Production over power

The Amada Ventis 3015AJe 6kW made its UK debut at the open house
The Amada Ventis 3015AJe 6kW made its UK debut at the open house

Sheetmetal processing specialist Amada UK held a winter open house in December. Ed Hill visited the company’s Technology Centre in Kidderminster to see the progress of its latest hi-tech machinery.

When fibre laser cutting technology first hit the sheetmetal market in the late 2000s, the benefits of faster cutting speeds on thin materials, no warm-up time, lower operating and maintenance costs, and being able to cut a wider range of materials, particularly reflective ones such as brass and copper, meant they rapidly began to displace their COâ‚‚ counterparts.

However, primarily to tackle the challenges of cutting thicker plate materials, there soon seemed to be a race among major flatbed machine manufacturers as to who could produce the model with the most powerful laser. 12kW, 20kW and even 30kW machines were introduced and marketed as the answer to subcontractors’ needs.

But as the market has matured it has become apparent power isn’t everything, and with clever adaptations of fibre laser technology and automation, lower powered and less costly machines can now match and even outperform higher powered options.

This was the theme demonstrated at Amada’s open house held in December. In fact, ‘Production over power’ was the mantra that the company wanted to convey to visitors at its impressive UK headquarters in Kidderminster. It was also a chance to display its latest pressbrake, punching and software developments. 

“We don’t just focus on greater power,” Chris Williams sales manager at Amada UK begins. “Amada’s approach is to really understand what the customer requires and produces. It may be that they could be more productive automating a 3kW or 4kW machine with an automated tower system for the same cost as purchasing a 10kW machine. Both their capital outlay and running costs would be cheaper and the automation gives them the option of utilising their operators’ time much more effectively.”

It’s in the beam

When it came to flatbed laser cutting, the star of the open house was the Ventis 6kW machine, making its UK debut. A more powerful version of the Ventis 4kW, it comes with all the technical developments from Amada that make it as productive as an 8kW laser or even 10kW machine for certain materials.

A range of materials and thicknesses cut by Amada lasers
A range of materials and thicknesses cut by Amada lasers

The main development that brings these benefits is Amada’s Locus Beam Control (LBC). Through minute oscillations the laser beam cuts in patterns as the head moves along its 2D axis. This means the speed and quality of cut can be maintained without having to defocus the laser or slow the machine down, particularly with thicker sheet materials.

LBC has three main settings: Productivity Mode that provides cutting speeds usually associated with higher power lasers when processing with nitrogen; Quality Mode provides dross free stainless steel cuts up to 20mm thick on the 6kW machine, reducing the need for further processing; and Kerf Control that means the diameter of the laser beam can be fractionally increased so that the gap between nested parts is larger, allowing for much more reliable removal of the part from the sheet by automated part picking systems.

LBC also enables Flash Cut, designed to significantly increase the rate at which holes can be made in sheetmetal. In this situation holes are produced by circular movements of just the laser beam, not the entire head so it can continue along its 2D axis without deviating.

Amada says that by just rotating the beam in the nozzle, 14 holes per second can be cut and on parts with more than 550 holes this results in a 75% decrease in processing time compared to standard hole cutting.

On the new Regius-AJe 12kW laser which was also exhibited, Amada’s Fiber Silky Cut mode was a highlight. Through a combination of developments in the beam path optics, gas flow dynamics and beam control technology, improved cutting performance can be achieved for medium thickness stainless steel, providing results comparable with COâ‚‚ lasers. When also used in conjunction with gas mixing technology, very high-quality aluminium results can also be achieved.

Automating uptime

Like many areas of manufacturing, the sheetmetal world suffers from a scarcity of skilled staff, so many of Amada’s technological developments are aimed at ways of mitigating these problems.

The latest Ventis and Regius machines come with an automatic nozzle changer that also cleans and calibrates the nozzle each time it is changed, meaning an operator doesn’t have to make this inspection. The LIS (Laser Integration System) function also allows production that is more autonomous. The protection glass is monitored for dirt build-up, the nozzle condition is checked and changed if necessary, and beam-to-nozzle centring is also automatically adjusted as required before each cutting job.

Amada’s V-factory allows users to monitor the performance of machines based on real-time data
Amada’s V-factory allows users to monitor the performance of machines based on real-time data

Another benefit for lights out or reduced attendance operation is automatic head recovery. If the laser head collides with a part or piece of scrap that has accidentally become dislodged from the sheet, a shock absorption system minimises damage to the head and the nozzle is again changed and recalibrated, allowing production to continue at the next cutting profile. In the past this would have required the intervention of an operator to inspect and reset the machine.

Taking control

Another development at the open house was the introduction of Amada’s new AMNC 4ie control. Many of the improvements to the interface are designed to address skills issues and improve remote support to maximise machine uptime.

Firstly, operators are given a unique profile (with face recognition) so certain limits can be set depending on skill level. For example, an inexperienced or temporary operator may only have access to certain functions, whereas an experienced operator can have full access to the control to be able to adjust programmes and cutting strategy. The control can also be easily changed so it displays the operator’s native language and includes easy access to maintenance and guidance tutorials.

Improved IoT support to the Amada helpdesk means that videos captured by an internal camera on the machine can be streamed to advisors and the majority of issues fixed over the phone. All these features can also be integrated with users’ mobile phones.

“These developments are all part of a pathway to make things easier for our customers and their operators,” Mr Williams says. “Firstly, we have to ensure that our machines are as reliable as they can be. Secondly, they need to be easier to use as skill levels can vary greatly, particularly during holiday times when short-term staff may be brought in, for example.

“From a service perspective we offer IoT support so all our machines can share data about how they are operating, firstly for the customer, but also with our service technicians. We can now link to the machine to see what might have caused an alarm or stoppage and provide a solution. Before this system was introduced our service line was able to solve around 40% of problems by phone without having to send a service technician to site. That is now over 60% and rapidly rising.”

Continuing the Industry 4.0 developments, Amada’s V-factory app means users can monitor and adjust the performance of their machines at anytime and anywhere based on real-time data. This can highlight production inefficiencies such as machine downtime, energy consumption and material utilisation and be shared with other employees to see how changes can be made to maximise production. 

At the open house Amada was also promoting its comprehensive range of automation solutions, from single cycle and compact loading/unloading systems to, multi-shelf systems and storage towers.

The HRB 2204 pressbrake features an automatic tool changer
The HRB 2204 pressbrake features an automatic tool changer

Pressing matters

Automation was also a major focus for Amada’s pressbrake offerings. Demonstrating the possibilities and technology now available from the machine builder was an HRB 2204 pressbrake which features an automatic tool changer (ATC). This clever system virtually eliminates manual set up times and can be easily adapted for short run batches with Amada’s offline bending software. 

So, with all these advances there’s no doubt that Amada is a technology leader when it comes to sheetmetal production and fabrication. And it aims to maintain its significant market share – despite increasing global competition – by providing innovative solutions for an increasingly demanding market.

“It’s important to make our technology attractive to young people entering the industry and get buy-in from that generation,” Mr Williams explains. “That is an increasingly important consideration for our customers too. It's not just about what is the best value product we offer or the most efficient but also how it will improve the operators’ workday and keep them engaged.

“We often find that operators come along to our showroom with their managers so they are involved in the purchasing process and we like to encourage that. If the operators like our technology then it's much more likely their managers will too, so it’s important that everyone who deals with the Amada has a good experience with us.

“We have a well-recognised position in the UK market; people like our brand and established businesses rarely choose budget offerings, because they need the state-of-the-art technology, performance, reliability, efficiency and support that we provide.

“Our machines are often part of a whole series of production stages; there might be bending, finishing and painting required and companies can't afford any of those production methods to break down because each relies on the other.”

Amada UK

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