Shop doubles it's volume by shifting from Plasma to Laser

Shop doubles it's volume by shifting from Plasma to Laser

December 11, 2013 9:57:27 AM

As a third-generation welder, Dave Braatz knows fabrication. He used a lifetime of experience to open his own shop in 1996. Braatz Welding, LLC, has been growing ever since, specializing in manufacturing component parts for the snowplow, forestry, mill maintenance, ship, fire and garbage truck industries. Today the 15-manfirm operates from a recently expanded 17,000 square-foot facility in the Northern Wisconsin town of Shawano.

“We had always used plasma to cut our parts,” Braatz explains. “We had a plasma table equipped with an oxyfuel torch, along with an ironworker and drill presses to produce the part quality our customers required.” While it had its positive aspects, one downside to plasma was the manual labor necessary for secondary operations such as punching, drilling and grinding. “It was valuable time that shop personnel could have been using to fabricate the parts.” 

In late 2003, Braatz purchased his first laser from MC Machinery’s Encore program. The option to buy a warranted, re-conditioned3.5kW laser at a price within their budget made the transition from plasma possible. The results were immediate. The laser cut faster, more accurately and with less bevel. Complex shapes and small holes were now possible. Setup times fell, as well as consumable costs. “We were able to produce more parts per hour without adding employees for secondary operations.” The result: Shop sales doubled in less than a year after the purchase of the laser. 

Braatz credits Mitsubishi's support, follow-up and on-site applications training by their local distributor, AMS-Wisconsin, as factors in their rapid success. “Given that we were new to lasers, there's no way that we could have hit the ground running had we just gone with a laser off the used market.” Operator/programmer Greg Nemetz was put in charge of the project. Braatz says, “Greg has really learned a lot about the technology in a short amount of time.

“A year later, I was facing greater demand from our customers than a stand-alone laser could provide,” Braatz recalls. “I was looking for more than one shift of cutting without having to staff a second shift.” This led to the decision to purchase a second laser from Mitsubishi – a new LVP-3015 equipped with Mitsubishi's 4kW 40CFX resonator and EL4load/unload system. The EL4 provides full automation with 1” mild steel capacity. 

“Mitsubishi's EL4 system answered my need for unmanned production,” Braatz says. TheEL4 can cut up to 22,000 lbs. of steel “lights out.” And with two motorized carts for raw material and two for finished parts, the EL4remains in operation even when changing raw material pallets or removing nests.

“The accessibility of the four-cart system is a big advantage over those that just offer two carts,” Braatz explains. “And once jobs have been scheduled on Ncell's Cell Controller, the system runs itself around the clock.”

According to Nemetz, the lasers have also broadened their work envelope. “We used to plasma from 16 gauge to 1/2”plate, now we laser cut from shim stock to 1”. Nemetz has been particularly impressed with the heavier parts coming off the new 4kW LVP. “One of our customers asked if we had a 6kW laser, because our 1” part quality was better than another supplier who has a 5kW.” When it comes to plate cutting, more wattage isn't necessarily the answer. “Mitsubishi's cross flow resonator is ideal for plate. We get great edge quality and parts that aren't welding back to the remnant.”

Overall, Dave Braatz says switching from plasma to laser was one of the best decisions he's ever made for his company. “Two years ago, we never thought we'd own a laser – period. A year ago, we never thought we'd own two lasers. It astonishes me that a shop our size has two lasers. Mitsubishi's accuracy, dependability and low maintenance have clearly impacted our production and increased our part quality.” 

Braatz is optimistic when looking to the future. “Our process of manufacturing parts has risen to a higher level. The increase in business the lasers has brought to us is huge. My goal is to bring in enough new work to have our automation running24/7. With faster turnaround and unmatchable quality, the possibilities are limitless.”


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