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Northern Ireland subcontractor installs fibre laser for sheet metal cutting

After extensive research into fibre laser cutting machines on the market, subcontractor McAuley Engineering in Northern Ireland concluded that the 6 kW BySprint Fiber from Bystronic UK offered the best performance. During cutting trials at three potential suppliers, average production cost per laser-cut part was lower using the Bystronic machine than on the other shortlisted models.

 The scope of the review was far-reaching, encompassing not only capital investment but also machine running costs including power consumption, cutting gas usage, other consumable costs and after-sales service. It led to a BySprint Fiber 3015, the company’s first laser cutting machine, being installed last year at the subcontractor’s 7,000 sq m factory in Ballymoney, County Antrim.

 Managing director Jonathan McAuley said, “Typically, 60 per cent of our sheet metal throughput is aluminium and we also process stainless steel and copper.

“These reflective materials are cut much more efficiently using fibre laser technology than on a CO2 laser machine, which shaped our purchasing decision.

“We frequently profile light gauges down to 1 mm and a fibre laser is well known to be several times faster when processing thinner materials up to, say, 5 mm.

“However, it was a customer’s 15 mm thick, plasma-cut component that we asked the three potential fibre laser cutting machine suppliers to nest and cut out of a plate of aluminium.

“Not only was the Bystronic machine faster but the quality of the cut edge was easily the best. We are still getting the same performance from the machine one year on.”

McAuley Engineering’s business is split into two divisions of approximately equal turnover. One is precision metalcutting and CNC tube bending, notably for the aerospace industry, Bombardier Aerospace and Thompson Aerospace being customers.

 The subcontractor holds a clutch of approvals including AS9100 and is one of six companies in Northern Ireland to be part of the Bombardier-sponsored SC21 change programme designed to accelerate supply chain competitiveness in aerospace and defence. The oil, gas and power generation industries are additional market sectors supplied, from the North Sea to Nigeria, Brazil and the Far East.

 The other manufacturing division encompasses sheet metal processing and fabrication using an array of equipment including TIG and MIG welding, punch presses, press brakes, guillotines and a plasma cutting machine in addition to the BySprint Fiber, which is capable of laser-cutting sheet up to 3 metres by 1.5 metres.

 The transport and energy industries are the main recipients of the sheet metal parts and fabrications, added-value welding and assembly becoming an increasingly important part of the subcontractor’s business. McAuley components may be found on the iconic Routemaster buses in London as well as in the commercial haulage and rail industries in the UK, Ireland, Far East and USA. Aggregate crushing and screening has recently been added to the list of industries supplied.

 Both the precision machining and fabrication sides of the business sprang from Mr McAuley’s frustration in the late 1990s at the slowness of external subcontract suppliers and the variable quality components they supplied when he started building special purpose machinery for the electronics industry. He discovered that he was able to provide a much better service in-house and soon dropped machinery manufacture to concentrate on subcontract machining services to industry locally and beyond.

 For cutting and profiling components in sheet up to 2.5 metres by 1.25 metres and 4 mm thick, two punch presses were bought in 2003 and 2005. They were followed three years later by a plasma cutting machine for producing components from 8-metre by 2-metre stock.

 Gradually, there was more and more requirement for higher speed machining to increase throughput, raise competitiveness and improve quality of cut. However, the scalloped appearance of edges nibbled on the punch presses was a particular problem when producing components for some customers. The solution was the introduction of laser cutting technology.

 Mr McAuley added, “The Bystronic machine not only produced superior edge quality in the fastest time, but also had software that was the easiest to install and use.

“An interesting innovation is the supplier’s PowerCut technology, which increases by about 50 per cent the thickness of plate that can be cut. We often process mild steel up to 25 mm thick on the BySprint Fiber and the feature also raises profiling speed for these thicker materials. PowerCut increases cutting capacity in aluminium and stainless steel up to 30 mm.

“The company’s BySoft software for nesting and creating cutting plans and Plant Manager planning and monitoring package link seamlessly with our MRP system, which drives all our production.

“Work flows are created automatically and we are able to manage the process route more efficiently from order to dispatch, resulting in savings that we are able to pass on to the customer.”

To maximise productivity and ensure that sheet metal is removed from the cutting area and replenished with a new sheet as quickly as possible, McAuley engineering decided to automate its laser cutting machine by linking it with a ByTrans 3015 Extended material storage and handling system. The company is now moving towards 24/6 operation, lights-out during the night shift, during which the simplicity and reliability of the sheet handling equipment will play a crucial role.

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