November 2009 - In the world of metal cutting, more power tends to lead to more opportunities. For NTC America--Laser Group, Novi, Mich., expanding beyond basic three-axis laser cutting machines was a strategy employed to appeal to customers in need of large plate cutting solutions. Its heavy-plate-cutting TLX series does just that, featuring work areas as large as 14 feet by 150 feet and power configurations ranging from 2.5 kilowatts to 7 kilowatts. It’s also configured with a laser and chiller on the system’s gantry, creating a smaller footprint and shorter beam path.
"We wanted to offer a product that was able to cut large plate," says Steve Glovak, laser sales manager. "We wanted to go thick, and we wanted to go big. We initially started by offering an 8-foot-by-20-foot work area, which grew into today’s 14-foot-by-150-foot model. So now we’re able to provide a laser system that’s just a little bit better. Another critical component is the quality of the machine, which has to be such that it’s going to hold up for the long haul. That’s how all NTC?lasers are built."
Along with the TLX, NTC offers other high-speed, high-flexibility machines. Its TLM series of five-axis, 3-D laser systems is geared toward complex contours and shapes. Its TLZ series systems feature ultra-high-speed 2-D, three-axis cutting. And its TLV series offers a three-axis hybrid design for large configurations.
But for thick material, the TLX is the system of choice, especially considering it can be built to customer specifications, both in size and laser power.
"We’re flexible in what we can put on this product," says Glovak. "We can put a 7-kilowatt laser on it if that’s what the customer wants, or we can go down to 2.5 kilowatts for thinner-gauge applications. It all depends on material type, size and thickness. With [the] customer’s input, we’ll build what works best for the customer’s laser-cutting application."
NTC services its lasers, which are in use all across North America, out of its Detroit office, which has a staff wholly dedicated to laser technology.
A new approach
More than just a standard laser cutting system, the TLX is geared toward customers looking to expand their capabilities.
Before acquiring its NTC laser, the last time Debro Steel, Brampton, Ontario, a full-service, general-line carbon steel service center, made a major investment in a cutting machine, it purchased a four-head underwater plasma machine. This was soon made vintage by the introduction of high-definition plasma cutting to the industry.
In 2006, Debro welcomed a new president, Gunar Zenaitis, who was tasked with revitalizing the company. A laser purchase was already being considered, but Zenaitis wanted to be sure the company was incorporating the most advanced technology available into its operations. So, Debro went for NTC’s TLX-1480 laser system with a 7-kilowatt laser and a 14-foot-by-80-foot table, making it one of the first service centers in North America to implement a 7-kilowatt laser.
"Our original design was for a 60-foot table and a 6-kilowatt laser," says Zenaitis. "We ended up with a 7-kilowatt laser with an 80-foot table. And if you look from where we originally started to where we actually ended--all within the same original budget expectations--we achieved quite an increase in terms of both capacity and ability."
Incorporating such a large piece of equipment into Debro’s facility required some revamping of the building itself.
"We decided to modify our building and extend it with a build-out in order to incorporate the parking area of the laser," says Zenaitis. "The full width of our building in this particular bay, maximizing full crane utilization, is 80 feet. So we built the table to 80 feet, and we extended our building to house the 20-foot parking area of the machine."
The system was delivered in a complete turnkey-style installation, including training from NTC distributor Paramount Machinery, Mississauga, Ontario. Doing so ensured everyone’s complete understanding of their roles, functions and costs.
Ahead of the cut
Considering its breadth of cutting possibilities, the TLX-1480 fit into Debro’s vision of achieving efficient processing of large parts and faster processing of smaller parts.
"[The TLX has] given us some competitive advantages," says Zenaitis. "Simply by having a big table, from a flexibility standpoint, you can put multiple plates, sizes and thicknesses on the table at one time. You can incorporate small- and large-parts cutting, and to aid in small-parts removal and packaging, we’ve added a conveyor system to the table itself. Combined with a custom-built snap-in chute and a conveyor length of 30 feet, the removal of small parts is fast and quick. A single operator can unload small parts and package them while the laser remains cutting on a different quadrant on the table. The entire systems is designed to minimize manpower requirements and to maximize uptime.
"By utilizing the latest nesting software, we have been able to nest orders of multiple customers that normally wouldn’t have had the individual volume nore the ability to bear the cost of a laser-cut part," he continues. "This has enhanced our competitive advantage and improved our ability to respond to the dramatic reduction in their sales and earnings during this recessionary cycle. A laser-cut part can reduce the supply chain costs of handling, machining and excess material costs generated via other, more conventional methods, such as flame cutting."
This added capability has enabled Debro to extend its potential customer base south of the border, including upstate New York. And it reflects both the flexibility of the TLX system, as well as the increasing trend in the metals service industry of companies like NTC and Debro diversifying their capabilities, product offerings and improving overall service to remain competitive.
"The days of the cookie cutter are gone," says Glovak. "If you want to go after certain niches, you have to be able to provide what those customers want." MM