the new Fiber. For example, if your operators are currently struggling to keep up with the load and unload cycles of your CO2 lasers then you will definitely benefit from automating with the new Fiber laser.
What to consider when operating multiple sheet metal cutting machines from a common load/unload unit
Another consideration is multiple machines using a common load/unload unit. Here it is most likely that at least one machine will need to be a thick plate processing machine so that there is less chance of the Fiber machine waiting for material. Again, this really needs a careful analysis of the mixture of cycle times that will be utilized to ensure maximum utilization of the production speeds gained from using fiber lasers. I have also seen existing competitive machines that have 3 and 4 lasers utilizing a common load/unload device. Here for sure this is not the environment for adding high-speed Fiber lasers as you will pace the lasers with the cycle times of the automation and surely lose all of the speed advantages of cutting with Fiber.
High speed automation maintains overall productivity
High-speed automation is available with complete load and unload cycle within a time of 60 sec. With this short cycle time it is most unlikely that your automation will pace the laser cycle times and will certainly keep your production on pace with the faster times derived from the new Fiber laser cutting machine. This is even more important if you are currently not using automation to load and unload your lasers, as the output of the Fiber laser will certainly create a fatigue factor with the operators and reduce your overall productivity.
Fiber technology is a game changing technology but you must also keep pace both before and after the Fiber laser to take full advantage of its capabilities.
By Frank Arteaga, Head of Product Marketing, NAFTA Region
Bystronic Inc., Elgin, IL – Voice.firstname.lastname@example.org