It’s more than just cutting thick materials. It’s also about cutting process time.
First of its kind in South Africa.
Fabricators don’t have to be an expert in fiber laser cutting technology to know that if they can cut 6mm sheet with a 4kW laser, they can cut it faster with an 8kW laser power source. Now think what they can do with a 30kW fiber laser cutting machine.
Those choices are available for metal fabricators today, but to focus solely on thick metal cutting with these new high-powered fiber lasers would be wrong. These 10, 12 and even 15kW machines can do much more than cut thick materials, even if that may be the first thing that comes to mind for a metal fabricator when talking about these powerful machine tools. The reality is that a large majority of metal fabricating companies process metal that is 6mm or thinner. There simply aren’t a lot of service centres requiring laser cutting of very thick and specialty metals. Those types of applications are not abundant and usually they are done via plasma or oxyfuel cutting or in the case of really thick plate via waterjet cutting.
Fast Flame Profiling has purchased a high-powered 30kW Penta fiber laser from African Lazer Solutions to replace a CO2 machine that was becoming ‘tired’. Spares to keep the machine going have also become very expensive, according to the company
The story of high-powered fiber laser technology is about decreasing process time in laser cutting. That’s why we are seeing metal fabricators buying one high-powered laser cutting machine to replace two or even three older lasers. They can get parts off the laser bed faster and cheaper than they ever could before.
A closer look at how we got here
It was only in the mid-2000s when high-powered CO2 laser cutting machines were deemed the tool necessary to process the plate quickly and efficiently. Only a few years later fiber laser technology was introduced and its adoption rate exploded by the middle of this decade. Without the need to worry about mirror or lens cleaning, bellow checks and beam alignments, fabricators found a new cutting tool that required little maintenance and that cost about half of what a CO2 system cost to run.
The fiber laser also produces a beam wavelength that is about 10 times shorter than the 10-micron beam wavelength associated with a CO2 resonator. This focused beam produces a higher power density that, when coupled with the technology’s higher absorption rate, translates into cutting speeds that greatly outpaces that of a CO2 laser, particularly in material thicknesses less than 6mm.
With fiber laser technology manufacturers can increase the power of these machine tools with the addition of laser-producing modules. (In the modules, light emitted from semiconductor diodes are excited in ytterbium-doped fiber optics until the laser is produced; all of the modules are spliced to an active fiber, which is then used to deliver the laser beam.) That’s why the recent rise in wattages has occurred so quickly. From a pure technology point of view, adding power is not complex. In fact, fiber laser welding systems today can exceed 100kW in some instances.
Large plate that has been cut on the new 30kW Penta fiber laser
The reason that fabricators don’t have 100kW systems on their shop floors is that the beam delivery systems just can’t handle that much power. That’s why so much research is being done in cutting head design. Each laser cutting system manufacturer is looking to produce a reliable cutting head that can deliver the fiber laser beam for an extended amount of time in the face of harsh cutting conditions, which is more than likely to occur when cutting thick materials.
In recent years those same machine tool manufacturers have developed cutting head optics that can modulate the beam size during cutting. This technology development has propelled fiber laser cutting machines from being strictly a tool for cutting thin sheet metal. As material gets thicker, a wider beam is needed to create more kerf so that molten metal can be removed.
What high-powered fiber lasers mean for a fabricating shop
So how powerful of a fiber laser does a fabricator need? A company should look at the typical thickness range that makes up 80 per cent of its work. If it’s really thin gauge, a 15kW laser is not likely needed. (Even if a shop had a 15kW fiber laser, it would turn down the power to 6kW and cut that thin material at a very fast speed and at low cost).
Keep in mind that a fabricator with a high-powered machine can produce more parts per hour and the part cost plummets as the power goes up. But this occurs only if the laser cutting machine is quick enough to maximise the power of the machine.
What is meant by quick?
Operating costs probably will go up as the power level on a fiber laser cutting machine goes up. Generally, doubling the power increases laser operating costs by 20 to 30 per cent. That’s why it’s so important that the fiber laser is operating at peak efficiencies, so that part cycle time can be decreased to offset the higher operating costs. By decreasing cycle time, a fabricator can reduce the impact of variable and fixed costs and increase profitability.
Luckily, fiber lasers cut fast. Just watch them race up and down a piece of sheet metal at an exhibition.
Why did Fast Flame Profiling purchase a high-powered 30kW Penta fiber laser?
“Very few real job shops exist today. That is job shops that offer the variety of services that can process metal from flat sheet to profile cutting. Most fabricators prefer to engage in producing multiples of the same product, which minimises engineering time and tooling costs. Facilities are organised for an assembly line-type of production, and quality control can be automated. Paperwork becomes so repetitious that the only change may be the date and customer information. Cost studies are simplified and rarely required. Personnel training can be standardised. All this combined allows the mass producer to know the cost of everyday operation,” said Mike van Zyl, MD and founder of Fast Flame Profiling.
The new 30kW Penta fiber laser has a 12m by 3m shuttle bed system and can cut carbon steel up to 70mm and stainless steel up to 100mm
“Conversely, job shops must calculate the costs on almost all projects. The shop’s machinery can sit idle during some jobs, while other jobs require using every piece of available equipment. This equipment can cost millions of dollars, and only a few shops have equipment large enough for some projects,” continued van Zyl.
“Fast Flame Profiling typifies what this type of job shop is all about. Nearly no two jobs are alike, and dynamic innovation is what drives the business. The skill level in such a shop must exceed that of an operation that produces the same item every day, a practice that soon becomes automatic and even mundane. In the job shop, the worker must be familiar with multiple fabrication methods and mechanical variations. Every employee requires problem-solving skills, because there is often no precedent for reference. True job shops are rapidly disappearing, and with it the older skill sets are going away with the retirees. Technical schools are not able to teach what has been passed down for generations.”
“However, we reached a stage with our existing CO2 machine where it was becoming ‘tired’ and spares to keep the machine going have become very expensive. Successful maintenance is not about fixing things. It’s about not having to fix things. Fabricators aren’t interested in keeping a lot of inventory of any kind, whether it be raw sheet metal stock or replacement parts for equipment. But some machinery, such as a laser cutter, is an integral part of the fabricating mix for a shop. That’s why fabricators need to make smart decisions on which spare parts to keep. But when you are forced to only use imported spare parts that is when you make an even smarter decision and invest in new equipment.”
“We already have a Bystronic 10kW fiber laser with an automated loading and unloading system so we are very familiar with the speed and thickness of material it can cut as compared to our 4kW fiber laser.”
With the popularity of fiber lasers and the growth of demand for medium to thick plate processing, high-power laser cutting machines are giving you advantages and are gradually becoming the new market favourites. Compared to small and medium power laser cutting machines, high-power laser cutting machines for plates of the same thickness are more efficient. In addition, along with the significant increase in the power, the cutting process has also undergone a revolutionary upgrade, ensuring cutting efficiency while greatly reducing the cost of processing for users, and also solving the big problems associated with unstable cutting of thick carbon steel plates
“Obviously this laser gave us extra capacity at the time but three years later our position has changed in terms of having to replace equipment while also looking for more capacity, capability and being more productive. Cost of the machine and spares also have to be taken into consideration.”
30kW Penta fiber laser. First of its kind in South Africa
“With the popularity of fiber lasers and the growth of demand for medium to thick plate processing high-power laser cutting machines are giving you advantages and are gradually becoming the new market favourites. Compared to small and medium power laser cutting machines, high-power laser cutting machines for plates of the same thickness are more efficient. In addition, along with the significant increase in the power, the cutting process has also undergone a revolutionary upgrade, ensuring cutting efficiency while greatly reducing the cost of processing for users, and also solving the big problems associated with unstable cutting of thick carbon steel plates.”
“We decided to invest in a 30kW Penta fiber laser that we have purchased from African Lazer Solutions because of all the advantages it offers us.”
“The Penta Laser company is a joint venture between the Italian El.En. Group, based in Firenze, Italy and the Chutian Laser Group, based in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. Ties between the two companies go back to 2007 when the first joint venture was announced. However, the Penta Laser Equipment company was only established in 2013. In 2019 the El.En. Group strengthened its presence in China in the laser cutting systems business by acquiring the minority shareholders for cash and subsequently became the 100 per cent owner.”
With the new machine Fast Flame Profiling are able to cut bevels into plate for weld preparation
“This association gave us confidence in our purchase decision because the Italians are well-known manufacturers of quality equipment in the metal processing industries. The material handling system that we purchased with our 10kW fiber laser is Italian manufactured.”
“Additionally, one manufacturer in China recently purchased 30 of the Penta Laser 30kW machines, the same machine as we have purchased. That says something.”
“The machine has a 12m by 3m shuttle bed system and can cut carbon steel up to 70mm and stainless steel up to 100mm. We have not tested these parameters yet as the machine was only installed in May 2022.”
Nitrogen assist and bevel cutting
“Laser cutting with nitrogen as an assist gas is still the No. 1 choice for applications in which edge quality is critical. Air carries with it a substantial return on investment for those employing fiber lasers or those cutting stainless steel. The intense heat of fiber lasers, combined with injected air, creates cuts without producing an oxide formation on the cut surface. This means that secondary clean-up operations are significantly reduced or even eliminated.”
“With the new machine we are also able to cut bevels into plate for weld preparation.”
“Not all metal fabricators need a high-powered laser, particularly if it doesn’t have enough work to load its current laser cutting machine. For example, if the shop’s laser cutting work load is not expected to grow and consumes just half of a work shift, then paying for a more powerful laser to reduce the work load to a quarter of a shift likely won’t deliver a good return on investment.”
“But if metal fabricators are maximising their current laser cutting capacity and looking to possibly add another shift, they definitely should take a look at high-powered lasers. This is particularly true if they are using older laser technology.”
For further details contact Fast Flame Profiling on TEL: 011 866 1740 or visit www.fastflame.co.za