A TURNING POINT FOR LASER CUTTING IN ROLL FORMING APPLICATIONS
Check out how this manufacturer is using six-axis laser technology to improve its operations.
FOR STARTERS: A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE ROLL FORMING PROCESS
Before getting into the benefits of six-axis laser cutting in roll forming applications, let’s take a moment to talk about the roll forming process to make sure we’re all on the same page (no pun intended).
For readers who may not be familiar with it, roll forming is a continuous bending operation in which a long strip of metal (typically coiled steel) is passed through consecutive sets of rolls, or stands, at room temperature. Each set performs incremental parts of the bend until the desired cross-section is obtained. Unlike other common metal shaping methods, roll forming easily lends itself to the integration of secondary processes into a single production line. This inherent flexibility increases efficiency while reducing operational and capital costs.
Roll forming is ideally suited for applications that require high-volume production runs of long and narrow metal parts and tubes with tight tolerances and consistent, complex cross sections. It can be used as a cost-effective alternative or companion to extruding, press breaking, and stamping operations. Generally speaking, roll forming mills can process a variety of different metal materials including several types of steel, aluminum, titanium and a host of different alloys. A typical roll forming mill can handle materials in gauges ranging from .010 in to .375 in thick. So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on to what six-axis laser cutting brings to roll forming applications.
WHY INVEST IN A SIX-AXIS LASER SETUP?
Having six-axis laser cutting capabilities is a huge advantage for certain roll forming applications because they enable the manufacturer to operate more efficiently, precisely, and safely. In our own case, there were distinct market demands that prompted the addition of a six-axis laser fixture.
Some of the markets that we serve utilize nonstandard tubular shapes with complex geometries that have multiple bends and contours. In most cases, holes and slots are required to accommodate attached components and routings in further assembly processes. The nature of the geometries requires that these features are added after final forming.
We decided to upgrade our existing five-axis laser with the addition of a six-axis rotational fixture because it gives us the ability to make precise cuts in parts with complex shapes after they’ve already been formed. The upgrade was relatively simple. We installed the six-axis fixture in the laser booth and attached a small, enclosed PLC to the booth’s exterior to control it. We then revised the parts’ CAD drawings to accommodate the presence of the fixture and rewrote the laser’s operating program to allow for the new fixture’s size and rotational times.
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