Large-scale robotic laser cutting
A suite of automation solutions from FANUC has proved integral to the delivery of an industrial-scale laser cutting cell commissioned by the UK’s Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC). Constructed by system integrator Cyan Tec Systems, the demonstration cell comprises a 12m x 4m cutting table and, from FANUC UK, a six-axis robot, a computerised numerical control (CNC) system for the flatbed, and the laser, all contained within a laser-secure enclosure.
“The main reason for working with FANUC was the fact that they could offer a seamless automation solution incorporating not just the robot but also the laser and motion system,” says Cyan Tec’s Project Co-Ordinator Grant Copson.
The system was specifically commissioned by the MTC to sit at the upper end of industry expectations in terms of scale to showcase to visiting manufacturers just what is possible within automated laser cutting. There is real scope for the cell to be used within the aerospace and automotive industries, or any industry that requires large-scale pre-cut profiles. The construction sector could also benefit from cells of this size, in particular for precision cutting of profile sections for prefabricated buildings.
The cutting table and robot sit inside a large enclosure measuring 15.5m x 9m, but the space requirements go even further. The cutting table slides out an additional 13m ensuring that if an operator wants to load a 12m x 4m product, they have adequate access to do so – even if this requires the use of a crane or forklift truck.
The laser cutting bed is designed to handle flat plate, while the FANUC M-20iB robot is deployed to cut tubular sections. The robot’s six axes are mounted on a floor track and driven synchronously with a FANUC seventh axis, allowing it to move up and down the tube being cut. The integrated laser is versatile enough to be applied to either tubular or flat metal and can be regulated to suit different material types.
Ray Timberlake, Sales Manager for factory automation products at FANUC UK, points out that industrial machines of this sort have traditionally been entrusted to plasma cutters, but in this application fibre laser equipment was the only possible solution to achieve the accuracy. “The choice of laser cutting is not so much about speed, but more about the quality of the finish that you achieve,” he explains.
Capable of handling payloads of 25kg, the FANUC M-20iB robot was chosen for its high precision and reach of up to 2m. There are cameras inside the enclosure to monitor production for quality and safety. In addition, the enclosure is laser-tight to protect against scattering from laser beams, with interlocked guard doors to ensure there is no access while the laser is running.
When the MTC commissioned Cyan Tec to construct the cell and specified its size and capabilities, the Cyan Tec team was quick to enlist the help of FANUC UK, with whom it enjoys a productive partnership.
“Over the last three to four years, we’ve built up a good relationship with FANUC,” says Copson. “They see us as a key integration partner, and we value the range and reliability of their automation solutions.”
FANUC UK’s strong after-sales support service is also integral to the partnership’s success, with the automation supplier able to offer an immediate response to any issues 24/7, anywhere in the country.
In this instance, the sheer scale of the installation necessitated impressive operational responses from all involved. “The MTC had to make internal alterations to accommodate a cell of this size,” says Timberlake. “The entire installation was first constructed at Cyan Tec’s workshop, commissioned there, then stripped apart, shipped and reconstructed at the MTC.”
Cyan Tec’s Copson adds: “The main challenge was the physical size of the cell, as well as the detail of constructing guarding on that scale – ensuring it was safe and engineering a table that moves in and out automatically were paramount. The automation itself was less challenging, given that we are well used to applying these technologies.”
FANUC provided its 21.5-inch iH Pro human-machine interface (HMI) panel, along with all the motors and drives to control the flatbed CNC system, while Cyan Tec created its own control software for the entire cell, accessed through the HMI.
The ‘complete package’ that Cyan Tec sourced from FANUC included 30ib series controls, managing both axis and machine functions, and the FANUC beam switch, which directs the laser beam either towards the robot or the flatbed. When selecting the control system, compatibility with laser – including, potentially, those from other suppliers – was an important consideration.
In fact, since the project completed, FANUC has launched its 0iFL series of laser-compatible controllers, which effectively perform the same role in an even more cost-effective way.
It is clear that this large-scale demonstration cell is the perfect showcase to help manufacturers across a range of sectors understand just what is possible within the field of automated laser cutting.