Once the commercial justification for bringing laser technology in house is complete, new to laser manufacturers may still have some technical concerns. We’ve recently worked on several very successful collaborations with first-time to laser manufacturers to turn their mountains into mole hills. Now each system is on the floor in production and everyone is wondering what all the fuss was about.
Here’s a step by step process for making sure bringing a laser in house is pain-free.
Step 1: Process – Picking the right laser for the job is essential, so make sure that the integrator has the necessary application knowledge. Ideally the integrator would run the application in house to fully understand the system’s integration requirements.
Step 2: Systems definition and specification – Laser technology, like any process, has its particular process requirements that need to be addressed by the system, so it makes sense to work with an experienced integrator. To make this a seamless process, it is best if the integrator has undertaken the application before (ideal case) or at the very least thoroughly understands the process. All the process requirements will need to be designed in, with no downstream surprises. It is an obvious point to make and especially relevant when purchasing custom equipment that as the end user you are fully integrated into this process. Make sure its 100% clear how you would like the system to work, and have a clear buy-off agreement in place.
Step 3: Dedicated system engineers – having a single point of contact at the integrator who is dedicated to your project provides a vital link for information exchange and continuity throughout the entire system build, from system definition to buy-off agreements. Along the way, if changes are needed, they are on the spot to ensure changes are completed quickly and with little fuss.
Step 4: Laser safety – Laser systems are offered in two flavors, Class 1 and Class 4. Class 1 designation means that the system can operate anywhere in the factory with no safety concerns to the surrounding personnel or operator. The system may need to be fully enclosed, which is the case for most lasers, or maybe open with a safe perimeter zone which is the case for CO2 laser cutting systems. Class 4 systems are open with no enclosure and require personnel within the area and operators to wear laser safety glasses. Typically most Class 4 systems are located in a dedicated room or on an open shop floor use surrounding light curtains. Within the room or the curtains, when the laser is firing safety glasses must be worn. Many integrators will have Laser Safety Officers to help with the necessary safety measures needed. In addition it’s important to verify that the integrator files CDRH compliant report for the system. For some good bedtime reading and more information on laser safety check out ANSI 136.1.
Step 5: Training – As with any system, sufficient training on both the system and the application are important to enable self sufficient operation, process development and troubleshooting. When ordering the system ensure there is enough time budgeted for training of engineers and operators to ensure “knowledge” coverage. In many cases getting off site training at the integrator is more beneficial as all the necessary support staff will be present.
Step 6: Installation, verification and support – The machine needs to be physically connected and brought up to working order by a laser field service engineer, usually going through a verification of the buy-off agreement. Depending upon the complexity of the application, an application engineer may also be present to embed the process in and provide any additional training that may be needed.
Referencing one of those examples mentioned in the opening paragraph and bringing this full circle after running the process in-house, the company reduced a dock to dock process that used to take eleven days down to 70 seconds. This, combined with a substantial reduction in inventory requirements, translated to a large cost savings, and system ROI in under 6 months.