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Laser Technology
Wednesday | 15 December, 2010 | 8:39 am

Home-field advantage

By Lauren Duensing

November 2010 - In early 2009, the team at Projects Inc., Glastonbury, Conn., agreed to be a beta test site for Trumpf Inc.’s TruLaser 1030 and use the machine for six months. After that period of time, Projects purchased the TruLaser 1030. Eighteen months later, it remains a reliable addition to the company’s offerings because of its cost and operational benefits.

"It’s a no-brainer" for Projects to keep the laser, says Mike Kenyon, company president. Trumpf, Farmington, Conn., gave Projects the option of returning the machine at the end of the six months or purchasing it. During the beta test, Projects evaluated the laser’s usefulness within its operation, and Trumpf engineers used the time to make necessary adjustments before a wider product launch.

In business for more than 50 years, Projects is a supplier of general machining, thermocouple and pressure probe assemblies for the aircraft, gas turbine and commercial industries. The 120-employee company serves a global customer base from two facilities that total 45,000 square feet. It has been ISO approved since 1994 and AS9000 approved since 1998.

In-house cutting
The company is using the TruLaser 1030 to cut various parts for the aerospace and power generation industries, says Paul Marchand, Projects vice president. It is cutting 304 SST, 410 SST, L605, X-750, HAST-X and 718 with the laser. With gross sales of $26 million, Projects hopes to use the TruLaser 1030 to generate additional revenue. It has begun to sell the technology to existing customers with the intention of broadening its product base.

Prior to installing the TruLaser 1030, Projects outsourced all laser cutting to another job shop--a costly and time-consuming process. "We’re able to serve our customers at a higher level now," says Marchand. Having an in-house laser dramatically reduced the lead time required for completing jobs. Turnaround time decreased from "three to four weeks to less than one week," he says.

Projects also experienced significant cost reduction for laser-cutting projects, says Marchand. "We saw a significant reduction in overall costs when factoring in hourly pay rates, gas rates and electricity consumption," he says. Small lot sizes previously were not economical because many laser-cutting vendors required minimum lot charges.

TruLaser 1030 makes it possible for companies such as Projects to incorporate in-house laser cutting into their mix of fabricating services, according to Trumpf. The laser has a maximum material thickness of 15 millimeters for mild steel, 6 millimeters for stainless steel and 5 millimeters for aluminum. It weighs 8,845 kilograms with a footprint of 273 square feet. The laser’s working range is 3,000 millimeters on the X axis, 1,500 millimeters on the Y axis and 75 millimeters on the Z axis. The maximum axis speed is 85 meters per minute.

Trumpf introduced the laser to the market in November 2009, says Stefan Schreiber, Trumpf product manager for the TruLaser 1030. Since the laser’s launch, Trumpf has installed more than 100 machines in North America and globally, including in growing markets such as India, he says.

The machine offers entrepreneurial opportunities, says Schreiber. "Those who want to open a job shop that provides laser-cutting services can easily get started with a TruLaser 1030," he says. "In addition, the TruLaser 1030 offers established manufacturers the ability to pursue new business opportunities by easily adding laser cutting to their in-house services."

Ease of use
The laser’s small footprint is beneficial for Projects. The company uses the laser in a 10,000-square-foot historic building, which the J.B. Williams Soap Factory occupied in the 1800s. The laser cutter entered the building through a door barely larger than a typical residential garage door, and it requires less than one-half the floor space of a typical 5-foot-by-10-foot machine. It was "significantly easier" to install when compared to the company’s other machines, says Marchand.

The TruLaser 1030 does not require special foundations for operation, which helps make installation quick and easy, says Schreiber. It ships in a single, complete package. Customers can choose either a CO2 laser or a disk laser with a fiber guided beam delivery system, he says.

The laser also is easy to operate, says Schreiber. "Even operators with no laser-cutting experience are able to program the TruLaser 1030 to achieve outstanding results almost immediately," he says.

Operating the laser is not difficult, agrees David Swanson, a Federal Aviation Administration certified welder at Projects. "I had never run a laser before, and I had no previous experience operating one," he says, noting he received laser-operation training at Trumpf’s headquarters. The software loaded in the TruLaser 1030 makes it easy for most workers, with or without a computer background, to operate it. "My [computer] background maybe reduced my training time by a week, but that’s all," says Swanson.

Indeed, "there was zero percent learning curve" for the laser, says Marchand. To operate the laser and complete a project, the operator first reviews the part to ensure it is within the machine’s capabilities. The operator then draws the part in programming software, programs it and runs a sample part to submit for lab analysis to ensure compliance with customer requirements, says Marchand. Finally, he or she will run parts and inspect them to the drawing’s requirements.

Swanson is enthusiastic about operating the laser and eager to learn more, including how to perform maintenance on it. When his bosses asked if he would oversee day-to-day operations of the laser cutter, "I immediately said, ‘Yes,’" he says. MM

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