Cincinnati Inc., Harrison, Ohio, offers lasers, shears, press brakes and other metal processing equipment. For more information, visit www.e-ci.com.
Lasers Reach Full Productivity with Automated Material Handling
Modular, scalable design allows low-cost entry into material handling, with a basic load/unload system delivering the greatest ROI.
Successful service centers and metal fabricating shops share three common traits: high productivity, efficient material usage and the flexibility to process many different types of materials. While high-efficiency lasers often play a starring role in this success, material handling systems provide a significant supporting role to boost productivity, reduce cost per part and allow unattended operation via automated load/unload of raw materials and finished parts.
Processing flexibility is a function of the laser, as today’s high-efficiency CO2 and fiber laser cutting systems are designed to handle various material compositions and gauges. These high-wattage cutting systems (4,000 watts and up) are capable of high throughput, some cutting 20-gauge steel at up to 1,000 inches per minute.
The second key to success, optimized material usage, is achieved with programming and nesting software that integrates the entire process, from CAD data to finished parts. The right software can increase productivity up to 33 percent and ensure that nearly every square inch of usable material ends up as a usable part.
After maximizing cutting power and material usage, the best way to increase productivity further is to get raw material on and finished parts off the laser even faster, optimizing material flow and burn time with automated material handling. Many material handling systems are modular, providing the ability to serve multiple laser cutting systems, and assuring easy system expansion as laser throughput grows. Systems with overhead rail designs allow shops to tailor sheet and part handling to existing floor space and processing needs.
Some material handling systems also integrate with the laser’s control. The controller sends programs to the laser while directing all automated and manual functions of the material handling system and logging inventory depletion. Most systems include a cell controller, transporter, safety system and optional over/under carts. The transporter uses vacuum cups to deliver sheets of raw material to the laser. Sheet peelers ensure one-sheet-at-a-time delivery to the laser, and servo-controlled “fingers” unload finished parts from the laser to the over/under carts or floor pallets.
The modular and scalable design of today’s material handling systems allows a shop to get its greatest and fastest return on a low-cost investment by first acquiring the load/unload portion of the system. A basic load/unload system immediately boosts laser productivity with improved labor utilization and increased burn time. Material storage and additional automation can be added as needs develop.
The key to realizing the full potential of any of today’s high-performance laser systems is efficient material flow to and from the cutting table. Automated material handling systems deliver this efficiency, with a quick return on investment in reduced labor, cost per part and lights-out operation.