32 Industrial Laser Solutions NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2016 www.industrial-lasers.com
David A. Belforte
Laser cutting and welding
lights up Fabtech
In November, I’ll be attending my 25th Fabtech event, which has grown from a 1981 regional tradeshow into today’s most important North American exhibi- tion of metal forming, fabricating, welding,
and finishing equipment—this year, it will be held
in Las Vegas. Many of us will recall, with fondness, the early days at the cozy Rosemont exhibition halls, near O’Hare airport. It was there
when we started pushing the relatively new laser
sheet metal cutting technology in a venue where
we weren’t being overwhelmed by more conventional machine tools.
In 1993 at Rosemont, I presented an invited
SME paper on “Fabrication in the Future,” where I
estimated the total global number of installed laser
sheet metal cutters at 3500 units (I was off a bit—
the actual number was double that). I encouraged
my audience to look forward to an expanding market, replacing the older units in operation since
1985. This was said as a pep talk because it was
the year of the long-awaited economic recovery
after the oil shock of 1979-80. Today, it is estimated that more than 102,000 laser sheet metal
cutters have been installed globally, with more
than half of these in Asia.
For the curious, dating back to 1980 when I
started compiling data on laser systems for flat
sheet cutting, global sales show Japan with 42%
(due mainly to that country’s dominance in the
last decade), followed by Europe at 26%, North
America at 16%, Asia (mainly China) at 13%, and
the rest of the world at 3%.
I may be laser-centric, but it seems to me that
laser cutting—especially fiber laser cutting—
has been the most exciting technology on the
floor at Fabtech and at other similar tradeshows
around the globe. At Fabtech this year, at least
18 manufacturers of laser cutting systems will be
showing products. Look for an increase in fiber
laser power to a standard 8k W, which will push
cutting thickness capacity to 25mm (and higher),
leading lasers into the province of plasma cutting.
So, in this issue, Brett Thompson of TRUMPF
shows how an 8k W laser cutting system is both
fast and reliable (see p. 23), and Lynn Sheehan of
nLIGHT describes high-brightness fiber laser cutting of stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and mild
steel (see p. 19).
Because Fabtech includes a large American
Welding Society (AWS) welding show, we focus
on two laser welding articles: Tim Morris of
Blackbird Robotics, Inc. explains how manufacturers exploit the benefits of remote laser welding
to more efficiently weld (see p. 14), and Tony Hoult
of IPG Photonics presents fiber laser joining material combinations considered close to impossible
because of metallurgical problems in the weld
zones (see p. 27).
In the area of additive manufacturing—another
hot topic at Fabtech this year—minor changes in
focus or variations in laser output power can significantly affect results quality. Sean Bergman
of Coherent reviews beam monitoring technology that allows beam issues to be identified and corrected before they seriously impact
results (see p. 9).
Again, as has been the case in most of the
Fabtech shows I have attended, laser processing technology will be an attraction to a large percentage of attendees.
BE AMONG THE