Versatile Laser-Cutting Machine Attracts Kitted Projects

By: Brad Kuvin

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

“Before we bought our laser-cutting machine, 1-in.-thick steel was sheetmetal to me.” So says Magnum Steel Works vice president Johnny Czerwinski, who along with brother and company owner Jim Czerwinski recently took the 10-yr-.old firm, specialists in repair and rehabbing field-worn coal-mining equipment, into the world of sheetmetal fabrication.

Amada FOM2 rotary index 3015 machine
Just six months after Magnum Steel installed its new laser-cutting machine, it’s operating at nearly full capacity, two shifts per day. The Amada FOM2 RI (rotary index) 3015 machine is equipped with a six-shelf sheet-storage tower to efficiently move cut nests and fresh sheets in and out of the laser-processing cavity. The machine also is equipped to process round, square and rectangular tube and pipe, as well as C-channel and angle iron.
In mid-2014, Magnum Steel Works down-gauged its capabilities to exploit opportunities in fabricating material 3⁄8-in. thick and less. With one purchase order (from Amada) came three press brakes, a CNC turret press and a 4000-W CO2 laser-cutting machine. And, in less than six months, the startup sheetmetal shop is near capacity; more equipment likely is on the way soon, according to the Czerwinski brothers.

“Typically, we fabricate and machine heavy-gauge steel for our customers in the mining industry,” explains Jim Czerwinski. “As customers who had been outsourcing their sheetmetal work—for panels, brackets and similar parts—began to ask us to single-source their metal-fabrication work, we started to process some of the sheetmetal work on our heavy fabricating equipment, which really is better suited to thick plate.”

That equipment includes a waterjet-cutting machine, and a 500-ton by 12-ft.-long press brake that performs well on heavy plate, but not quite as well on thin-gauge work.

Maxed Out

Taking on the additional sheetmetal work quickly maxed out the firm’s fabrication capacity, leading to excessive overtime. A quick decision by the Czerwinskis, following a trip to FABTECH 2013 in Chicago, led to the purchase order for the Amada armada of fabricating equipment. That equipment landed at the firm’s original 33,000-sq.-ft. plant in Mt. Vernon, IL; the rest of the company works out of a nearby, brand-new, $13 million 128,000-sq.-ft. facility that includes an expansive machine shop, paint room and multiple welding stations.

parts processed on the laser-cutting machine
A selection of parts processed on the new laser-cutting machine includes (left) a section of tubing that is first laser-cut to length and then notched on one side. After cutting, the pipe is bent and placed in a jig for welding. Laser-cutting the notches, compared to machining, proves to be considerably faster, more accurate and more repeatable in terms of weld fitup.
At the center of the expansion into lighter-gauge work is the CO2 laser-cutting machine. “This is evidence that despite the popularity of fiber-laser cutting machines,” says Amada special project manager Alain Porro, “there remain plenty of opportunities for fabricators to take advantage of the capabilities of CO2 lasers.”

Opportunities, indeed—in just six months, Magnum Steel’s laser-cutting machine is operating at nearly full capacity, two shifts per day. It’s an FOM2 RI (rotary index) 3015 model with a six-shelf sheet-storage tower, twin pallets to efficiently move cut nests and fresh sheets in and out of the laser-processing cavity, and—via a mere 2-min.-or-less changeover process—the ability to process round, square and rectangular tube and pipe, as well as C-channel and angle iron. The machine arrangement, says Porro, is the first of its kind combining a sheet-storage tower and rotary index, specially engineered and developed by Amada engineers and technicians at the request of the Czerwinskis.

“I see a growing niche for fabricators taking on tube- and shape-cutting work with their lasers,” Porro adds, “with an 80-20 ratio typical (80 percent sheet, 20 percent tube and pipe). Sheetmetal-fabricating companies that do not process tube and shapes, in many cases, are potentially leaving 20 percent of the laser market behind for other companies to pick up.”

Also Nice for Kitting

Another terrific opportunity fabricators can cash in on, by combining sheet-and-tube cutting capabilities with their laser, is kitting. With the ability to cut every part needed for complete assemblies ordered by a customer, a fabricator need not turn away a job or be forced to outsource part of a job—presumably the tube-cutting portion. That’s an advantage already realized more than once by Magnum Steel. Says field-service representative Shane Sawyers:

Amada fabricating equipment
Following a trip to FABTECH 2013 in Chicago, Magnum Steel placed a purchase order for an armada of Amada fabricating equipment, including three new press brakes (one shown here). The Model HG 2204 brake is equipped with a 19-in. multi-touch LCD control panel and user-friendly screen designed, say Amada officials, for intuitive operation regardless of operator experience.
“While initially the laser took over lighter-gauge work that had been running on the waterjet table, we recently took in a big project for a manufacturer of truck trailers. It had been plasma-cutting, inhouse, all of the stainless-steel products it needed for a particular project. We recently took over the complete kitted project, which includes 220 different parts per kit. We’re cutting 10 kits/month totaling 25,000 to 30,000 lb. of stainless-steel sheet, from ¼-in. thick to 10 gauge.”

Included in the kit is a section of 13⁄8-in.-dia. round tube, 0.083-in. wall thickness, that Magnum Steel’s laser cuts to length and then slices at a 45-deg. angle on one side. After cutting, the pipe is bent to a 90-deg. angle and placed in a jig for welding.

“The ability to cut the pipe to allow the welding operation is a big time-saver for us,” says Johnny Czerwinski. “Otherwise, we’d have to weld two pipe sections together.

“On another tube job,” Czerwinski continues, “we’re cutting notches in 2- by 4-in. rectangular tube sections to enable the insertion of mating tube sections. We then weld the two pieces together. Laser-cutting the notches, compared to machining, proves to be considerably faster, more accurate and more repeatable in terms of weld fitup.”

Spatter-Free Piercing

Among the unique features of the laser-cutting machine noted by Johnny Czerwinski is oil-mist piercing—a technique Amada refers to as spatter-free pierce (SFP). This technique finds use, say Amada representatives, when piercing and cutting small features within a part. The oil mist helps to prevent the molten metal from the pierce from sticking to the work surface around the pierced hole. This proves useful because the machine’s height sensor may detect the mound of spatter should it grow too large and cause an unexpected—and unneeded—increase in nozzle standoff. This, in some cases, can lead to poor cut quality.

“We’ve pierced holes as small as 1/8 in. in 3⁄16-in. sheet,” Czerwinski says. “The SFP feature works perfectly.”

For cutting thicker plate, the FOM2 machine offers water-assisted cutting. Here, a water mist cools the workpiece surface enough to allow Magnum Steel and other users to nest parts more closely together. And, since heat buildup is minimized, there’s less need to program the cutting head to jump around the nest to help balance heat input to the sheet.

A Healthy Arsenal

“In the end, with our laser-cutting machine, as well as the new turret press and press brakes, we’re a much more versatile shop than we have been,” concludes Sawyers. “Now when I go out to talk to customers and prospects, I know I have more in my arsenal than the next guy.”

“I see us continuing to grow the sheetmetal side of the business,” adds Jim Czerwinski. “This likely means purchasing additional equipment within the next year. We never dreamed that the laser would fill up with work so quickly. Next time we’ll probably go with a fiber.” MF


See also: Amada North America, Inc

Related Enterprise Zones: Fabrication

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