Industry's largest high-speed laser is bringing big changes to Midwestern Industries, a leading maker of screening and particle separation equipment. "The CINCINNATI laser touches almost every product we make," says Chip Painter, Vice President-Manufacturing. "We're producing components faster in fewer operations and to greater accuracy for better fit and easier weld-up."
After no previous experience with lasers, the Massillon, Ohio company moved aggressively into laser cutting in both machine size and performance, selecting CINCINNATI's linear-motor-drive CL-707 laser cutting center with optional 8 x 20 ft. dual interchangeable pallets. State-of-the art in speed, rigidity and pallet load productivity, the long bed CL-707 achieves outstanding cutting precision while delivering over 2.0 G acceleration and up to 10,000 inch-per-minute cutting head positioning. The massive laser was installed near year-end 2003 and began turning out production parts in less than a week.
"Big size was a necessity for us," says Painter. The company is full-line manufacturer of separator systems widely used across industry, everything from food and pharmaceutical production to mineral and chemical processing, and its vibratory separation machines and screens vary greatly in size and shape. The Massillon, Ohio plant manufactures nearly all the components, including machine side panels up to 16 ft. long and circular trays up to 60" diameter.
Midwestern needed high positioning and cutting speed to minimize processing time. It needed large pallet capacity to cover its full part-making requirements, maximize part processing versatility, and achieve part nesting efficiencies. "Only CINCINNATI made a machine that could meet our requirements," says Painter.
It also helped that Midwestern had a strong track record with CINCINNATI, based on workhorse performance from five machines - four press brakes and a shear - and outstanding service and support.
Painter had been thinking about a big laser since attending a CL-707 seminar at CINCINNATI Incorporated three years before and seeing an 8 x 20 ft. model in build. "The CL-707's speed and accuracy were just amazing," he recalls.
Midwestern prides itself on its quality, but providing it traditionally took a lot of special attention, first in applying templates to mark out material to be processed, then in secondary operations like drilling and edge finishing, he explains. Laser part programs have eliminated templates, while CL-707's precision virtually did away with drilling and edge finishing. "We used to plasma cut contoured parts, which left dross, burrs and rough edges," says Painter. 'Edge cleaning was very involved and affected two-thirds of all the parts we processed, so edge quality was a major issue."
He notes that side panels for large rectangular separators used to require template layout, shearing, torch cutting of large holes for shaft mounting, drilling of smaller holes, and treatment of edges. "We used to handle a part five or six times to get a completed side panel," says Painter. "Now we do everything in a single operation on the laser."
The laser not only performs all cutting and hole-making operations in one routine, but also etches components for locating and welding of attachment pieces, as well as the part number for each component.
"We've essentially eliminated drilling, taken the errors and fit-up adjustments out of assembly, and made welders' work so much easier," says Painter. The company has also begun using laser capabilities to add tabs and slots to certain parts to simplify assembly.
Two-thirds of Midwestern's production is in round-type separators. "We do lots of circles, arcs, radii, contours and curves that are ideal for laser cutting," he notes. "We just don't do a lot of straight cutting."The material processed on the laser splits 60/40 between mild steel and stainless. Material ranges in thickness from 28 gauge to 7/8". Midwestern stocks sheets from 4 x 8 ft. to 8 x 20 ft. and lets the nesting software fit the parts to be processed to the most efficient sheet size. "By being able to use fullsize 8 x 20 sheets, a standard mill size, we get some cost economies," says Painter.
Midwestern weaves most of its screens from wire, but some are cut out of plate on the laser. "We used to do these by perforation," he says. "The laser eliminates that extra operation and its tooling and lets us do custom patterns that would be costly to punch. On one special order, it only took part of a morning to program and laser cut 14,000 holes in a 5 ft. square plate."
Besides production and custom work, Midwestern also does prototyping on the CL-707. "The laser makes prototyping easier, faster and cheaper," says Painter. "In 20 minutes, half hour tops, we can have a part to evaluate."
Before the laser was delivered, Painter and the laser's two operators, Ryan Valentine and Tim Wolfe, went to CINCINNATI's headquarters for both operator and programming classes. "The programming and nesting software is excellent," says Painter. "We can go from CAD drawing to running on the machine in five minutes."
The two operators work the same shift and switch back and forth between programming and running the laser. Bringing an operator's perspective to programming is a great advantage, they say. They know where to pierce, what lead-in approaches will work best, and how to apply short-cuts to the laser cutting.
Midwestern presently runs the CL-707 eight to 10 hours a day, five days a week. "We planned going in that we would also use the laser to do outside work," says Painter. "We've brought people in to see the laser and have taken on some jobs, but didn't want to push it real hard until we had converted our internal parts over to the laser and felt confident in our laser cutting proficiency. We're getting close now."