Laser Technology
Wednesday | 13 September, 2017 | 1:03 pm

Mid-air manipulation

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Sharpe Products laser cut perforated patterns through each of Design Fugitives’ copper compression members to allow LED light to shine through.

Carefully orchestrated designs require timely and consistent quality

September 2017 - It’s one thing to dream up a design and to put it down on paper. It’s another thing to back it up with the mathematics and physics to make it a reality. In Milwaukee, Design Fugitives is doing just that. The melding of architectural art, as well as commercial structure, has allowed the company to expand in recent years as more clients seek out their creations.

“As a design studio, we are constantly looking for advanced manufacturing technology to incorporate into our design process,” says Tuan Tran, co-founder.

After looking at various options, Design Fugitives chose Sharpe Products for its laser-cutting needs that often involve small size orders. “We decided it was time to perforate stainless steel and copper tubes with quicker turnaround times—instead of the typical eight-week cycles, we needed material back in two weeks,” Tran says. Design Fugitives already went to Sharpe for its metal bending jobs, so adding laser projects seemed logical.

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The tricky part is balancing the copper compression members and stainless steel tension cables. One wrong calculation and the pieces would collapse into one another.

Achieving the form

Two-week turnaround periods were particularly useful for a recent project requiring architects to balance metal constructs mid-air. “We had to create a structure for a project where we needed to balance compression and tension,” Tran says. “The compression member is copper while the tension cables are made from stainless steel.” The trick was to find the right balance to ensure the pieces would suspend freely without collapsing.

To achieve the desired aesthetics for the project, Tran says Design Fugitives decided to insert LED lighting into each tube. “We had to perforate the tubes to allow the light to emit,” he recalls. “We were able to perform three to four rounds of perforation patterns to balance between structure and safety—light could pass through while the structure remained sound.”691DA69E D0A8 4BF1 B842 654ECEF65928

The project included 300 tubes, with 150 tubes measuring 49 inches long and the rest measuring 40 inches each. Wall thickness was 0.0625-inch. “Once we received the laser-cut tubing, we cleaned each tube by placing it individually on a spindle and buffed it with 220-grit sand paper,” Tran says. Each buffed tube was then coated in a lacquer.

“We had Sharpe laser engrave the location of the fastener in four locations that were used to hold the aluminum inserts which suspend the LED array at the center of the perforated copper tube,” he says. Tran’s team carefully considered the placement of copper compression tubing held by 20 tension cables. “Each cable is tensioned and once the unit is released from the jig, it is self-supporting and free-standing.”

The entire project comprises 75 modules; each contains four tubes. “We had to interconnect each module using special hardware designed to achieve the interconnection,” Tran explains. One at a time, each module was raised into the air, connected and suspended from the ceiling.

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Sharpe uses BLM Group’s fiber-optic lasers, which can tackle highly reflective materials like copper.


Helping bridge the gap between manufacturing and design, Sharpe Products in New Berlin, Wisconsin, works with engineers to ensure each job is efficient and economical. “We work with companies requiring small work loads to high-volume jobs,” says Kyle Cramer, a sales and estimating manager at Sharpe.

Sharpe uses BLM Group’s fiber-optic lasers that can tackle highly reflective materials, such as the copper Design Fugitives frequently works with. “Sharpe also does a lot of other tube forming. We can do a lot more than just cut,” Cramer adds. “Bending, end forming (such as beading, flaring, swaging, etc.), laser cutting of bent tubes, welding, and/or finishing tubes—we can do it.”

Sharpe can provide straight cut tubes, bent tubes or formed tubes with features cut into it. “We take on prototyping, small-volume production, high-volume production and everything in between,” Cramer says. “Our expansive tooling selection and machinery allows us to stick to short lead times. Within one to two weeks after submitting a purchase order, our customers have parts in their hands.”

Sharpe uses a BLM LT Fiber and an LT5 laser in its shop. The LT Fiber model cuts round tube 0.5-inch to 5.5-inch diameters, square tube from 0.5 inch to 4.7 inches, and rectangular and flat oval materials can have sections inscribed with a 6.7-inch diameter circle with a side dimension from 0.5 inch up to 5.5 inches and maximum difference between sides of 110mm (4.33 inches).

Tubes with diameters up to 11 inches can be dropped for central unloading and the bundle loader can handle up to 8,000 pounds of raw stock (5,000 pounds is recommended). The fiber-optic laser can cut mild steel, stainless steel, aluminum, copper and brass. CAD files can be imported into the machine to ensure parts are cut exactly to customer specifications.

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The project included 300 tubes, with 150 tubes measuring 49 inches long and the remainder each measuring 40 inches long.

The LT5 model cuts round tube from 0.5 inch to 4.7-inch diameters, square from 0.5 inch to 4.7 inches, and rectangular, flat oval, semi-flat oval tube from 0.4 inch by 0.47 inch to 4.7 inches by 2.75 inches.

“Sharpe can also cut features in tubes that many traditional machining/cutting equipment are not capable of doing without specially made, costly tools,” Cramer says. “Fiber-optic machinery cuts much faster and cleaner than CO2 laser cutting or other cutting methods on the thin-wall, highly reflective materials Sharpe regularly processes.”

Sculptural work

Design Fugitives began as a few architectural designers who found they weren’t satisfied with their careers. So they banded together to orchestrate designs and projects they felt passionate about. Projects began in the Milwaukee area and have expanded onward—with recent projects constructed out of stainless steel taking the company to Kuwait and Hong Kong.

“Throughout all these projects Sharpe has helped with metal laser cutting and tube laser bending,” Tran adds. The studio will soon install four large sculptures in Rosedale, Minnesota, another project for which Sharpe will perform the copper cutting.

In house, Design Fugitives runs its own CNC plasma cutter and CNC router. “We do a lot of grinding, sanding and finishing,” Tran says. “It really depends on the size and scope of the project when we start to job out to vendors. Quality control is why we try to keep things in house where we can but, with Sharpe, we can expect what we need.” MM

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