Stuttgart, Germany—The first LASYS—the international trade fair for system solutions in laser materials processing—held here March 4 through 6 at the new Stuttgart trade fair center—hosted 195 exhibitors presenting their innovations and developments relating to the use of laser technology. The three-day exhibition attracted some 3700 attendees, 27 percent of who came from outside of Germany (primarily Switzerland, France, Italy, Japan, and Sweden). Despite a strike by airport staff and public transportation workers on two of the three show days, Sandy Zorn, LASYS team leader, says “We clearly exceeded our target figures.”
Feedback from attendees also was positive. Dr. Gerd Schöllhammer, head of laser technology marketing at TRUMPF Laser, said, “We had some excellent contacts, especially on the first two days. We held some first-rate discussions.” And Thorsten Frauenpreiss, managing director of Rofin Sinar Laser, Hamburg, agreed. “We were totally satisfied with the outcome of the trade fair. There was keen interest in turnkey systems, especially for microprocessing and marking. The expertise of visitors was very good.”
Attendees were mainly interested in laser applications, product solutions, laser production systems for micro/macro-laser materials processing, and precision engineering as well as related components. Visitors came from more than 30 industries, including motor vehicle construction, electrical engineering and electronics, glass, wood, plastics, mechanical engineering, medical technology, optical, jewelry, textile, packaging, and tool making/mold making. This cross-section of attendees represents the impressive range of applications of lasers.
Although a definite date has not been set for the next event, organizers are looking toward a March 2010 time frame. For more information, visit www.lasys-messe.de.
Laser cut trailer parts
Litchfield, MN—Variety was on the mind of Harlan Palm, who ran Palm Industries on the prairie farmlands of Litchfield, MN. Palm’s business was making rollover protection for tractors and equipment, but he also saw a need for low-deck-height trailers for skit-steer loaders, so he designed the first Towmaster pan-style trailers. Originally there were two models: 5000- and 7000-lb capacity.
Palm Industries was sold in the early 1970s, but Harlan kept the trailer portion of the business, and in the early 1980s he began manufacturing them on his farm in Gove City, MN, under the company Palm Sales. During this time, Palm began developing a skid-steer loader attachment, which grew into several different types. Both the attachment and trailer sales grew to the point where, in 1994, the company split into Palm Attachments and Towmaster. Palm Attachments was sold a few years later to Bobcat, and Towmaster moved to the old Palm Industries facility in Litchfield. Trailer sales grew to where Towmaster now produces several models that range in capacity from 2000 to 120,000 lb.
By 1998, Towmaster had become an employee-owned operation and, today, Towmaster trailers are sold in all 50 states, as well as Canada and Mexico. Dozens of trailer models and numerous options are available, but the “sweet spot” is the 10,000- to 12,000-lb capacity range. “We build and sell a lot in that capacity range,” says David Lundin, vice president of operations. “That’s a popular size for the landscape and rental industry.”
Product diversification and sales growth has been behind numerous expansions and additions to Towmaster’s Litchfield headquarters and plant. “When I joined the company, we were building trailers one at a time out of the machinery building in Grove City,” Lundin explains. Now there are seven full lines capable of producing 25 trailers a day, with such fabricating processes as a two-head plasma cutter, robotic welding, a hydraulic jig fixture that can flip trailers over, and a computer-controlled painting and coatings operation.
Towmaster’s dual-head plasma cutter produces between 20 and 30 different components per trailer model out of plate steel. These parts go on to subsequent forming and assembly operations. “Plasma-processing equipment was becoming expensive to own and operate, and we had the idea to start looking at lasers about two-and-a-half years ago,” Lundin says. “We started out not knowing a lot, but as we did the research, we saw the potential for better fit-up on our parts, fewer consumables, and the possibility of approaching a lights-out operation with a flexible manufacturing system” (FMS).
Lundin and Towmaster ultimately selected a Super Turbo Mark II laser cutting system with a 4000-W resonator from Mazak Optonics (Schaumburg, IL, USA). “The cut quality is higher on the laser cutter and we save time by setting up jobs on our FMS equipped with a ten-shelf tower,” Lundin explains. Once the raw material is loaded onto the shelves, no additional labor is required to process and finish parts. While the laser is cutting, line-controller software automatically locates and retrieves the material for the next job and downloads nested cutting programs and material thickness to the laser’s CNC. “We run the laser three shifts, partially unmanned on third shift, and lights-out on weekends,” Lundin says.
Not only is the company saving a lot of labor costs with laser processing, parts fit up better and tolerances are closer in subsequent operations. “It works great,” says Lundin, “and we’re finding other parts and applications we can redesign for the laser. We’re even using it to laser-etch certain specialty parts. We’re learning more every day.”