Laser contract manufacturer supplies the aerospace industry

Nov. 2, 2011
After years of watching and participating in the growth of laser processing technology as an employee of a successful fabricator, Steve Leitner decided his accumulated laser knowledge was sufficient to start his own laser shop, Rentiel.

Innovation, expertise, and partnership allow Rentiel to succeed

After years of watching and participating in the growth of laser processing technology as an employee of a successful fabricator, Steve Leitner (FIGURE 1) decided his accumulated laser knowledge was sufficient to start his own laser shop, Rentiel Precision Laser Cutting LLC.

FIGURE 1. Steve Leitner, president of Rentiel, is shown “teaching" a part program prior to processing on the Laserdyne 890 BeamDirector. Leitner was involved in the purchase decisions of many Laserdyne systems before personally purchasing two systems to start his own contract fabricating business.

Begun as a sideline located in his garage with a refurbished and retrofitted Laserdyne 780 Beam Director a few years ago, Rentiel now is a fast rising star in the laser world with much expertise to offer customers. Leitner is proof that experience with complex laser technology, coupled with the inherent accuracy, flexibility, and robustness of Laserdyne technology, wins in the competitive world of fabricating.

Today, Leitner operates his own four-man contract laser business specializing in laser processing three dimensional (3D) parts primarily for the aerospace industry, but expanding into different industries including medical and electronics. Relocated from humble beginnings to a new 3500-square-foot facilities in an industrial park, the operation is well-equipped with multiple laser systems, milling machines and support equipment.

Having recently added a large, gantry-style Laserdyne 890 BeamDirector system and other capital machine tools (FIGURE 2), Leitner has positioned his company as an important supplier to second tier aerospace suppliers located in the Pacific Northwest. He has aggressive and serious plans to double its size in the next two years.

FIGURE 2. The Laserdyne 780 (left) is equipped with a rotary and shuttle table while the 890 (right) has two rotary tables. The two laser systems give Rentiel flexibility to process very small to very large parts and to load/unload parts while both machines are processing parts for optimum productivity.

Leitner's success path has been built applying complex laser technology to the most difficult aerospace applications for Boeing, United Technologies, Gulfstream, and others. Along the way, he has contributed to the development of numerous Laserdyne system and software features since the late 1980s – similar systems to those he now uses at Rentiel on a day-to-day basis.

Leitner grew up with Laserdyne systems, starting as a 5-axis laser system operator fresh out of Green River Community College, where he received an Associates in Applied Science degree. He tells the story of how filling up one laser system with work led to the purchase of a second system and how this process was repeated again and again. Today, the company is operating numerous systems, all in everyday use including the first one purchased over two decades ago.

"Back in the 80s, my employer quickly saw the value of laser processing right after purchasing the first Laserdyne system," said Leitner. "We kept adding to those machines' capacity by finding new jobs and parts that were perfect for laser processing. As the company grew, so did the laser department. I was promoted to supervisor and was responsible for programming, training, and maintenance of the equipment."

"Through the years, I was part of the evolution of multi-axis laser technology. I worked closely with Laserdyne on adding new features and capabilities to their machines. If my company needed a special software feature added for a particular issue, they would come up with an elegant solution. I worked with them on the development and refinement of system features like their Breakthrough Detection, Automatic Focus Control, and part mapping. These features resulted in faster and more accurate laser processing and really helped me, as a supervisor, and more importantly my company, cost effectively deliver high quality parts. My close relationship with Laserdyne has continued over the years – we tackled many difficult parts and processes in partnership and were always successful thanks to their engineering support."

"A unique feature of Laserdyne is the ability and desire to work hand-in-hand with customers on even the most mundane problems," said Leitner. "This is a key part in their becoming the foremost precision laser processing company in the world and they share their successes with the entire customer base. If you are not taking advantage of their frequent new offerings for older equipment, you are making a big mistake."

"While all this was going on, I was very aware of the potential of starting a job shop business so when a used Laserdyne 780 BeamDirector became available on the open market, I bought it," reported Leitner. "It took some work to re-commission the machine, but I fitted it with a JK701, a rotary table and shuttle table. I started operating it at home in my garage. I ran jobs off hours for my employer for a few years, and when a previously owned Laserdyne 890 came available, I decided to buy it and to work full time in my own business. With many thanks to my previous employer who provided me with opportunities and support, I was able to dedicate myself to my dream – my own contract manufacturing business."

Rentiel's specialty is laser processing 3D aerospace parts such as scuff plates, de-icing tubes, exhaust liners, and other types of jet engine transition components. Rework of high value aerospace parts also is growing. According to Leitner, The Laserdyne systems "allow us to be experts at processing new and refurbished parts because of their flexibility and accuracy. Jobs we do that were previously milled required multiple setups and multiple tools." (See FIGURE 3.)

FIGURE 3. Cheryl Leitner, the machine operator, is positioning an Inconel part prior to laser processing. The laser beam moves at all angles to the part. Since there is no cutting pressure with the laser, the workholding is simple yet robust enough to hold the part accurately and securely and at a fraction of the cost of mill tooling.

"Cutting and drilling the parts in one setup using a single tool is much faster and ensures the part conforms to the required tight tolerances," reports Leitner. "With our laser systems, there is virtually no cutting pressure so the tooling is very simple and robust at a fraction of the cost of mill tooling."

With both of Leitner's systems refurbished models, the question arises as to their speed and accuracy. What kind of performance does he get from them?

"The motion system is faster than our current laser's power sources can cut. My machines have many hours on them. They are very stable and rigid with smooth motion. One would think they would lose accuracy and repeatability over time. Not so. I am continually impressed that our machines maintain tolerances and accuracy. This speaks to the durability, robustness, and the fact that all of Laserdyne system components are fully integrated." (See FIGURE 4.)

FIGURE 4. Both ends of a titanium nozzle are being trimmed at a plus-minus 0.002 tolerance for an aircraft ducting system. Consistent tolerances and quality trimmed edges are made possible using the 780 BeamDirector’s Automatic Focus Control feature. AFC guides the motion system, maintaining critical focus position and following the contour of the part regardless of slight surface irregularities.

Rentiel uses a 4-axis milling machine for making laser tooling both for prototypes and longer-running jobs. The company also makes temporary fixtures (FIGURE 5) that resemble egg crates. Fixture components are cut from stock in a pattern that locks the pieces together. The assembly is then laser welded. According to Leitner, the process is fast, resulting in batch processing of a complete part order in just a few days from receipt of the part data.

FIGURE 5. Rentiel fabricates temporary fixtures like the one pictured. The tool-building process is fast so that production on the lasers can move forward quickly enabling order fulfillment in just a few days.

"Customers really appreciate the fast turnaround," reports Leitner. "We have a five axis programming station that allows us to design tools and then program the systems to operate at their full potential. We have many processes and techniques that allow us to be successful with the most difficult parts. That is where our specialty lies, with the complex 5-axis laser process that few companies have the experience to accomplish."

Always looking for improvements in his laser processing work, Leitner has a number of new product ideas that he plans to market. One is an anti-spatter compound called Calleit™. Prior to developing Calleit, Leitner says that he tried a number of the available anti-spatter products and found that too many contained a cancer-causing substance. When heated, metheleyne chloride products create dangerous fumes and evaporates too fast when used in dip tanks.

So, Leitner developed Calleit, his own unique compound that contains no metheleyne chloride, making it much safer to use. Calleit (FIGURE 6) provides complete product coverage, whether used in dip tanks, applied by roller, spray bottle, or sponge. According to Leitner, Calleit is 100 percent effective in eliminating spatter. He reports that he and his operators have had no rework of parts due to spatter when using the product.

FIGURE 6. Steve Leitner shows off a container of Calleit, the anti-spatter compound he developed. Leitner reports that Calleit is non-toxic and is 100 percent effective. The company has begun marketing the product.

Whether it's laser processing difficult parts for customers or developing new products, its obvious Leitner really likes what he does in the fabricating industry. He summarizes it when he says, "It has been and continues to be a wonderful experience working with all of the talented individuals who make up the laser processing world. I wouldn't change a day of it."

--Article By Jerry Madison

For more information about Rentiel Precision Cutting LLC, ph 253-297-2823 or e-mail: [email protected].
For more information about Laserdyne systems, ph 763-433-3700 or e-mail: [email protected].

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