From suspensions to louvers

May 1, 2004
Since its introduction two years ago, the gantry style TC L 3030 laser cutter from TRUMPF (Farmington, CT) has attracted many customers.

A gantry style laser cutter proves its versatility in two different applications

Since its introduction two years ago, the gantry style TC L 3030 laser cutter from TRUMPF (Farmington, CT) has attracted many customers. Profiled below are two customers whose cutting needs are well served by this system.

Fabtech Motorsports, a fast-growing Chino, California-based company, designs and manufactures custom lift suspension systems for two- and four-wheel drive light trucks popular for off-road use and their unique look. The company started in 1989 as a retail fabrication shop specializing in off-road suspension systems for two-wheel drive light trucks. Today it operates out of a 100,000-square-foot facility that houses the company's R&D team, administrative staff, warehouse and packaging operations, and a TRUMPF TC L 3030 flat sheet laser cutter and LiftMaster.

"In the spring of 2003 we purchased the laser as the primary cutting machine for our suspension kits," says Chris Coll, who manages Fabtech's laser division. "Most of the material we cut for the kits is 1/4- and 3/16-inch carbon steel plate. We also use 3/8-inch and various thin-gauge carbon steel for additional parts and accessories, all of which require laser cutting as part of the manufacturing process."

Coll notes that Fabtech's decision to purchase this laser system was based on its integrated automation module, Windows-based operating system, automated maintenance schedule, and proven record of performance. "There have been significant improvements in our production process with the TC L 3030."

The accuracy and quality of this laser technology also helped to increase the company's speed and efficiency. "The machine can accurately cut holes and shapes within the precise tolerances we need," adds Coll. "And we are able to produce higher-quality parts time and time again at a faster rate. In addition, we now have the ability to produce near-production parts for our R&D department so we can release new products more efficiently." He likes the machine's automatic lubrication system, which allows Fabtech to meet demanding production needs without excessive wear and tear on the machine.

The LiftMaster also gets high marks from Coll. "With the LiftMaster we can preload the material to be cut up to two days in advance and off-load parts from work shift to work shift without any interruption. We used to load and unload the sheets using a forklift and two operators—a process that caused safety and program alignment issues, as well as significant downtime."

Fabtech Motorsports was so pleased with its TRUMPF machinery that the company recently placed an order for an identical system to help keep pace with increasing sales.

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Budde used TRUMPF laser cutting and punching machines to fabricate more than 5000 pieces of stainless steel
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"The first machine helped us to produce a high-quality, heavy-duty lift kit with even greater tolerance and speed," says Coll. Their quality did not go unnoticed by industry peers: Fabtech Motorsports recently won a Best New Product, Suspension Category award from the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), and the lift kit for the F-150 was named "Best New Product for Ford Trucks" by the Ford Motor Company.

The new laser-cutting machine became critical to keep up with Fabtech Motorsports' increased number of products. In fact, the new TC L 3030 was set up to face the existing laser machine so that one operator is able to run both machines.

"For us, TRUMPF's investment in R&D was an important factor in our machine purchase," says Coll. "Their investment results in technology that really keeps us ahead of our competitors and allows us to add value to our products."

Soaring to new heights

Founded in 1922, Budde Sheet Metal Works is a full-service, family-owned sheet metal job shop specializing in state-of-the-art fabrication of close tolerance prototype parts, machine guards, control boxes, tanks, pans, chutes, chassis, frames, ventilation/exhaust systems and particle/fume management systems. From its 35,000 square-foot plant in Dayton, Ohio, Budde Sheet Metal fabricates precision parts for a wide range of uses and customers, including General Motors Moraine Assembly, Chrysler, Behr, Honda, Delphi, D-Max, Clopay Building Products, and The Dupps Co.

In January 2000, Dayton, Ohio-based Budde Sheet Metal Works installed a TRUMPF TC L 3030 flat sheet laser cutting machine to complement its TC 200R punching machine, which the company placed on the line a year earlier.

"We added the laser to enhance our cutting capabilities. We went from a typical plasma cutter for non-critical parts to a very high quality, laser-produced part," explains CAD/CAM Administrator Ryan Gudorf. "The close tolerances we can achieve with the L 3030 and the wide variety of materials and thicknesses we can cut have opened up a whole new world of opportunities for us."

One of those opportunities was an invitation for Budde—and several other sheet metal companies—to bid on a large, complex Central Utility Plant addition and renovation project at the University of Cincinnati, one of the most architecturally striking campuses in the United States.

"The university was looking for more than 640 polished/grained stainless steel cooling tower louvers or 'wings' to wrap around the building. We were asked by the general contractor to submit a quote for the fabrication," says Gudorf. "After looking at the prints I was confident that our investment in TRUMPF CNC machinery and 3D CAD/CAM technology would win us the contract. I knew that we could design, fabricate, and assemble the project faster, cheaper, and better than anyone else."

His confidence proved to be well founded. Budde was, indeed, awarded the contract. "Our role was to do design verification, flat pattern development, fabrication, and assembly of the winged shapes," he says. "We used the precision and high-quality cut of the L 3030 to produce 3,000 0.250-inch louver ribs and more than 1,100 0.375-inch brackets that mounted and held the louvers into place. Our part of the project involved 5,652 pieces of stainless steel—all fabricated using this equipment."

Gudorf notes that the punching machine was used to fabricate the "perforated skin" of the wings from 48-inch x 156-inch long sheets of 16-gauge 304-3P materials. "The skins for the corner louvers actually required a two-part process that started on the punching machine and then migrated to the laser to cut the intricate profile of the mitered section. The cat-eye system on the laser enabled us to take a part from the punching machine and move it to the laser bed. Then we located the part with a light probe so that the controller could adjust the program of the laser profile to fit the punch part, all with amazing accuracy, regardless of its orientation or location on the machine's bed."

While Gudorf clearly is proud of the company's role in the innovative University of Cincinnati project, he emphasizes that Budde Sheet Metal Works is a "do it all" job shop. "We are fortunate to be located in a highly industrial and technical area of the country. In fact, more patents have been issued to businesses and individuals in Dayton than in any other city in the world. We do a lot of work for the automotive industry as well as for many of the area's contract tooling and machining companies that do work for large aerospace and computer companies."

Most of the material for this article originally appeared in the Winter/Spring 2004 edition of the TRUMPF Express. ILS is indebted toTRUMPF for sharing these companies' experiences with our readers.

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