Rethinking Laser Cutting

Feb. 7, 2007
New implementation strategies help manufacturers expand laser cutting opportunities.

The challenge lies in rethinking old laser cutting strategies. That approach brought success to Stock Manufacturing when it found itself running out of laser cutting capacity.

Instead of adding a third machine, the owners of the contract fabricating shop elected to add more hours of productivity to their two existing Cincinnati Inc. lasers. Stock Manufacturing became the first customer for Cincinnati's newly developed automated material handling system.

The Modular Material Handling System (MMHS) allows Stock's two lasers to run eight hours a day attended and another 12 hours unattended, plus long periods unattended over the weekend as workloads require.

"By our analysis, this was a four-for-the-price-of-three deal," says Dennis Stock, one of the three brothers who own and operate the company. "The automated system cost us about the same as a third laser would have," he explains. "We're now getting productivity equal to four lasers running two shifts a day, while staffing just for two machines."

New capabilities include thin webs and small holes.The MMHS features two towers offering 38 drawers of storage for sheet materials and finished parts. Each drawer provides 4.5 inches of stack height and holds up to 6,000 pounds of materials. An elevator system located between the towers delivers sheet material to a gantry-driven robot for transport on overhead rails to the appropriate dual-pallet laser. The robot loads the sheet onto the open pallet. When that pallet advances into the cutting zone, the pallet with the completed job cycles out and the robot removes the finished parts. The automated pallet change limits laser beam off time to seconds, keeping laser utilization near 100%, says Stock.

The robot transporter features an arm with long, closely spaced fingers to support and control the sheets. Stock Manufacturing added a creative touch by programming in a "pop" when lifting finished sheets. That bumping action breaks loose any parts or slugs that get welded to the table grid.

Stock's MMHS is configured so that finished parts can be transported to one of three unload stations or back to the elevator for tower drawer storage.

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