Integra’s boost by fibre laser

Integra’s boost by fibre laser

On 15 April 2016, Integra Systems in Broadmeadows, Victoria, welcomed manufacturing industry and government representatives for the unveiling of a newly installed fibre-optic laser cutter – one of the few of its kind in Australia.

Twelve months down the track, AMT Magazine spoke to Paul Minty, Manufacturing Integration Manager at Integra Systems, about the company’s motivations for acquiring the new machine – a Salvagnini L5 fibre laser cutter installed by Machinery Forum – and how it has impacted operations.
 
AMT: What was the motivation for purchasing a fibre laser cutter?
Paul Minty: Our business was getting more and more focused on industrial designed products so we had a greater need to create interesting shapes with our metal cutting that went beyond our standard library of turret punches. This meant we were sending out more and more projects to surrounding laser cutters. While they were doing a good job, no one was using a fibre laser, so they weren’t quick enough for our prototyping cycle, which we could do within an hour if we were cutting out of the metal with our punching technology. We had really become addicted to that speed and agility.

Every time we would send something to an external cutter, the sample would take four or five days, and we’d lose all the momentum and excitement of the design that we had built up with our customer. It made sense to bring it in-house if we could find the right laser cutter because we were already spending on laser cutting, yet we weren’t getting the speed and turnaround we wanted.
 
AMT: So, is the appeal of a fibre laser in the speed?
PM: Yes, that’s the major benefit, and that it can produce complex designs. Our particular fibre  laser cutter has got a unique laser source that moves the beam around the top of the sheets – a compass head – which allows it to do very fast circular motions so it can create really small holes, almost as fast as you can punch the holes into a sheet of metal.

When you’re punching, you go straight through and you force the hole. The hole is the same shape as your tool. With laser cutting, you’ve got to pierce a tiny little hole and then go the whole way around the perimeter of the shape. So a normal laser cutter is very slow compared to punching holes. But, this fibre laser cutter – with its unique laser source and its compass head – is almost as quick as a turret punch so suddenly we could get the performance we wanted and we could control it in-house.

AMT: Apart from the laser source, are there any other notable features?
PM: One side of the machine opens up, like a huge six-foot roller door. As soon as we cut something, we can walk inside the machine, inspect it, pull it out and actually use it. That’s just so much faster than other conventional laser cutters where you’ve got no access to the cutting bed, and you have to change materials back and forward. We’ve always done a lot of aluminium and steels but now we can cut copper and brass, which has opened up some opportunities for us.

When a customer comes to visit us, they’re not necessarily as technically proficient in the same way as us, so we have to make the design and prototyping collaboration as accessible and as immediate as possible to keep them actively engaged. Being able to walk inside the laser cutter and – a couple of seconds later – grab the actual part is really exciting for both us and the customer.
 
AMT: Has bringing the laser cutting in-house met your expectations?
PM: It has exceeded them. We got rid of one turret punching machine so we could accommodate the laser cutter. It has has done all of the external laser cutting we were doing, plus the work of the older turret punch, and it has been more versatile than we initially thought. It’s even doing some of the work we thought we’d keep on the punching machines. So, yeah, it’s exceeded our initial expectations.

Most importantly for us, our prototyping cycles have come down considerably in time. We’re probably prototyping three times as much every month. We’ve been getting such a great knock-on effect to our sales – the more we prototype, the more likely we are to land high-value jobs, and the more likely we are to be considered for things people may have thought were too hard. At the very least, customers will now let us have a go at making those ‘too hard’ projects real.
 
AMT: Are there any project examples in particular that you can talk about in more detail?
PM: Well, we couldn’t have created our Integra TransFrom BioSmart units or our TouchSmart kiosk collection if we didn’t have the laser cutter in-house. These products demand quite intricate geometries that the laser cutter was able to do quickly. And, because we could control it in-house, we could try out our ideas on the laser without any fuss or extra cost, and validate whether we were going in the right direction. As you can imagine, prototyping results in a lot of messing around and you really need to be able to actively experiment, which the laser cutter allows us to do.
 
AMT: What about external project examples?
PM: We manufacture a point-of-sale system that is used in big hardware retail stores. With this particular job, we inherited the design, which used a very heavy plate of steel – not our preferred design because it was a slow and expensive procedure for us to work with. But when we started using our fibre laser cutter, we were able to bring a whole new manufacturing technology to this project.

The heavy steel plate had a very intricate cut-out to it. We could redesign the cut-out to be produced a lot quicker, and we could do that because we’d learnt the intricacies of laser cutting by having our own machine in-house. The fibre laser is a very clean cut so it has enabled us to do small, curved cuts through thick steel at high speed. When they come to be needed, they’re needed in the thousands, so to cut them quicker and cut them with a better finish really adds up in cost and time-savings.

We had not expected to do heavy steels when we started doing our own laser cutting, but when we realised we could so effectively, it opened up opportunities to manufacture an existing product much cheaper than our competitors were doing.
 
AMT: What can you tell us about Integra Systems’ future plans for laser cutting?
PM: Because our prototyping cycle has got so quick, our next investment is in an upgraded quality management system and upgraded design information system. Our CAD software, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and document controls are all being integrated at the moment, which is a hefty investment but we need to keep the data flowing down to the production tools as accurately and quickly as possible. We hadn’t expected that – we thought we’d finally allowed the factory to catch up with the design team’s thinking, but now the design team has to get their designs together a lot quicker and to manage a heap more data because of all the opportunities we’ve opened up in terms of design for clients.
www.machineryforum.com.au
www.integrasystems.com.au