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Bigger and better solutions for plate working

LVD Company N.v. : 10 January, 2005  (Technical Article)
The latest generation of powerful laser processing systems are starting to transform the way that companies are approaching plate working.
The latest generation of powerful laser processing systems are starting to transform the way that companies are approaching plate working. In the 15 to 25mm thickness range lasers not only remove the need for separate profiling, punching, machining and drilling operations, but they also provide a high quality part for follow-on operations such as forming and welding.

LVD has taken this a stage further with the development of its very large table Impuls machines. By incorporating twin cutting tables up to 12,5 m by 3 m, the latest Impuls systems can process up to sixteen 3m by 1.5m plates with no manual intervention and produce components up to 12 m long. When combined with a large CNC press brake this makes for a very flexible solution for producing large semi-finished components. Other models of Impuls lasers with large table capacities are the Impuls 6530 which handles workpieces up to 6.5m x 3m, and the Impuls 8030 for 8m x 3m sheets. Impuls laser cutting systems are available with GE Fanuc 4 kW or 6 kW laser resonators.

One company taking advantage of this technology is Handel & Constructie H Meeuwsen, which is based on the Dutch coast at Yerseke, near Vlissingen. Although primarily a subcontractor, Meeuwsen also manufactures complete processing lines for food industry customers, such as local shellfish and potato packers, and this has helped it develop a strong reputation for its work in stainless steel.

Director Huib Meeuwsen says that his company has always tried to offer something out of the ordinary, and this has led it to make focused investments in large capacity plant which mean it can now laser cut and bend stainless steel components up to 12m long and 20mm thick.

The first of these investments was in an LVD Impuls 6kW laser system with twin 12.5m by 3m cutting tables. The cutting area of 4m by 3m is impressive enough in its own right, but this cutting capacity can be extended to parts up to 12m long by indexing the worktable into the cutting zone in 4m increments. Close control over the cutting and positioning parameters mean that the transition from one cut to the next is practically invisible, and positional tolerance on the indexing is 0.1mm.

Eighteen months ago Meeuwsen followed up this investment by installing an LVD PPEB tandem press brake that combines a 4m by 400t machine and an 8m by 1000t machine to give a total bending length of 12m. In tandem operation the two machines act as one under one controller, but each unit can also be operated individually to give greater flexibility and capacity. It is much easier, for example, to bend a 3m part on just the 4m machine - or a 5m part on the 8m machine. If you want you can even double capacity by using both machines at the same time.

Both the 1000 tonne and 400 tonne press brakes are fitted with LVD's Easy Form Laser‚ adaptive bending system which monitors and adjusts the bending process in real time to ensure that the correct bend angle is achieved first time, every time. This is crucial when large and expensive stainless steel blanks are being formed - there are no second chances or practice runs.

Tony van der Have works on the sales side at Meeuwsen and sees a clear gap in the market for the type of parts the company can now offer - parts that are too complex or just to big for the customers to make themselves. But he also recognises the need to educate customers in the possibilities of one-piece 12 m long profiled and formed components.

'We need to change the way they think,' he says. 'The habit is to think in terms of smaller products because virtually nobody can do 12 metres. Being able to form parts this long means you can cut down on the number of welds and secondary processes. We can produce parts 12m long and up to 20mm thick in one piece with no welding. This could be, for example, a complete side panel on a food processing line.'

He adds that on this type of project every additional weld is an additional cost - not just in manufacturing, where the time, cost and extra cleaning and straightening processes have to be accounted for - but also in operation, where every joint and crevice is a potential breeding ground for bacteria. And if you have to weld, then laser cutting gives the accurate and repeatable results required for good fit-up and automated welding processes.

To make the most of its investment Meeuwsen tries to run its lasers 24 hours a day. Each of the cutting tables will take eight 3m by 1.5m plates one behind the other and the machine will process each in turn. With 20mm thick material the sheer weight of each plate means that the most sensible automation option for lights out work is to line the plates up horizontally rather than using the kind of tower store based automation that is used for thin sheet.

'If you are running large plates full of small nested parts then you can run unmanned, but if you are only making one or two large parts out of each plate then you will need to be there to load new material. But with the twin tables there is no downtime while you do this,' says Tony.
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