Muratec’s LS 3015 FC fiber laser machine with the FN 3015 TL tower and load/unload system eliminates manual handling of large and cumbersome material.
Motivations For Automation
by Andrew Wildman, laser application engineer, Murata Machinery USA Inc.
Making the most of fiber laser production through automated processes
Since the mid-2000s, fiber laser technology has grown in popularity for blank sheet metal processing in the fabrication industry. Many fabricators are now replacing older, costlier CO2 lasers with fiber lasers, which have lower operating and maintenance costs.
This new laser cutting source eliminates the negative cost factors that have been associated with CO2 lasers while dramatically increasing processing speeds. With these added speeds, manufacturers now require more advanced systems to not only keep up with production capabilities, but to monitor and control them.
Fiber laser processing speeds can be up to 50 percent faster than CO2 laser speeds when cutting thin material. This jump in speed often makes automation a necessity to keep material supplied to the cutting process. As manufacturers have looked to increase production efficiencies and reduce costs, they have begun to recognize the benefits automation brings to fiber laser manufacturing.
Manual operations contain pockets of lost production due to the necessity of waiting for an operator to load or unload material. Automation, however, can help solve this problem. Eliminating manual handling of large and cumbersome material not only saves time but helps remove risk of injury and associated safety issues.
With the right automation, work can be more reliably scheduled and lead times more closely estimated. The goal of a busy shop is to have cutting cells that can operate 24/7. Automation with multiple storage locations allows increased capacity as well as processing various materials in a range of thicknesses.
Automation doesn’t just come in the form of material handling, though. The addition of an automatic nozzle changer can also provide greater flexibility when running standalone or with traditional automation.
When a new program comes up in the schedule, the machine cleans the nozzle, puts it away and loads a new one. Then, it automatically calibrates the head and starts cutting the next project. This process offers clear advantages when processing multiple schedules back to back, and in particular for lights out operation.
Recipe For Success
Programming and software options are also available to further automate a fiber laser’s operations. Many machines offer a “schedule mode,” which allows the operator to load multiple NC programs in the schedule that can be run consecutively. In this mode, operators can see the current status of all NC programs on the list and whether the NC program being processed is ready or has been placed on hold.
When the current NC program is completed, the next NC program on the list is automatically loaded with the new cutting conditions. Most machines today allow for an extensive recipe library for a range of materials. These recipes control specific power settings, cutting speeds, assist gas selections as well as focus adjustments. These recipes are controlled within a human machine interface (HMI), which allows for easy changes of cutting conditions. Schedule mode coupled with automation increases the flow of processed material through the machine, meaning more green light time.
An HMI is designed to interface between the user and the machine. It provides a visual representation of a control system and provides real-time data acquisition. It can also increase productivity by having a centralized control center that is extremely user-friendly.
With the HMI, an operator can increase productivity by scheduling multiple programs with specific data recipes. When the current program is completed, the HMI selects the next program in the schedule, makes the necessary changes and runs the program. This allows the fiber laser cutting system to automatically change between different cutting conditions, assist gases, materials and cutting nozzles with no need for operator intervention.
Recent software innovations allow greater insight and monitoring for machine control and reporting to further drive operational performance. Systems like Muratec’s Process Net Monitor can store and analyze information from the machine CNC, such as current machine condition, gas consumption, flow rates and energy consumption. It can also monitor when a machine is off and when an alarm
occurred – all the while providing details as to why an alarm was triggered.
The software tracks and analyzes the data over weeks, months or even years. Management can use this data to identify trends, like common alarms and downtime, and can target these areas for improvement to increase productivity. Live camera monitoring also gives management real-time images of the machine in operation. The Process Net Monitor system can be accessed remotely from a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
These days, fiber laser manufacturing entails more than just the laser itself. Fiber laser technology has brought tremendous improvements in processing speeds and quality. These improvements are taken to another level when the entire system is built around the idea of optimizing production – from automation solutions to the associated software and control systems.
Muratec’s Process Net Monitor can monitor when a machine is off and when an alarm occurred, and provide details as to why an alarm was triggered.