Fiber laser helps clear the air

Fiber laser system aids in meeting increased demand for better indoor air quality

RSE Incorporated (New Baltimore, MI) has grown tenfold in the span of 20 years. As one of North America's oldest activated carbon filter manufacturers, it leads the industry on several fronts, including having the in-house expertise and equipment to design and build top-quality air filtration products. As the challenge of providing acceptable indoor air quality grows, RSE meets the needs of its OEM customers with standard and custom-designed activated carbon air filters manufactured using fiber laser technology. With a fiber laser cutting system, they can process most parts 60% faster.

Fresh air needs

Activated carbon filters absorb gases, odors, and contaminants, including potentially hazardous and possibly carcinogenic chemicals, in the air we breathe. The ambient air is circulated through the activated carbon filter and returned to the environment or discharged outside. This air filtration method, approved by the EPA, is widely preferred because of activated carbon's excellent absorption properties. As a result, it has broad application. RSE's products are all around us—from airports and school and office buildings to restaurants and casinos, and even morgues and wastewater treatment centers.

As air quality is a growing issue for public health, the economy, and the environment, RSE is experiencing a strong and growing demand for its products. Chief operating officer Charles McCormick explains that the company keeps its market edge by remaining close to its core business and staying current with the technology to manufacture its products efficiently. In November 2015, they made their entry into fiber laser cutting with a 2kW fiber laser machine, the Lynx FL manufactured by LVD Strippit (Akron, NY). After researching laser cutting systems, McCormick chose fiber laser technology (FIGURE 1) over conventional CO2 cutting.

FIGURE 1. LVD Strippit's Lynx FL 2kW fiber laser machine (a) allows carbon filter manufacturer RSE Incorporated to process most parts 60% faster. (b) shows the interior of the machine.

Balancing needs and budget

A full fab shop, RSE fabricates every component of its activated carbon air filters (FIGURE 2). The large housings and sheet metal modules that enclose the carbon panels require a lot of straight line cutting. These housings are made from up to 12-gauge thick material on a turret punch press, which McCormick planned to replace with a laser system to produce the housings more efficiently.

FIGURE 2. RSE fabricates all components in its activated carbon air filters, including the large housings (a, b) and sheet metal modules (c, d) that enclose the carbon panels.

The challenge was finding the right laser machine. As a small, family-owned business, McCormick weighed factors like capital investment, equipment upkeep, operating, and maintenance costs. The company employs 45 at its 35,000-sq-ft. facility in New Baltimore. A second 10,000-sq-ft. plant in nearby Clarkston, MI, is dedicated to manufacturing air filtration products for the military.

"When lasers started to become more affordable to a company of our size, I looked at CO2 lasers, but their upkeep and maintenance and the machine itself was just too much money," McCormick says. "Even the longest running laser resonator had to be replaced or refurbished every six years, which meant factoring in another $40,000 to $60,000 and a higher cost per hour to run the laser. The numbers were just too big."

Extensive research led him to fiber laser cutting technology. "When I finally looked at the Lynx fiber laser machine, I was astounded at how affordable it was," he says. The laser system struck the right balance of performance and price—it provided all the advantages of fiber laser technology in one of the most affordable fiber laser machines on the market.

The speed of the fiber laser and its low operating cost helped seal the decision. The fiber laser has much higher electrical efficiency than a CO2 system with 30% wall plug efficiency, so operating costs are lower. No moving parts or mirrors in the light-generating source reduces maintenance requirements and further lowers operating costs. It's estimated that the fiber laser system has 50% longer servicing intervals and 50% lower servicing costs than a CO2 system.

"The fiber laser is faster than the CO2 laser," McCormick says. "And the consumption rate of electricity and assist gases is low, so it made a lot of sense to choose the fiber laser over CO2."

Additionally, the compact size of the fiber laser system was a plus: RSE's main production facility is short on floor space and has limitations for growth imposed by the township.

Faster straight line cutting

In straight line cutting, the fiber laser is considerably faster than the company's high-speed punch press. "I've done numerous time studies comparing the fiber laser and the turret punch press and while the punch press is fast, the fiber laser is 60% faster in most programs," he says. "A program in 14-gauge stainless that used to take us 10 minutes, I'm doing in four minutes."

Faster cutting speeds means the company can turn around product in as short a time as possible. "Our customers love us because we can design and build just about anything they request and our turnaround is very fast," McCormick says. "We can turn around a new build in three to four weeks. The fiber laser has helped a lot with that. We have the equipment to handle the capacity and can add a second or third shift if needed."

Contributing to the speed of the fiber laser machine is an integrated shuttle table system. The operator can load one table while the machine is cutting on the other table. Total table change time is 35 s. An integrated Siemens IU CNC control and drive package ensures that RSE is able to achieve high part accuracy and repeatability even at high processing speeds.

More competitive than ever

McCormick has moved about 50% of its part fabrication to the fiber laser and is still in the process of transitioning more work to the machine. The simplicity of fiber laser technology minimizes training requirements. McCormick himself is trained on how to operate the laser system.

RSE expects the fiber laser will pay for itself in about 14–16 months. "It's an extremely fast payback," McCormick says. "Normally a payback in 2.5–4.5 years is considered good." The 2kW fiber laser system has proved to be a good fit for its fabrication needs, budget, and operating philosophy.

McCormick explains, "As a small family business, we work on low margins and have very low overhead. We also have the flexibility to go from one end of the design spectrum to the other, depending on the customer's needs, and to design and expedite very quickly. This is what our customers love about us and it's what keeps us super competitive."


STEFAN COLLE (scolle@strippit.com) is laser product sales manager at LVD Strippit, Akron, NY; www.lvdgroup.com.


A history of filtration

RSE Incorporated got its start in 1967 making range hood filters for the Sears Kenmore brand, running three shifts a day, six days a week. In the early 1970s, the company was approached to make activated carbon air filters and 10 years later began producing these products for other OEMs.

Carbon has been used to control odors and purify water for thousands of years, but the process of activating carbon only began in the past few hundred years. Activated carbon air filters are essentially canisters filled with granulated, activated carbon to remove odors and contaminants from the air. Different than furnace filters designed to remove particulate matter from the air, activated carbon air filters work on a molecular level by trapping the molecules inside the pores of the carbon.

Activated carbon filters are extremely effective in removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and controlling odors. RSE produces both standard and custom-designed carbon air filters and impregnated carbon products, and is especially recognized for its design and build capabilities.

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