11 February 2014

Six-axis laser boosts speed and quality at MSM Aerospace Fabricators

MSM aerospace fabricators (Middleton Sheet Metal Co. Ltd), a specialist fabrication company serving the aerospace sector, has installed a Trumpf TruLaser Cell 7040 six-axis laser processing system with 2kW Trumpf TruDisk Laser. Featuring the latest solid-state Trumpf TruDisk 2001 laser, the cell has replaced a previous CO2-based Trumpf system. The investment has not only boosted productivity and quality at MSM, but introduced the potential for laser welding (as well as laser cutting) using the same system.

Established in 1937, MSM is today a 40-employee, £4 million turnover business located approximately 5 miles north of Manchester. Still family-owned (third generation), the AS9100 accredited company is a long-time advocate of investing in its future, particularly with regards to technology. This ethos has helped MSM become an established and successful SME aerospace supplier with customers not just in the UK, but also in mainland Europe and the USA.

“We’ve had two Trumpf laser processing systems before, and last year it was time once more to upgrade to the latest technology,” explains General Manager, Tony Daniels. “We knew the TruLaser Cell 7040 would offer greater cutting speed and precision, but we also wanted the extra feature of laser welding.”

Housed in a purpose-built extension at MSM, the TruLaser Cell 7040 offers high speed laser cutting at up to 40 m/min along with <0.1mm positional accuracy and < 0.03mm repeatability. The system is complemented by laser welding using Trumpf’s WeldLine functionality.

A key feature of the machine is the fact that the solid state laser beam is guided through a fibre cable, the Trumpf TruDisk 2001 is faster and more efficient than the CO2 equivalent. The high power density laser beam combined with the high dynamics of the machine, results in minimal distortion and a very small HAZ (heat affected zone) of typically less than 0.01mm. This results in profiled components needing minimum cleaning of the edges. The machine also has the benefit of twin tables, which allows dual set up of different jobs, and a turntable for ease of profiling tube and exhaust components. An exciting addition to the system is the laser welding head, which is quickly interchangeable with the cutting head.

“Many of the aerospace parts we produce are niche, value-added components made from high temperature alloys such as Inconel and titanium,” says Mr Daniels. “These are difficult, time consuming materials to fabricate using conventional techniques, but the new TruLaser Cell 7040 cuts through them for fun. Furthermore, the multi-axis configuration means that the complex shapes which we produce on our hydroforming process are easy to accommodate.”
MSM specialises in many different aerospace parts, a number of which are safety critical, such as pipes, ducts, bleed air components, ozone converters, piccolo tubes, heat exchanger parts, exhausts and metallic tanks, as well as engine, nacelle and APU (auxiliary power unit) fabrications.

“Besides improved speed and component integrity, the new TruLaser Cell 7040 provides bigger capacity with its 4m x 1.5m x 0.75m working area,” says Mr Daniels. “Because our batch sizes are small, typically 50-off or less, we also like the twin tables. This means we can either set-up the next job while one table is running, or maybe undertake some R&D. It means machine utilisation is much higher.”

MSM has three Nadcap approvals to its name for laser cutting, welding (excluding laser) and NDT. The company is now seeking Nadcap for its laser welding capability, which Mr Daniels says will be of enormous benefit to its aerospace customers.

“The machine certainly sets us apart from our competitors; I think it’s the only laser processing system of its type at tier two level in the UK,” he concludes. “Most exciting is our development of laser welding – we are now investing much time and effort to determine ideal power and run speed for different joints in various gauges of sheet metal.”

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