Over the years Secant Engineering, based in Springs, Gauteng, has endeavoured to become a fully fledged general engineering shop. The services that the company now offers to its customers include CNC machining, laser cutting, CNC bending, fabrication, cutting, welding and finishing solutions, having started off as a company that just offered CNC turning and milling operations.
Now the company has added fiber laser cutting of tubes and profiles to its service list with the purchase of a Soco SLT-152 fiber laser cutting system from PIM Machine Tools.
The Soco SLT-152 fiber laser cutting system recently installed at Secant Engineering and supplied by PIM Machine Tools
“When change hits an industry that hasn’t undergone dramatic modification for almost 100 years, the technology leap can be fast and tumultuous. Take the lighting industry for example. In the past, lighting manufacturers introduced product designs that might last 10 years. Because of the lengthy product lifetime and volumes, these manufacturers didn’t think twice about relying on hard tooling. Today product designs change regularly, and the constant evolution of LED technology means a manufacturer has to react quickly,” said Graham Kirby-Smith, Production Director at Secant Engineering.
“We have had to do the same even though we are a general engineering company offering metal cutting and metal forming services.”
“Meeting customer demand for both quality components and consistent, on-time delivery is essential for any shop’s competitiveness. However, having to subcontract work that can’t be done in-house can add weeks or months to delivery times and compromise quality standards,” explained Kirby Smith.
This was the issue faced by Secant Engineering for some years before the company took a major decision that would shape its future. First up the company migrated to being a fully-fledged CNC shop as well as adding drilling and tapping to their capabilities.
Another view of the Soco SLT-152 fiber laser cutting system
However, the company still had its hands tied when it came to fabrication work and the other disciplines in metalworking that clients were expecting of them. Driven by the frustration over the lack of control, mounting customer demand and pursuant of the goal of becoming a complete general engineering shop, in 2006 Secant Engineering made its first venture into the fabricating arena.
From CO2 to 6kW fiber laser
In 2006 Secant Engineering purchased its first Bystronic laser cutter. Since then the company has added five more laser cutting machines with the most recent being a Bystronic 6kW fiber laser with an auto loader / unloader installed just over a year ago.
At the same time the company purchased a Bystronic Xpert 40, a small-scale press brake that can be assembled to be portable and can be integrated into almost any production environment. This was the seventh machine purchased for the press brake department that also includes Amada and Durma press brakes. This purchase gave the company the flexibility to bend the smaller components on a 40 ton machine with a bending width of 1 030mm to the largest machine that has a 400 ton bending force and a four metre bending width.
Welding and surface finishing
In between, Secant Engineering also formed a welding department and, housed in a separate building, a paint bay that provides the surface finishing to the completed components / fabrications.
Metal plate processing
The one area where the company did not have any significant experience was in plate processing. At the end of 2015 the family-owned business added plate processing to the array of services that it offers clients. The company purchased a Messer MultiTherm 4000 CNC Hi-Definition plasma cutting machine as well as a an oxy-fuel cutting machine fitted with a Burny Phantom controller. Secant Engineering constructed a purpose built 2 000m² under roof building for the two new machines.
Motoman robotic welding
“Having moved into plate processing the very nature of the process dictated that we would encounter more welding work. Although we are mainly cutting to size and processing specific components at this stage, we have been engaged to do a project where there is repetitive welding of the same components. Robot welding, in the true sense of the words, completely automates a welding process by both performing the weld and handling the part. The robot may weld a pre-programmed position, be guided by machine vision, or by a combination of the two methods. However, the many benefits of robotic welding have proven to make it a technology that helps manufacturers increase accuracy, repeatability, and throughput and this is exactly what we are using the Motoman for,” explained Kirby Smith.
Soco SLT-152 fiber laser cutting system
“We then faced a challenge common to many in metal fabrication: Where to invest next? We were challenged to think about where we would make the best gains. As Secant Engineering’s fabrication capabilities became more diverse, we had to be careful to maintain relationships with our current customers, some of which are custom fabricators. If an opportunity arose that will take away work from those custom fabricators, we knew that we would not pursue it.”
“The next question was: Is tube bending or end forming machines next on our bucket list? We contemplated this option but knew that it had limitations and that it would require long production runs to make it viable. Again it could possibly conflict with our existing customers.”
“However, we did come to the conclusion that we needed to offer our customers a solution for tube and pipe cutting technology. Like the lighting industry, tube, pipe and profile cutting has been transformed since the introduction of fiber laser cutting systems.”
The machine was installed in February 2017 and is ideal for applications that include round tube OD from 20 to 152mm, square tube from 20 x 20mm up to 120 x 120mm, rectangular tube 20 x 20mm and a maximum OD of 150mm for oval tubes
“Besides the well-known advantages that fiber laser cutting offers such as less electrical energy usage, it does not require the use of gas turbines because there are no lasing gases, unlike the CO2 and maintenance tasks that would normally consume several hours per month, such as beam alignments on a CO2 laser – something not required in the routine maintenance of a fiber laser. Other costs such as mirrors, lasing gases, and beam delivery bellows disappear because fiber lasers don’t have these elements.”
“Therefore, the combination of faster cutting speeds and reduced maintenance time increases machine availability and capacity when compared to a similarly powered CO2 machine.”
“Add the fact that fiber laser technology has significantly simplified and optimised the production flow. In fact, laser cutting has replaced many of the traditional operations with a single production stage that starts from the raw tube bundle and ends with the finished product, ready to be welded.”
The Soco SLT-152 fiber laser cutting system can also cut L-shaped and C-shaped profiles. In short, the Soco SLT-152 is proficient at cutting tubes or any section in mild steel, stainless steel and aluminium up to 3 000mm in length and tubes with a wall thickness from 0.6 to 6mm. The fully automated machine also includes automatic tube bundle loading, automatic material alignment and automatic feeding and rotation
“We liked this idea and opted to invest in a Soco SLT-152 fiber laser cutting system. The machine was installed in February 2017 and is ideal for applications that include round tube OD from 20 to 152mm, square tube from 20 x 20mm up to 120 x 120mm, rectangular tube 20 x 20mm and a maximum OD of 150mm for oval tubes. We can also cut L-shaped and C-shaped profiles. In short, the Soco SLT-152 is proficient at cutting tubes or any section in mild steel, stainless steel and aluminium up to 3 000mm in length and tubes with a wall thickness from 0.6 to 6mm. The fully automated machine also includes automatic tube bundle loading, automatic material alignment and automatic feeding and rotation.”
“This amazing new fiber laser cutting system brings an added dimension to our customers looking for end to end tube fabrication processing expertise. Lasers are used most often to cut complex tubing parts that require multiple successive procedures. Laser cutting enables the complete processing of a part in one operation, on a single machine, using a single tool (straight cutting/blanking, angle cutting, hole making, slotting, notching and drilling). As a result, successive secondary operations can then be eliminated. We are going to fast-forward ready-to-assemble tubes of any section and structural steel components for our customers with our new machine.”