Through Thick & Thin: Manufacturer recognizes the need for a dedicated solution to serve the heavy-plate, large format market

Above: Koike’s Fibertex Zero features a modular Class I safety enclosure that travels with the cutting head. 

January, 2024- The advantages of fiber laser cutting have proven this technology is here to stay in the metal fabrication industry. However, the performance of ytterbium laser oscillators and related cutting heads has historically restricted consistent CNC cutting to materials thinner than 12 millimeters. For reliable cutting of materials thicker than 12 mm, it has been necessary to use raw materials with minimal impurities, complicating the manufacturing process flow and increasing costs. Additionally, cutting thicker plates traditionally demands more from consumables, while also necessitating exponentially higher gas consumption and oscillator wattage output than that of thin plate operations. Even with these added expenses, the cut quality results tend to yield high dross and require secondary grinding operations prior to use.

Aside from material thickness, another key limitation in the fiber laser cutting market is the capacity of physical plate dimensions, particularly when considering workplace safety. Unlike CO2 lasers, which can be operated safely in open environments, ytterbium fiber lasers emit a wavelength that requires extra shielding for operator protection. Traditional approaches—like large, fixed enclosures with shuttle tables—can be prohibitively expensive and occupy a significant amount of space. Often, a fixed enclosure can constrain the technology’s scalability, especially for processing larger parts and high-volume heavy plate manufacturing.

    12kW and 18kW oscillator outputs can cut up to 36 mm mild steel plate and stainless steel up to 50 mm

ADDRESSING CHALLENGES

Koike Sanso Kogyo Co. Ltd., which has a history rooted in providing cutting solutions for steel processing centers and shipyards, recognized the need for a dedicated solution to service the heavy-plate, large-format sectors. Mindful of the challenges in fiber laser cutting, Koike developed the Fibertex Zero DBC and has placed over 40 units into operation over the past two years.

The Fibertex’s gantry style, modular design allows for near infinite configurations, ensuring safe operation during large format plate cutting and handling. Through its North American subsidiary Koike Aronson Inc. in Arcade, New York, Koike seeks to extend the machine’s successful launch in Asia into the Western hemisphere.

Koike began addressing the challenges of using fiber lasers for cutting plates thicker than 12 mm by recognizing that the concept of “just throw power at it,” or in this case wattage, is not necessarily the answer. Striving to achieve consistent, high-quality results, Koike drew inspiration from other cutting techniques that focused on the value of “conditioning” the workpiece in preparation for the final chemical reaction required to sever the material. Doing so required the development of Koike’s KTorch cutting head and SUE15 cutting nozzle, which was engineered to accept and manipulate the output of two beams from the laser oscillator. This design, featuring a ring and central beam, gives precise control to tailor cutting parameters according to the specific material composition and required quality right at the user’s fingertips.

These innovations allow the Fibertex Zero DBC to cut a broad range of ferrous metals, from lowgrade carbon steel to specialized alloys that are traditionally harder to process. The design of the KTorch is also particularly effective with thick, reflective materials like stainless steel or aluminum, which are often challenging to cut with a laser. This method also benefits from lower laser output, significantly reducing initial procurement and operating costs.

The combination of the K-Torch head’s intelligent culminating lens control and the SUE15 nozzle’s versatility in handling various material thicknesses makes the Fibertex Zero DBC well suited for automated, lights-out production. Offering oscillator options of 12 kW and 18 kW, Koike has been able to achieve repeatable, production quality cutting at thicknesses up to 36 mm for mild steel and 50 mm for stainless steel. The Fibertex Zero DBC 12 kW is particularly effective for facilities needing to regularly cut 12 to 25 mm carbon steel, capable of processing 25 mm A36 steel at a rate of 950 mm per minute. Moreover, the precision produced by Koike’s DBC technology often removes the need for secondary operations like drilling or grinding, depending on the final application.

     The Fibertex’s design ensures safe operation during large-format plate cutting and handling.

SAFE OPERATION

Ytterbium fiber laser oscillators, due to their wavelength, are classified as Class IV lasers, posing significant, lasting health risks upon exposure to unfiltered direct or refractive light to skin or eyes, particularly the risk of permanent retina damage unless specific safety protocols and machine protection are put in place.

Recognizing the fabrication industry’s need for an open cutting bed for easy handling of large heavy plates, Koike designed the laser’s gantry enclosure and cutting table to achieve a Class I safety rating with the FDA. This design, which moves the safety enclosure with the cutting head, eliminates the need for extra moving parts and floor space associated with the use of shuttle tables.

Koike’s approach not only maintains the benefits of a traditional gantry style CNC cutting machine but also ensures the safety of the operator and adjacent staff, reduces clutter, and improves serviceability by housing peripheral devices like the oscillator, chiller and control panel on the gantry.

Koike’s solution to address a niche market need, while retaining a safe and familiar operating environment, is further enhanced by support from outside partners. Like all its CNC cutting solutions, Koike is committed through design, training and supplier selection to mitigate user downtime. IPG Photonics USA will domestically manufacture and support the oscillators used on Fibertex Zero DBC units delivered in the Western hemisphere.

Outfitted with the Fanuc control suite and coupled with the customer’s post-processor of choice, as well as a team of technicians available for questions and advice, the manufacturer aims to make the operational input as smooth as possible.

Koike Aronson Ransome, 800/252-5232, http://koike.com/