Part 3: Democratizing the Quoting Process

Make no mistake – it’s a war out there.  And the biggest obstacle your company faces is generating fast, accurate quotes.  Why is this? Until recently, the answer was automation – or more precisely, a lack thereof.  Take a look at virtually any shop floor and you’ll see automated pallet changing, storage and retrieval systems, even unattended lights-out production.  While the production side of the business has steadily evolved, sales and estimation tools have clearly not kept pace.  Instead most use antiquated sales tools such as spreadsheets, production ERP systems, or even good old fashion pen and paper.

New Paradigm Laser (Cambridge, Ontario) relies strictly on inside sales to keep machines cutting.  The company has a policy to provide quotes to prospective customers in 24 hours or less.  What’s most impressive perhaps is that Paradigm relies on inexperienced or even non-sales skilled laborers to generate the quotes. “In this business timing is everything,” said New Paradigm’s Plant Superintendent, Marlon Almanza. “The first quote in says a lot about your company’s responsiveness and commitment; and we find that it often leads to winning the job.”

Just as some fabricators are taking advantage of the full capabilities of machinery to attract business; New Paradigm is doing the same with its most valuable asset – people. In the past, the company filled sales positions with workers with10 to 15 years of shop floor experience under their belt.  Today, thanks to automated quoting, they are able to generate winning quotes with less experienced non-sales workers.  “Filling sales positions isn’t a problem,” explained Almanza.  “We’re more concerned with finding operators and other skilled laborers than sales people. Our quoting software makes sales quick and simple. We now have the flexibility to reallocate resources from the shop floor or front office to help sell when needed.” Automating the quoting process allows even inexperienced estimators to create winning bids; not just a select few experts.

Automated Estimation & Quoting Software

Today New Paradigm and many other fabricators are leveraging automated quoting software to increase sales.  A leading player in this industry is SecturaSoft. The company has teamed up with ERP/MRP solutions to develop the first true sales solution for the fabrication industry; and is the first truly mobile platform which can tie into your other software solutions.  “Today there is a clamoring from estimators for better, more robust, and more automated tools.  Most current tools rely on a lot of tribal knowledge, require a lot of manual input and duplication of work, and had no real intelligence,” explained   fabrication industry veteran and SecturaSoft Chief Operating Officer, Brad Stropes.  “SecturaSoft is an intelligent platform not only to enhance your ERP solution, but to replace that old, slow, tough to use spreadsheet.”

Through the development process, SecturaSoft has focused on making a powerful solution that can easily be used by any individual within an organization.  This was accomplished by focusing on the users’ experience and their interaction with the machines processes.  The program utilizes machine intelligence behind a streamlined interface to show the user only what they need to see to quote as efficient as possible.  This is much different than other platforms which require a highly trained fabricator to input all of the machine information one process at a time. 

The software utilizes intelligent machine calculators to understand what is required by the machine to develop a part.  One example of this is a simple press break operation which can actually become extremely complex.  A built-in intelligence understands the requirements of a bend.  If a part is a certain length, an additional individual may be needed to hold the part increasing the cost to bend.  In addition, if a part is too heavy, a crane may be needed to move a part also increasing the cost.  Because this intelligence is ingrained into the software, an estimator only needs to input a number of bends, while SecturaSoft automatically develops the cost per-bend. 

Now, Let’s go Sell!

It’s easy for shop owners to get caught up in the latest production tools. That’s understandable, these machines are important to expanding the shop’s capabilities and throughput. But the sales and estimating process is the fuel that keeps those machines running. So what does it take to win new sales in today’s competitive fabrication market? Boosting sales is a combination of relationships, people, machinery maximized to enable a wide variety of processing options, and equipping your staff with the best tools.

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. 

Next up: Democratized Quoting

Attention Fab Shops, Job Shops, Metal Processing Centers: Here are Three Steps to Generating More Sales

Sales are the lifeblood of any organization; and with hefty investments in people, machinery, facilities and technology, even modest size fabricators need a significant and steady influx of dollars to keep the lights burning. But it’s a competitive world out there; and bringing in new business doesn’t just happen. Let’s take a look at three key areas where you can increase your chances to generate more business.

Part 1. It Starts with the Right People (or Not)

According to Myers-Briggs the traits associated with those best suited for sales are: Extraversion, Sensing, Feeling, Judgment or what’s termed ESFJ. You know these people; they are outgoing, energetic, have a positive outlook and good at multi-tasking. They are likable and trustworthy.  But here are a couple of things to consider before you hire the next ESJF that walks in the door.

Independent Reps

Good sales people are hard to find. Moreover, they are expensive and take time to train before they begin producing. Consequently many shop owners choose to rely on relationships, referrals or on independent representatives rather than hiring a sales staff.  Some advantages are that reps have feet on the street; and have established long-term relationships with a number of potential customers.  They generally work strictly on commission and can match a prospect’s need to your metal processing strength.  On the flip-side, these companies generally represent multiple clients with a wide array of services and products – probably even a competitor or two of yours. Because of this the higher-commission or easiest sale generally garners their attention.

If you choose to rely on independent reps, be sure to take a proactive approach.  Keep them apprised of any new processing capabilities or incentives.  Stay at the top of their mind. In other words, help them help you.

Direct Sales

The fabrication industry is a relationship-based sales cycle.  Potential customers want to work with someone they are comfortable with and can trust.  Because of this, most estimators/sales in the fabrication world are industry veterans. They talk-the-talk, walk- the-walk and thoroughly understand the many processes and competitive advantages their shop may have. However, most of these people are Baby-Boomers preparing to leave the workforce and hard to find Generation X veterans; and let’s face it - millennials aren’t exactly knocking down the door to join the industry. 

Attracting Young Talent

To combat this, you need to attract new, aggressive, young, sales and estimators.  But first, one must understand the unique mindset of this new generation.  Millennials are hard-working, but they want to have the proper tools. This generation has grown up with technology, understands it, and applies it every day. Unfortunately, while most fabricators have no trouble investing in cutting technology, they don’t give that same attention to a lot of other areas. They have outdated servers, desktops running operating systems from 10 years ago and they don’t have the latest software to design with.  Because of this the best and the brightest shy away from our industry.

Attracting fresh talent starts with the tools you are willing to provide them. Focus on how difficult it is to ramp up a new estimator.  If you are stuck in the world of spreadsheets it could take years before someone is capable of quoting/selling off your platform. This industry has amazing technology, but it is often hidden behind a single individual within your shop. The new generation wants to leverage all tools within the fabrication environment, just like the many apps on their phone.  This means you must arm them and have them trained on 3D design tools and programming tools to quickly add to their knowledge of the industry.

Finally, when locating talent, focus on those who have an aggressive personality to grow.  Some in our industry look at the younger aggressive individuals as “entitled,” or that they haven’t put in their time. The difference is just how independent and resourceful this generation is.  Give them the tools, the training, and give them a goal to hit.  They might surprise you by just how much they can accomplish in a short period of time.

Up Next: Part 2: Creating an Opportunity for... Opportunity.

 

Steel Fabrication Estimating Software

Steel fabrication estimating software is on the rise for many fabricators.  Over the lat 5 years, the fabrication industry has grown by over 30%.  However, the fabrication shops themselves have not increased the profitability.  In any other industry this would be a monstrasity, but in the fabrication world "we know whats best."  I dont know how many times I have heard this in the past, that there is an art and not a science to what we do.  However, everything we do is based on science and engineering.  However, our stubborness to change makes our growth rate suffer and keeps us exactly where we were yesterday.

To change this steel fabrication estimating software is on the rise.  Steel fabrication estimating software companies are looking at ways to increase connectivity with customers and how business is done. Steel fabrication estimating software of the past, or what I like to call Excel, isnt a tool a future thinking organization should be using to create quotes.  When searching for steel fabrication estimating software, look for an all incompassing solution, that you never have to leave and can handle all of your processes.

Web-Based Quoting System Leverages the Cloud to Integrate the Process

Applying “intelligent algorithms” to part geometry and linking to appropriate sources of other required information makes the job-quoting process faster, more accurate and more likely to win you the job.  How is this?  By using known pricing, run time and other production variables applied to geometry-based intelligence, a shop can use web-based quoting to dictate profitability — not hope for it.  So if you're still quoting jobs manually what the heck are you waiting for?  Get in the game with SecturaSoft!

Modern Machine Shop Sr. Editor, Mark Albert blogs about the benefits of SecturaSoft.  Read it  here.

Steel Cost Increase

We have been receiving numerous questions on how to handle the recent cost increase to steel and other materials.  The issue many are running into, is that their estimators all run off of different spreadsheets and solutions throughout the globe.  This means that customers are receiving different prices from each estimator and you do not know the true cost. of your parts.

With this change in steel prices, you must centralize your cost database and pull one cost from a master user.  If you do not have control within a single location, you will have different prices going to your customers.  In addition, you will not be able to understand the true cost or profitability of your operation.

 

 

An Interview with Pierre Slabber

Pierre Slabber is a veteran of more than twenty-five years in the fabrication software industry. His professional background has included software development, managing product development and serving as Vice President of Engineering.  In these roles Pierre was responsible for the enhancement and ongoing development of next generation CAD/CAM nesting and related applications.   More recently Pierre was the chief architect behind one of the industry’s leading nesting programs. Today Pierre is Founder and President of SecturaSoft LLC. 

Can you give us a brief introduction to SecturaSoft? What’s the company all about; and why did you make the jump?

After twenty-five years in the nesting software business it was time for a change.  Over the past few years I recognized that there was a real need emerging in the industry – especially among smaller service centers, fab shops and job shops.  While CAD/CAM, nesting, CRM and other business applications were steadily advancing, the integration of these systems was lacking. The truth is that many of these tools, although robust in their own rite, don’t communicate with one another.  Not just on the shop floor… from the front office to the loading dock - these systems must be integrated across the board. Until that happens, those employing them will not realize the full return on their investments.

Companies today need open-ended solutions… that is the freedom to choose tools that meet unique needs and budget without being locked in to a specific vendor – solutions developed specifically for the metal fabrication industry. With this in mind we began working to create a web-based quoting and production management solution that could be easily integrated with a company’s existing CRM, CAD/CAM, nesting and financial programs. Perhaps more importantly we wanted to establish a genuine reputation for quality, integrity and trust throughout the fabrication industry.

Regarding the fabrication industry… What are some noteworthy advancements you’ve seen recently?

Intelligent CAD models have been around for quite some time; but in the past few years fabricators and job shops have begun to leverage the information stored in CAD files to create more accurate quotes. Geometry-based quoting brings with it a number of advantages and has had a measurable impact for those who are taking advantage of it.  At the same time, nesting applications pretty much across the board continue to get better and better.

Let’s begin with geometry-based quoting. Can you expand on this?

In the past, quoting processes were for the most part based on experience and best-guesses. The process was riddled with manual, calculation-intensive steps, inaccuracies and inconsistencies. Basing quotes on gut feel rather than on standard rules creates a number of problems as the quoting process, and final bid itself, often varied greatly from one salesperson to the next.  Furthermore most of these quotes were being generated using a simple Excel spreadsheet.  This often created a nightmare for locating and retrieving past data.  Again, a very manual, subjective, and time consuming process. Perhaps worst of all, one could never be certain that a quote will be profitable.

Geometry-based quoting replaces guesswork with known variables. It uses part geometry to determine the type and amount of material needed, machine run-time, secondary operations and all other costs associated with producing the parts.  This allows sales to create accurate quotes that convert to production instructions, and ultimately to an invoice.  In this way fabricators will know immediately how much profit a winning bid will bring them.

You mentioned nesting.  How important is a good piece of nesting software?

Nesting software is the key for anyone who cuts metal for a living. It drives fabrication machinery and maximizes yield.  Without this piece of software cutting, punching, bending machines are just costly equipment taking up space on the shop floor. 

What should one look for in a nesting system?

Fortunately the nesting software industry has evolved to the point where a number of good and affordable systems are readily available.  Today nearly all nesting program are easy to learn and use and more than capable of delivering good results. Because the basic functionality is pretty much the same across the board, fabricators can select a nesting program based on their budget along with current and expected requirements. Having said that, I would add that it is critical that the nesting application integrates with in-house business systems.  In this way the production staff can manage production routings and monitor the progress of orders that are being manufactured. The financial staff is notified when orders need to be invoiced and given the ability to create these invoices. At the same time the integrated process examines inventory to determine if enough stock is available to complete the job. Up-to-the minute material pricing is accessed to calculate costs for any additional material that might be needed. Furthermore, the process boosts efficiency and profitability by allowing work orders to be combined to fully utilize material and production run-time and costs.

What is the single biggest challenge facing fabricators today?

Fabricators have over the years learned to adapt to changing conditions.  During the economic downturn of 2008, the industry began to take a closer look at all areas of the business in order to become more lean and efficient.  For fabricators, the microscope was on the shop floor and its costly equipment and inventory. Anything that did not contribute to making the company more efficient was cut.  As a result manual and redundant tasks were automated and processes streamlined.

Today this presents an opportunity for these companies to gain real-time visibility in order to know the exact status of any and every order at any given time.  Those who get the orders out the fastest get the work.  Visibility is the single biggest challenge and opportunity for the fabrication industry today.

Don’t MRP systems provide this?

To a very limited extent. Fabricators should look for an MRP system that has been developed specifically for the industry.  This is the key.  An MRP system created for our industry should include capabilities for geometry-based quoting, have built-in nesting functionality, along with built-in material optimization capabilities. Most importantly, the system must seamlessly integrate with your nesting program of choice.  This allows all of the information pertaining to an order to be seamlessly linked to the entire company – from production, front office, to sales, and financial. 

What’s next? What do you see as the next frontier for fabricators?

I believe that sooner than later we’re going to achieve a reliable and affordable data highway delivering real-time visibility across the company and throughout its supply chain. With the Internet and Cloud we now have the foundation for that will allow us to access any information, from any place at any time.  Believe it or not, this isn’t so far away.

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Weight vs Geometry

We recently were at a customers office in Tennessee, where we had begun the conversation on cost based estimating.  They had several estimators all of whom quoted in a different manner.  One statement that stood out was when the customer said "if the estimator is still quoting based on weight, they need to be fired."  I was intrigued by this statement and wanted to know why.

The customer explained that in today's world if an individual is not utilizing value add and true geometry to base his quotations, then he is not accurate at all.  The old school mentality of taking the weight and adding margin is all guess work.  He explained the best way to estimate is based on machine run time, nesting, and labor costs in value add operations.  You will then add your markup based on the organization or number of parts.

Because we recognize that each method is still used, SecturaSOFT utilizes density.  This way an organization can quote based on weight or geometry.  In addition, we can purchase material in the same manner.  

Metal Cutting Challenges: Lasers

You didn’t invest in that laser not to use it; but there are instances when waterjet or plasma is a better option. Lasers can be limited by a number of factors including material thickness and quality, alloy type, heat conductivity, metallurgy, and even part geometry. The complexity of some parts, such as those with intricate detail, acute angles and tight radii, makes them better suited for waterjet cutting as waterjets simply do not emit the high temperatures associated with lasers. Conversely, plasma or oxy-fuel is a better choice for thick parts where edge quality and taper are less important.

Today many OEMs are introducing higher power lasers to help address thick cutting issues. For example, Mitsubishi now offers their fiber lasers in 4, 6 and 8,000 watt iterations with patented ZOOM head cutting technology.  During the due diligence phase of a new fiber laser purchase, devoting an equal amount of time to researching and understanding the differences and features of the cutting head when considering resonator wattage is of paramount importance.  

Choosing a machine that offers a cutting head that is capable of manipulating the BPP (beam product parameter), known as the Gaussian Mode pattern on CO2 lasers, can simplify and improve your results in thick plate cutting of mild steel.  This ZOOM head cutting technology is also capable of manipulating the focal lengths to 3.75”, 5.0”, 7.5” and 10.0” as well as manipulating spot size with no operator intervention and without changing optics.  All of these variables work together to create the optimal cutting tool for stainless steel, aluminum and carbon steel; thick and thin.

Winning more fabrication quotes

I am often faced with the idea that our solution may already be in place at most job shops.  I see certaing ERP and MRP systems being utilized by organizations as a spreadsheet for their quotations.  In addition, I see multiple organization use excel sheets to develop and deliver quotes to a company.  The issue I see with this is that these solutions are not purpose built to develop quotes or estimates for the fabrication industry.  This means that organizations take a longer time to develop each quote.

Time to quote and the win rate of an organization go hand in hand.  The organizations who win most jobs are usually the organizations who are first to quote.  This means that utilizing slower non-purpose built quoting solutions actually costs you money each time you bid.

When looking for a solution to this issue, I would recommend looking for something that is purpose built for your industry.  Search for a solution that can increase your turn rate by 200-300% thus increasing your win rate accordingly.  

Q&A: Laser Preventative Maintenance

Does preventive maintenance vary much from brand to brand? 

Preventive maintenance of fiber lasers varies very little from one brand to another.  This is attributed to the diminishment of items that require maintenance: specifically the elimination of nearly all optics.  The frequencies, procedures and costs of preventive maintenance on CO2 lasers can vary greatly between brands, however.  Most of these differences can be attributed to the resonator.  The differences between Cross-Flow and Fast Flow (RF and DC) are too numerous to discuss in depth in this in this interview.

Are Cross Flow and Fast Flow styles of resonators?

Yes, they are different styles of CO2 resonators.  RF and DC excited resonators employ high-speed turbines to move the laser gas through glass tubes and shoot an electrical charge through the tubes to stimulate the laser gas to produce the laser beam.  A cross-flow resonator has a large, sealed cavity with low speed fans to circulate the laser gas and electrodes to stimulate the laser gas to produce the laser beam.

Is preventive maintenance sometimes put off because it cuts into production schedules?

I would hope not.  Remember, all machinery requires preventive maintenance.  The better question for laser owners to ask themselves is “Do I want my machine’s down time to be planned or unplanned?”.  One of our customers is a world renowned heavy truck manufacturer that strictly follows preventive maintenance schedules of all their lasers.  Over the past twelve years I could count on one hand, the number of times, all of their lasers combined, have been down for unexpected, unscheduled repairs.  It’s also important to remember that most preventive maintenance can be performed during off hours. 

What’s the best advice you can offer a laser owner in order to maximize its use?

Lasers, be they fiber or CO2, are only making money when they are operating at peak performance. It’s, therefore, important to closely follow maintenance protocol. Follow optics cleaning procedures closely and regularly, track your productivity and machine downtime and ask to see the machine alarm history to help identify and address recurring problems. Understand and plan for secondary operation bottlenecks that may put a strain on schedules and machinery. Remember to keep machine programming software current, minimize part tip-ups and follow OEM recommended maintenance schedules. It’s true what they say about an ounce of prevention: Take the time to create and follow a daily and monthly maintenance checklist; and find laser operators who understand the importance of this and who are interested in taking ownership of the machines they run.

Guest BLOG post contributed by:

Patrick Medlin                                                                                                                                         

Advanced Technology Sales & Service                                                                                      

Greensboro,  NC  27409                                                                                                                                          

Tel: 336-393-0030                                                                 

pmedlin@atsservice.com

Laser_Head2.jpg

What are some early warning signs that maintenance may soon be required?

A noticeable reduction in cutting speed, feed rate or edge cut quality is a clear indicator that something isn’t right.  Other warning signs include a more frequent need to realign the nozzle or if the nozzle is hot to the touch.  Likewise departures from factory tech tables with regard to power, frequency, duty, gas pressure, and so on are also red flags.

Lasers, be they fiber or CO2, are only making money when they are operating at peak performance. It’s, therefore, important to closely follow maintenance protocol. Follow optics cleaning procedures closely and regularly, track your productivity and machine downtime and ask to see the machine alarm history to help identify and address recurring problems. Understand and plan for secondary operation bottlenecks that may put a strain on schedules and machinery. Remember to keep machine programming software current, minimize part tip-ups and follow OEM recommended maintenance schedules. It’s true what they say about an ounce of prevention: Take the time to create and follow a daily and monthly maintenance checklist; and find laser operators who understand the importance of this and who are interested in taking ownership of the machines they run.

Contributed by:

Patrick Medlin
Advanced Technology Sales & Service
1130 Tarrant Rd.
Greensboro, NC 27409
Tel: 336-393-0030

More on Laser Maintenance

With CO2 lasers there is often the temptation to substitute after-market lenses, mirrors, nozzles, and consumables for OEM-specific parts. While it may seem like a good idea at the time, opting for cheaper parts will usually come back to haunt you in the long run. We often see problems stemming from a failure to have the chiller serviced annually by an industrial chiller service company or failure to replace beam path bellows that may have holes or tears. Laser gas is another area that’s often over looked - Running low or out of laser gas can contaminate the resonator.

The chiller is another critical laser component; and when neglected, it can cause premature failure of components inside the resonator, power supplies, and optics.  If bellows aren’t replaced once they develop holes, the beam path becomes contaminated which shortens the life expectancy of the optics, causes the beam to grow in diameter and ultimately affects focal length at the cutting lens.  All of these effects introduce more variables and inconsistencies into the cutting process and the end result is lost parts due to blow-outs as well as poor edge quality and slower cutting speeds.

Contributed by:
Patrick Medlin - President, Advanced Technology Sales & Service

ATS
1130 Tarrant Rd.
Greensboro, NC 27409
Tel: 336-393-0030
pmedlin@atsservice.com

 

 

Fiber Lasers: Often Overlooked Maintenance

Unfortunately there are several areas that are often overlooked when it comes to keeping your fiber laser operating at peak performance. However all are easily avoidable.

Laser head crashing is often attributed to slat build-up. When cut parts tip up as a result of excess slat you run the risk of the laser head crashing in to that protruding part. This can cause serious damage to the laser head resulting in thousands of dollars for replacement.  When cleaning the lens and lens window be sure to take the time to do it thoroughly and correctly using proper cleaning supplies. Also, while substituting after-market lenses, lens windows, nozzles, insulators, or non-spec consumables might save you a few dollars, in the long run it’s always best to stick with high-quality OEM parts designed especially for your machine.

 Removing Slat Build-Up

There are several companies that offer a motorized tool for removing slag build up from slats.  I’ve also seen companies have moderate success in preventing slag build up by spraying the slats with a solution that is very similar to anti-spatter for welding.  From my experience the best, long term solution is to use copper slats.  While the upfront investment is significant, after 4 to 5 years, when it is time to replace them, you receive a good portion of your money back for the copper scrap.  Another cost saving tip is to make sure that you develop slats that are double-sided so that when the top side becomes too worn, the slat can simply be flipped over.  The reason why the overall height of the slats is so important is because this affects how high the material sits inside of the laser.  When the slats become too short, the laser will experience height sensor alarms when processing thin gauge material because the Z-axis travel is close to exceeding the soft-limits of the machine’s parameters.

Contributed by:
Patrick Medlin
- President, Advanced Technology Sales & Service

ATS
1130 Tarrant Rd.

Greensboro, NC 27409
Tel: 336-393-0030
pmedlin@atsservice.com

 

 

Preventative Maintenance: Fiber vs CO2

The primary maintenance differences between CO2 and fiber lasers are the optics inside the resonator and in the beam delivery system.  All CO2 lasers have resonator optics that help generate and intensify the laser beam; most fiber lasers do not.   All CO2 lasers have beam path optics (bend mirrors) that deliver the laser beam from the resonator to the cutting head.  On the other hand, fiber lasers employ a fiber optic cable to deliver the laser beam from the resonator to the cutting head, eliminating the need for bend mirrors. 

The CO2 laser’s bend mirrors are also enclosed in beam path bellows that are susceptible to holes from constant movement and back reflections and they must be replaced periodically.  Beam path optics can also become misaligned from serious head crashes due to part tip-ups.  All optics must be cleaned, realigned and periodically replaced to maintain optimum cutting efficiency.  However, CO2 lasers are more forgiving in general and their cutting head optics are less sensitive to dusty environments than their fiber laser counterparts. 

While there are far less preventive maintenance requirements with fiber lasers, cleanliness and strict adherence to factory optic cleaning and maintenance procedures and performing those tasks in a controlled, dust-free environment are critical to a fiber’s successful operation.

If you employ a fiber laser take care to pay attention to some often overlooked maintenance areas.

  • Slat build-up is critical. When cut parts tip up as a result of excess slat you run the risk of the laser head crashing in to that protruding part. This can cause serious damage to the laser head resulting in thousands of dollars for replacement. 
  • When cleaning the lens and lens window be sure to take the time to do it thoroughly and correctly using proper cleaning supplies.
  • Also, while substituting after-market lenses, lens windows, nozzles, insulators, or non-spec consumables might save you a few dollars, in the long run it’s always best to stick with high-quality OEM parts designed especially for your machine.

The same can be said for CO2 lasers. Opting for cheaper parts will usually come back to haunt you in the long run. We often see problems stemming from a failure to have the chiller serviced annually by an industrial chiller service company or failure to replace beam path bellows that may have holes or tears. Laser gas is another area that’s often over looked - Running low or out of laser gas can contaminate the resonator.

Contributed by:
Patrick Medlin
- President, Advanced Technology Sales & Service

ATS
1130 Tarrant Rd.

Greensboro, NC 27409
Tel: 336-393-0030
pmedlin@atsservice.com

 

 

Laser Preventive Maintenance

No matter if you have a CO2 or Fiber laser, understanding preventative maintenance is a critical step in getting the most out of your investment.  Let's take a closer look at some of the often overlooked of laser preventive maintenance.

On a daily basis, it’s important to ensure that the laser nozzles are properly aligned and the cutting head and height sensor are clean and free of dust build-up. Also check the water level in the chiller, confirm that operating air supply lines are free of moisture and contaminants. You should also confirm assist gas and purge gas supply levels. These steps take only a few minutes to perform but you would be surprised at how often they are overlooked.

At the same time there are a number of steps that should be performed on a monthly basis. 

  • Slats should be cleaned or replaced if broken or worn down
  • Remove excess laser dust and slag from inside the machine
  • Air filters and chiller condenser coils should be inspected and cleaned
  • Confirm set-point temperatures on the chiller and replace water and add treatment chemicals as needed
  • Check auto-lubrication reservoir levels and follow factory lubrication intervals
  • Inspect hoses for holes and signs of wear
  • Check the dust collector and empty the dust container
  • Inspect the laser safety enclosure for cracked or broken windows
  • Reload factory tech tables (cutting conditions library) and sub-routine programs

Up Nest: CO2 vs Fiber Maintenance

Contributor

Patrick Medlin, President, Advanced Technology Sales & Service. ATS serves fabricators throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Advanced Technology Sales & Service
1130 Tarrant Rd.
Greensboro, NC 27409

Tel: 336-393-0030

Fabrication Quoting from ERP/MRP

ERP and MRP solutions help our organizations stay in control of their operations and their inventory.  However, they often fall short when it comes to quoting quickly.  The reason is that they cant integrate easily with geometry.  Most are a series of databases copying information from one cell to another, but have no real intelligence behind them.  SecturaSOFT can integrate to make your ERP solution more powerful by allowing your organization to pull in direct from a drawing, then utilize your ERP system to quickly quote.  In addition, you can look up the material on hand to obtain delivery dates.

Fabrication Quoting with Solid Models

A constant within the world of software is whats called "Shadow Solutions."  Shadow software solutions are usually implemented by a small group of individuals to solve a problem, but create a silo of data within a companies process.  One example of this is Solid CAD solutions.  Organizations will develop amazing CAD drawings with a lot of information, but need to be transitioned out of this solid model state for the rest of the organization to use it losing valuable information.  The solution to this problem is to use a integrated platform which can read directly from these files.  SecturaSOFT is able to do this, by pulling in Solidworks files, understanding materials, products, BOMS and processes from such drawings to create the BOM in your ERP/MRP solution. 

Scaling and CAD clean up

Utilizing geometry within a quoting and scheduling platform gains organizations a very large advantage.  Most MRP/ERP solutions utilize basic copy and paste functions when making calls between databases.  With this method, all geometry is held outside of a companies global solution.  In addition all changes must be made in a separate CAD solution.  Integrating geometry directly in your MRP / Fabrication quoting solution give you the ability to make changes without ever leaving the global system.  This means a single point of entry, no duel entry, and no shadow systems which is not tracked by you.