Part 2: Create an Opportunity for… Opportunity

So what’s different about your company?  Do you have a clear compelling advantage or do you just think you do?  After all, you have a fiber laser, they have a fiber laser.  You process sheet metal, plate, and aluminum – they process sheet metal, plate, and aluminum. You are “the best” – they are “the best”.  Instead of falling in to the hand-to-hand sales combat conundrum of screaming “Faster!”, “Cheaper!”, “Better!” why not expand the capabilities of your cutting machines to open the door to new markets? There are plenty of opportunities, with lucrative payback, for those willing to take on the challenge. The stumbling block for many is the willingness to venture outside of their current comfort zone.

Exotic Metals

Because few are willing to tackle these materials, there’s an opportunity for fabricators willing to tackle exotic metals such as: stainless steel, brass, copper, titanium, armor plate, tool steel, T-1 steel, nickel, super alloys, platinum and so on.  The best part is that no special equipment or expertise is required. 

For the most part fabricators who shy away from cutting exotic metals are concerned with damaging machines, ruining costly metals, and losing money.  This fear is rooted in a lack of experience and exposure to the process. While lasers generally include standard cutting conditions for steel, aluminum, mild steel, and often galvanized metal, few, if any, come with pre-loaded conditions for exotic metals. Consequently most fabricators have neither the experience nor the resources needed to cut exotic metals. 

“When it comes to cutting exotic metals most laser operators over-complicate the process. When cutting exotic metals the same variables familiar to most operators still apply,” explained Patrick Medlin, Executive General Manager for North Carolina’s ATS/Amada America, Inc.  “Focal position, nozzle centering, proper nozzle selection, nozzle gap, assist gas type and pressure, power, frequency, duty and feed rate all influence the piercing, cutting and cut quality of exotic metals just like they do their more common place counterparts.”

It’s always best to crawl before you walk or run so it’s recommended that first timers cut their teeth with the easier and least expensive exotic metals.  Once you have some successes under your belt move on to the more costly and more difficult materials like brass, copper, titanium, nickel and platinum. 

Coated Metals

“Similarly, some fabricators avoid coated materials. What poses a challenge is that, in order to reduce the likelihood of scratches or other damage, these finishes are intended to remain on the materials during processing and shipping,” said Medlin.  “It’s important to learn how to cut coated materials while keeping the protective surface intact. While these finishes certainly do a good job in protecting the material from scratching, they can pose some significant cutting challenges. The objective is to produce quality cuts without removing, scratching, melting or otherwise damaging the coating.”

The common theme when cutting any coated material or exotic metal is to invest the time to understand the materials you’re cutting and how to best set up your machine for success. It’s vital to take the time to run cutting tests in order to dial-in the machine and establish proper machine cutting conditions. Finally, remember to utilize the applications department where you purchased your machine.  They should be happy to answer your questions and help you to more fully optimize your machine’s capabilities and investment.

New Business AND Higher Margins

When you consider that there are fewer competitors vying for work outside of traditional sheet metal, plate, aluminum, and the fact that most customers will supply the materials, fabricators can attract new business and charge a cutting premium. So don’t be intimidated by venturing outside of your comfort zone.  If you’re processing only steel and aluminum with that laser you’re missing out on a real opportunity.  Use that machine that you invested in to its fullest capability. 

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