Do you remember getting your first cellphone? What was the first thing you took out of the box and spent time with? It was probably the user manual. The cellphone was a new technology, and you needed time to understand and learn to use it. It wasn’t intuitive, and you absolutely needed that manual.
What happens when you get a new smartphone today? You unwrap the well-designed package, admire your shiny new device, turn it on, and get started. It’s probably already charged and just waiting for you to use it. That’s it. It doesn’t have any buttons or dials; the entire surface is a human-machine interface, or HMI. And it probably doesn’t have a manual. A pop-up notification shows you received a new message, and you just tap to see what it is. It’s intuitive.
Press brakes last much longer than cellphones, of course. That’s why in many job shops today you might find both mechanical and hydraulic press brakes with old controls. They can last 30 years or longer and still bend parts. Of course, just because a machine turns on does not mean it can produce parts efficiently. If you see less seasoned operators attempt to run the shop’s oldest brake, you’ll probably hear them say, “Does anybody know how to operate this machine?”
Learning and understanding bending theory is probably as challenging as learning to be a good welder. It takes time and patience to learn the differences between every machine. Those differences can be significant, especially in a bending department with both old and new equipment. They require different training strategies, all driven by technology that has literally changed how operators learn about sheet metal bending: the software and machine control.
The Pre-Smartphone Era
Imagine starting a new job as a press brake operator around the same time that you received your first cellphone, before the smartphone era. You spend most of the time going through the manual, guided by a veteran who knows the machine inside and out. You read the blueprint and adjust the machine settings as necessary. You learn how to adjust the position of each axis, determine where the backgauge needs to be, dial in the part, make other adjustments by typing nominal values into the controller, then run production until you need to switch over to the next part. Once you understand the basic concept of one machine, you walk to the next press brake and learn this process from the beginning again, with your experienced tutor and the manual right next to you.
You receive a printed blueprint, and you write the program at the machine control. You determine the material type and thickness, define your bend angle, then position your backgauges manually for each bend. If not provided on the print, backgauge positions are defined as an actual absolute value that needs to be calculated manually
Overall you spend 10 minutes (or longer) getting the press brake ready to make the first bend—and that old machine control gives you no indication of how to do this. By looking at the control alone, you don’t know which tools to pick or how to set them up. That’s why you need an experienced operator by your side. He knows the setups and best ways of doing it by memory. Still, even with all his knowledge and experience, he pays very close attention to his choices so he doesn’t make any mistakes. Setup is time-consuming, and the old machine control doesn’t give much if any assistance.
At some point, you’re on your own. You position the peripherals of the machine first so you know where to place the tools. What tools do you select for this job? You’d better have a quick guide or “little black book” close to the press brake to know which tools to pick.
The Smartphone Era
The control shows other relevant information, including raw material location, customer information, and due date.
Fast-forward to today. Imagine you just graduated from school and you’re now looking for your first real job in the sheet metal industry. Thing is, you aren’t on the shop floor with an experienced employee who has operated just one machine his entire career.
Instead, you’re in a classroom environment. You sit by a desktop PC with the press brake operating software installed. You don’t have a printed machine manual, and on some days you might not work with someone with decades of press brake experience, especially if they’re needed on the floor. But that’s not a problem—and here’s why.
The July/August 2020 issue of Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News (APMEN) magazine features the latest developments happening in the world of metalworking, including new tool materials, the right spindle repair, CFRP tools, intelligent punching heads, CMM with mass technology, and the trend towards smart, automated manufacturing, and more.
Another feature in this issue is a collection of insights from industry leaders regarding their outlook for the rest of the year amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—what to expect, what the business landscape could be like, what they are doing to navigate these challenges. Hear what key executives from Bystronic, igus, Siemens ASEAN, VDW (German Machine Tool Builders’ Association), Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, and Mastercam have to say.
Now that markets are slowly opening up and manufacturing activities are gradually restarting, many are wondering how the manufacturing industry would look like, what the new requirements will be—for customers and suppliers alike—and what the manufacturing industry should do in this ‘new normal’. In this Outlook special, six industry leaders share their thoughts on what to expect, and how to navigate through the challenges in a post-pandemic environment.
Norbert Seo Senior Vice President, Market Division Asia & Australia Bystronic
We are yet to see the breadth and depth of the impact of COVID-19. Economies are slowly opening, but there is an overhung of the second wave. We are still in a quagmire of uncertainties, but after more than six months of descent, data shows that we are seeing recovery slowly play out.
Recently, we see a changing outlook wherein business owners are deciding to invest in new machines in order to have full control of their manufacturing processes and minimize reliance on third party providers.
Additionally, we are anticipating a shift from worker-dense shop floors into automated processing wherein production continues unhampered while lightly manned/operated. Coronavirus has advanced the need for automation in factories.
We are living a new normal. Companies who are most agile and able to adapt will eventually thrive in these new circumstances and I am determined that this will be the case for Bystronic.
The COVID-19 crisis has underscored the important role of technology in helping people and companies rapidly adapt to fast-changing and unforeseen circumstances. Most of us have personal experience of relying heavily on cloud-based communications and data transfer during lockdown to continue collaborating and doing business remotely. At Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division, for example, we moved swiftly to provide our customers with the online support, training and software they needed to remain productive as they adopted new work practices driven by the need for social distancing, as well as changes to supply and demand within their industries.
As manufacturing operations pick up again around the world, there is a clear desire among a growing number of our customers to accelerate their automation and digitalisation journey. Workplaces may look very different post-COVID-19, both on and off the shop floor. Among the changes we’re discussing with customers is a shift from on-premise systems to secure, automated, cloud-based systems that facilitate remote data analysis and exchange.
At the same time the economic situation means manufacturers have to weigh up any capital expenditure plans extremely carefully. Technology will play a key role in helping companies remain competitive during challenging times, but businesses are only ready to invest in automation solutions if they demonstrate a clear business benefit and can deliver results quickly. The other message we’re hearing is the importance of providing open, scalable technology systems that give our customers the flexibility to evolve in line with new market requiremets.
Haecker Carsten Head of Asia Pacific igus
Optimism for the year 2020 was surrounding our thoughts before the global COVID-19 impact brought several businesses to a standstill, selectively today fighting for survival. Optimism and motivation are what drives igus in the post-COVID-19 environments.
No doubt, the crisis has also impacted our global business outlook and order intake across various industries. However, it has taught us very valuable lessons and generated ample opportunities. The crisis will not end globalization. Rather, it will lead to the questioning of some of its assumptions. In particular, it highlights the need for shorter supply chains in critical areas and the relocation of some activities closer to ‘home’.
We learned from the crisis that the supply chain can be disrupted at any time. Now, we are learning that for other critical resources like pre-materials for medical supply, we also need to stockpile in case there is a cut in supply. This was demonstrated when we witnessed the global shortage of surgical masks and other medical essentials that were taken for granted during normal times. We have learned how vulnerable they are, how concentrated the supply capacity is, and how critical these products can be. Globalization will continue because it is of common interest.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 crisis has been accelerating the push to invest in new, labour-substituting technologies. Here, in particular, 3D printing technologies, cobot support, and factory automation with smart condition monitoring will see an accelerated demand to reduce dependency on humans.
igus motion plastics products are today used in several of these applications and will continue to play a major part in all motion and moving energy demand. We accelerated product development, we managed to change our way of working, we adapted quickly to changing needs, and we never stopped investing in growth, be it space or technology.
Our online tools are readily available and our products can be completely configured via our homepage and delivered within 24 hours. Our virtual booth, showcasing our latest 2020 innovations is online and the team is ready to welcome you. Any crisis generates opportunities—we are convinced to manage this for our customers!
Mastercam/CNC Software Inc.
Ben Mund Senior Market Analyst Mastercam/CNC Software Inc.
As developers of Mastercam CAD/CAM software, we talked with shops directly as the impact of COVID-19 began taking hold. Our global manufacturing community generally sees the post-pandemic process in three stages: assessment, refinement, and expansion.
The ‘assessment’ stage moved very quickly. Shops stopped most major (and even minor) expenditures, evaluated what business they could maintain, and worked with their partners as things started to go on hold.
Many shops we speak with have moved past assessment into the ‘refinement’ phase. This is where shops say they expect many lasting changes as they aggressively re-evaluate their processes. Examples include deeper looks into their machine and software capabilities to maximize existing investments, training up staff, and refining jobs they maintain during the crisis to ensure they are as efficient as possible when new work starts coming in.
When the ‘expansion’ phase begins, it is likely the efficiency and creativity shops built up during the crisis will mean smarter capital expenditures, broader skillsets, boosted productivity and more business flexibility. These are certainly lessons we as a company have also learned as we work with our manufacturing community to help prepare shops for the next steps.
Dr. Thai-Lai Pham CEO Siemens ASEAN
COVID-19 has given Industry 4.0 a booster jab—proving the necessity of innovation and digitalization. It has also brought down the resistance to change and collaborate, reduced the fear of new technologies, and accelerated the adoption of digital technologies.
For Siemens, our investment in digitalization in the last few years have allowed us to be in a position to contribute to the community during this crisis:
In March, Siemens opened the Siemens Additive Manufacturing Network for hospitals and health organizations worldwide. This digital platform brings together suppliers and customers in the field of additive manufacturing to help print spare parts for medical devices.
In Singapore, we helped a hotel group to build isolation rooms for guests tested positive for COVID-19. Our team supported with HVAC optimization, ensuring proper circulation of air to avoid any risks of virus-spread.
Both of these instances would probably have taken more time to plan and execute in the past. But the COVID-19 situation forced us to expedite the process.
Moving forward, I’d expect more businesses to examine their operational set-up, explore areas that urgently require improvement, and embrace digitalization to reshape their manufacturing and supply chains to be more productive, competitive, resilient and sustainable.
VDW (German Machine Tool Builders’ Association)
Dr Wilfried Schäfer Managing Director VDW
In 2019, the ten-year boom phase in the global machine tool industry had already come to an end. That was long before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Expectations for the development of the machine tool industry were characterized by a sharp drop in international demand for 2020. A decrease in production of 18 percent was forecast for Germany.
From today’s perspective, this will not be sufficient. However, due to the uniqueness of the crisis, it is currently not possible to foresee which result the industry will obtain at the end of the current year. The companies are now working intensively to learn their lessons from the crisis and prepare for a new start.
The machine tool manufacturers, for example, are systematically pushing ahead with digitization internally in their own production and in cooperation with their customers. Now that travel has been restricted nationwide, it has proven to be very advantageous for a company to access its installed machine base online. That could be necessary, for example, to ensure service and maintenance or to install software updates. With the universal interface umati, manufacturers can also offer their customers added value in order to optimize their production. umati now stands for machine communication in the entire mechanical and plant engineering sector and is meeting with great interest worldwide.
COVID-19 has also shown that the organisation of a resilient production is important in order to ensure the company’s own ability to deliver. After supply chains were interrupted worldwide when more and more countries went into lockdown, the establishment of robust supply structures is becoming increasingly important. This applies both to the supply of intermediate products and components and the ability to manufacture certain core components in-house.
Finally, customer contact has been interrupted by the cancellation or postponement of many trade fairs worldwide. Trade fair organizers, trade journal publishers from our industry and individual companies quickly made an effort to offer alternatives. The VDW was one of them. With the METAV Web Sessions in mid-June, we succeeded in offering exhibitors a platform that, at least, allowed them to make virtual contact with their customers. These formats will be further developed in the future.
These are just three examples of several areas that will change. They have not to be reinvented but, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, they are increasingly gaining momentum.
Not far from the capital of South Korea, Bystronic Korea celebrated the groundbreaking ceremony for its new Experience Centre. With the new business location, Bystronic Korea is moving closer to its customers and, thanks to the newly created infrastructure, will be able to offer even more comprehensive customer support.
During the ceremony on April 23, which was attended by representatives from the construction company, the architecture firm, and the engineering company, Youngchul Choi, Managing Director of Bystronic Korea Ltd, broke the ground for the new Bystronic Experience Centre. The event was held in the form of a small traditional Korean celebration and in full compliance with the current safety regulations.
The new headquarters of Bystronic Korea is being built at the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) in Songdo-dong, located 50 km from Seoul and 30 km from the Incheon International Airport—making it easily accessible for customers from the entire Southeast Asian region. For Bystronic, the new site is located in a strategically important area, since the economic output of this region accounts for roughly 65 percent of the entire South Korean economy. This makes it the ideal hub from which to provide customer services, since many of Bystronic Korea’s customers are also based there.
The move to a newly constructed building originally came into consideration because sales in South Korea have increased massively over recent years. The new headquarters will lay the foundations for consistent and sustainable growth. On a floor space of 3,360 m2—roughly three times the size of the previous area—a striking building with a glass façade characteristic of Bystronic is being constructed with an 820 m2 Experience Centre for Korea and the entire Southeast Asian region. Completion is planned for the spring of 2021.
Another reason was the demand for a universal service centre in this region that is so important to Bystronic. Consulting, hotline services, live demonstrations, and software and hardware training courses constitute the core customer services. In addition, the business location will offer sales, maintenance and spare parts. Customers will thus benefit from the comprehensive know-how of the leading technology supplier.
With the opening of the new business location in South Korea, Bystronic will gain an additional centre of expertise where customers can experience the latest manufacturing systems, software applications, and services first-hand.
The reputation of the Japanese for being hardworking and quality-conscious is not just a cliché. This is proved by the family-run company Daisan Kouki. The job shop processes sheet metal for the automotive industry and relies on technology made in Switzerland. The machines run around the clock—this is the only way to guarantee the highest quality while meeting the ever shorter lead times. We take a glimpse behind the scenes. Article by Stefan Jermann, Bystronic Group.
The ByTrans Extended automation system (on the left) facilitates the loading and unloading of the cutting machines.
Tokyo Central Railway Station. It stands there like an arrow in a taut bow, the rolling legend: the Shinkansen. The interior of the fastest train in the world reflects much of that has made Japan what it is today: a high-tech nation that visitors experience almost like a journey into the future. Everywhere one looks, there is state-of-the-art technology and innovative design. Also inside the Shinkansen. One example of this are the rotating seats, which can be turned against the direction of travel if required.
Travelling to Nagoya with closed eyes, you hardly notice the tremendous speed of more than 320 kilometers per hour. It’s only when you look out of the window that you realize how fast you are actually tearing through the countryside. In addition to technical perfection, the Shinkansen also demonstrates the exeptional service mentality in Japan: Hungry or thirsty travelers need only wait a short while before one of the super-friendly staff comes by to offer snacks.
At the focal point of the automotive industry
The 366 kilometres to Nagoya take virtually no time at all. The journey to the city with a population of 2.5 million, the coal point of the Japanese car industry, takes just one and three-quarter hours. This is where all the major Japanese car manufacturers have their factories: Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Mazda. Nagoya generates approximately the same gross domestic product (GDP) as all of Norway. The cargo port and the well-developed land routes facilitate smooth logistics; over the years many suppliers have settled in the vicinity of the renowned car manufacturers. One of the companies that produce here is the family enterprise Daisan Kouki.
The company has been firmly in the family for 70 years. “In the 1960s, Daisan Kouki was a pure family business,” says Noriyuki Wakahara, the managing director of the company, which today has 104 employees. The core business of the company founder, his grandfather-in-law, was trading sheet metal. “One day, when a customer asked why we don’t also process sheet metal, we saw the light,” Wakahara recalls.
In 2004, Daisan Kouki, took its first step into the world of sheet metal processing and purchased a 2 kilowatt laser cutting system. In the years that followed, the factory was continuously expanded – among other things to comply with increasingly strict earthquake safety standards.
“We have always attached great value to reliably meeting even the highest quality requirements and have thus made a good name for ourselves on the industry,” says Wakahara. Most of his customers are active in the automotive sector. The parts that Daisan Kouki manufacturers support the production, above all in creating the production chain.
Bystronic Benelux BV has taken over its long-standing service partner Weber Laserservice BV. The integration of Weber Laserservice will enable Bystronic to provide its customers with even more efficient service, while also strengthening its market position and boosting its second-hand machine market.
“With the acquisition of Weber Laserservice, which has an excellent 15-year track record on the Benelux and German markets as well as in other countries and specializes in Bystronic machines, we are achieving several goals at once,” said Marco de Jong, Managing Director of Bystronic Benelux: “This move will make us the largest and most potent service and support organization in the increasingly dynamic market, and this both on-site with our customers and in the back office. A highly experienced and superbly trained team of technicians can now provide even more effective and prompt support for customers of every size and for every generation of Bystronic machine.”
Patrick van den Berg and Martin van de Weg, former owners of Weber Laserservice, added, “We are delighted that we will now be an integral part of our preferred partner Bystronic. The pooling of the strengths of these two companies will lead to significant additional synergies, which will translate into a considerable added value for the customers.”
Weber Laserservice specializes in the maintenance, training, installation, and sales of Bystronic laser cutting machines and also plays an important role in the second-hand market for laser cutting systems. The company has been a Bystronic certified partner for many years and has in the past been awarded the title of “Best Service Partner” of Bystronic Benelux.
In addition to service and support for flatbed lasers, pressbrakes, automation and software, these services will now also be offered for tube processing. Thus, Bystronic’s customers can rely on expert support from a single source.
“There will be no staff layoffs, because customer support is of the utmost importance to Bystronic, both now and in the future,” de Jong said. “With the integration of Weber Laserservice into Bystronic Benelux, we now cover all categories. The benefits of this increased efficiency will be felt by each and every one of our customers, regardless of which laser cutting system they are using.”
The strategic partnership with IPG Photonics is strengthening Bystronic’s innovative capacity: Together, these two technology pioneers are developing the next generation of fiber lasers. In addition, Bystronic benefits from attractive procurement terms and can set itself apart by offering exclusive customer services.
Innovative features, excellent service
Bystronic is one of IPG’s most important customers in the field of materials processing. What started as a simple supplier-customer relationship has evolved into a strategic partnership: In 2018, the two companies initiated joint development projects within the framework of a collaboration agreement. “This offers us the opportunity to adapt the laser sources to our specific needs and to develop innovative features for our customers,” says Christoph Rüttimann.
One such collaboration includes for example, Bystronic technicians being qualified to replace defective transport fibers at the laser source or to exchange laser modules. “We can thus set ourselves apart by offering comprehensive services from a single source. Our customers appreciate having a single point of contact for all their concerns,” Christoph Rüttimann emphasises.
Leader in the race for higher output
The output of fiber laser cutting machines has increased rapidly over the past few years. Two years ago Bystronic launched a 12-kilowatt system on the market, and this October with 15 kilowatts, the next power level will be launched. Christoph Rüttimann is convinced that the race for power will continue. And Bystronic is at the forefront – also thanks to its partnership with IPG.
Pioneering work for the smart factory
For Bystronic’s customers, the performance increases achieved over the past few years have translated into higher productivity and above all greater flexibility. This tangible customer benefit can be enhanced even further thanks to innovative features. The exchange of ideas and know-how with IPG is fertile ground that generates valuable ideas to drive forward the development of the systems.
Strong partnership for a dynamic and evolving market
The joint innovations show that with IPG, Bystronic has found an ideal partner to drive development of next generation fiber laser solutions. Christoph Rüttimann observes: “Within a rapidly evolving market, our partnership provides technology leadership, delivering leading-edge productivity and superior cost of ownership to our customers, and strengthening the future prospects of Bystronic.”
Norbert Seo (Division Head Asia & Australia) has a solution: Live streaming demos for our customers and a support app to solve problems straight away via a video link to second level support.
“We came up with the idea long before the corona crisis and we are now delighted that we are able to offer this service to our customers,” said Nobert Seo. Last November, he and his team started to analyse and implement live streaming options. Now all our subsidiaries worldwide are offering live streaming demos.
“We are the only company in our sector that supports its customers with live demos. And this is of particular importance under the current circumstances when it is impossible to visit many customers personally and they cannot visit us,” Norbert added.
These new sales and service tools were developed in-house. The main focus was on the quality of the transmitted image and the security of customer data.
IDEA – Innovation Demonstration Experience App
Over the past few months Norbert and his team have been carrying out tests to implement the live streaming demos. Eddie Tu (Service Manager, Bystronic Taiwan) conducted the very first live demos in Taiwan by sending customers a YouTube link which they can use to log into the live session and demonstrations can be carried out using parts they produce.
Upon customer request, the demo can also be adapted to specific cutting or bending conditions during the actual presentation, which can hence be demonstrated live to the customer. Customers can ask questions directly using the live chat app, which are then answered either via the stream or the chat. The team also conducts online training courses for service technicians, sales staff, and hotline operators in this way.
“We conduct the sessions in English and offer technical data sheets in Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese,” said Norbert. The demos are available in an online archive and can thus be presented to the customer directly on site whenever required at some later date. It is also possible to use this method to carry out internal training courses.
Norbert sees even more possibilities for the new online demo solution: “All the demos are stored, so that our sales staff can showcase our machines with a simple click during their next customer visit.”
Eddie is convinced that the demos will also serve as an additional “door opener” for potential customers: “In order to motivate our existing and new customers to visit the Experience Center, the first step can be to show them the demos that relate specifically to the machine type and materials they are interested in.”
The IDEA project is being optimised continuously. In the meantime, it is being adapted and implemented around the globe by all Bystronic subsidiaries that have an Experience Center.
Video Link To Second Level Support Via App
A direct link to the customer via an app. This idea also originated from our colleagues in Southeast Asia. It was first implemented in South Korea. This new real-time support function allows customers to contact the second level support in South Korea which then establishes a direct video link using the app.
The online support service works via the customer’s smartphone, which enables the hotliner to solve the problem quickly and easily using live images. The app includes additional functions such as voice chat, sketching, image sharing, sending text messages to the customer, recording, screenshots, QR code recognition, etc. For this, Bystronic Korea purchased a special license.
The standard procedure is as follows:
The customer calls the Bystronic hotline in the normal way.
The hotliner sends a message to the customer’s smartphone.
The customer taps on the link and is connected to the Bystronic hotline.
Using the camera of his/her smartphone, the customer shows the hotliner the problem, who can then provide direct support.
If the problem cannot be solved remotely, the hotliner deploys a service technician.
“This allows us to provide our customers with very fast and optimal support. And we are also observing how live images make it easier for our hotliners to solve problems,” Norbert concluded.
Laser cutting technology is making rapid progress. For many fields of application, the fiber laser has outstripped the CO2 laser. However, for thick sheet metal, in particular steel, CO2 laser technology still has its advantages. Article by Ralph Hofbauer, Bystronic.
At first, when Theodore Maiman developed the first functional laser in 1960, there were no practical applications for it. The US physicist described his invention as a ‘solution in search of a problem’. In the meantime, laser technology has found a wide range of applications—from medical technology to consumer electronics, right through to production engineering.
In the sheet metal processing industry, laser technology established itself during the eighties. At that time, the CO2 laser displaced conventional sheet metal processing methods, such as shears, die-cutting, and flame cutting. Nowadays, the fibre laser is considered state-of-the-art. The technology established itself astonishingly quickly. “Over the past five years, the fibre laser has experienced a greater development leap than the CO2 laser over a period of 20 years,” says Mario Duppenthaler, Laser Cutting Product Manager.
Ever-expanding Range of Applications
Bystronic launched its first cutting system based on fibre laser technology in 2010. Since then, the output power has grown fivefold: While the first model had an output of two kilowatts, Bystronic’s current top-of-the-line model, the ByStar Fiber, achieves ten kilowatts. This rapid progress has expanded the fibre laser’s range of applications. Initially, fibre laser technology was suitable only for thin sheet metal, but in the meantime fibre laser systems can cut sheet metal thicknesses up to 40 mm.
The success of fibre laser technology is based on a number of advantages. Compared to CO2 lasers, modern fibre lasers achieve up to five times the cutting speeds and are three times as energy efficient. This enables the costs per part to be decreased significantly. The operating and maintenance costs are lower, amongst other things because in contrast to CO2 laser system, fibre lasers do not have to be enriched with laser gas. In addition, fibre lasers can also cut non-ferrous metals, such as brass and copper.
For many sheet metal processing companies, the fibre laser has become the best choice. Nevertheless, there are still some production companies with special manufacturing needs that continue to rely on the benefits of the CO2 laser.
“In the thicker range of sheet steel, the cutting characteristics of CO2 lasers are more good-natured. Moreover, when cutting low-quality sheet metal, it achieves better results in terms of price per part,” Duppenthaler explains. Although the market share has decreased significantly over recent years, some ten percent of the cutting machines Bystronic sells still use CO2 laser technology.
More Power, Greater Flexibility
The choice of the optimal cutting system depends on the sheet metal thickness and the material.
When investing in a fibre laser, one has to take both economic and ecological factors into account: When switching over to a fibre laser, companies that use the exhaust heat from their CO2 laser’s cooling system to heat their factory must be aware that the exhaust heat from a fibre laser is minimal. In addition, it is not easy to keep up with the ever-increasing cutting speeds: “Fibre lasers have considerably accelerated the cutting process stage. In some cases, to such an extent that the upstream and downstream processes are turning into bottlenecks,” Duppenthaler says.
In the thin and medium range of sheet thicknesses, the fibre laser generates a significantly higher output than CO2 laser technology. The reason for the higher cutting speeds lies in the lower wavelength: While the CO2 laser generates a wavelength of 10 µm, with the fibre laser it is only 1 µm, which results in a higher absorption of the laser beam in the material when cutting steel and aluminium. Due to the fast cutting speeds, the challenge with the current generation of fibre lasers is to load and unload the machine quickly enough. Hence, as a general rule, it makes sense to enhance fibre lasers with an automation system.
Many sheet metal processing companies on the market are pure job shops that do not produce any products of their own. These companies must be prepared to deal with a wide variety of order situations.
“Job shops are today more than ever dependent on flexibility,” Duppenthaler explains. “Thanks to their versatility, high-performance fibre lasers are the optimal solution for job order production.”
Fibre lasers with 8 or 10 kilowatts offer the required flexibility, because they cut thin sheet metal at fast speeds while simultaneously being able to cope with the thick sheet metal range. Moreover, in the medium range of sheet thicknesses between 5 and 10 mm, the costs per part are considerably lower than with CO2 lasers.
In order to remain competitive in a tough environment, being able to produce parts at the lowest possible cost and in the desired quality is a crucial factor for manufacturing companies. The different laser output levels and formats in Bystronic’s portfolio of fibre lasers and CO2 lasers make this possible for every order situation and range of applications.
How much output power is necessary?
For users who mainly operate in the thin sheet metal range up to 3 mm, a 3-kilowatt laser is usually quite sufficient. These include, for example, manufacturers of kitchen appliances or electrical control cabinets. However, companies that cut a wide range of thicknesses require more power. As a general rule, an 8-kilowatt or 10-kilowatt fibre laser is the optimal solution for job shops. These machines offer a higher level of flexibility with regard to the thickness and range of materials. In addition, the costs per part are significantly lower in the medium sheet thickness range.
Many processes in the sheet metal industry are developing rapidly. Laser cutting, for example. In this interview, Johan Elster, Bystronic’s Head of Business Unit Markets, explains where the journey is headed.
Nowadays, sheet metal is cut using both fibre lasers and CO2 lasers. how will these two technologies develop?
Johan Elster (JE): Over the past few years, the fibre laser has experienced massive technological advances. We launched our first cutting system with fibre laser technology in 2010. Since then, the output power has grown six-fold. Our current top-of-the-line model, the ByStar Fiber, has an output of twelve kilowatts. This progress has also resulted in a massive expansion in the range of applications. Initially, fibre laser technology was suitable only for thin sheet metal; but today, fibre lasers can be used to cut sheet metal thicknesses of 40 mm and beyond.
For a long time, thick sheet metal was considered the domain of CO2 lasers. is this no longer true?
JE: The CO2 laser still possesses good characteristics for the cutting of thick sheet steel. It also allows good results to be achieved in terms of the price per part. Nevertheless, its market share has decreased significantly in recent years; today our sales of CO2 systems are almost negligible.
So, fiber lasers are now the preferred solution for many sheet metal processing companies. what is the key to the success of fiber laser technology?
JE: Fibre lasers achieve up to five times higher cutting speeds than CO2 lasers and exhibit three times the energy efficiency. The operating and maintenance costs are also considerably lower. The fibre laser offers highest cutting speeds, an attractive cost-performance ratio, high cutting quality, and increased flexibility.
JE: Absolutely. Around 70 to 80 percent of our customers are job shops that do not produce any products of their own. They must be prepared to deal with a broad spectrum of orders. Manufacturing a wide variety of parts at the lowest possible cost and in the desired quality is what their business is all about. Fibre lasers make this possible. The ByStar Fiber cuts stainless steel, aluminium, non-ferrous metals, mild steel—and all of these from the thin to thick range of material.
High-performance fiber lasers are all-rounders; what are the most important criteria when selecting their power output?
JE: The criteria vary from customer to customer. Companies that primarily cut thin sheet metal can usually get by with three, four, or six kilowatts. Users that frequently cut in the medium range, for example mild steel between 6 and 15 mm, and want to use nitrogen as the cutting gas, are optimally served with ten or twelve kilowatts. For large companies, the output of the laser is obviously the most important factor for the efficient processing of large batches. Here, the higher output has a significant effect on both speed and profitability.
What does the higher cutting speed mean for the overall production chain?
JE: In fact, the challenge with the latest generation of fiber lasers is to keep up with the loading and unloading. Hence, as a general rule, it makes sense to combine fiber lasers with an automation system. Our ‘ByTrans Extended’ and ‘ByTrans Cross’ loading and unloading systems take automation to the next level. Many small and medium-sized companies are currently in the process of progressively automating their production processes. We are experiencing an increased demand, in particular for sorting solutions. Nowadays, our customers no longer want to sort manually. For this, we offer our highly flexible BySort solution.
What can customers who want to increase their level of automation expect from Bystronic?
JE: As a general rule, our customers have a great deal of expertise in their core processes. We can help identify customer-specific bottlenecks: For example, we can find out where time is being wasted or where there is potential for improvement. This requires all the processes to be analyzed. We build on this and show what options are available to customers to optimize their production processes. Frequently, our customers are interested in compact cells that combine efficiency and flexibility. Accordingly, our solutions are configurable – not only in terms of hardware, but also with regard to software.
JE: This must be implemented step by step. Nowadays many suppliers offer a range of processes: cutting, bending, welding, etc. Regardless of how many processes are involved, it is possible to digitalize. We can help network our customers’ production environments in a gradual and process-specific manner using suitable software solutions.
What is the role of laser cutting in the context of Industry 4.0?
JE: Laser cutting is just one building block in a smart factory. Intelligent and networked production encompasses all the processes of a sheet metal processing company, in particular also those upstream and downstream of the production process: calculations, the preparation of offers, production planning, etc. A manufacturing execution system (MES) controls the production line. This enables production processes to be optimized fully automatically by comprehensively evaluating the data generated during the individual processes and optimizing the processes for the following orders.
There are hurdles that must be overcome on the path towards networked production—which of these is the most challenging?
JE: Since with regard to interfaces, our industry does not have the kind of standards as those found in the IT world, the integration of a variety of different machines into a networked system is very challenging. As a result, the process flow of each individual customer must be taken into consideration.
Bystronic is the only supplier that also integrates third-party machines. what are the reasons for this decision?
JE: We are convinced: The customer wants to be able to pick and choose the best solutions. In our view, suppliers that only integrate their proprietary products are following an outdated approach. For example, no supplier’s portfolio currently includes paint finishing systems. But it is precisely this process step that many customers also want to integrate. What is more, our customers generally already have machines that they wish to integrate into an overall system. This is why it is clear to us: Optimizing a production environment and achieving a higher level of overall efficiency requires not only expertise, but above all openness.