Enthusiasm, guarded optimism at Fabtech 2012

Las Vegas, NV - In the aftermath of this year's Fabtech, Industrial Laser Solutions editors are poring through notes and scheduling follow-up chats and visits. Overall the show appears to have been a very good success for everyone (including ourselves), from exhibitors to attendees to the show organizers and supporters themselves. Unofficially we were told that Fabtech surpassed its goal of ~25,000 total attendees, and that Monday's attendance set a record for the first day of any Fabtech, ever (this is seemingly confirmed).

As we canvassed the entire show corner-to-corner from the Central (fabrication) to North (welding) halls, exhibitors were nearly unanimous in their enthusiasm for this year's show, both in volume and quality of attendees, a general enthusiasm and optimism reflecting the tone of EuroBlech two weeks prior. Both shows' positive takeaways are reminiscent of the environment felt during late 2008 -- though one hopes what happened immediately thereafter won't repeat this time.

Most Fabtech participants we interviewed offered summaries of their companies' 2012 results with just a few weeks remaining in the year, and their initial expectations for 2013. We'll be including those insights in our forthcoming market review and forecast, to be presented at the Laser Marketplace Seminar at Photonics West, and in our January-February issue of ILS.

Here's a quick sampling of the intriguing new products and compelling applications for industrial laser material processing we ran across at Fabtech. In the coming months we'll be following up on a number of other themes and technologies we unearthed during the show. (Here's one tidbit we heard about over and over: lasers, aluminum, and autos.)

  • IPG's LSS-2 laser clamping/welding system aims to replace resistance spot welds (power up to 4 kW, fixed focal length 250-300 mm), capable of making up to a 40 mm long laser wobble seam. Another version (LSS-3) shown on the show floor was hooked to a Kuka gantry system, sporting a Volkswagen logo. IPG also showed a new flatbed cutting platform (100 W to multi-kW) with 1.25 x 125 m XY travel.

  • Playing up its theme of "American built, building America," Hypertherm debuted its HFL030, a 3 kW fiber laser system designed specifically for metal laser cutting applications. It's a horsepower-upgrade from the past two years of fiber systems (1 kW, 2 kW, and 1.5 kW), using the same cutting head, gas console, and beam delivery, but emphasizes integration of the controller, lifter, and CAD/CAM. The company's fiber laser cutter was also on display at AKS' booth -- read about their story in the latest issue of ILS -- and a rep said a Canadian firm is using the system as well.

  • We had a long talk with TeraDiode, whose booth was just down the aisle from ILS. The company debuted its TeraBlade 2000, a 2 kW ultrahigh-brightness direct-diode laser (four 600 W modules) for cutting steel and other metals. Beta shipments are scheduled for 1Q13 to multiple customers, and the company confirmed this includes commercial customers. The system is scalable up to 6 kW, with higher-power systems to be introduced in coming quarters.

  • Trumpf's TruLaser 5030 fiber with 5 kW TruDisk solid-state laser (fiber-delivered) made its North American debut, able to cut mild steel up to 1-in. and at multiple-times-faster speeds vs. CO2 systems. We also spent time in the Trumpf Cafe, watching a live video of a laser welding application in the company's Plymouth, MI facility.

  • Lincoln Electric/Wayne Trail talked about an imminent delivery of its first hybrid laser welder to a stamping company, one that has never welded before -- ILS will feature this story early next year. The company talked up their technology as "2D-plus" for coating with metallurgical bonds, e.g. buildup to protect against coating and abrasion for applications including oil sands and deepwater drilling. "It doesn't take much to save millions of dollars," a rep explained.

  • Haco Atlantic was slated to show its Laser Plus, a high-precision laser cutting system built in collaboration with Cutlite Penta, usable with both CO2 and fiber lasers from 2-6 kW. When we stopped by early in the week, though, the system was not yet delivered to the show. (Another company we visited had a large empty "social space" in its booth, which we guessed was a planned tool display that didn't materialize; we found out this particular system was stuck in New York during Sandy, and the condition of its storage facility and the tool itself was as yet undetermined.)

  • Bystronic presented its new BySprint 3015 fiber laser cutter (which debuted at EuroBlech) and BySoft 7 automation software.

  • American Biltrite showed its LaserRite protective film, an all-white rubber-adhesive backing that protects sheet metal in the laser-cutting process.

  • We ran into St. Louis Metallizing, a Missouri shop offering laser cladding for metal and ceramic coatings -- using a 4 kW Coherent direct-diode laser, they told us.



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