Belco's specific laser criteria leads to increased production with Mazak 8kW fiber laser
Belco Industries of Belding, Michigan is an OEM which makes extrusion equipment, finishing systems, industrial parts washers and drying ovens. “We are an OEM, but it’s not like we run the same parts over and over. Once a sale is made, we design the system and produce parts that are unique to that system,” said Chris Stewart, manufacturing engineer.
Previously Belco had a 2.5kW CO2 laser from Laser Lab, but it was 20 years old. Regardless, Belco was running 1-2 shifts, but according to Stewart, “the laser was long in the tooth.” Yet the most surprising part of the laser was not that it was an operational 20-year-old machine, but that “the laser was a bit temperamental and the bottleneck of the shop,” said Stewart. Belco also had a plasma machine that was even older than the laser. The plasma’s replacement parts were getting harder to find and it was either replace the laser or replace the plasma.
Searching to Eliminate Bottleneck
Stewart knew that the answer was to get a new laser with specific criteria. Stewart explained, “We wanted a fiber laser that could process an inch across the board. We rarely do an inch in aluminum, mainly only in mild steel and stainless, but we wanted that capability.” At the time, Belco was limited to 5/8” mild steel and ½" stainless. “We could do thicker but it was at crawling speed,” said Stewart.
Belco also needed a 4020 platform because the plan had changed to now replace both the laser and the plasma machines. Stewart explained, “We needed to have the ability to cut 12ft sheets because that is what our plasma cuts. Looking down the road, we want the ability to cut both 5 x 12 sheets and 6 x 12 sheets.”
Stewart required a laser that had proven itself in the industry and felt that Mazak was that choice. Belco decided on the Mazak OPTIPLEX FIBER III 8kW laser-cutting machine. Stewart expounded, “I loved the retractable roof which makes it easier to trim sheets, it allows us to open up the machine by sliding back like you would a window. We also saw no issues finding replacement parts, thinking later on down the road.”
Like most cases, price and power level are also important when deciding on a laser. “Originally, we wanted a 6kW but the 8kW just made the most sense and was a good financial deal. The Mazak staff and Greg Darling, from Modern Machinery, were super attentive and thorough throughout the process. Mazak was our number one choice with a nice looking machine and a good deal.”
8kW Laser Speed Produces Results
Since implementing the OPTIPLEX FIBER 8kW there have been many benefits for Belco. “The machine is ridiculously fast and the laser is no longer the bottleneck of the shop,” said Stewart. The 4020 platform combined with the 8kW power gives Belco more range, Stewart described, “Upgrading our laser-cutting equipment has allowed us to produce more parts and cut thicker materials without laminating. The speed and fast turnaround let us do more jobs, more quickly. Customers get exactly what they want sooner.”
More specifically, Stewart explained cutting an oven duct. “An oven duct is approximately 100 sheets of 60 x 144, with the previous machine it would take two to three weeks and now the new OPTIPLEX FIBER 8kW can easily complete the job in a couple of days.”
Belco creates all custom systems and designs with no two systems being the same. Customers get exactly what they want, but it is more engineering. Luckily the laser-cutting machine helps speed up the process.
Stewart said, “Etching part numbers and job numbers, speeds up the process in the long run by reducing work for the operator, plus once the part is hit with paint, you can’t even see the etch anymore. The plasma machine didn’t have a transfer table so you would need to unload, load, and transfer then it would start cutting. This meant it was necessary to have one person running the machine and another person unloading and loading the material. This is not the case anymore. We just toss the material on the table and tell it to go.”
Whether you are replacing over a decade old machine or purchasing your first laser, adding high-power fiber lasers to your fabrication operations results in higher throughput and higher quality parts.
Article published in the June issue of The FABRICATOR.