Taking off with laser cutting

March 1, 2008
Business for this manufacturer of aerospace structure assemblies soars thanks to the cost and time savings associated with laser cutting

Business for this manufacturer of aerospace structure assemblies soars thanks to the cost and time savings associated with laser cutting

J&N Metal Products (Brazil, IN, USA; www.jnmetalproducts.com) has been on the fast track since opening its doors in July 2006. At that time, president Jordan Brown expected to work out of his basement for six months to a year and perhaps buy a laser machine in two years. The enterprise did better than expected; before eight months passed, J&N was in a new building with 4900 square feet of work space and assembly area, had seven employees, and had purchased a Super Turbo X Champion hybrid laser from Mazak Optonics (Schaumburg, IL, USA; www.mazakoptonics.com).

Ordered in January 2007 and delivered in March 2007, the laser system was operational immediately. “They came on Monday and we were cutting production parts on Thursday,” says Brown, whose company manufactures different types of aerospace structure assemblies and panel assemblies for the private and government sectors, as well as other industrial parts.

Brown was eager to get the new machine going because he had been outsourcing thousands of dollars worth of sheet-metal cutting jobs, costing himself and his customers both time and money. “From July to December we had outsourced $55,000 worth of laser work,” Brown says. “But the biggest problem we were running into was lead time. The customers want their prototypes in days rather than weeks.”

FIGURE 1. Since J&N started using its STX Champion, it has eliminated all of its laser work outsourcing, which has resulted in expected savings that is passed on to customers.
Click here to enlarge image

Since last March, J&N has eliminated 99% of its total outsourcing and all of its laser work outsourcing, which has resulted in the expected savings (see Fig. 1). “The new laser machine saves us and our customers between 25% and 40% on costs, plus we’re saving on transportation,” Brown says. “The biggest thing is just to have a machine here for convenience. If someone drills a hole in the wrong place, we can just cut another part. If we didn’t have a laser, we’d have to send it out, and that takes a minimum of five days.”

Brown started his career as a flight mechanic on 727, 747, and DC-8 aircraft before going to work for a local company that manufactured production run parts and one-off equipment. By the time he left that company to start out on his own, he was doing assembly work, drafting, programming lasers, serving on the sales team, and piloting the company aircraft. It was with that company that Brown first worked with Mazak Optonics laser machines. “I had experience with Cincinnati and Mazak lasers at my previous employer, and I personally like the Mazak better, mainly because of the reliability of the machines,” says Brown, who adds that as a startup company he was apprehensive about the cost of buying a laser cutting machine.

FIGURE 2. J&N started out making parts for military helicopters but has been able to diversify quickly, thanks to the laser system.
Click here to enlarge image

Although J&N started out making parts for military helicopters, it quickly has been able to diversify, thanks to the laser system (see Fig. 2). “Once people in the local area find out you have a laser, you start getting calls daily,” Brown says. “Now we’re getting into industrial components and parts and considering getting a second machine. Some of the things we’re doing tie up the machine for a couple of weeks, and I don’t want to get into a situation where we’re turning customers away or falling behind because of the amount of work we have,” he says.

How the laser works

The Mazak Champion generates a constant beam length that allows it to uniformly cut sheets of various materials and thicknesses without changing optics, eliminating setup and downtime. “Ninety percent of the components we were outsourcing were an eighth of an inch thick aluminum or thinner,” explains Brown. “That’s why I decided this machine would fit us best for now.”

Its Takumi closed-box frame is designed to provide outstanding vibration dampening to ensure high-accuracy cutting. Noncontact linear motors, which both drive and guide the axis motions on a thin film of air, create smooth acceleration and a top traverse rate of 984 ipm. The system features a 4 × 8-ft worktable that moves smoothly along the y axis.

Brown’s favorite feature of his new system is the PREview control. “It’s extremely simple to learn,” he says. “It’s very, very, very user friendly.”

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