IMTS from the Floor: Cutting Up and Welding Back

September 8, 2006

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My time at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) here in Chicago has been pretty well spent. Of the 1,200+ exhibiting companies here, I've had the opportunity to visit with quite a few of them to get the lowdown on recent cutting-edge manufacturing tech and what's forthcoming. Here let's take a look at some of those proffering cool new cutting and welding tools.

While I've had little time to blog from the show, I've been pretty busy both at the ThomasNet booth and hitting as many exhibitor booths as I can, to find out what's really going on with up-and-coming cutting-edge manufacturing tech.

In fact, I just came back from visiting with ESAB, the plasma cutting technology provider, in the company's booth here at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago. I had the opportunity to see a number of its latest cutting and welding offerings to enhance productivity for fabricators, including the Hydrocut LR multiprocess waterjet cutting system, in action.

The Hydrocut LR multi-process waterjet cutting system uses ESAB's patented waterjet/plasma combination to produce cut parts using the speed of plasma and the accuracy of waterjet. A gantry on floor-mounted rails, it features digital AC drives, brushless AC motors and precision planetary gearboxes. It also features positioning accuracy of +/- 0.010" (0.25 mm) over 3' (0.9 m) in each axis, and repeatability of +/- 0.002" (0.05-mm). Maximum positioning speed is 600 inches per minute (15 m/min), keeping traverse time to a minimum. Available cutting widths are 8' to 20' (2.4 x 6.1 m), and it can be equipped with up to four waterjet cutting stations and the company's m3 Precision Plasma system. The waterjet systems range from 30 to 100 hp (22–75 kW) and plasma systems from 100 to 600 amps.

ESAB Hydrocut LR multiprocess waterjet cutting system.jpgThe advantage of combining waterjet and plasma on the same machine is that both tools can be used on the same parts. Contours requiring high precision can be cut with waterjet, while other contours can be cut with plasma. This system allows users to produce the precision contours they need without sacrificing speed on every cut. The machine here at IMTS demonstrates the use of the waterjet cutting head with ESAB's m3plasma system, an oxyfuel torch station for cutting carbon steel up to 12 inches thick, and a router spindle for high-speed aluminum cutting.

Automatic height control for both waterjet and plasma processes allows underwater cutting with the waterjet and plasma tools, reducing noise, fumes, plasma glare and abrasive spray. The automatic height control also allows unattended cutting. As such, operators can perform other tasks while the Hydrocut LR is working and not have to worry about the waterjet nozzle or plasma torch crashing. Because the height remains constant, large parts can be produced with minimal supervision.

The waterjet process can also be combined with many other cutting or marking process tools, including oxyfuel cutting, plasma marking, ink-jet marking, routing, drilling or scribing.

Meanwhile, Robotic Production Technology (RPT) is demonstrating its new AccuTrim WJ-110 six-axis robot with Abrasive Water Jet, three-dimensional, abrasive water jet trimming of a stainless steel part. RPT provides six-axis robotic waterjet cutting systems and turnkey robotic systems solutions to the plastics industry.

In the demonstration, the part is approximately placed into the robot's work area, and an RPT AccuFind Sensor quickly locates the part and finds varying critical feature positions to ensure the trimming occurs in the correct location. The new AccuTrim WJ-110 robot utilized in abrasive water jet applications is equipped with a new state-of-the-art FANUC R-J3iC robot controller and a high-pressure, swivel-free plumbing package that provides high reliability.

The H2O Jet IDE (Integral Diamond Eductor) nozzle also contributes to significantly improved performance and reliability.

In contrast to disjoining piece from piece in the cutting process, ESAB has also introduced its new hybrid laser arc welding (HLAW) process at IMTS 2006. This new product line has been dubbed "the first commercially available mechanized laser-welding systems utilizing laser only, laser with cold wire fill, or hybrid laser arc welding in a 2D gantry, 3D robotic or custom mechanized solution with closed-loop weld process control."

According to the company, HLAW combines the "deep weld penetration and low heat input" associated with laser welding with "the power efficiency and superior gap tolerance" of gas metal arc welding (GMAW) to create an interesting welding alternative. The deep penetration and fast weld speeds of laser welding reduce heat infusion into the part and reduce the associated distortion that causes plates to buckle and warp, making fit-up unpredictable and often costly to repair. This deep penetration, however, can limit laser welding's ability to produce acceptable weld fusion in weldments with wide gaps between parts.

Adding GMAW in tandem with the laser, with the addition of filler metal, creates a wider weld bead capable of bridging much larger weld gaps, up to four times as wide as conventional laser processes can handle. Adding GMAW to the welding mix also enhances a finished part's metallurgical stability, and with GMAW's slower cooling rates, produces welds with greater strength and less brittleness. This is especially beneficial for higher alloyed steels sensitive to hot cracking.

The hybrid process improves process efficiency and overall productivity, improves weld quality, lowers production costs and offers more versatility than conventional welding processes, setting new standards for productivity, cost efficiency and flexibility in heavy fabrication applications.

This is just an itty-bitty sample of some of the cool goings-on at this year's show. Remember, there are more than 1,200 exhibiting companies here. Check back at the blog and in IMT's e-newsletter next week for a recap of the IMTS 2006 highlights and standouts. It's been real.


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