Advances in automated laser tube cutting

Chester, NJ - Today, there are an estimated 1,000 automated laser based tube cutting systems installed primarily in Europe and North America with a growing number of recent installations in the Far East and South America. Total new installations are accelerating at a rate of approximately 20% per year. Estimates of the installed base in North America are 250 units from three major suppliers. New installations in the US are estimated to be in the range of 50 units per year in 2012/2013.

Most of these units are designed to handle and cut mechanical tubing up to 8" diameter. However, part of global growth will come from new larger systems capable of cutting tubes up to 20" diameter and 60' long for architectural and structural applications. This was an observation made by Jim Rutt, Managing Director of Prairie Partners, an international consulting firm in a recent wide ranging interview on the subject with Industrial Laser Solutions Editor-in-Chief David Belforte.

According to Rutt, "Laser-based tube cutting systems have proven to be the game-changer in the fabrication of mechanical and structural tubing. This CNC equipment with automated material handling is a standalone cutting center capable of consolidating up to six conventional fabrication steps into one continuous process on one machine." He calls them "tubing's lean manufacturing machines."

Rutt points out that these laser tubing cutters are capable of reducing direct and non-value added indirect labor by up to 75% by eliminating mechanical sawing, drilling, notching, punching, machining, and deburring. He points to additional process and economic benefits that include a reduction in downstream assembly costs by integrating self-locating features into components, reducing fixturing requirements, eliminating assembly errors, and minimizing welding interferences. He says notching and bending of tubular frame components can reduce welding requirements by up to 25%.

Rutt identifies a reason he believes needs to be publicized -- the laser tube cutter's ability to provide additional degrees of design freedom for the user's product development function. Because these systems are so fast, efficient, and flexible, they open up the opportunity for product designers to explore design alternatives that previously would have been rejected by their manufacturing staff as cost-prohibitive or not physically feasible based on the limitations of conventional fabrication equipment on their shop floor. "Given the importance of innovation in gaining a competitive edge, laser tube cutters can be an important tool for manufacturers of products designed with a substantial tubular content," he says.

Jim Rutt is a well-known veteran in the domestic and international metal fabrication field. His consultancy provides advice to OEMs and fabricators that need to improve tube fabrication productivity, implement cost reductions, and expand into new markets with the latest advances in fabrication technology. Email: j.rutt@prairieteam.com.



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