Maximizing the productivity and flexibility of blanking
The “LaserStarLine” project is being carried out as part of the European funding programme “Eurostars” and the German partners are being funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The project number is E!114796 / 01QE2129
In the automotive industry, production speed is vastly important. Unfortunately, only few providers achieve the blanking production requirements of the sector. To fulfill customer’s needs, ModuleWorks and its partners have set out to develop an ultra-high speed blanking machine based on laser cutting with a highly automated manufacturing chain. With accelerations of 10G, rapid displacements of 180 meters per minute and thin metal cutting speeds of sheet (< 2mm) of 100 meter per minute, LaserStarLine is the most dynamic laser cutting machine in the world. The innovative LaserStarLine will be presented at the EUROBLECH trade fair in Hannover 2024.
Laser blanking is a more than worthwhile alternative to mechanical press blanking: it is more efficient because laser blanking systems can simply adapt to the part type that is produced, whereas traditional press blanking requires different dies for each part. This makes laser blanking not only more flexible, but also more efficient since no storage room for different press dies is required. The fact that dies do not have to be exchanged between different productions saves time. In turn, reduced start-up and down-time decreases the amount of energy required, thereby not only reducing costs but making the process overall more eco-friendly. All these aspects make the technology well-suited for small production batches since both the cost per part as well as the total cost of production is lowered. Despite the obvious benefits of laser blanking, the implementation of the technology is lagging because in the reality of production, several limits occur. Firstly, the dynamics of the machine restrict the productivity. Secondly, the laser cutting process on coil straightened sheets can be unstable. Thirdly, the production processes at a high speed are hard to control. Lastly, all this must be automated by an optimized programming of the laser cutting line. The following picture shows a laser cutting machine to provide visual context to the previously mentioned reality of production.
LaserStarLine aims to tackle all these obstacles of dynamic and efficient production to satisfy the market. The core challenge of the project is developing a solution for coil fed blanking based on laser cutting that is flexible while retaining high productivity. Productivity involves constant and uninterrupted cutting as well as continuous coil feeding while machine dynamics are running at maximum speed. The machine dynamics of LaserStarLine thus must be designed to laser cut while the blank is moving. For this, the coil will be coordinated with the laser head for high dynamics (objective: 10G acceleration). A mechatronic model for detailed design optimizations will be added to further improve machine dynamics. The instability of the laser cutting process will be resolved by precisely considering the processing times of the CNC interpolation algorithms, PLC and physical component time responses. Additionally, the exact machining time will be simulated to provide inputs for the mechatronic simulations and program optimizations. The controllability of high-speed cutting will be ensured by a zero-defect laser cutting process. The outmost importance of this process is to avoid production stops related to cut loss. This will on one hand be realized by previously setting the optimal cutting conditions (gap, focal, gas pressure, laser power, piercing strategies). On the other hand, implementing a system capable of visually assessing the quality of the cut will also automatically detect the loss of cut and reduce the risks of production failure. The detection of problems beforehand allows the system to report blank defects automatically before they happen, therefore named zero-defect. The laser line is finally optimized by multiple laser heads cutting the moving coil at the same time. The work is optimally distributed between the different heads and the toolpath is optimized to reduce cutting time. Since typical nesting algorithms are not effective for a moving coil machine as they are only designed to maximize the use of material, new algorithms will be developed within the LaserStarProgram module. First results of a prototype for nesting on a moving coil machine can be seen in the picture below.
The great novelty is an ultra-productive laser blanking machine with a new kinematic configuration. The main innovation comes from the architecture of the machine itself with its machine-on-machine concept. The machine has crossed carbon fibre beams that minimize the moving mass of the machine, hanging cables that avoid vibrations caused by cable carries and a carbon fibre spatter collector for the lightweight design of the sheet support system. These innovations are combined with ModuleWorks’ development of nesting algorithms and 2D toolpath optimization algorithms. Furthermore, the company’s contributions involve the development of toolpath generation algorithms and the advanced process and control solutions for an ultra-high-speed cutting on coil-fed machine. Joint together, the hardware and software components aim to maximize the productivity and flexibility of production in a machine that has never been seen before.