27 August 2009

New Laser Shop Seizes Big Opportunity

McKinnon Laser Ltd., Dundonald, Ireland ( was born from the vision of Tommy McKinnon who saw a growing market need for small batch quantities of high quality laser cut parts produced quickly and economically. Shortly after its start up in 2008, McKinnon Laser purchased an LVD Orion Plus 3015 with 2.5 kW laser power source and automatic load/unload system. The laser machine matched McKinnon Laser’s requirements and those of the market it looked to pursue, providing the ideal combination of compact size, features, economy and reliability. One year later, the young company is thriving and the laser system is at the heart of its business.

From its 3000 Square foot manufacturing facility outside of Belfast McKinnon Laser provides laser cutting services to customers in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and the UK. A majority of its work is for the precision engineering and pre-fabrication market. It also serves the aerospace, agriculture, transport, and construction industries. The company’s list of clients is diverse, and there is no job too small for McKinnon Laser, as batch quantities generally range from one to five hundred, and “one-off” jobs are welcome.

“We did our research and from past work experience we knew there was a market for smaller jobs, customers that would need 10-, 20-, 30-hours of laser processing work a month,” said McKinnon.
Having identified their target audience, McKinnon Laser set out to find the machine to match their processing requirements and their budget. The LVD Orion proved to provide the right cost vs. benefit ratio. The company completed a formal discounted cash flow forecast to calculate return on investment prior to purchase.

“We weren’t interested in a very expensive and complex laser,” said McKinnon. “We wanted an easy to use, reliable machine with a small footprint and with a level of automation that would help us make the best use of our resources.

“A lot of companies spend huge amounts of money on lasers that they never fully utilize,” he explained. “We looked for a machine with the right balance of features and cost for our requirements.”

Automation was important for the company, as it wanted to free its operators to perform other tasks, thus optimizing labour. The company operates two shifts and, when needed, processes parts 24-hours a day.

The automatic load/unload system provides fast, efficient processing of materials up to 3000 x 1500 x 12 mm. The space-saving system is operated by an easy to use PC-based touch screen control.
The Orion’s small footprint was another plus for the small shop. Even with the automated load/unload unit, the Orion Plus 3015 is compact with a length to width dimension of 8665 mm x 3900 mm.

Designed to address the needs of entry-level users, the Orion laser system is easy to use and set up. The machine is equipped with a simple beam delivery system comprised of only three mirrors. This construction ensures easy alignment and a stable beam path.

An NC Focus feature provides programmable adjustment of the focal position, eliminating the need for operator intervention to adjust the focal position, further optimizing labour resources for McKinnon.

The machine’s Process Control automatically senses piercing times and detects and controls plasma when cutting stainless steel and aluminium. This feature maximizes processing time for McKinnon and minimizes part damage due to loss of cut.

A highly rigid, high-precision rack-and-pinion drive delivers precise motion and position control. This rigid design permits the machine to maintain high processing speeds without any loss of cut quality. As a result, McKinnon can process flat sheets up to 3 meters by 1.5 meters and routinely handles mild steel up to 16 mm, stainless steel up to 10 mm, and aluminium up to 6 mm. In addition to metal, the company cuts plastics, paper and wood up to 30 mm.

Beyond the laser machine’s features, there is the plus of local support. Key to McKinnon’s selection of the LVD system was LVD’s support technicians based in Ireland. This has proved especially beneficial to the company through the installation and start-up of the machine. Local LVD technicians assisted McKinnon through the initial learning process.

The laser has proven itself reliable. The integrated Fanuc GE laser and CNC touch-screen control, provides McKinnon with full control over the cutting process. The integration of the RF excited fast axial flow CO2 laser, CNC control, system drives and motors ensure high reliability, as well as low operating and maintenance costs.

“The machine is not the fanciest on the market, but what it does, it does well,” said McKinnon. “It’s fast, dependable and the autoload system was well designed to suit the machine.”

The laser system helps the company maintain very competitive turnaround times. Lead time is always less than five days. According to McKinnon, it’s this high level of service that differentiates his company.

“We get the job done at the right price and get it out the door fast,” he said. “The laser with the load/unload allows us to run after hours. We can also nest jobs. We’re are turning jobs around faster than our competitors and doing so at a competitive price.”

Despite a weakened economy, McKinnon and his staff keep the momentum building. The company has expanded to add a business development/operations manager, and ancillary services such as folding, welding and drilling. This small company continues to seize its opportunities.

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