Complex laser processing at center stage
Long-term customer contracts are a lofty goal for every contract manufacturer. At Shapes Precision Manufacturing (SPM), that goal is being achieved by a strong new management team using new fabricating processes initiated by a skilled workforce. This includes the latest Prima Power Laserdyne Systems and FastTrim software.
“Our team is a solutions-oriented manufacturing environment with a deep understanding of aerospace materials,” said Paul Sesta, SPM’s general manager. “We’re committed to long-term agreements with ... customers who want to partner by providing single-source capabilities to produce complex assembles. This requires a committed management team, utilizing the latest technology along with motivated and skilled workers.”
“The qualification process for earning multiple-year contracts is arduous whether in aerospace, energy and military and any other industry. SPM is accomplishing this and a backlog of contracts going out to 2025,” Sesta said. “We are sustaining the highest sales now in Shapes Precision’s 30-year history. This is made possible with our reorganized management team and the addition of innovative technology like our newly acquired second Laserdyne system, the Laserdyne 430 with BeamDirector.”
The company made substantial capital investments in equipment and the right people, while expanding and training its workforce in new technology and processes.
“We acquired machining centers with multi-axis, high speed, tight tolerance, large workpiece machining capability and fiber laser machining capabilities,” Sesta said. “We added new equipment to perform 5 axis waterjet, TIG/MIG welding, resistance welding, bending, rolling, piercing, punching, and forming.
Sesta is leading these expanded manufacturing and training capabilities. He created the new management group and brings 34 years of experience making hot section parts for jet engines utilizing a variety of Prima Power Laserdyne laser systems from early Nd:YAG to state-of-the-art fiber laser technology. His team includes Mike Dozer, quality manager, Joey Sesta, operations manager, Rick McGahee, facilities manager, Michael Grantham, head of laser programming and non-conventional machining, and Rob Kissiday, the lead laser, EDM and waterjet technician.
This background in complex laser processing in aerospace turbine engine components and related technologies became key to securing multiple tier one customers.
Through SPM’s transition, long-term business relationships were developed with a world recognized OEM along with sub-tier commercial aviation and defense suppliers that included Parker-Hannifin, SAFRAN, Defense Logistics Agency, Pratt and Whitney, GE aviation, and Textron.
As a supplier of turbine engine components, a deep knowledge of processing aerospace materials is essential. That is one of SPM’s key attributes Sesta brought to the company and which he believes is important for its future growth. Among the many aerospace materials, the company processes include Inconels, hastelloys, titanium, stainless steel and aluminum. Key to many of these fabrication processes the company’s Laserdyne multi-axis fiber laser systems particularly it’s recently acquired Laserdyne 430 system with the BeamDirector system. With the addition of that system, along with its existing Laserdyne 795 system, the door opened to long term engine component contracts.
‘Test coupons’ important to use
“With our previous aerospace work experience, the opportunity for precision engine component fabrication presented itself,” Sesta said. “Engine hot section fabrication was a natural progression for us. Our experience with aerospace materials using the new Laserdyne 430 system was a key part of our qualification process. The specific process approval took nearly a year. We processed and submitted ‘test coupons’ to prove our quality at trimming hot part sections and drilling precision cooling holes at precisely set angles in the complex parts. Basically, we bought that machine for our aerospace OEM program as part of our proposal to obtain that type of work long term.”
A key feature of that new machine is unique capability for drilling cylindrical and shaped holes, as well as bevel cutting in a wide range of materials particularly the specified aerospace materials of titanium and Inconel. The system is equipped with a 15,000-Watt QCW (quasi continuous wave) fiber laser and S94P controller that provides required peak power for drilling applications and pulsed or CW output for the cutting applications. Combining higher velocity and acceleration, the third generation BeamDirector provides C (rotary) axis motion of 900 degrees, and D (tilt) axis motion of 300 degrees. The BeamDirector features improved accuracy and repeatability, higher assist gas airflow, adjustable mirrors for easy and accurate beam alignment, and a cassette mounted lens and cover slides for quick, accurate changeover. The robust design and improved motion control lets Laserdyne systems maintain accuracy and repeatability specs at all assist gas pressures up to 20 bar (300 psi).
Reliability ‘without tuning’
“We are drilling shallow angle holes at high speed and the machine straightforward operation allows us to change from drilling to cutting to welding without having to tune the laser or wait for warm up as with Nd:YAG lasers,” Sesta said. “Parts range from about an inch to up to 20 inches in diameter made with stainless alloys, aviation aluminums and high-strength steels. Speeds with the Laserdyne 430 are 50 percent faster than the YAG system and we’re meeting dimensional requirements within .001 inch and minimum to no micro cracks in the heat effected zone. We’re operating the machine 21 hours a day with less than 1 percent downtime.
“What’s really efficient when using the Laserdyne 795 and Laserdyne 430 together is that the 430 is ideal for smaller parts and the Laserdyne 795 for larger parts while each machine can handle the other machines parts within the shared size range for added capacity and flexibility,” he said. “Having that second laser system ensures risk mitigation and lessens the possibility of being out of production.”
Use for FastTrim software outlined
Another innovation for Shapes Precision laser operations is its use of FastTrim software, an all-in-one software for the Laserdyne 430 and Laserdyne 795 systems. It enables SPD engineers to model parts, define process paths, define feature locations and build part fixtures. Operators can easily post a complete program for 2D and 3D laser welding, drilling and cutting applications.
“With the part, its fixture and the machine are all modeled in the FastTrim software,” Sesta said. “We see clearances, travel and beam strike issues as we generate the tool path. We can make needed adjustments to the post before the program goes to the shop floor for offline verification. We can quickly and intuitively ’lead and lag’ the laser and change between the rotary table or the BeamDirector to anticipate 5-axis changes or access the challenging geometry.”
The software also provides the ability to modify tool paths through sheet offset, cutter offsets and axis translations with collision protection.
Winning long-term customer contracts
“The new Laserdyne 430 was a revelation for the productivity improvements it allowed,” Sesta said. “It provides greater opportunity for more technological advancement going forward. This is due to Prima Power Laserdyne’s history in process development, hardware knowledge and software that is made available to existing customers. These added laser processing capabilities are an important part of our capabilities resulting in enhanced customer support, improved performance and business growth.”