Long-bed laser is the right fit for separator manufacturer
The industry's largest high-speed laser is bringing big changes to Midwestern Industries, a leading maker of screening and particle separation equipment. Chip Painter, vice president of manufacturing, says, "We're producing components faster in fewer operations and to greater accuracy for better fit and easier weld-up." After no previous experience with lasers, the Massillon, Ohio-based company moved aggressively into laser cutting in both machine size and performance, selecting a linear-motor-drive CL-707 laser cutting center with optional 8x20-foot dual interchangeable pallets from Cincinnati Incorporated (Cincinnati; www.e.ci.com). The massive laser was installed near year-end 2003 and began turning out production parts in less than a week.
Figure 1. This massive laser processes Midwestern's full range of part sizes and shapes quickly, in only a few operations, and at a high degree of accuracy for better fit and easier weld-up.
"Big size was a necessity for us," says Painter. The company is a full-line manufacturer of separator systems (see Figure 1) used widely across industry—everything from food and pharmaceutical production to mineral and chemical processing—and its vibratory separation machines and screens vary greatly in size and shape (see Figure 2). The Massillon plant manufactures nearly all the components, including machine side panels up to 16 feet long and circular trays up to 60 inches in diameter.
Figure 2. Side panels on rectangular separators are produced on the laser in one step, compared to five or six different operations previously.
Midwestern needed high positioning and cutting speed to minimize processing time. It needed large pallet capacity to cover its full part-making requirements, maximize part processing versatility, and achieve part nesting efficiencies. "Only Cincinnati made a machine that could meet our requirements," says Painter, whose company had a strong track record with Cincinnati from five machines—four press brakes and a shear—and outstanding service and support.
Midwestern prides itself on its quality, but providing it traditionally took a lot of special attention, first in applying templates to mark out material to be processed, and then in secondary operations such as drilling and edge finishing, Painter explains. Laser part programs have eliminated templates, while the laser's precision virtually did away with drilling and edge finishing. "We used to plasma-cut contoured parts, which left dross, burrs, and rough edges," says Painter (see Figure 3). "Edge cleaning was very involved and affected two-thirds of all the parts we processed, so edge quality was a major issue."
Figure 3. The difference in accuracy and edge quality between laser and plasma-cut parts.
He notes that side panels for large rectangular separators used to require template layout, shearing, torch cutting of large holes for shaft mounting, drilling of smaller holes, and treatment of edges. "We used to handle a part five or six times to get a completed side panel," says Painter. "Now we do everything in a single operation on the laser."
The laser not only performs all cutting and hole-making operations in one routine, but also etches components for locating and welding of attachment pieces, as well as the part number for each component.
"We've essentially eliminated drilling, taken the errors and fit-up adjustments out of assembly, and made welders' work so much easier," says Painter. The company also has begun using laser capabilities to add tabs and slots to certain parts to simplify assembly.
Two-thirds of Midwestern's production is in round-type separators. "We do lots of circles, arcs, radii, contours, and curves that are ideal for laser cutting," Painter notes. "We just don't do a lot of straight cutting." The material processed on the laser is a split of 60/40 between mild steel and stainless. Material ranges in thickness from 28 gauge to 7/8-inch. Midwestern stocks sheets from 4×8 feet to 8×20 feet and lets the nesting software fit the parts to be processed to the most efficient sheet size. "By being able to use full-size 8×20 sheets, a standard mill size, we get some cost economies," says Painter.
Midwestern weaves most of its screens from wire, but some are cut out of plate on the laser. "We used to do these by perforation," Painter says. "The laser eliminates that extra operation and its tooling and enables us to do custom patterns that would be costly to punch. On one special order, it took only part of a morning to program and laser-cut 14,000 holes in a 5-foot-square plate."
Besides production and custom work, Midwestern also does prototyping on the CL-707. "The laser makes prototyping easier, faster, and cheaper," says Painter. "In 20 minutes, a half-hour tops, we can have a part to evaluate."
Before the laser was delivered, Painter and the laser's two operators, Ryan Valentine and Tim Wolfe, went to Cincinnati's headquarters for operator and programming classes. "The programming and nesting software is excellent," says Painter. "We can go from CAD drawing to runing on the machine in five minutes."
The two operators work the same shift and switch back and forth between programming and running the laser. Bringing an operator's perspective to programming is a great advantage, they say. They know where to pierce, what lead-in approaches will work best, and how to apply shortcuts to the laser cutting.
Midwestern presently runs the CL-707 8 to 10 hours a day, five days a week. "We planned going in that we also would use the laser to do outside work," says Painter. "We've brought people in to see the laser and have taken on some jobs, but didn't want to push it real hard until we had converted our internal parts over to the laser and felt confident in our laser-cutting proficiency. We're getting close now."
The material in this article was provided by Cincinnati Inc. (www.e.ci.com).