You did the research, crunched the numbers, crisscrossed the country attending demos and visiting showrooms, and talked to customers of every manufacturer. You made your choice and wrote that million-dollar check for your fiber laser cutter with visions of high productivity dancing in your head. But six months later, your actual output is half of what was promised. What went wrong?
The problem is probably not with your machine. You spent hours selecting the right technology, but how much time did you put into considering the person who operates your expensive investment?
Selecting the best possible laser operator is equally important as choosing the best possible machine. Having a topnotch operator is the key to realizing the optimum production you are expecting. The industry’s best operators aren’t mere button-pushers. They champion the laser cutting process, and the most elite among them share five principal traits.
- Driving Ambition
Someone just interested in punching a time clock is not the person you want running your machine. You want someone committed to learning a trade. The laser is a machine tool just like a lathe, grinder, or machining center. Operators of that equipment are skilled machinists because of the time, effort, and knowledge it takes to become proficient. Your laser operator needs to be thought of in those same terms. Find an individual dedicated to reaching that level of expertise with your laser.
Operator skill has become even more important as fabricators invest in ever-more-productive and -powerful equipment. The throughput of ultrahigh-powered fiber lasers and their associated automation can be phenomenal—until a laser head crashes or the forks of material handling automation jam as they try to lift a sheet of cut parts stuck to slats thick with slag. When a laser system crashes, an entire factory can grind to a halt.
Laser operators are a company’s first line of defense against this, and their keen eyes help detect and prevent problems. They know the importance of maintaining optimal cutting conditions that can mitigate distortion as well as minimize or even eliminate the need for secondary operations like part deburring and leveling. They know the importance of head-collision-prevention strategies, such as when the head traverses around, not over, previously cut portions of the nest that are prone to tip-ups.
They also know that swapping the cover glass in the cutting head should be done with the utmost care and attention to cleanliness. And cover glass swaps certainly shouldn’t happen daily. If a shop burns through more cover glasses than it can count, something in the laser cutting department is awry.
Have cutting parameter defaults been adjusted? For instance, some operators might monitor the temperature of the cover glass in the cutting head. To accommodate, they might fine-tune the focus or perhaps the assist gas flow to keep cutting edges as pristine as possible. After months of use, of course, a cover glass will need to be changed. When it is, though, are cutting parameters returned to their established defaults, or were those defaults changed? Even a machine with a pristine cover glass can cut poor edges simply because operators haven’t reset their cutting parameters.
Is spatter controlled and the head position optimized so the cover glass lasts as long as possible? How efficiently and easily can parts be denested? All these variables and more require unceasing attention to detail—again, similar to a highly trained machinist operating a mill or lathe.