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Laser-Equipped Swiss CNCs Grow in Capability, Ease of Use

Kip Hanson
By Kip Hanson Contributing Editor, SME Media

Beginning around six years ago, one machine tool builder after another added laser cutting and even welding to their products’ already impressive repertoires.

Marubeni Citizen-Cincom Inc., Allendale, N.J. is one of these. Laser Product Manager Randy Nickerson said the company was among the first to adapt fiber laser technology to Swiss-style lathes, and has improved it ever since. The latest iteration includes temperature and humidity sensors inside the laser head that continuously monitor for the proper operating conditions, and generate an alert on the control’s display if there’s a problem.

Other features of the L2000 Laser System include a QCW power source that can be switched between 300-W continuous for engraving or slicing through thin-walled materials and 3,000-W pulsed mode for heavier cuts. There’s an integrated CCD camera for beam alignment and a bird’s eye view of the cutting zone, automatic switching of up to three assist gases (usually nitrogen, argon, and oxygen), and “complete programmability of pulse frequency, power levels, gas pressure, and other operating values.”

Perhaps most intriguing are the system’s welding capabilities. Nickerson explained that the L2000 has been very popular with medical device manufacturers who use the laser for burr-free machining of stents and similar parts from thin-walled tubing. Some of these companies, however, need to join a second component to the one that’s being machined, a requirement that came as a surprise to Nickerson and his technical team.

Laser Welding Added

“Soon after the machine’s introduction, we found that a number of our customers were sending their Swiss-turned parts out for secondary welding operations,” he said. “One example is the device they use for taking biopsies inside the human body. It’s essentially a long tube with a series of teeth on one end, made from two pieces that are joined together. We sent it to our automation team in Massachusetts and they developed a system with a vibrating bowl feeder that orients the mating part and presents it to the sub-spindle. The sub picks it up, butts it up against the part coming out of the main spindle, the laser welds the two pieces together, and a parting tool then cuts off the completed assembly.”

Operation and Upfitting

As complex as it sounds, Nickerson suggested the L2000 is quite easy to operate. Activation of the unit is done via a DPRNT command and various M-codes, and toolpath creation is “no different than programming a tiny end mill.”

For those worried about the sparks and spatter associated with laser cutting and welding, don’t be. Since most Swiss-style lathes today are equipped with filter-equipped high-pressure coolant (HPC) systems, they’re able to remove the small particles generated by these non-chip making operations. Perhaps best of all, there’s no need to buy a new Swiss-style CNC machine, as the unit is field-retrofittable to a range of machine models.

“We designed the system to be installed on certain models of our L-series and A-series machines, on non-Swiss machines like our Miyano BNA-42GTY fixed headstock lathe, and even some older equipment with the right axis movement and configuration,” said Nickerson. “As a matter of fact, the first L2000 that we ever sold went on one of our older L20 models. That’s not to say that any machine is a candidate, as construction might change slightly from generation to generation, but there’s a good chance we can make it work if your lathe is less than 10 years old.”

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