Leicestershire sheet metal subcontractor, Midland Metal Products (MMP), bought a Bystronic CO2 laser profiler in 2005 to replace three smaller laser cutters. In May this year (2014), the firm part-exchanged the CO2 machine for a fibre laser version of identical capacity from the same supplier. The new machine is twice as fast when cutting zinc-coated and uncoated mild steel up to 3 mm thick, doubling productivity when processing those materials.
As 90 per cent of throughput at the factory is mild steel and 80 per cent of material is 5 mm gauge or lower, the impact of the new 3 kW BySprint Fiber 3015 has been dramatic. Stainless steel and aluminium sheet is also being cut more efficiently up to the machine’s maximum capacity of 3 metres by 1.5 metres.
Productivity has been boosted even at 5 mm, although material thicker than that can normally be machined faster on a CO2 machine, certainly when piercing and cutting in a straight line. Nevertheless, the fibre laser is able to tackle heavier gauges with ease and the small time penalty is far outweighed by the higher speeds when processing thinner materials.
Justin Sanders, production control manager at MMP, said, “We had been watching carefully the progress of fibre laser technology since 2012 and were monitoring the equipment on offer from four major OEMs.
“The decision was taken to return to Bystronic for the latest purchase due to the previous CO2 machine’s reliability, the speed and price of the BySprint fibre laser profiler, and the successful cutting trials carried out at Bystronic’s technical centre in Coventry.”
The original CO2 laser was installed with an integrated ByTrans 3015 automatic load / unload system, which in turn was interfaced with a Remmert computer controlled sheet metal storage system. This equipment has been linked to the new fibre machine to form a similar, automatic cell, complete with the original nitrogen generation plant.
As the material being cut is thin, cycle time per sheet is relatively short. Even so, two to three hours’ lights-out production is gained every day.
The Desford factory, near Leicester, operates around the clock on weekdays and for 12 hours at weekends. Business at the 125-employee firm has been growing steadily over the past 18 months. It is winning a new customer every month on average and demand is predicted to increase year on year.
Keeping prices competitive and at the same time maintaining quality is crucial in the metal sheet sector. All customers are looking for good value, whether they are mobile rock crusher manufacturers, suppliers of goals for various sports, security system specialists, machine builders, access equipment producers or supermarkets looking for an electronic point-of-sale stand.
MMP supplies this diverse range of products and fabrications in small to medium volumes of less than 100-off. One of its particular strengths that helps to keep costs down is being able to take raw sheet or tube and transform it into sometimes complex, finished assemblies under one roof, often with the assistance of robotic arc welding. Plate up to 20 mm thick is processed occasionally.
Mr Sanders continued, “Another important consideration in our choice of fibre machine was the level of service we could expect from the supplier. We operate only one laser profiler alongside our punch press and eight press brakes, so reliability is critical for us to maintain productivity.
“Bystronic has 34 service engineers in the UK, so one can be on-site the same day if needed.”
Further laser cutting plant will be installed at Desford in the coming years as demand for the company’s sheet metal products and services grows. Now that fibre laser technology has reached maturity, this will be the process of choice for MMP unless the proportion of thicker gauge metal that it handles increases significantly.
Image: The BySprint Fiber 3015 cuts MMP’s thin gauge mild steel twice as quickly as a CO2 laser.