Laser cutting systems running at full capacity: Agile material flow concepts enhance productivity

State-of-the-art laser cutting systems combine high performance with incredible speed. Unfortunately, they spend far too much time not in use. What may sound like a paradox is actually a reality – and a costly one at that – in many production facilities. Companies looking to invest in a new laser cutting system often see it as a stand-alone solution. It is a situation that intralogistics specialist Remmert is all too familiar with. What these companies need is a consistent material flow and automation concept. That’s because the only way to achieve the return on investment they seek is by ensuring that the laser cutting system is in continuous operation. That is why Remmert advises companies that process sheet metal to consider establishing an efficient, future-proof material flow before they purchase such systems.

The cutting speeds of laser cutting systems have more than doubled. Rather than having to produce more and more in less and less time, many sheet metal processing firms find themselves facing a problem they hadn’t seen coming – their cost-intensive laser cutting systems are not operating at full capacity. “The problem is that staff simply can’t load and unload the systems quickly enough,” explains Michael Göbel, Strategic Sales Manager at Remmert. “When every pallet needs to be transported to the system individually, and then each sheet of metal has to be placed on the loading platform by hand, capacity utilisation is at around 25 percent,” he explains. At that rate, the significant investment in a laser cutting system will never pay off. “Every second that the laser remains inactive costs the company money,” Göbel says, summing up the problem. “However, if laser cutting systems are integrated into a coordinated material flow concept, the capacity utilisation of the machines can be increased to more than 80 percent,” he adds. Companies looking to acquire a laser cutting machine should protect their investment and seek advice from an independent specialist in material flow processes before purchasing. 

 

Manufacturer independence and modularity among investment criteria

Making the right choice when it comes to automation is paramount when attempting to safeguard production for the future. “Laser cutting systems have a short life cycle of up to six years,” explains Dr. Thomas Peitz, Technical Manager at Remmert. “In contrast, the automation solutions into which they are embedded have much longer life cycles,” says Dr. Peitz, who advises companies to opt for manufacturer-independent automation systems that can be used in conjunction with machines manufactured at different times by different companies. “A loading and unloading system that is compatible with all laser cutting systems – like the Remmert LaserFLEX – ensures maximum investment security. That is why selecting the right automation solution should always be the top priority.” Another aspect in the investment security offered by automated material flow solutions is their modularity.“Our portfolio is a system of modular, versatile elements that can be expanded. This means that customers receive a tailored system that can be upgraded swiftly at any time with the addition of new components,” says Strategic Sales Manager Michael Göbel, outlining the benefits of modular solutions. Once customers have enhanced their productivity and become more competitive through the initial automation processes, they then have the flexibility to increase the level of automation and expand their production systems through the addition of various modules, like the BASIC Tower solution for buffer stock.

 

The entire process is key – “we make material flow” 

Remmert has been implementing custom material-flow solutions with international clients for many years. “We always take a look at the entire process, not just the capacity the cutting machine systems are running at,” says Michael Göbel. Remmert experts start by analysing each existing layout and the customer’s production requirements. Numerous factors come into play here. What level of productivity is the customer looking to achieve? Which material needs to be processed? And in what quantity? What staffing capacities are available? And how can the machinery be arranged most efficiently? An effective material flow concept is then drawn up on this basis. Remmert subsequently incorporates these insights into its plans for integrating its modular, manufacturer-independent automation systems. “Our goal is the continuous flow of metal sheets across the board – from incoming goods, through processing, and onto outgoing goods. That’s what our motto is all about: ‘We make material flow’,” explains Michael Göbel. This is how highly productive smart factories are made.

 

Smart cogs in a well-oiled machine – greater productivity through automation 

The intralogistics specialist devises automation concepts that ensure an agile material flow. Solutions range from simple handling to fully automatic operation.A key element here is the LaserFLEX system, which can simultaneously load and unload raw materials from up to four laser cutting machines as part of a fully automated process – irrespective of whether the laser cutting machines are made by the same manufacturer. The LaserFLEX system can supply the material in just 60 seconds per laser cutting machine, making it the fastest system on the market. “This enables companies to ensure their high-speed laser cutting machines are running at maximum capacity,” says Technical Manager Dr. Thomas Peitz. Used in combination with the “BASIC Tower sheet metal” solution, automated production becomes a possibility. Warehouse automation is a suitable solution for storing raw materials and buffer stock that has undergone the cutting process. The LaserFLEX removes the metal sheets in the BASIC Tower and then stores the cut material as required. “If the finished parts are stored at night and sorted by staff the next morning, laser cutting machines can operate around the clock. This increases return on investment,” Dr. Peitz explains. Connecting the BeltFlex conveyor belt to the LaserFLEX enables the finished parts to be sorted by hand after cutting or removal from the BASIC Tower, as part of a simple, quick and ergonomic process.Forming part of the Remmert FLEX product line, this additional module enables staff to adopt an ergonomic body posture that reduces strain on their backs while they go about their sorting duties. The speed at which the conveyor belt moves forward makes the process simple and efficient for users. And what’s more, this leads to an accelerated material flow.

 

All under control – intuitive operation for material flow

A key characteristic of a functioning material flow process is that all processes are managed and operated centrally in a simple and intuitive process. “You can have the best automation solution around, but it’s not much good if the information required for effective and agile material flow is either not available or not utilised correctly,” explains Michael Göbel. And this is where Remmert can really help companies to enhance their control possibilities. SMART Control is a software and control system for the entire production process. Simple to use, the intuitive system can be seamlessly integrated into existing systems. Featuring pictograms that are easy to understand for an international user base, and only a small amount of text, the system enables users to control connected Remmert components such as the LaserFLEX and the BASIC Tower with ease. In addition, the software immediately displays potential hazards in visual form.

The software also features a user administration system, ensuring secure authorization management.It also serves as a goods management system by recording the corresponding data, providing users with enhanced clarity for their inventory management needs.

 

Conclusion

There is a huge amount of potential in the automation of sheet metal processing. However, before this potential can harnessed, material flows need to be aligned with individual production processes. This is how production efficiency can be enhanced. “Users should bank on manufacturer-independent systems that offer modular expansion options and thus provide an innovative form of investment security. If a laser cutting system is replaced a few years down the line, our automation solutions can be integrated quickly without any problems. This helps customers remain flexible, even when they opt for a different manufacturer of laser cutting systems,” says Michael Göbel.