Many companies use laser cut components in the manufacture of their products, and the obvious starting point when prototyping or stepping up towards volume manufacturing is the use of a local subcontractor for laser cutting. The flexibility and affordability of a subcontract service can match with the varying needs of companies unfamiliar with laser cutting. With a prevalence of job shops offering fast turnaround and high-quality sub-contract services, why would you consider bringing laser cutting in-house?
When Just-in-time becomes Just-too-late
As product volumes increase, or order quantities fluctuate it can become more difficult to manage external suppliers and the option to bring the laser cutting requirement in-house is usually considered at this point. Having a compact and efficient flatbed laser cutting machine, like the recently-introduced Hyperion 3GF standard system from Cyan Tec Systems, means that parts can be produced within minutes when the need for urgent response arises. Sometimes the time taken to contact suppliers and book space in their production schedule, can lead to delays from a day to a week. When parts are on the critical path (and perhaps require post-cutting operations like welding or anodising), a delay waiting for a supplier to respond can be circumvented by having the laser cutting machine and the material to cut available in your factory. Delivery time pressure and the need to satisfy un-predictable customer demand can be minimised by taking control of laser cutting and having the resource available “on tap”.
When Stock Isn’t an Option and Variety is Needed
Some companies use the flexibility of laser cutting to personalise production, or to cope with a huge variety of spare parts. Making to order rather than making for stock is always going to be more efficient from a stock control point of view. The difficulty of forecasting can be overcome if a flexible laser cutting machine is available. Designs can be held in software (or customised in CAD) and transferred to the laser cutter in minutes. The cutting time with modern fibre laser cutting machines is short, especially on material less than 6 mm thick (which accounts for the lion’s share of the laser cutting requirements in most general industries).
When Volume Reaches Tipping Point
Monthly spend with sub-contract laser cutting job shops clearly increases with volume. As new products incorporating laser cutting gain acceptance in the market and the volume of laser cutting work outsourced increases, there comes a point when the monthly spend on laser cutting exceeds the cost of the monthly lease of a laser cutting machine. At this point, many manufacturers decide to take the decision to bring their laser cutting in-house.
The Cyan Tec Solution
Cyan Tec Systems worked with several clients to develop unique solutions for cutting sheet sizes up to around 2 m x 1 m using a dedicated fibre laser cutting system that occupies well under half the floor space of a conventional flatbed system. Using fibre laser technology, the system is efficient (giving up to 5 times the output of a conventional CO2 laser cutting machine per kW of supply). In addition, the coupling efficiency of the fibre laser wavelength works extremely well with reflective materials like stainless steel, copper and aluminium, many of which are more difficult or impossible to cut with a CO2 flatbed system. The Hyperion 3GF from Cyan Tec benefits from a standard design with the flexibility of customisation to add additional features or bespoke tooling.
Cyan Tec Systems has experience of integrating lasers for cutting, welding, marking, engraving, etching or ablation. Experience with lasers from all the major laser source suppliers allows Cyan Tec to offer expert advice on the most appropriate solution for laser processing. Cyan Tec also offers systems for paint spraying, assembly, test and many other applications. Standard and bespoke systems are offered with a full service from design through manufacture, a large installed base worldwide is supported by a dedicated team of engineers.
Cyan Tec Systems has been selected to design and build an exciting custom laser welding system for the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Nuclear AMRC), one of seven High-Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult centres funded by Innovate UK. The Nuclear AMRC in Rotherham will be taking delivery of the turnkey system before the end of 2017. Cyan Tec, based in the UK’s high-tech heartlands in Loughborough, has extensive experience in integrating high power fibre-delivered lasers in large systems for automated laser welding and cutting.
Bjoern Kraemer, a Laser Engineer at the Nuclear AMRC, outlined the reasons Cyan Tec were chosen following an open and competitive tendering process:
“Cyan Tec provided the best response to the Nuclear AMRC’s tender process. They not only addressed all of our requirements in an appropriate manner, they also showed great knowledge and professionalism by presenting their innovative solutions at the right level of detail and providing a selection of options. Cyan Tec provided a competitive and unique turnkey solution with a comprehensive service package which will satisfy all our demands for a high-quality manufacturing solution.”
The Nuclear AMRC helps UK manufacturers win work in the civil nuclear sector and assists them in the development of new technical capabilities and processes. Situated on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in South Yorkshire, the Nuclear AMRC research facility offers an array of state-of-the-art equipment for machining and fabrication, supported by in-house engineers and researchers, all of which are made available to manufacturers to use in collaborative R&D projects.
Cyan Tec’s advanced laser cell will further enhance the welding capabilities of the Nuclear AMRC to support manufacturing process development for key nuclear components. One example is the duplex steel boxes used to store hazardous waste from Sellafield and other decommissioning sites – laser welding can significantly reduce manufacturing times and costs while maintaining a high quality of weld seams. The innovative Cyan Tec welding cell will be used to develop and optimise these welding processes, as part of a programme to save hundreds of millions of pounds over the life of the decommissioning programme.
The system is designed for deep penetration welding for R&D of laser and hybrid laser and arc welding. With the highest power Disk laser in the UK, delivered by fibre optic cable, the system will have a wall-plug efficiency higher than 30% and is fully protected against back reflection which is vital in high power welding of reflective materials.
Integrated with a 6-axis gantry system, the overall cell has the capability of delivering a simultaneous MIG weld for deep penetration hybrid welding with hot wire or cold wire feed. The system includes a large tilt and turn manipulator which can carry components up to 15 tonnes and overall the advanced CNC controller is able to interpolate all 8 axes simultaneously to weld complex seams with perfect results. Such a system is a challenge for an integrator of automation and CNC systems, but falls easily within the capabilities of Cyan Tec’s team of experienced laser integration engineers.
With such a high average laser power delivered by fibre optics, and a system capable of steering the beam in all directions, laser safety is extremely important. Cyan Tec have developed their own safety solution, comprising an active guarding laser safety enclosure of dimensions 10 m x 7 m and 6 m high. The safety system has an actively monitored cavity wall with instant shut-down in the event of any break-through of the outer layer.
Modern motion systems are faster, have higher accuracy and vastly-improved repeatability compared to previous generations. Cyan Tec Systems has experience of integrating robots and CNC systems with lasers from all the major suppliers and can offer expert advice on the most appropriate solution for laser processing. Standard and bespoke systems are offered with a full service from design through manufacture; a large installed base worldwide is supported by a dedicated team of engineers.
The innovative Cyan Tec design configuration is shown in the image below.
Laser cutting of a variety of different materials, particularly metals and fabrics, is fairly common nowadays. Therefore, when an automotive supplier contacted Cyan Tec Systems Limited to design and manufacture an automated piece of equipment to remove excess material from their complex 3D formed products, the perfect solution was developed and in turn the RRTS14CC standard laser cutting cell was established.
One of our laser source suppliers describe laser cutting as “a process where a material is cut, and this can be for small & fine materials or materials with a much greater level of thickness”.
They continue by stating “Laser cutting has a number of application areas, particularly in industrial manufacturing where a higher output is required but is also used in schools, Aerospace the military and in small businesses”.
The integration of a rotary transfer system, a six axis robot and fixed laser optics ensured that the customer is not only satisfied with the much-improved cycle time that the cell can offer but also the quality of the laser cut that the Co2 laser can achieve is exceptional.
In order to achieve the aforementioned high-quality laser cuts, the six axis robot is designed to follow pre-programmed paths, thus presenting each of the different variants to the laser head at the correct focal distance.
The laser source that is integrated as part of the RRTS14CC cell is generated from carbon dioxide and the integration of a series of mirrors means that the beam alignment from source to nozzle is both accurate and repeatable to suit the customer’s application. Though the RRTS14CC is a standard cell, the optics (tubes, mirrors etc.) will be specifically designed application by application to guarantee that the laser head arrangement is perfectly suited to the material that is being processed.
For more information on the RRTS14CC cell please visit its dedicated page here: http://cyan-tec.com/single-robot-laser-cutting-machine
To address the needs of the white goods and automotive industries in particular, expert system builder Cyan Tec Systems of Loughborough has developed a standard multi-axis robotic laser welding cell incorporating a 6-axis robot combined with a 2-axis tilt-and-turn manipulator to give the ultimate flexibility with 8 programmable axes. Such a system can work on large components or assemblies and present them in such a way to reduce the complexity of the robot moves and compress the overall cycle time.
More and more welding tasks are becoming automated as the lack of availability of skilled and experienced manual welders, and the requirements to achieve stringent and repeatable quality and higher throughput, drive production away from conventional joining processes towards laser welding. In addition to this, the current trend in reshoring production from abroad promotes a high degree of automation which minimises the impact of international differences in labour rates, and reduces the cost and uncertainty associated with long distance logistics via sea or air freight.
The Hyperion MAR30WF is a standard system built by Cyan Tec using a 6-axis robot carrying a compact laser welding head from a multi-kW fibre laser source. The tilt and turn manipulator has an integral indexing system allowing parts to be safely unloaded and re-loaded during the welding cycle by an operator outside the Class 1 safety enclosure. Welding by laser is a non-contact process, where the laser beam is typically some distance from the final focusing optic. For best results a pipe delivers Argon assist gas which prevents oxidisation, leaving a bright and oxide-free weld which is capable of coating or painting after welding without any need for post-weld cleaning.
A highly efficient laser welding cell can be modified to process new products by simply re-programming the software and re-tooling for new configurations. Using a dedicated cell with a standard design gives the benefit of reduced cost and lead time for the capital equipment, as custom machinery is limited to the final tooling and the welding path programme.
Laser welding has the benefits of low heat input and excellent repeatability. The accuracy and consistency reduces the amount of material required in flanges and enables novel joint arrangements since only single-sided access is required (unlike resistance spot welding).
Modern robots are faster, with higher accuracy and repeatability than previous generations. Cyan Tec has experience of integrating robots and lasers from all the major suppliers and can offer expert advice on the most appropriate solution for laser processing, paint spraying, assembly, test as well as many other applications. Standard and bespoke systems are offered with a full service from design through manufacture, a large installed base worldwide is supported by a dedicated team of engineers.
Marking parts with a serial number, bar code or 2D matrix is becoming more ubiquitous, driven by the need to ensure traceability to control stock and maintain quality. Sometimes known as Direct Part Marking (DPM), this technique is used widely in aerospace, automotive, medical and consumer products.
When faced with the task of choosing the best marking system, there are many factors to be considered including cost, contrast, ability to mark on different materials and permanence. Cyan Tec Systems works with the full range of marking technologies and is ideally placed to offer advice, arrange for sample processing and assist in recommending the optimum solution.
The three major marking technologies for automation are laser marking, dot-peen (or pin) marking and ink-jet marking. Each of the techniques are considered below and the pros and cons discussed.
Modern laser marking systems are generally compact and efficient with the laser beam focused onto a plane in space using a mirror and lens arrangement such as a galvanometer (galvo) scanner. The surface to be marked needs to be a consistent distance from the laser (to keep the mark in focus) for best results. For safety reasons, laser marking systems require some local guarding (polycarbonate or metal depending on the laser type) to protect the eyes of the operators and personnel nearby.
In terms of quality and ease of automation, laser marking (also sometimes called laser engraving or laser etching) scores highly compared to all the other methods. Lasers offer a non-contact process which is clean, safe, rapid and easily automated to cope with high volume production environments. The small spot size (sometimes less than 50 microns) and high frequency (often more than 10 kHz) can result in very high quality and high-resolution marking which can be very compact (for example in micro-electronics where space is limited).
The range of materials which can be laser marked is virtually limitless although the type and wavelength of the laser will influence the contrast achieved by laser marking. Of the technologies discussed, laser marking is typically the highest capital cost, though the lack of maintenance, high quality and speed can make running costs highly competitive.
In dot-peen marking (sometimes known as pin marking or stylus marking) a hardened carbide pin is vibrated at high speed to displace the surface of the material leaving an indent. By moving the pin, it is possible to create text or codes which can be human or machine-readable. The method of marking, which leaves an indentation, can result in very limited contrast which could make reading the mark more difficult in some materials. Most often used in metals, the technique can work to a lesser degree in plastics too, though the results depend on the type of plastic.
The cost of dot-peen marking is lower than laser and ink-jet, but the pin is a mechanical item which needs to be checked and maintained regularly to achieve consistent results.
Ink-jet marking relies on the movement of the parts under the ink nozzles to create the required marking (text, barcode, 2D matrix, and graphics). Different coloured inks can be used to ensure contrast and discreet or invisible marking is possible using UV sensitive inks. More advanced inkjet marking systems are capable of full colour photographic quality adding a decorative element to marking. Marking with ink can be used on all materials, and the process can be easily integrated in automated production.
In capital cost terms, the ink-jet solution is cheaper than laser, however maintenance costs, to optimise nozzle performance, and ink consumable costs need to be taken into consideration.
The ink mark can be vulnerable to wear with time, however marking speeds are high and this is often used in the fast-moving consumer goods market.
Each method of marking has advantages and disadvantages, Cyan Tec is experienced in providing complete solutions including automation for Direct Part Marking and able to give non-biased advice on production solutions including robots, conveyors, lasers, assembly and paint spraying systems.
Standard and bespoke systems are offered with a full service from design through manufacture, a large installed base worldwide is supported by a dedicated team of engineers
Following the installation of Cyan Tec Systems’ laser processing system which includes the UK’s most powerful laser at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry in 2014, the advanced laser welding and cutting robot cell is being used by industrial partners of the MTC to advance manufacturing processes and improve efficiency. Rolls Royce, a founding member of the MTC and major user of the laser system in Coventry, has completed a project to replace resistance welding with laser welding in the manufacture of titanium fairings for its advanced aircraft engines.
Working with laser welding experts at the MTC, Rolls Royce has successfully completed a programme to improve consistency, increase throughput and reduce manual input in the manufacturing process. The laser welding cell at the MTC is equipped with a range of welding and cutting head options and is capable of handling large and heavy parts with ease – the laser processing head being carried on a 6-axis robot, which is integrated with a multi-axis manipulator.
Image: The laser processing cell supplied to the MTC by Tec Systems
Welding titanium by laser can achieve excellent results as long as the correct shielding with argon is provided. The MTC designed and manufactured assembly tooling with integral shield gas delivery. After qualifying the weld process, using fatigue test coupons, full scale laser welded parts were produced on the Cyan Tec robot cell. These parts proved that laser welding produced less distortion than the existing resistance welded assembly.
Having extensive experience in the integration of lasers with robots and CNC machines for welding, cutting, marking and drilling, Cyan Tec is well-placed to provide turnkey laser systems for the development of new processes and the mass production of proven assemblies using automation, lasers and custom manipulation.
Cyan Tec has experience of integrating robots and lasers from all the major suppliers and can offer expert advice on the most appropriate solution for laser processing, paint spraying, assembly, test and other applications. Standard and bespoke systems are offered with a full service from design through manufacture, a large installed base worldwide is supported by a dedicated team of engineers.
Arc welding as a production process took a long time to become established, but has nevertheless been around since the 1940s. Although the laser was only invented in 1960, it quickly became established as a production process and by the 1980s was starting to be used in high volume manufacturing. Recent advances which have improved the beam quality and efficiency of lasers, make the laser an even more advantageous solution to high volume or automated industrial joining.
Weld quality and consistency
Laser welding enables the quality and consistency of welding to be readily controlled and consistently maintained. Since the laser head makes no contact with the workpiece and there is no electrode which can become worn, eroded or damaged there is no need for a tool change where the electrode needs to be reground or sharpened, as is the case with TIG. The lack of electrode dressing in laser welding results in higher uptime and longer time between maintenance interventions. Also, there is no risk of contamination of the weld material with Tungsten from the TIG electrode tip when striking the arc.
Lower heat input
With laser welding the heat input to the metal being welded is lower which means there is a smaller heat affected zone (HAZ) and the distortion of the assembly is vastly reduced making complex and accurate assembly more achievable, especially in an automated setting.
TIG welding (left) typically exhibits higher heat input into the surrounding material – Laser welding (right) is capable of finer welds, with a much smaller heat-affected zone
In addition, the lower heat input means that a weld can be placed close to sensitive electronics or other heat-sensitive materials without risk of damage or failure. An example of this is in cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators where the external weld seam is directly above a heat-sensitive battery and micro-electronics which cannot withstand a temperature over 80 degrees C.
Throughput – higher welding speed
Weld speeds are generally higher with laser welding, especially with modern high power continuous wave (CW) fibre lasers. A high welding speed sometimes means that the motion system, for example the CNC system or robot contouring speed, is the limiting factor on cycle time rather than the process.
Cost per metre of weld
In processes where throughput is high it is common to find that the laser solution is more efficient and results in a lower cost per metre of weld. Interestingly, there are processes which combine laser and arc welding to achieve deeper penetration and higher welding speeds. These hybrid processes typically use a combination of laser welding to heat the metal efficiently to melting point and arc welding to provide deposition of droplets into the weld pool and enhanced penetration and weld strength over either process as a stand-alone procedure.
No finishing of the weld
With inert gas shielding, a laser weld in stainless steel or aluminium normally requires no post-processing (grinding or dressing) after welding, the weld finish is bright and oxide free and can be typically coated or painted without further cleaning steps.
Access difficult areas
Since the laser beam is a “line of sight” process, the laser can pass through gaps in a structure to weld areas from the rear, where it would not be possible to introduce a TIG electrode. Using a camera to view through the laser optics, it is easy to align the beam to a precise feature and perform welds in difficult-to-reach parts of the structure.
What about gaps?
One disadvantage of laser welding is that it tends to rely on good contact and minimum gap between parts to be joined. With either a laser process or a TIG weld, there is a need to ensure that gaps are minimised or avoided to ensure good results. With the addition of wire feed, which adds a certain complexity to the process, it is possible to fill gaps or build up areas for additional strength.
For ease of automation, consistent quality and lack of post-processing there are clear advantages to using laser welding. Where welding is to be applied manually, TIG welding has greater flexibility and lower capital cost for the equipment.
Right Honourable Anna Soubry MP Business Minister opens £60 million aerospace & 3D printing cutting edge research facilities in Manufacturing Technology Centre Coventry to maintain the UK’s world leading position in aerospace.
The state of the art robotic laser system, designed and manufactured by Cyan Tec Systems, is specifically designed to have the ultimate flexibility, meaning that industrial organisations are able to prove a production process before committing to significant financial investment. The system incorporates an ABB six axis robot, two rotary manipulators and a 20kW laser, allowing the system to handle a range of different components as well as performing the required laser processes (cutting, welding, ablating etc.).
The minister, pictured here with the cutting edge robotic laser system, incorporating the UK’s most powerful laser, announced the launch of a new £10 million competition to find game-changing aerospace technologies, aimed at small firms.
Managing Director Tony Jones states “Cyan Tec is proud be a supplier to the Manufacturing Technology Centre, showcasing advanced manufacturing capabilities, the Cyan Tec machine breaks new ground integrating a 20kW industrial laser to drive innovation in aerospace technology.”
Cyan Tec together with industrial businesses such as Rolls Royce & the UK government are working together to keep Britain at the forefront of the global aerospace market, the UK is second only to the United States in the valuable aerospace industry with demand for aircraft at record levels, roughly 45,000 new aircraft & 40,000 helicopters required in the next 17 years, generating opportunities totalling over $5 trillion.
Cyan Tec’s CEO, Clayton Sampson, reports “It is exciting to see government ministers taking an interest in our technology & we are pleased to be part of such a valuable initiative driving world class advances in the UK’s aerospace industry.”
Cyan Tec recognises the importance of this billion pound industry to the UK economy & is proud to contribute advanced technology equipment & services to this growing sector.
Cyan Tec welcomes the joint government & industry commitment of £2.1 billion for aerospace R&D to develop new high value technologies, improve aircraft factory production & the cost competitiveness of the UK supply chain.
In response to the demand from the automotive sector, Cyan Tec Systems have produced a new flexible laser marking cell using a 6-axis robot to carry a compact laser marking head for the marking of text and 2D matrix codes onto automotive engine components. A compact solid state laser head fitted with a miniature 2 axis galvo scanner is carried on the end of the robot arm allowing the marking field of 120 x 120 mm to be positioned anywhere within the reach of the robot, and angled to suit the plane of the component surface which is to be marked. The laser and robot are contained within a solid walled safety enclosure which protects the operator from the robot motion and the laser during the laser marking cycle. Interlocked safety doors allow access to the robot for programming – a monitor is positioned externally to observe the operation of the cell from outside.
Parts are automatically loaded and unloaded via a conveyor which passes through the laser safety enclosure of the cell. A hand-held code reader is attached to the outside of the laser cell which allows the verification of codes on the incoming and outgoing parts. The scanner is cordless and rechargeable – the data scanned is transmitted to the master cell controller via Bluetooth.
Laser marking is the most reliable, repeatable and rapid method of putting permanent high-contrast marks on the surface of virtually any material. Laser marks resist wear and cleaning processes which means that traceability is guaranteed for the lifetime of the components. Cyan Tec uses the latest in fibre lasers and diode-pumped solid state lasers from the leading manufacturers, which have the characteristics to mark rapidly and with very high definition. Almost no maintenance is necessary meaning that uptime and throughput are maximised. Cyan Tec can work with all the major manufacturers of robots and lasers to provide a solution compatible with the norms and preferences of the customer.