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Five key laser themes expected at EuroBLECH 2022

Laser Systems Europe will be attending EuroBLECH after its four-year hiatus.

Here are some of the key themes we expect to be covered at this year’s show – specific to the field of laser materials processing. 

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See our show preview for more information on the show and a list of the laser technologies and exhibitors that'll be in attendance.

We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

1. Higher cutting power

We expect a further increase in laser power to be seen at this year’s show – ever present among the many innovations occurring in the field of industrial laser processing.

Sheet metal processing systems wielding powers up to and exceeding 20kW can now be seen across the market, promising improved cutting performance, higher-throughput, and larger thicknesses of material able to be processed (up to multiple tens of millimetres). While such thicknesses can be cut using plasma machines, the speed and precision of these systems is not equal to their powered-up laser counterparts. 

In addition, more systems in the 8-12kW range are emerging at reasonable prices, reducing the barrier to entry for those looking to unlock the higher throughputs and quality promised by these powerful systems.  

2. Variable beam quality

The past four years has seen further adoption of multi-core fibre lasers and newly-developed coherent-beam-combining lasers offering variable beam modes that can further optimise cutting and welding. Such lasers, offered by firms including Coherent, NLight, Trumpf, SPI Lasers (now Trumpf UK), IPG and Civan Lasers, offer the ability to switch rapidly between different beam characteristics without turning the laser off, enabling different thicknesses and materials to be cut and welded more efficiently and to a higher quality.

For sheet metal cutting in particular, such lasers enable different spots sizes to be pushed down a single fibre to produce a beam shape with an inner and outer core, each with adjustable intensity. This enables users to pierce through thick materials using a very small spot size – via the inner core – and then slowly open that up by putting power into the outer core to achieve a good kerf width.

In welding these lasers enable further stabilisation of the melt pool, which dramatically reduces defects such as porosity and spatter, enabling higher travel speeds, smoother bead surfaces and overall far higher quality welds across a wide range of different materials.

3. Increased automation

But what use are faster, higher-quality cutting & welding systems without being able to handle the raw material at an equal rate? We’re therefore expecting to see an increasing number of systems equipped with picking & stacking robots, sheet loading & unloading systems, and warehouse towers to transform them into all-encompassing automated production lines: storing, handling and feeding raw sheet metal into the system for it to be cut, welded and then stored as a finished product.

In addition to handling the material itself, setting up the parameters of the system in a timely manner is equally as important, which is why we’re anticipating smarter optics, increasingly innovative software and switchable nozzles/heads to facilitate the automatic focus detection and positioning of the laser beam before processing begins.

All this and more will enable sheet metal manufacturers to deploy a fleet of intelligent, easy-to-use laser systems, future proofing them against the ongoing shortage of skilled workers.

4. Further digitalisation

Digitalisation, Industry 4.0 and smart factories were key topics at the previous EuroBLECH, however at the time it tended to only be the larger companies exploring these solutions. Since then, these key drivers have also reached the factories of small and medium-sized companies. 

Smart software packages are increasingly emerging to control and monitor entire fleets of sheet metal processing systems, each of which can make informed decisions based on continuous data streaming to and from cloud-based platforms. Such software is also enabling users to fully manage and automate the flow of materials on the shop floor through efficient use of tools such as barcodes and smart docking stations, allowing them to respond faster and more flexibly to unexpected events such as rush orders.

By having such networks of connected machines, each of which provides data on, for example, the temperature/pressure of their individual system components, factory managers are increasingly able to anticipate required maintenance and address anomalies that could result in potential malfunctions or downtime.

5. AI-powered systems

The increasing presence of artificial intelligence (AI) in laser materials processing will no doubt also make an appearance at this year’s show. 

The combination of AI with increasingly powerful process monitoring sensors unlocks a plethora of possibilities in sheet metal processing, ranging from pre-processing parameter optimisation and part positioning, to in-process closed-loop parameter adjustment, and post-processing assessment of part quality. 

It’s not just process monitoring that AI is supporting, however. Intelligent algorithms are also being deployed to automate repetitive tasks such as removing cut parts from sheet metal. For example, Trumpf’s TruLaser Center 7030 does this automatically via adjustment of 180 movable pins, all supported by AI. This job has, historically, been undertaken by hand because the parts may tilt slightly as they come out of the sheet, and a human can easily manoeuver them into the correct position . In the AI-assisted system however, from below, the pins lift the part from the scrap skeleton, while suction plates hold it in place from above. If a part gets stuck on the first try, the suction plates and pins repeat the process in a slightly different way until they succeed.

With this just being a couple of examples of how AI is benefiting the field of sheet metal processing, we expect to see a wide range of additional use cases demonstrated among the many systems displayed on the show floor next week.

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