Fiber laser machine ensures lowest price for sheet metal cutter

After extensive research into fiber laser cutting machines on the market, McAuley Engineering conducted cutting trials at three potential suppliers.

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BALLYMONEY, COUNTY ANTRIM, NORTHERN IRELAND – McAuley Engineering is split into two divisions of approximately equal turnover. One is precision metal cutting and CNC tube bending, notably for the aerospace industry, as Bombardier Aerospace and Thompson Aerospace are customers. The oil, gas, and power generation industries are additional market sectors that the company supplies, from the North Sea to Nigeria, Brazil, and the Far East. The other manufacturing division encompasses sheet metal processing and fabrication using equipment that includes metal inert gas (MIG) and tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding, punch presses, press brakes, guillotines, a plasma cutting machine, and fiber laser cutter capable of cutting sheet up to 3 × 1.5m.

The transport and energy industries are the main recipients of the company's sheet metal parts and fabrications, as welding and assembly are becoming an important part of its business. The components can be found on the iconic Routemaster buses in London, as well as in the commercial haulage and rail industries in the UK, Ireland, Far East, and US. Aggregate crushing and screening has recently been added to the list of industries supplied.

Both the precision machining and fabrication sides of the business sprang from the company's frustration in the late 1990s at the slowness of external subcontract suppliers and the variable-quality components they supplied when they started building machinery for the electronics industry. The company was able to provide much better service in-house, and soon dropped machinery manufacture to concentrate on subcontract machining services to industry. They bought two punch presses in 2003 and 2005 for cutting and profiling components in sheet up to 2.5 × 1.25 and 4mm thick. Three years later, they purchased a plasma cutting machine for producing components from 8 × 2m stock.

Gradually, there was more requirement for higher-speed machining to increase throughput, raise competitiveness, and improve cut quality. However, the scalloped appearance of edges that nibbled on the punch presses was a particular problem when producing components for some customers.

The solution was introducing laser cutting technology. After extensive research into fiber laser cutting machines on the market, the company conducted cutting trials at three potential suppliers. The scope of the review encompassed not only capital investment, but also machine running costs such as power consumption, cutting gas usage, other consumable costs, and after-sales service. It led to a BySprint Fiber 3015 as the company's first laser cutting machine.

"Typically, 60% of our sheet metal throughput is aluminum, and we also process stainless steel and copper," says managing director Jonathan McAuley. "These reflective materials are cut much more efficiently using fiber laser technology than on a CO2 laser machine, which shaped our purchasing decision. We frequently profile light gauges down to 1mm and a fiber laser is well known to be several times faster when processing thinner materials up to 5mm. However, it was a customer's 15mm-thick, plasma-cut component that we asked the three potential fiber laser cutting machine suppliers to nest and cut out of a plate of aluminum."

"The Bystronic machine not only produced superior edge quality in the fastest time, but also had software that was the easiest to install and use," McAuley says. "The supplier's PowerCut technology increases the thickness of plate that can be cut by about 50%. We often process mild steel up to 25mm thick on the laser and the feature also raises profiling speed for these thicker materials. PowerCut increases cutting capacity in aluminum and stainless steel up to 30mm."

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McAuley Engineering added a ByTrans 3015 Extended material storage and handling system to automate sheet handling and enable lights-out operation.

To ensure that sheet metal is removed from the cutting area and replaced with a new sheet quickly, the company now automates its laser cutting by linking it with a ByTrans 3015 Extended material storage and handling system (FIGURE), as they are moving toward lights-out operation during the night shift.

For more information, please visit www.mcauleyengineering.co.uk.

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