Thought leadership Press Release: Changing the ‘profile’ of industry: Laser fibre technology a game-changer in the tube and pipe sector
16 August 2016

From sports stadiums to airports, offices to factories – the way that steel structures are being manufactured is changing drastically as new design possibilities are opening up almost on a daily basis. The reason behind this step-change in steel fabrication lies in laser fibre cutting technology, which has developed exponentially in Europe over the last three to five years.

This is according to Andrew Poole, Managing Director of First Cut, a leading South African distributor of a range of cutting tools and capital equipment. Inspired and excited by the possibilities inherent in laser tube cutting, Poole notes that uptake of this technology has been rapid in Europe recently, and – while certain local sectors have been willing to adopt the new technology - certain other sectors in South Africa lag behind.

Traditional tube cutting is changing

“For every 100 lasers produced in Europe, 10-15 are destined for the tube industry. In South Africa it is a very different scenario - industry seems have a more traditional approach when it comes to tube cutting technology,” says Poole.

He explains: “Local manufacturers have historically been cautious when it comes to laser tube cutting - compared with their European counterparts – where fabricators and job shoppers have embraced the speed, flexibility and efficiency of this technology.”

Believing strongly in the future of laser tube cutting and its application in a host of industrial processes, First Cut has built strong relationships with two European manufacturers of state-of-the-art laser cutting machines: Switzerland-based Bystronic and Italy-based BLM (Italy). Both companies are front-runners in laser fibre technology, a relatively new concept in metal cutting and processing. Bystronic specialises in sheet metal cutting and bending; while BLM’s focus is on tubes and profiles.

Benefits of laser fibre cutting

“It has been clearly demonstrated that the benefits of laser fibre cutting far out-weigh the more traditional cutting and fabricating processes. As local industries start seeing a significant increase in production efficiencies, so the concept of laser cutting is catching on,” says Poole.

The fibre laser cutting process is extremely fast - manufacturers have reported speeds which are between 40 and 50% faster than traditional processing, according to Poole. The sheer speed of the process, which impacts positively on production and supply chain efficiencies, results in significant long-term cost benefits for customers – and their customers – accordingly.

“Essentially, a laser cutting machine is a high-performance and wholly integrated system which combines several fabrication steps into one automated process,” says Poole. “In addition, fibre laser machines are extremely energy-efficient, minimising scrap, and therefore waste. The versatility of these machines is beyond compare,” he enthuses.

Broad applications in many industries

Fibre laser technology has a broad application in the tube industry - both in terms of the shape and size of the tube, as well as on the material to be processed - which includes stainless steel, mild steel, copper, brass, aluminium and non-ferrous metals. The process can handle a wide range of thicknesses with ease, including very thin materials. The machines are able to cut tubes up to 240mm in diameter; and can process round, square, rectangular, flat, oval and D-shaped tubes, using 3D tilt cutting.

“3D cutting enables the tilt cutting of materials of a wide variety of thicknesses, so the sky is the limit when it comes to cutting, piercing and slotting, and for creating interlocking joints of several tubes or beams in tubular structures,” says Poole.

He notes that laser tube cutting technology can essentially combine more than six different operations into one working cycle on a single machine: “This means that all individual sawing, deburring, drilling, rolling, forming, bevelling, lining-up and removal operations carried out on conventional machines can now be eliminated.”

The laser cutting process is also fully CNC-operated and software-driven, a ‘computer-to-laser’ concept involving the importing of CAD-generated component drawings. This allows the production of quality parts in a consistent and reliable manner.

Faster, more cost-effective cutting is the future

Manufacturers are constantly looking for processes which are faster, more cost-effective and more flexible. The ability to cut any size, angle or hole accurately and consistently means that laser fibre technology has a wide application in a number of industries: including ship building, agricultural equipment, oil and gas, structural steel and heavy construction equipment to name but a few.

“The future of tube processing, the construction of quality tubular structures and the ability to more freely and creatively bring design concepts to life, all lie in laser fibre tube cutting,” Poole. “The possibilities are endless – tubes and pipes, in their many guises, are integral to our lives: from balustrades to gym equipment, and industrially, in the water treatment, petrochemical, power generation, steel and many other sectors.

“The accuracy, speed and efficiency of 3D tilt cutting using laser fibre technology will prove revolutionary to the tube industry, and at First Cut we are looking to assisting more of our local customers in transitioning to this amazing technology - and all the productivity, energy-saving and financial benefits it will bring to them and their customers in turn.”