Large diameter tube laser machine with 3D capabilities can process up to Ø355 mm with a wall thickness of 20mm and can handle sections 13m in length, both on the in feed and the out feed.
The name TW Tube Laser and Processing (Pty) Ltd might not be a household name yet. That is because the company was only established in December 2014, and started to supply clients with product in August 2015, but is now processing hollow sections, open structural sections such as H, I, angle and channel as though there is no tomorrow.
The company’s origins stem from TW Profile Services, an Ekurhuleni, Gauteng based company whose services include laser cutting, profile cutting, plasma cutting, guillotining, rolling and bending, which has been in operation since 1994. The shareholders include Managing Director Tharin Stuart, Director Joost Smuts and Director Robbie Carelse who oversees production and logistics.
A 6-axis BLM tube laser machine has given TW Tube Laser and Processing the capabilities to process large hollow sections, open structural sections such as H, I, angle and channel with minimal human interface
The shareholders include Managing Director Tharin Stuart and Director Robbie Carelse who oversees production and logistics
“The idea to establish the company TW Tube Laser and Processing was conceived in 2013 and it took nearly two years to get everything in place before we could start production,” explained Tharin Stuart.
“TW Profile Services management believed that there was a gap in the market to process-in-one the larger sections of material. Although TW Profile Services is equipped with the latest technology machines, it was decided to set up a new facility to handle the type of material that we are processing today.”
“We spent time in clients’ production facilities and studied what they were doing and saw that the way they were processing tube and sections today is the same as the way they were doing it 20 or more years ago, especially where part joining is concerned. It is still being done with saws, drills, milling machines, hand-held cutting and plasma torches. Some pieces of tube and sections are being handled six or seven times to achieve a fully processed part ready for assembly. We looked at that and said, ‘there has to be a better way to do this.’”
So TW Profile Services management set out to find a better way to process hollow sections (tubing) and open structural sections. Going into their search, they had several requirements:
Because they had made laser cutting as one of the company’s core competencies, they would only consider a laser solution. They would favour an automated system that required minimal attendance. The solution had to fulfill current customers’ needs, so that they would not have to find new customers initially.
The BLM LT 14 is a system that can be used to cut round, square, and rectangular tubes, as well as non-tubular open structural sections (open profiles, H and I beams, angle, channels and special profiles) in diameters from 38mm and up to 355mm with a wall thickness of up to 20mm, and it can handle sections 13 metres in length, both on the in feed and the out feed
The multi-axis cutting head on the 6-axis BLM LT 14 tube laser can perform inclined cuts, weld preparations and chamfered holes without needing to move the tube, ensuring excellent productivity and cutting quality
This is when Stuart and Carelse came into the picture. Both have vast experience gained over many years working in the fabrication industry on a wide variety of projects for the medium to heavy engineering industries including the steel making industry, mining, materials handling, power and general structural engineering. This background provides the necessary insight into complex cutting requirements.
“The prospect of establishing and working on a ‘greenfield’ project with the luxury of setting up a new facility, which would for the most part have a single, seamless process with minimal human intervention, was certainly enticing. Not many companies in the metal processing industry get this opportunity,” said Stuart.
A factory location was decided on – Kent Rd, Boksburg, Gauteng – and construction of the 2000m² facility began in early 2015.
In the mean time, the Directors researched leading brands of large section tube lasers, visiting manufacturers and seeing demonstrations. They reviewed the specs and capabilities before making a decision.
BLM Lasertube LT 14
As previously stated, the requirements were on precision and speed synonymous with laser cutting, full CNC automation and the machine had to process large hollow sections, open structural sections such as H, I, angle and channel with minimal human interface. Additionally it had to offer the following processes, all done-in-one operation:
• Cutting to length
• Mitre, cope and shape
• Drill (laser)
• Cut or chamfer any shape
• Process with large-diameters and,
• Thick-wall material
The decision was taken to purchase the Italian manufactured BLM Lasertube LT 14.
The LT 14 is a system that can be used to cut round, square, and rectangular tubes, as well as non-tubular open structural sections (open profiles, H and I beams, angle, channels and special profiles) in diameters from 38mm and up to 355mm with a wall thickness of up to 20mm, and it can handle sections 13 metres in length, both on the in feed and the out feed. Its input source is 4,5 kW Rofin – more than enough power for this type of material processing.
The machine can process mild, high-strength, alloy and stainless steels. There is no need for special fixtures, which simplifies both high-volume production and low-volume prototype work.
An integrated touch probe on the cutting head measures and compensates for tube distortions to ensure cut features are correctly positioned whilst maintaining the required tolerances
TW Tube Laser and Processing have also purchased a BLM LT Fiber tube laser. With a capacity up to 152mm and a raw tube available in two lengths – 6500mm and 8500mm – the LT Fiber laser cutting system is characterised by the following additional advantages: programmable and automatic set-up where automatic changeover can be done in just two minutes, reduced electric energy consumption and installed power,
and higher beam quality guarantees a much faster cutting speed to laser power
ratio and reduced maintenance costs
All loading, cutting, and unloading operations are controlled by CNC, and the system control software automatically selects the best cutting method. Because all machine operations are performed by programmed commands, no manual setups or fixtures are required. Once tubes are placed on the loader, they are moved one by one into the feeding line with its automated chuck system.
Tubes are positioned under the five-axis cutting head according to the programme parameters. The interpolation of the cutting head in combination with the tube movement allows for processing anywhere along the length of the part. The machine uses the principle of a main drive chuck and two supporting steadies near the cutting head. These supporting steadies also drive and rotate the part in unison with the main chuck. The machine can cut in front or behind the leading steady, or in between the two steadies, or between the second steady and the main chuck.
The multi-axis cutting head can perform inclined cuts, weld preparations and chamfered holes without needing to move the tube, ensuring excellent productivity and cutting quality.
Integrated probe advantages
An integrated touch probe on the cutting head measures and compensates for tube distortions to ensure cut features are correctly positioned whilst maintaining the required tolerances.
“Although we did not have any job commitments for the tube laser, we were confident about our decision. We knew automation would give our company a competitive advantage compared to the labour intensive, manual methods of processing tube and sections that our customers are using. Plus, there are other hidden costs in multiple processes. Each operation, especially if it’s a manual one, creates more possibility for processing inconsistency. Inconsistencies in processing affect downstream operations. If you set up for one size part and the next one is slightly different, you need to take time to adjust for the difference. The tube laser is a smart way to process tube and open sections efficiently, more accurately with consistent quality, reduced lead times and greater throughput. All of this means higher profits for us and our customers,” said Stuart.
An example of section cut on the BLM LT 14 system
A selection of tube and sections that have been processed on the 6-axis BLM LT 14 tube laser
A specially designed BLM software programme called Artube is used to manage the cutting on the tube laser. This software imports client parts from drawing programmes such as Tekla which may be saved as IFC files. Other formats include STEP and IGES.
Electronic drawings are programmed into the machine, allowing prototypes to be produced quickly, saving time and money on further processing and providing greater opportunities to redesign joint fit-up and refine the cutting requirements. BLM says the time saving can be up to 70% over traditional methods of processing. The LT 14 will complete a cutting operation in one minute or less as compared to one hour if a boilermaker had to tackle the same task. The effect on the schedule that accelerated processing produces results in massive savings. This service puts a whole new meaning to just–in-time with the time consuming processing taken care of, and lower skilled personnel can assemble precision cut parts in record time.
The capability of the machine to efficiently, accurately and consistently create virtually any cut geometry in tube and sections opens up new fields in industry for TW Tube Laser and Processing. These include agricultural equipment, heavy construction equipment, shipbuilding, the oil industry, conveying and crane lifts.
The machine arrived in South Africa in June 2015 and by August local agents First Cut and engineers from the manufacturers BLM had it processing material.
The agents say that the LT 14 is the first of its size and capability to be installed in South Africa.
The arrival of the BLM LT Fiber tube laser
While TW Tube Laser and Processing’s initial criteria for a tube laser was the machine’s diameter range to cater for larger part sizes and the heavy engineering market, the company has not neglected a segment of the market that is very vibrant and has huge potential.
“The market for round and square tube cutting below 140mm is well catered for. As was the case with our LT 14 we had to think of what more we can offer the market, what advantages can the LT Fiber have over the other machines out there, what will make us different?”
An example of a large diameter tube cut on the 6-axis BLM LT 14. The machine can process mild, high-strength, alloy and stainless steels. There is no need for special fixtures, which simplifies both high-volume production and low-volume prototype work
TW Tube Laser and Processing have also purchased an Everising bandsaw from First Cut
“The LT 14’s diameter range and capabilities are on the upper scale, making the cost of cutting a smaller range of materials on it very expensive. However, we still wanted full CNC automation, minimal human interface and fast loading and unloading features.”
“Laser cutting of reflective materials is a relatively new capability. These include aluminium, copper and copper alloys, which reflect the laser beam generated by CO2 lasers, but absorb that emitted from fiber-optic lasers. The mirrors in CO2 lasers are usually made from copper, which is a favoured material because of its combination of reflectivity, high thermal conductivity, and high heat capacity. Copper and its alloys reflect the laser beam, so the beam can’t cut the material. However, the laser beam delivered by a fiber-optic laser is at a different frequency, one that is absorbed readily by copper, copper-based and aluminium alloys,” explained Stuart.
“Another consideration was the state of the market. Fiber-optic tube and section lasers are relatively new to the South African market so it made sense to invest in unique technology.”
“In short, we wanted a flexible system that offered all of the above while enabling us the opportunity to process a wide variety of open profiles including channel, angle and flat in a fully automated cycle. One that would allow us to offer clients a creative cutting experience by using the fiber-optic capabilities to the full, whether it be for complex cuts or just on the joints. Our aim is to simplify production processes, finishing, doing away with intricate welding jigs and assisting with the speed of final assembly. We can now offer high volume output while creating ‘kits’ of components ready for assembly, and faster processing of complex tube slotting and drilling which reduce production schedule times thus saving the client time and money.”
Ultimately, TW chose BLM’s LT (laser tube) Fiber.
LT Fiber is the new system of the Lasertube family specifically designed and developed for cutting tubes of any section, with the fiber laser source.
The new technology of the fiber laser offers significant advantages in terms of a wider range of materials that can be processed – among them also high-reflective materials such as copper and brass. Aluminium and galvanized iron also become easy to cut. A considerable productivity increase is obtained on small thicknesses of stainless steel.
With a capacity up to 152mm and a raw tube available in two lengths – 6500mm and 8500mm – the LT Fiber laser cutting system is characterised by the following additional advantages: programmable and automatic set-up where automatic changeover can be done in just two minutes, reduced electric energy consumption and installed power, higher beam quality guarantees a much faster cutting speed to laser power ratio and reduced maintenance costs.
The BLM LT 14 system. First Cut says that the LT 14 is the first of its size and capability to
be installed in South Africa
The BLM LT Fiber tube laser
The machine, which was installed by BLM in January 2016, comes equipped with ActiveScan, a measurement system that measures the deformation of tube (twist and bow) along the tube’s axis. Small diameter tubes are more likely to become deformed during the handling and transport. With ActiveScan such a deformation can be measured and the cutting programme can be automatically corrected.
Another function of the machine is Active Speed, a function that automatically modulates the cutting parameters to always obtain the best possible cutting results. For cutting complex shapes, where once the expertise of an experienced operator was necessary, now the Active Speed has simplified the process and hence anyone can obtain good cutting results.
“In a competitive environment, differentiation is the key to success. The differentiator can be just about anything—specialised knowledge or accumulated experience to handle new or unusual projects; sufficient production flexibility or capacity to handle urgent orders; or a combination of technologies that competitors don’t have.”
“TW Tube Laser and Processing is a company that has invested in unique technologies. It is up to us now to educate the market so that they take advantage of these new technologies and capabilities that are on offer locally.”
For further details contact TW Tube Laser and Processing on TEL: 087 985 0643.