A profitable investment

Aug. 1, 2006
From prototypes to production runs, automated laser cutting systems generate stronger ROI

From prototypes to production runs, automated laser cutting systems generate stronger ROI

It was the need for speed that encouraged Canadian contract manufacturer John G. Wilson Machine (Princeton, Ontario) to step into the world of laser cutting technology. The company, founded in 1953, occupies a 100,000-square-foot facility in Princeton, Ontario.

Automated laser cutting streamlines shop’s workflow.
Click here to enlarge image

In 2000, a Bystar 3015, 4.0kW laser cutting system with a Bystore 16-shelf tower was installed in the facility. With the laser processing materials around the clock, a second system (a Bystar 3015, 4.0kW with Bytrans automation) was ordered and installed the following year. Company president and co-owner, Randy Wilson explains, “After installation of the first system, our customers’ demand for this new capability was overwhelming. In less than two years, both lasers were running full time, 22 hours per day, 5 days per week.” While the two laser systems were fast, reliable, and productive, it was the automation coupled with the system’s Bysoft software that proved most helpful in streamlining the shop’s workflow.

Automation benefits

Automation’s two irrefutable advantages remain flexibility and increased production time. When you need to frequently migrate from one material type to another or increase your workflow, automation generates a sizable advantage over a standalone system. Without automation, manufacturers are often seen struggling with materials, situating cranes above their cutting systems in order to transport loads of sheet metal. With short runs, they also must negotiate material on and off the cutting table, which consumes valuable production time and labor resources.

Reg Henry, manufacturing operations manager, believes strongly in automation. He explains, “With both short and long runs, we are able to keep our lasers processing nearly all of the time.” The storage tower enables the company to switch materials on-the-fly in less than three minutes-enabling a seamless job changeover while the machine is still processing the previous job. The 16 material storage shelves facilitate large production runs and enable lights-out manufacturing. The material handling system is just as flexible. It enables easy finished part accessibility with short runs, while its single material deck proves effective with high production jobs. “During the day, we like to focus on fast product delivery to the customer,” Henry explains. “The system’s easy access design allows our operators to pull the finished parts off of the table, tag them, and send them out to customers as soon as they are completed.” During the evening or off-hours, they utilize the system’s stacking capability. In the morning, the finished parts are pulled off of the stack on one table while the machine continues processing product on the other.

Added mileage

Maximized up-time is where the true glory of automation resides. Henry states, “We have reached a significantly higher level of productivity than if we had purchased a standalone laser. Our automation has been an invaluable efficiency tool.” The ability to manufacture lights-out has reduced John G. Wilson’s internal bottlenecks and allowed for a higher volume of workflow.

“We have run our laser with the Bystore option unmanned for up to 87 hours on a single weekend. Because we did not choose the material back-store option, we simply have someone occasionally come in to unload the finished product from the table,” Henry explains. Rather than have the finished parts return to the storage tower, this configuration enables John G. Wilson to be a bit more hands-on and responsive. It is an ideal solution for this company. Wilson explains, “This has given us a huge advantage over our competition. It enables us to have the finished product in the hands of our customers as soon as possible.”

Software control

Henry emphasizes the importance of software, referring to it as the “driving force” of any laser cutting system. He explains, “You can have a top-of-the-line laser, but if you do not have excellent software, you do not have a good marriage.” The company needed software that was as fluid and easy to use as possible. Following the John G. Wilson philosophy of prompt, high-quality customer service, software plays a valuable role in maintaining high customer satisfaction especially when faced with higher work flow.

Henry explains, “Our engineers have the ability to take a part-no matter what condition it is in-and recreate it in a flat pattern.” Early this morning, one customer came in with a combine’s thrasher blade that was mangled beyond recognition. Henry states he will hand this customer a new, fully finished thrasher blade this afternoon. The steps sound basic. He sends the part to programming so that they can configure the part into a flat pattern using Bysoft. The pattern is converted into a .dxf file that is then imported directly into the laser. Henry closes, “A high quality laser cutting system with software and automation means that a finished part and a satisfied customer can be achieved on the same day.”

For more information, visit www.bystronic.com.

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