Set it and forget it

Set it and forget it

December 10, 2013 2:28:29 PM

Boyd Dittmer was frustrated. After nearly 20 years of co-owning job shop metals fabricator BR Metal Technology, Menomonee Falls, Wis., with his brother Rick, his shop floor was filled with the cacophony of unrealized potential. The company had eight noisy and problematic CNC turret machines and one headache-inducing, manually operated laser machine. As a result, material edges were too sharp, tooling problems were too frequent and setup times were too lengthy, all of which was cutting into valuable production time and inhibiting output. 

Enter John Wettstein, of Northland Laser, Milwaukee, a Mitsubishi Laser distributor, who introduced Dittmer to an automated Mitsubishi Laser system. 

BR Metal is a job shop metals fabricator with long- and shortrun precision punching, stamping, bending, forming, shearing and welding capabilities. It also manufactures electronics storage equipment. With its breadth of capabilities, simplified, reliable and efficient cutting equipment was necessary.

“We’d seen other laser machines, and we weren’t comfortable with them in terms of their reliability or their maintenance expenses or upkeep,” says Dittmer. “Mitsubishi had more run time per hour versus disposable parts that you’d have to fix. We liked how their whole system was coordinated, as well as the software that went with it, for our nesting programs.”

Now, two years later, BR Metal has just two remaining turret presses, replacing the rest with two lasers running together in its efficient Mitsubishi Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS), complete with Ncell software. And that unrealized potential is beginning to materialize—the company’s production is up more than 50 percent, while maintenance and labor costs are down significantly.



Plus Eliminates the Minuses


“Mitsubishi makes the entire machine,” says Jeff Hahn, national product manager for Mitsubishi Laser. “We’re not an integrator. We make the machine tool, we make the resonator, we make the servo amps—we make everything. You have a one-source service solution.”

While BR Metal’s FMS laser system uses Mitsubishi’s popular LVPlusII 2-D laser series, earlier this year, MC Machinery announced its new LVPlusII laser, which comes with two new technologies: BrilliantCUT and Jet Pierce.

BrilliantCUT is for stainless steels in the 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch range and enhances edge quality through reduced taper and less discoloring in heat-affected areas. Jet Pierce is for mild steels and reduces heat on the plate. It also allows for smaller part geometry by piercing material faster during small-hole processing. 

At the heart of the LVPlusII series of lasers is Mitsubishi’s internally developed and manufactured Cross-Flow resonator. The resonator’s three-axis, cross-flow design contains no expensive quartz glass tubes or roots blower systems, and it uses up to 90 percent less gas, resulting in lower maintenance time and the industry’s lowest cost of ownership. 

“Mitsubishi has a low cost of operation and low laser gas usage, and it doesn’t have what’s called a simmer current,” says Wettstein. “When the head picks up and is moving from hole to hole, or you’re between jobs, the laser goes dark and consumes little power at idle. Most lasers keep going. The Mitsubishi Cross-Flow resonator pours less heat into the nest when cutting carbon steel with oxygen than a fast-axial flow resonator. The fact that it cuts cooler makes it great on plate and enables some owners to nest parts closer together, increasing their yield.”

Serving Solutions

Mitsubishi Lasers are serviced through a regionalized service program that offers more personal and immediate responses to queries and troubleshooting issues. The company also offers many benefits in conjunction with a machine’s warranty period. 

“We try to help companies make money with our machines however we can,” says Hahn. “For example, the customer can send an unlimited number of people to training classes for the warranty period of their machine. On our Web site, if you’re a member—and you’re automatically a member for your warranty period—you get detailed part drawing and wiring diagrams, along with technical Information.” For BR Metal, MC Machinery’s service has been exceptional the few times it’s been needed. “The machine is always up and running,” says Dittmer. 

Automatic Results

Integrating an automated laser system into a job shop isn’t necessarily a no-brainer for companies that are wary or skeptical of automation. 

“The mindset is that automation really isn’t viable for the average job shop,” says Wettstein. “You have to eventually do something with the parts anyway, so why let them stack up overnight or the weekend? What they don’t see is how much higher the productivity and the green-light time is for an automated laser.”

BR Metal was able to reduce the number of manned shifts and increase capacity.

In 2005, BR Metal bought its first Mitsubishi FMS laser system and because of its extensive usage and minimal problems, a second laser was added a year later, a step made easier by the system’s modular design. Since then, BR Metal has never looked back.

Today, the lasers run seven days a week, around the clock, with two unmanned shifts. The company’s scrap savings have notably improved, having gone from about 70 percent use of a sheet to upward of 95 percent use. Also, its workforce has been trimmed by eight employees, and it saves anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 a month in CNC tooling costs alone.

Two years after purchasing the Mitsubishi Lasers, the harsh sound of unrealized potential has faded, replaced by the sweeter tones of success.

Dittmer isn’t frustrated anymore. If anything, he’s downright excited. “We thought the laser was expensive at the beginning, but the payoff has just been fantastic,” he says. “It’s been two years, and we've pretty much had it paid for in cost savings, and it just keeps on running and running.”


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