Laser cutting drives subcontractor growth

Laser 24's 10 kW fiber laser cutting machine is twice as fast as previous fiber machines and over 3X more productive than its old equipment.

Shown is one of Laser 24's 10 kW ByStar Fiber laser cutting machines on the shop floor.
Shown is one of Laser 24's 10 kW ByStar Fiber laser cutting machines on the shop floor.

In 2001, Iain Summerfield started working at a sheet metal subcontractor, sweeping the floor and loading material onto four Bystronic carbon dioxide (CO2) flat-bed laser cutting machines. Three months later, he had reorganized the firm's production processes, and started programming and operating the lasers.

In mid-2008, with co-director Paul Kin, they set up their own company, Laser 24 (Wickford, England), to provide similar subcontract services. Ten years later, the company has grown to employ 26 staff and has added CNC bending to its capacity. 

As a result of previous experience with the user-friendly software, Laser 24's first purchase was a second-hand BySprint 3015 1.8 kW CO2 laser cutting machine, which ran 24/7 in a 3500-sq-ft. factory unit in Wickford. An early contract was the production of 5000 decorative aluminum sheet snowflakes for a Christmas display at Harrods department store in London. 

Over the years, even with more powerful CO2 laser cutting machines operational on the shop floor, it became apparent that for cutting stainless steel and aluminum, it was impossible for CO2 lasers to compete with fiber lasers, which were more efficient at processing reflective materials.  

So in 2015, one of the CO2 machines was exchanged for Laser 24's first fiber laser cutting machine, automated with a ByTrans Extended sheet handling system. Shortly after, the company moved into new premises, almost doubling its size. 

The effectiveness of fiber laser cutting was immediately apparent and a wider range of materials could be processed, resulting in new work being won. By mid-2018, the company had attached a 10 kW ByStar Fiber to the ByTrans, which was joined by a second identical production cell six months later. Laser 24 is the only company in the south of England to operate a pair of such powerful sheet metal cutting centers. 

The latest machines, under BySoft 7 control software, produce a clean cut edge on thicker, even reflective materials up to 30 mm. It is also economical, as it more than halves the volume of assist gas consumed. The 10 kW fiber is twice as fast as previous fiber machines and over 3X more productive than the old CO2 equipment. Laser 24 can now cut 10 mm mild steel sheet at around 5 m/min on the 10 kW machine, mainly using nitrogen as the assist gas. The best that the company could achieve with the old CO2 lasers in the same material was 1.5 m/min. 

With the 10 kW fiber laser, there is sufficient power to use air rather than oxygen as the assist gas for certain jobs. This results in an edge quality indistinguishable from oxygen assist when cutting material up to 1.5 mm thick and is still acceptable for thicknesses up to 3 mm. A further benefit is the ability to guarantee the edge quality on both sides of a sheet when cutting coated material. Maximum cutting capacities of the 10 kW fiber laser are 25 mm mild steel, 30 mm stainless steel and aluminum, 15 mm brass, and 12 mm copper.  

Two additional software modules within BySoft 7, Plant Manager and ByCockpit, are accelerating the transition to a paperless working environment this process. 

Plant Manager is an analysis, planning, and monitoring module that automatically assesses machine and job data so that parts can be cut and bent more quickly, at a lower cost, and without errors. ByCockpit monitors, in real time, all processes taking place within Bystronic laser cutting machines and generates status reports while machines are actually producing parts, allowing production output to be continually optimized.  

Laser 24's customers are in a wide range of sectors, including automotive, aerospace, marine, yellow goods, construction, retail, catering, signmaking, and general engineering. 

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