Stainless steel cutting justifies purchase – now aerospace work is targetted
A Bystronic fibre laser CNC profiling machine installed in January 2013 at the Darwen, Lancashire factory of WEC Group has resulted in significant cost savings when processing stainless steel sheet in the 1.5 mm to 4 mm thickness range. Some nests can be cut 50 per cent faster, according to Gareth Taylor, Assistant General Manager of the Laser Division.
Furthermore, the 3 metre by 1.5 metre capacity machine, WEC's first fibre laser, is able to cut highly reflective and thermally conductive materials, notably copper and brass, that CO2 lasers are not able to process without damaging the optics. The scope of WEC's service is therefore considerably extended. Even small flashbacks from aluminium can damage the lens and mirrors on a CO2 laser and so this material can also be more economically cut on the Bystronic, if the material is reasonably thin. The machine also cuts up to 20 mm thick mild steel.
Further advantages of using fibre laser technology are that there is no need for expensive laser gasses and electricity consumption is less, which is of ecological benefit and results in lower running costs.
Employing over 400 people across the north-west of England and with a turnover in 2012 of £37 million, 11 per cent up on the previous year, WEC is a major success story within Britain's manufacturing sector. The company has seven operational divisions, due to increase to eight in August 2013 with the opening of a new premises in Blackburn and the installation of the company's first water jet profiler, capable of cutting material up to 4 metres by 2 metres by 200 mm thick. Two new ventures in June alone saw the introduction of outdoor furniture and aircraft swing door manufacture.
Subcontract production of aircraft components is another area that WEC is seeking to expand, as it is located conveniently within the North-West aerospace cluster, the largest such industry group in Europe. Already a supplier of non-flying components, the company is currently in the process of gaining the AS9100 quality management system for the aerospace industry. The Bystronic fibre laser, which produces very high quality cut edges with minimal heat affected zone, will be important in increasing WEC's aerospace business. The group's tube laser cutting and water jet divisions will further strengthen its offerings.
An ongoing requirement to cut thin gauge stainless steel was the main driver for investing in the Bystronic fibre laser machine. It was apparent to Mr Taylor, who has over 20 years' laser cutting experience, that big savings were possible using a fibre laser to machine this material in the thickness range 1.5 to 4 mm.
He said, "We are cutting up to 50 per cent quicker when using the Bystronic on stainless steel, which is on the machine for about 70 per cent of the time, 24 hours a day. The material is ideal for extracting maximum benefit from fibre lasers, so the machine will pay for itself quickly.
"For the other 30 per cent of its time, the BySprint is available for cutting reflective metals that we could not previously quote on. The fibre laser is already bringing in new business of this type, which we had to turn down before."
WEC's marketing manager, Jean-Yves Dziki, went on to explain the group's policy for capital plant purchase and the reasons for opting to source the fibre laser machine from Bystronic.
"We always look at where components can be most cost-effectively and expediently produced, whether it is in-house or bought in, but given the choice we always prefer to make parts ourselves so that we have maximum control.
"Bystronic was already known to us, as one of their 4-metre press brakes has been in daily use
here for five years, during which time it has only been down a couple of times, which gave us confidence in the supplier and the quality of its products."
The 3 kW BySprint Fiber 3015 has a compact footprint of slightly over 10 x 6 metres, a 3,048 x 1,524 mm cutting area and a maximum simultaneous positioning speed of 140 m/min, with axis acceleration of up to12 m/s2.
The model purchased by WEC includes an optional conveyor for small parts that runs underneath the machine from the working area to the rear of the loading table. Offline sheet nesting and programming is provided by Bysoft CADCAM software, with editing at the touch-screen control by the operator to optimise cutting parameters, if necessary, particularly on long-running jobs.