This fully automated batch tunnel washer with 14,220-lb compartments can process 6600 lbs per hour. It’s one of the many products for the laundry industry that G.A. Braun manufactures at its Syracuse, NY, facility.
by Stefan Colle
Automated laser system helps laundry equipment OEM to deliver clean goods
G.A. Braun Inc. (www.gabraun.com; Syracuse, NY) is recognized for innovation in industrial laundry equipment and what it calls “smart” system solutions (complete one-stop solutions). Established in 1946, the company introduced the first high-volume washer/extractor, the first pass-through/cleanroom system to help stop the spread of potentially harmful pathogens in hospital laundries, and was the first to use microprocessors and Windows-based controls in laundry machines.
Braun is the only U.S.-based laundry equipment manufacturer offering a full gamut of commercial laundry equipment from washing to drying to finishing systems. It is also the only OEM of its kind to provide dedicated sales and service support. Braun products are sold worldwide to hospitals, hotels, cruise ships, commercial and industrial laundries, and government and correctional facilities.
As an innovator, the company has made it a priority to invest in research and development and in the tools to design and manufacture laundry equipment that is simple, extremely capable, and cost-effective to operate. The Braun brand is known for its quality and durability.
Looking to improve production efficiency, better support the growth of their business and with the desire to expand their rapid research and development efforts, Braun consolidated its manufacturing operations under one roof with the relocation to a new 155,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in February 2009.
Recently, Braun took action to innovate on a different level, adding laser technology to replace manual manufacturing operations and end reliance on outsourced components.
To further streamline operations, the company installed an Orion 3015 Plus CO2 hybrid-style laser system with automated load/unload device and 4 kW laser resonator from LVD Strippit. Identifying the laser system that met Braun’s criteria for compact size, mid-level automation, and budget was an extensive process. The company chose a 5 ft x 10 ft system to handle its wide variety of parts.
We turned to laser technology because it offered a couple of key advantages: it holds a great tolerance and makes a clean cut,” explained Chad Perfetti, Braun’s fabrication manager. “The hybrid laser was affordable and perfect for an 8-hour-a-day application.”
Braun cuts carbon steal up to ½ in. thick, stainless steel up to ½ in. thick, and aluminum up to 3/8 in. thick. Its production is not high volume, so Perfetti was mindful to select a system at the right price-performance level. “The 4000-watt power allows us to cut through all the ranges of materials and material thicknesses we use,” said Perfetti. “We did not want to get the car with all the extra horsepower if we weren’t going to use it.” This resonator provides the versatility to cut at maximum feed rates. Nitrogen assist gas is used to process parts oxide free and without burrs.
A small machine footprint was a requirement, as Braun’s new facility was designed in keeping with Lean Thinking principles. “Space savings was something we were looking for,” said Perfetti. “The Orion is about 50 percent smaller than comparable models, and that’s significant for us because we want to maximize the utilization of our new building, utilize the space as efficiently as possible, and keep it very lean.” The automated system handles large sheet sizes up to 120 in x 60 in x 0.47 in with overall system dimensions of 350 in x 259 in.
Before the laser, Braun outsourced most of its component parts from long-term supplier partners. As their business grew, Braun realized it was vital that a good portion of these components would be best sourced via their own fabrication operation. After eight months using the laser system, Braun has realized a significant increase in labor efficiency. The laser, which is combined with two press brakes to form a production cell, has allowed Braun to not only maximize the output of this cell, but do so with a nominal labor requirement.
Perfetti anticipates higher efficiency as Braun fully implements the automated and multilateral load/unload system. “We are just starting to use the load/unload,” explained Perfetti. “The system handles the processing of multiple sheets, different parts and materials with limited changeover time while our machine operator can begin forming parts.”
To produce the same amount of work from the fabrication cell in the past required four employees. After one month with the laser, that number dropped to three. With the use of automation, Perfetti expects labor requirements will be reduced to 2.5 employees.
Perfetti has also enhanced the load/unload unit to keep production at a continuous, uninterrupted pace for the full production shift. “We built two additional unload pallets for the system,” he explained. “When one job is complete, we can remove the pallet from the machine, put a new unload pallet down, load the machine with multiple sheets of steel, and start running it while our operator is sorting through the finished parts.” As a result of this efficiency, Braun can now turn a part in one hour that would have taken almost a day to produce.
LVD’s Orion 3015 Plus CO2 laser cutting system features a space-saving automated load/unload system. The system handles sheets as large as 120 in x 60 in with a maximum pallet capacity of 5511 lbs.
The majority of Braun’s flat sheet work is now processed on the laser. This includes a variety of guards, panels, and panel boxes ranging in size and complexity. For instance, Braun’s flatwork finishing systems and flatwork ironers used to feed, fold, and iron linen require a large amount of panels, including machine, control, and door panels, some with over 200 holes. Braun now uses the laser to accurately cut all panel components with a minimal amount of drop.
Braun’s Orion Plus model is equipped with Process Control, which automatically senses piercing times and detects and controls plasma when cutting stainless steel and aluminum. This enhanced feature maximizes processing time and minimizes part damage due to loss of cut, which means Braun’s panels are processed quickly and with consistent high quality.
Laser technology has also opened the door to greater flexibility. Braun uses the laser for research and development and to modify and improve part designs. “We manufacture the parts with tabs so that we can interlock the pieces together. It would have been too time consuming to do that before,” said Perfetti. “The laser offers us a better solution. We can take processes out of the fabrication operation. For instance, because we know we can get accurate parts, we may be able to design the part with a tighter tolerance, which makes forming and welding easier. We can R&D on the fly and find the best solution because there’s a minimal cost and investment to do this, whereas before there was a cost for the R&D, which could limit our creativity.”
While Braun will customize systems for its customers, to streamline products and minimize inventory, most of its products are designed to leverage common components and core design formats. This is done so that Braun can provide exceptional durability, product quality, and a cost-effective equipment solution to their end users.
“Because our run standards are now lower, we can carry a lower volume of parts on the shelf,” said Perfetti. “The set-up time on the laser is relatively small, and the laser will cut whatever the complexity of the part.” Braun has significantly reduced set-up time to an average of 15 minutes to load the material, set the correct nozzle and beam. Workflow through the sheet metal fabrication department is also improved and quality and safety issues are minimized. “With the laser we are able to prevent any quality disturbances because there is less human interaction with cutting the part out on the laser,” said Perfetti.
Laser technology was new to Braun but the learning curve proved to be shorter than expected. “The people in our fabrication shop never worked with laser equipment before,” explained Perfetti. “I expected the learning curve to be a lot larger than it was, but our employees have embraced the technology.” Automated features helped ease the transition to the new technology. The laser system is enhanced with automatic NC Focus which uses an AC servo motor to automatically adjust to the optimum focal position for the material being processed. Focal positions for a variety of materials are automatically determined by the machine’s on-board technology tables and automatically set using the NC Focus system. A built-in capacitive height sensor automatically maintains a constant distance between the head and the plate, compensating for any unevenness in the material.
Braun uses CADMAN programming software for bending and laser cutting. The software provides a single, integrated package for programming Braun’s laser and press brake, thus simplifying programming operations. It allows the programmer to import 2D and 3D DXF and IGES files or scanned drawings. The software reduces Braun’s cutting time by maximizing the cutting parameters for contours and shapes, and optimizing the piercing and cutting head height and positioning path. Automatic nesting and common-line cutting features help maximize material usage.
Braun’s investment in laser technology along with other strategic business initiatives has helped better position the company to handle a greater volume of work and provide a broader range of “smart” solutions to customers. “We continue to use every opportunity to cross train our staff, streamline our operations, and make both tangible and non-tangible investments in our company,” said Pamela Simonetti, director of marketing. “We’re better able to support our business because of this new machinery.”
“As we increase our sales, we have to support that growth on the fabrication side of the business by supplying our assembly operation with product in a timely manner,” said Perfetti. “The laser allows us to do that.” For Braun, laser technology has proven to be a smart solution.
Stefan Colle is product manager – Laser Machinery for LVD Strippit, Akron, NY. Visit the company online at www.lvdgroup.com.