Mazak laser-cutting machines are incredibly safe machines when paired with proper safety procedure to reduce potential risks.
By Dan Konrath, Applications Engineer at Mazak Optonics Corp.
Laser is actually an acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation". Since there is a radiation stimulated light involved in the Mazak cutting process, there are potential hazards. Laser related hazards include laser beam contact, fire, fumes and electrocution. But the two most serious are beam contact and fire.
With any heat related process there is always a risk of ignition. While the machine is completely enclosed, it is important that flammable materials are never placed inside the cutting area. This could also be as simple as someone misplacing a rag with WD40 inside of the machine. Another fire risk is using oxygen as an assist gas when processing non-metallic materials such as wood, plastics and aluminum. Nitrogen or compressed air as an assist gas is necessary for these types of materials. Eliminating these hazards are important to keep the laser and yourself safe, but be sure to also have a fire extinguisher near the machine.
Safety around any machine tool is crucial. I always tell my students that operating a laser is a lot like riding a motorcycle. It is good to become comfortable with your machine and be confident in your abilities but the minute you lose respect for what it is capable of, you are setting yourself up for failure. The machine moves extremely fast with a lot of force not to mention the large amount of heat and energy produced by the laser.
Proper machine maintenance and upkeep are also very important to reduce flammability. Mazak lasers are very easy to main. There are machine startup lists and maintenance check lists with diagrams posted directly to the side of the machine. The machine also keeps track of key maintenance issues and will notify you when they need attention. Now, with the PreviewG control, there are even more maintenance alarms to help you keep up with these items.
With advancements in laser sources, there is an increase in importance of eye safety. CO2 had a different wave length which would not damage your eyes. But with fiber laser technology, the light is in the near-infrared segment of the spectrum. Now, with direct diode laser technology, it has jumped up to an even more extreme level, pushing the light intensity even further.
Eye safety is not something to ignore with when working around fiber and direct diode laser machines. Special green safety glasses may be used to monitor the machines performance while filtering out any harmful wavelengths. But Mazak fiber lasers have green glass windows which allow you to look inside the machine without having the doors open. Mazak fiber and direct diode lasers are fully enclosed and interlocked. The machine will not allow a beam to be discharged if any of the doors or access panels are not closed and locked. Opening a door isn’t just pulling the handle. For safety reasons, the door is a three-step process.
In additional to the Mazak fiber lasers being fully interlocked, the machine will not perform any automatic movements or travel at high speed if all the interlocks are not met. This keeps the operator from being struck by moving parts. Also the pallet changer has a light barrier around it that will instantly stop the pallet. This protects the operator as well as other bystanders that are on the shop floor.
The pallet changer barriers are set up so when the light barrier is broke, the system completely shuts off before you reach it. The machine’s reaction is completed so quickly that even if you are running full speed towards the machine, the process will be completely stopped by the time you get to it. The lights on the barriers are also set to specific height so that someone cannot crawl or jump over them. The pallet changer also has a workset feature so you have to go towards the end of the machine, where you able to physically see the pallet. This is something you have to do in order to change the pallet if the light barrier is broken.
Preventing accidents comes down to two simple things: (1) being aware of your surroundings and (2) following proper procedure.
A shop floor is a hazardous place by nature due to the amount of heavy fast moving machinery in the fabrication industry. Industry standards for operator safety have come a long way in the past few decades, there are safety protocols and procedures for most situations. If people are paying attention to what they and others are doing while also following proper protocol fabrication shops can be a very safe environment. These topics and more are discussed extensively in Mazak’s Operating Training class.