Wednesday, October 7th, 2015
Laser Cutting Sheet Metal
Laser cutting systems have been based on CO2 laser cutters for many years but now there is a new way to laser cut sheet metal work and that is fibre laser cutting. Fibre laser cutting enables us to laser cut sheet metal work up to 4mm thick quicker than conventional CO2 laser cutter systems and a lot cheaper. The fibre laser cutting machines are cheaper to run and have less parts that need to be replaced at service enabling us to pass on these savings to our customers. Using either Nitrogen, Oxygen or Compressed air to work with the laser the fibre laser machine allows us to be very flexible in the cutting methods we can use for ferrous and non-ferrous metals. And the icing on the cake is the ability to laser cut copper and brass sheet metal up to 6mm thick which is something that cannot be attempted with a CO2 laser cutting machine. All in all it’s a very versatile cutting machine and has been a real benefit to V and F Sheet Metal and our customers. Let’s take a more detailed look at some of the laser cutting work that we have produced recently in our factory here in Fareham, Hampshire.
The centre of our sheet metal laser cutting facility here at V and F Sheet Metal is a Trumpf 3030 3KW fibre based laser cutting system with automatic sheet pallet changing system. This German sheet metal laser cutting machine was installed brand new in late 2013 offering an exciting new service to our customers alongside 2 Trumpf CNC punch presses. With the ability to laser cut sheets as big as 3M long by 1.5M wide and much thicker than the CNC punch presses the Trumpf laser cutter opened up a new range of sheet metal projects that we couldn’t cope with before with our in house CNC punching capacity. Some sheet metal work has moved on to the laser cutter and some has stayed on the CNC punch presses not only enabling us to select the best method of production for any particular part but it has also increased cutting capacity and reduce lead times.
It’s always exciting to see the laser cutter in action when it’s speeding through mild steel produce sheet metal brackets making lots of sparks as it cuts. These 2mm thick mild steel pump mounting brackets were being CNC punched before we had the laser cutting machine but they are now laser cut with a lot less edge de-burring and all the corners rads are perfectly cut and smooth. The sheet of metal looks small because it’s an off cut that was being used up as well as full 2.5M and 1.25M sheets or the main production batch. This is an great advantage when using laser cutting, you can use odd size pieces and still produce perfect parts keeping the costs down in production. Laser cutting sheet metal is certainly flexible at the machine but also when we are CNC programming the sheet metal parts ready for laser cutting. With no tools to think about we can cut complex shapes that would be expensive with CNC punching and thicknesses that would be impossible with CNC punching. The ability to program a part for laser cutting just with the click of a button allows us to produce programs quickly but also allows us to try different combinations of parts on any given size of sheet to produce the best price when we are at the quoting stage of a sheet metal project.
Fast Tube by Casper
Here’s the laser cutting machine in action at high speed laser cutting thin galvanised steel sheet. Although the machine is laser cutting very fast the finish it is producing here is perfect and needed no further cleaning up. The machine is using compressed air as the assist gas to produce these parts keeping the cost down to our customer. If you look at the video watch out for the speed it cuts a large circle out in under 2 seconds, there is no way we could produce a cutout this quickly using CNC punch presses. Working alongside our 2 CNC punch presses has enables us to pick the best attribute from each machine and sometimes combining the 2 on a single part. We have laser cut parts and then CNC punched in ventilation louvres as a typical example.
The flexibility of laser cutting sheet metal can be seen in this CAD/CAM nest produced in Radan sheet metal software. 2 complete sets of parts needed for a complex housing assembly have been automatically nested together saving time in CNC programming, material and laser cutting time. We like this advantage of all the parts coming from the same sheet of metal especially if the subsequent laser cut parts have to be CNC bent up as it reduces the time spent setting up and correcting programs to achieve the correct bend angles.
We always say, if you can draw it we can laser cut it from sheet metal. This is a typical project to manufacture a batch of lighting units as signs with different wording cut but and back lit. The Trumpf fibre laser produced perfect lettering with a crisp clean profile and no de-burring was needed. We have the ability to laser cut sheet metal with a range of common fonts as signs, part numbers or even etch marking to help identify sheet metal parts in our assembly / stores areas.
Here we have laser cut into 2mm thick mild steel sheet to produce wall mounting bracket blanks. The shape that is shows as black in this photograph is a cut out in the sheet metal where the laser has cut straight around the profile without stopping and the part inside the profile has dropped through the sheet and been carried by the scrap conveyor to a collection / recycling bin. The mounting brackets have also been laser cut with a common line to reduce the amount of material used and time taken to produce the batch of parts. The laser cut sheet shows really nicely how clean the parts can come off from laser cutting, no dust, lubrication or scratches on the top face making laser cutting really efficient for cutting any cosmetic surfaces e.g. front panels, sign work, electronics covers etc.
Another great feature of using Radan sheet metal software with the Trumpf fibre laser is the ability to fit complex parts together to achieve the best fit into a standard sheet of metal. These colour wheels are used on fibre optic lighting control boxes and were laser cut from 1.2mm aluminium alloy. The software automatically works out how close each part can be cut next to its neighbour and the best fit for the sheet or any off cut we need to use up. The software can also work out the quickest path to travel around the sheet of metal for the quickest cut time. It also follows a path that means the laser cutting head never travels over a parts that has already been cut to help reduce the risk of a part that is already cut catching the laser head when it is moving fast.
Whether its laser cutting mild steel, aluminium alloys, copper, brass, galvanised coated mild steel or stainless steel alloys the Trumpf fibre laser can cope with them all. These 3mm thick 304 stainless steel clamping brackets are used to secure children’s playground equipment in place and where being CNC punched but as soon as we had the laser cutting machine we moved them to that and saved on material and de-burring time. They are typical of the laser cutting that we do everyday of the week for our customers from Fareham, Hampshire, UK with deliveries across Hampshire and next day services throughout the UK you are never far from a quality laser cutting sheet metal service with V and F Sheet Metal.
Sheet metal brackets really are our speciality. Whether they have been laser cut or CNC punched with 6 CNC press brakes we can fold them, create safe edges, press in bushes and studs, weld up joints and spot weld assemblies together. If the brackets need to be zinc plated, anodised, powder coated etc. we have a range of sub-contract suppliers who can help us to provide the complete service for you when it comes to manufacturing finished sheet metal brackets. These small fixing brackets have been laser cut from mild steel, CNC bent up, zinc plated and clear passivated and will be used in a garage door fixing system.
Here’s another great example of laser cutting sheet metal cleanly to produce mild steel gear tray blanks. These gear trays are used in light fittings to hold all the control gear for the lamps. The final gear trays have been CNC folded and the zinc plated and clear passivated. No edge de-burring was needed with these parts and they were laser cut with oxygen as the assist gas to save money. Any edge oxidisation with using oxygen was removed by the acid in the zinc plating process producing clean, burr free parts.
These parts have all been laser cut from 2mm thick 304 2B mill finish stainless steel sheet metal. The channels have been laser cut as flat blanks from standard 2M x 1M sheets with all the family of parts nested together to produce the best sheet utilisation. Being laser cut with our Trumpf 3030 fibre laser and using nitrogen as the cutting assist gas they all came out really bright and clean on all the laser cut edges and holes needing no further edge de-burring. The laser cut stainless steel blanks were then folded up on our brand new Safan e-Brake CNC press brake. The last operation was to press in stainless steel hank bushes using both our fly presses and our Haeger bush inserter. It’s surprising just how much equipment is needed to produce relatively simple sheet metal work when you want to do the job properly. The accuracy of the laser cutter helps all downstream operations to be much more efficient reducing the whole project lead time not just the sheet metal blank laser cutting stage.
Fast Tube by Casper
So in conclusion, laser cutting sheet metal work with a fibre laser cutter is very flexible, fast, accurate and cost effective. If you have sheet metal work components that you are currently having laser cut or possibly CNC punched and you are not sure if fibre laser cutting would be a good option why not give a chance to take a look at your drawings and see where we can help you. Either give us a call on 01489 577786 or send us some drawings to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to help you and produce some great prices for you.