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Manufacturing Cell Highlights Lasers


This functioning production cell will demonstrate the versatility of state-of-the-art lasers


At the Fabtech International and AWS Welding Show, which will be held in Atlanta, GA, a working cell on the exhibition floor will be devoted to laser technology. Located at booth 8138 and designated the Automated Manufacturing Laser Cell, it permits attendees to observe live demonstrations of laser welding, cutting, marking, QC, and other processes. The 1500 ft2 (139 m2) cell will be used to manufacture a trailer hitch receiver cover.

In addition to a better understanding of how the laser-based products from each of the participating OEMs contributes to production of the part, 4300 attendees will walk away from the cell with a special prize—their own hitch receiver cover.

Personnel from each OEM will be available to explain how their company's product contributes to production of the cover. The cell system integrator—Custom Machine Inc. (Adrian, MI) will be on hand to explain how to create your own workcell for a niche application, or help you determine the suitability of a machine tool from an OEM for your work. In total, more than 15 companies will have equipment in the hitch-cover cell.

Laser manufacturing demonstrations begin with laser tube cutting and holemaking by BLM (Wixom, MI) and flat sheetmetal cutting with a Bystronic (Hauppauge, NY) flatbed cutter. Next, the automated custom-built cell (engineered and manufactured by Custom Machine), which employs a 6-kW CO2 laser from Trumpf (Plymouth Township, MI), a chiller from Riedel (Westland, MI), an American Laser Enterprises (Northville, MI) beam delivery system, weld monitoring by Precitec (New Hudson, MI), and a robot from Kawaski (Wixom, MI) will manufacture the hitch receiver cover components. The end product is lasermarked by a Telesis Technologies (Circleville, OH) system, and finished with precision welding equipment from Lasag (Buffalo Grove, IL).

Dave Ackerman, project manager for Custom Machine Inc. says the laser cell will demonstrate the flexibility that's possible using state-of-the-art equipment. The trailer hitch receiver cover produced by the cell will be made from stainless steel tubing and plate, cut and welded by lasers. Tubing used for the hitch is square in cross-section, with a 1/8" (3.2-mm) wall; the sheet is also stainless, and is 1/8" thick. The cell should achieve a cycle time of 20 sec/hitch receiver cover.

Ackerman believes that manufacturing personnel from smaller shops may be particularly surprised at the way the components of the cell can be linked. In his part of the project, Ackerman is concentrating on the equipment used to weld together the two main components of the hitch, a stainless disk and a piece of stainless tube.

Don Sprentall, president of American Laser Enterprises, the company supplying the cell's beam delivery system, observes that: "The laser demonstration cell is really overkill in all facets." It's truly set up to show the versatility and flexibility of laser technology, rather than as an optimized approach to manufacturing the hitch receiver cover.

In the 20 x 20' (6.1 x 6.1-m) welding section of the cell, a conveyor presents the pre-cut cover components—two ovals of different size cut from stainless sheet and pieces of tube cut to length—to the Kawasaki robot, which performs the necessary material-handling tasks.

The robot places the components in a welding fixture, and the 6-kW Trumpf laser then welds the larger oval to the tube. This laser can perform both cutting and welding operations, optically switching from welding to cutting and back. A weld-monitoring unit from Precitec performs real-time inspection of the four welds that join the stainless oval to the stainless tube. Data on all four welds can be stored by the system. This type of weld monitor is widely used in applications that require traceability, according to Sprentall.

After the weld is complete, the robot removes the workpiece and delivers it to another cut station. In this station, letters are laser-cut into the surface of the large oval fixed to the tube using a three-axis form cutter from Precitec. A Telesis system demonstrates engraving of information on the smaller stainless oval, and a Lasag laser system tackwelds this engraved oval to the larger stainless oval, completing the hitch receiver cover. The completed part is removed by the robot and placed in a rack. Two-position tooling on the robot's EOAT will have several gripping devices, to demonstrate the flexibility that today's robot tooling provides.

Overall cell control is provided by a PLC-based controller. In addition, the cell will include a fume collection system and welding gases from Praxair (Danbury, CT), including nitrogen, argon, and CO2. For self-evident safety reasons, no one will be able to place his or her head inside the various enclosures in the cell, but video cameras will monitor operations, and attendees can watch the operations on a screen.

With new applications for lasers have come more options. These options can make it affordable and practical for small and mid-size shops to take advantage of this technology. Alongside the live laser manufacturing cell, visitors to the show can attend sessions in the Fabtech Educational Conference—Laser Track, to learn more about the many uses for this technology.

The laser cell is supported by members of the SME Industrial Laser Community (ILC). The ILC has worked with SME and FMA staff to better-visualize the laser processes, with added programs that are planned to complement visits to the laser-cell.

A tech tour is included as part of the newly expanded Laser Education Track at this year's educational conference. Each tour combines classroom instruction with a tour of the manufacturing cell, during which attendees will see live demonstrations of the technology they are studying. Each program is two hours long.

Topics covered by the education conference include:

  • Roadmap to Using Lasers on the Shop Floor,
  • Precision Laser Applications,
  • Breakthroughs in Laser Technology, and
  • High-Speed Laser Processing.

The Laser program is designed to increase laser technology awareness for small, medium, and large companies. For any single session, registration cost for the Conference is $165 for SME members and $185 for a nonmember. Discounts apply when registering for multiple sessions.

The Industrial Laser Community will present a free one-hour program called Lasers 101 on Tuesday, October 31, in the Innovation Theater. This program is designed to introduce the audience to the many ways laser technology is currently being used in manufacturing, and to predict the new uses for lasers that are on the short-term horizon.

In addition to the Fabtech Conference, the American Welding Society will offer a comprehensive lineup of welding education programs and events during Fabtech, including a Professional Program, RWMA Welding School, US Weld Trials, and indepth conferences and seminars. AWS conferences and seminars will showcase current welding research and new commercial developments. Topics covered will include aluminum welding, spot welding, welding stainless steels, structural welding code, and quality control. For a complete schedule of events and more information, visit

Taking place October 31–November 2 in Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center, the 2006 Fabtech International & AWS Welding Show is the largest event in North America dedicated to showcasing a full spectrum of metalforming, fabricating, tube and pipe, and welding equipment and technology. Approximately 650 exhibitors will display their products, and some 50 technical seminars and conference sessions will be held. Holding Fabtech in Atlanta indicates the increasing importance of the Southeastern US to North American manufacturing.

The event is co-sponsored by The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), The Fabricators and Manufacturers Association International (Rockford, IL), and The American Welding Society (Miami, FL).


This article was first published in the October 2006 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 10/1/2006

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