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Sheet metal subcontractor progresses to lights-out machining with new fibre laser

Like many sheet metal subcontractors that specialise in profiling thinner materials, Wigston-based Metalfacture has opted to install fibre laser technology alongside its existing CO2 laser cutting plant. Another first for the company is the integration of automatic sheet load and unload, allowing it to profit from the economies of unmanned running overnight. The entire cell was supplied in May 2014 by Bystronic UK, Coventry.

Established in 1997, Metalfacture employs 50 staff at its 95,000 sq ft Leicestershire factory and has operated manned shifts around-the-clock for many years, producing such items as shop displays, housings for electronic and security products, and fabrications for the materials handling industry. Over 80 per cent of work involves processing thin mild steel, Zintec, stainless steel and other materials less than 3 mm; a maximum thickness of 10 mm is handled very occasionally.

The company’s commercial director, Ben Jones-Fenleigh commented, “We needed extra laser profiling capacity to keep pace with increasing levels of business and were aware that a fibre laser would be faster than CO2 for the gauges we machine mostly.

“The trouble is that fibre machines are so fast – up to 50 per cent quicker cutting in a straight line and 30 per cent overall – that an operator would be forever loading and unloading the machine.

“The likelihood is that presentation of material would have been a bottleneck and in any case, such intensive loading duties would be arduous to carry out manually.”

So the decision was taken to automate the BySprint Fiber 3015 with a ByTrans 3015 Extended loading system, which benefits from a second storage cassette. It means that combinations of raw material up to 3,000 mm x 1,500 mm, plastic separator sheets (if used), large cut components and skeletons can be accommodated on the cassettes and on the floor underneath, if necessary, to suit the production process.

Operation of the handling equipment is via the touch screen on the laser cutting machine control and standard load/unload cycle time is 60 seconds. Up to six tonnes of material can be put onto the cassettes and processed overnight, so cut parts and skeletons are ready to be taken away by forklift in the morning. If similarly long runs are carried out during a day shift, the operator is freed to perform other tasks.

Mr Jones-Fenleigh added, “The ByTrans Extended gives us considerable flexibility, which is ideal for a subcontractor. We continuously prioritise work and are therefore not always sure what we will have to produce next to meet our production schedules.

“We went to see a similar Bystronic system in use at a factory doing a lot of thin-gauge work and got good feedback from the company.

“The design of the handling equipment is ideal for our type of shop, which was one of the main reasons that we opted for the Bystronic solution. It has certainly proved to be easy to program and use.”

The BySprint Fiber at Wigston is fitted with a high power, 4 kW laser source, which together with the machine’s 12 m/s2 acceleration to a maximum positioning speed of 140 m/min ensures high production output.

A fibre machine is easier to maintain than CO2 models, as delivery of the laser light does not require expensive optical mirrors and the focusing lens is sealed in the cutting head, so is not a consumable. Other advantages include lower power consumption, 50 per cent longer servicing intervals and an ability to cut reflective materials without fear of back reflections damaging the machine.

To accommodate the addition of another laser profiler at the Wigston factory, Metalfacture upgraded its existing nitrogen generation plant, which delivers a continuous supply to all machines to ensure high quality cut edges. The assist gas is extracted from compressed air, avoiding the expense and downtime associated with buying and changing nitrogen gas bottles.

Radan software is employed for geometry creation, nesting, and producing the cutting paths and code, while two seats of Bystronic’s BySoft 7 software are utilised to schedule and monitor the cutting plans and manufacturing processes.

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