Laser Technology
Thursday | 12 January, 2017 | 2:55 pm

Proactive plan

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Branching out from servicing the oil and gas sector exclusively has allowed Midwest Precision to take on new opportunities, President Brian Miller says.

Having seen a door shut by waning energy market demand, one manufacturer opens a window of opportunity

January 2017 - Companies relying on the strength of the oil and gas industry have felt the effects of the lull in orders from this sector. But instead of lamenting the downturn, Midwest Precision Inc. in Tulsa opened new channels of sales potential by investing in a new fiber laser-cutting machine. 

“The last couple of years have not been so great,” says President Brian Miller. “While we branch out into areas other than oil and gas, the economy of the region tends to reflect the rise and fall of the oil sector.

“I was looking for a competitive advantage and it so happened that one of our four lasers was aging out,” he continues. “I was waiting for fiber laser technology to mature a bit before we jumped in and this was perfect timing.” 

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Rather than manually moving material in and out of the machine, calling up programs and checking laser finishes, Bystronic automates the workflow.

Miller visited equipment vendors to see them demonstrate the features of fiber laser technology. “We spent two months vetting machine tool manufacturers and then interviewed existing users by phone,” he says. “The feedback about the Bystronic fiber lasers was overwhelmingly positive.”

Bystronic’s responsiveness and willingness to help bolstered Miller’s resolve. “The machine has a solid and thoughtful design,” he says. Midwest Precision’s machine tool was outfitted with a fiber laser source from IPG. “Bystronic has done a good job of integrating all of those components.”

Supplying the marine, transportation, simulation and other industries, Midwest Precision processes stainless steel, aluminum, brass, and galvanized products as well as mild steel from light gauge sheet to plate.

Capital investment

“Purchasing this laser was a real leap for us,” Miller says. “We had a standalone machine that we wanted to replace and we also wanted a better way to automate material handling. Material automation is a necessity with such high feed rates.”

Midwest Precision purchased a BySprint Fiber 3015 6 kW laser with ByTrans Extended, a ByTower and Plant Manager Cutting (PMC) software. Once installed, “the feed rates alone were astounding,” Miller says. “It cuts between two and 10 times faster than what we currently have on the floor.”

The BySprint 3015 is available with a 5-foot-wide by 10-foot-long table and the model 4020 has a 6-foot by 13-foot option designed to fabricate sheet metal. That unit will also cut material up to 1.18-inch-thick when the Power Cut feature is employed. 

The ByTrans Extended allows for loading and unloading for laser cutting systems that process up to 6- by 13-foot sheets, which helps fabricators meet the demand for automation. ByTrans Extended 3015 requires 60 to 75 seconds to load and unload the cutting table. 

Bystronic’s ByTower is compact, allowing ready access to frequently used materials that are stored directly next to the machine. It helps store raw material while processed sheets can be pulled away by a forklift truck. Return transfer of cut sheets is automatic, according to the machine builder.

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Planning parts production takes hours instead of days with the Bystronic fiber laser cutting system.

The fiber laser was installed by itself in May 2016, “so we got to experience the machine without any material handling, [and] we were impressed,” Miller says. The ByTrans Extended was the next component, a two-cartridge system that loads and unloads the cutting bed, moving cut parts to the floor. The last component installed, the ByTower, features six material storage spaces and two finished part cartridges. This configuration allows Midwest Precision to put cut parts into the tower during lights-out operation. “This system can easily outpace two to three CO2 lasers,” Miller adds.

Instead of manually handling material in and out of the machine, calling up programs and checking laser finishes, the Bystronic handles the workflow automatically. “We can run two shifts and plan jobs according to those that need to be closely monitored, like high-tolerance parts, or allow the machine to run continually with the tower feeding finished parts from the line to other value streams,” Miller explains. 

Prior to installing this system, much of the machine operators’ time was spent prepping and planning on the front end, “which created a bottleneck prior to production,” Miller says. Now, with Bystronic’s Plant Manager Cutting software integrated with Midwest Precision’s existing ERP, the laser seamlessly schedules and nests jobs with minimal human intervention. 

“Previously, a programmer would spend two days to set up and plan job nesting,” says Miller. “Now, it takes just a couple of hours [of production planning] to get through a week’s worth of jobs.

“We have yet to tire of watching the machine at work.” MM



Bystronic engineers and builds its own laser-cutting machines, press brakes, CNC controls, automation and software. The company thereby controls “all the core machine technologies” for the sheet metal processing market, says Frank Arteaga, head of product marketing at the Elgin, Illinois, manufacturer. “Companies value when machines are from a single source—from machines to controls to software.

“We know what our core machine technologies are capable of and we can design and optimize our systems to be highly productive and user friendly,” Arteaga says. With the new 8 kW and 10 kW ByStar Fiber machines, Bystronic also builds its own cutting head in house. The heads are designed to automatically adapt the focal length as well as automatically change the focal position depending on material type and thickness. Adapting the beam profile to what is being cut is key, he adds.

Bystronic debuted the ByStar Fiber laser with 10 kW with its patent-pending triangle design cutting bridge in late 2016. “The triangle design makes the bridge lighter and stronger so we are able to accelerate 40 percent faster than with a conventional square bridge design,” Arteaga says. “As you increase the wattage, the faster processing speeds become more evident and you need to control the drives and motion system to cut accurately at the faster speeds.”

Lastly, there is a detection eye—“a camera system that locates the edges of the sheets in 6 seconds or less. It would typically take 15 seconds to detect those edges without the camera,” Arteaga says. “The time saved adds up as you increase cutting volume.”

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