Laser cutting and welding lights up Fabtech

In November, I'll be attending my 25th Fabtech event - today's most important North American exhibition of metal forming, fabricating, welding, and finishing equipment.

In November, I'll be attending my 25th Fabtech event, which has grown from a 1981 regional tradeshow into today's most important North American exhibition of metal forming, fabricating, welding, and finishing equipment—this year, it will be held in Las Vegas. Many of us will recall, with fondness, the early days at the cozy Rosemont exhibition halls, near O'Hare airport. It was there when we started pushing the relatively new laser sheet metal cutting technology in a venue where we weren't being overwhelmed by more conventional machine tools.

In 1993 at Rosemont, I presented an invited SME paper on "Fabrication in the Future," where I estimated the total global number of installed laser sheet metal cutters at 3500 units (I was off a bit—the actual number was double that). I encouraged my audience to look forward to an expanding market, replacing the older units in operation since 1985. This was said as a pep talk because it was the year of the long-awaited economic recovery after the oil shock of 1979-80. Today, it is estimated that more than 102,000 laser sheet metal cutters have been installed globally, with more than half of these in Asia.

For the curious, dating back to 1980 when I started compiling data on laser systems for flat sheet cutting, global sales show Japan with 42% (due mainly to that country's dominance in the last decade), followed by Europe at 26%, North America at 16%, Asia (mainly China) at 13%, and the rest of the world at 3%.

I may be laser-centric, but it seems to me that laser cutting—especially fiber laser cutting—has been the most exciting technology on the floor at Fabtech and at other similar tradeshows around the globe. At Fabtech this year, at least 18 manufacturers of laser cutting systems will be showing products. Look for an increase in fiber laser power to a standard 8kW, which will push cutting thickness capacity to 25mm (and higher), leading lasers into the province of plasma cutting.

So, in this issue, Brett Thompson of TRUMPF shows how an 8kW laser cutting system is both fast and reliable (see p. 23), and Lynn Sheehan of nLIGHT describes high-brightness fiber laser cutting of stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and mild steel (see p. 19).

Because Fabtech includes a large American Welding Society (AWS) welding show, we focus on two laser welding articles: Tim Morris of Blackbird Robotics, Inc. explains how manufacturers exploit the benefits of remote laser welding to more efficiently weld (see p. 14), and Tony Hoult of IPG Photonics presents fiber laser joining material combinations considered close to impossible because of metallurgical problems in the weld zones (see p. 27).

In the area of additive manufacturing-another hot topic at Fabtech this year—minor changes in focus or variations in laser output power can significantly affect results quality. Sean Bergman of Coherent reviews beam monitoring technology that allows beam issues to be identified and corrected before they seriously impact results (see p. 9).

Again, as has been the case in most of the Fabtech shows I have attended, laser processing technology will be an attraction to a large percentage of attendees.

David A. Belforte
belforte@pennwell.com

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