Forty-five years ago, in the Journal of the Fabricator (Volumes 4 and 5, 1974) and from the podium of the First National Modern Machining Processes Conference (Chicago, IL – September 1974), I coined the term “A Bright Light in the Fabricating Shop” as I introduced the concept of laser cutting sheet metal into North America. Frankly, it took some hubris or audacity to do this.
I had just returned to the U.S. from Scotland, where my new colleagues at Ferranti Ltd. had introduced me to laser cutting sheet metal by virtue of an installation at a European office machine manufacturer that was using their 450 W powered CO2 laser to cut 1/8th-in.-thick low carbon steel at 60 in/min. to handle low-volume production. Later, working with Plascut in Rotherham, England, Ferranti mounted one of these lasers on a cantilevered arm plasma torch machine, and using an optical follower tracing system, cut profiles in 1/8th-in.-thick stainless steel at 40 IPM. I followed suit by installing a demonstration laser profile cutter in the Ferranti Electric application lab here in the U.S. and started generating copious press releases on this ‘brilliant’ new cutting technology.
While it was easy to attract numbers of interested fabricators to the apps lab, it wasn’t until a few years later at a FABTECH show in Chicago that a Strippit combination laser/turret punching system, mounting a Photon Sources 1 kW CO2 laser, demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of a programmable controller with a more powerful laser and success began for laser sheet metal cutting. From that time forward, more than 100,000 flat sheet metal cutters with output power ranging from 1 to 10 kW have been installed globally, with about 16% of these in the U.S. So, I think instead of hubris, maybe I was a just a prophet before my time.
Credit for this reminiscence goes to Tim Heston, a fellow editor at The Fabricator who, in preparation for the 50th anniversary of that publication, ran across the articles referred to above, and recently reminded me of their significance.