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Fibre-laser robot welder has 10kW power source on tap
Fibre-laser robot welder has 10kW power source on tap
Fibre-laser robot welder has 10kW power source on tap

Fibre-laser robot welder has 10kW power source on tap

Added to MTDCNC by FANUC on 27 March 2014

A robot fibre-laser weld cell using what is believed to be the UK's largest commercially operated power source, 10kW, has been installed at Graham Engineering Limited (GEL) in Nelson, Lancashire. The System has been integrated by Cyber-Weld Limited using a FANUC six axes robot at its heart. The fibre laser weld cell has increased production capacity and provided important additional capabilities.

Providing advanced manufacturing solutions for its customers in aerospace, automotive and the nuclear industries, GEL has been using a CO2 laser welding system, for the past 14 years. Operating on a gantry linear co-ordinate slide system, the system design and technology have prevented several improvements, such as to integrated  wire feed and coordinate motion with external drives that are now common place in today's manufacturing equipment.
Large contracts with the nuclear sector additionally require weld depth up to 15.8 mm  which would not be possible with the existing 4kW CO2 laser.  Stuart Fraser, Production Director, GEL, explains, 'We realised our future business would be welding material between 6mm & 12mm, meaning an 8kW requirement.  However, as the system was being specified a new job came up requiring a 15mm single pass weld so we decided on the extra 2 kW and specified a 10 kW Ytterbium fibre-laser.  Using the FANUC robot with the fibre-laser makes it very straight-forward to deploy wire feed; having the wire feed option is imperative as some jobs require a filler to finish the weld.

'Currently we're using just the one new system with the power source but we plan to install three more FANUC robots to be integrated by Cyber-Weld Ltd.  We can use two welding heads simultaneously if required, for instance welding the channels of a 'T' section, but the main method of operation will be to use the power source in one cell at a time.  Welding in one cell will take place while the others are being assembled and setup, which generally takes as much time as the welding process.'

Project management was undertaken by Graham engineering who tasked Cyber-Weld Limited, a strategic partner of FANUC for welding applications, to engineer an integrated solution for the complete system and cell safety control. The major components comprise a FANUC M710-iC robot mounted on a 7 metre long Cyber-Weld linear axis, the product is loaded onto a two axes positioning table capable of holding a 5 ton payload again supplied by Cyber-Weld.

The FANUC robot has full co-ordinated motion control over all 9 axes allowing high quality continuous welding of large components such as the lid sealing flange of waste containment boxes. The M710-iC robot is capable of maintaining repeatability of programmed path at speed while carrying the 15Kg Precitec optical laser delivery unit with, gas flow tubes and wire for hybrid welding capability.

Initial discussions to upgrade the power source and move to fibre -laser began over 5 years ago,  Stuart Fraser was very clear as to GEL's specific requirements but found the responses of major suppliers to be inflexible and expensive.  'We knew what we wanted to achieve and that was different to what we were being offered; so we decided to carry out assessment trials ourselves and bought a second hand robot from Cyber-Weld,' explains Stuart, 'This process and the support we received from Cyber-Weld was invaluable in helping us to develop our  requirements  for the new robot and to source a supplier for the turntable and ultimately full integration of the whole package.

'From our decision to project manage in-house, and with the support of Cyber-Weld, we have made a significant saving of 72% over the cost of original proposals and a system tailored around GEL's specific requirements.  Current investment has totalled around £1m.'

Capacity has increased at GEL with a 6mm penetration weld taking half the time. Business has already increased as a result of the investment and clear commitment illustrated to customers.
Stuart concludes, 'At times we feel as though we've been pioneering on this project, we have the largest power source being actively used commercially and we've been talking to The Weld Institute (TWI) and key personnel in laser welding and even they don't have all the answers; they're helping us and we're moving on together.'

Currently the welding cell is being used by Technology Strategy Board (TSB) Funded Projects including TWI in Cambridge and a European project run by the European Federation for Welding, Joining and Cutting (EWF) in Portugal.

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