At the Salvagnini dealer gathering, Meet-In America, in Hamilton, Ohio, in last week, the company's sales representatives got a reminder of how the company has evolved in recent years. It's no longer just thought of as a major supplier of flexible manufacturing systems; people are recognizing the company for its laser cutting machines as well.
Pierandrea Bello, a Salvagnini product manager, offered several statistics to stress that point, but perhaps the most telling was the 300 percent rise in laser cutting machine production just in the last two years. Fiber lasers are driving that growth, and Salvagnini remains one of the few companies that offer only a solid-state laser cutting machine, not the more traditional CO2 lasers commonly found in metal fabricating shops.
Fiber laser technology is the name given to the technology because the laser is produced within optical fiber, somewhat similar to that used in the telecommunication industry. Laser diodes are used to excite the gain medium, an ytterbium-doped glass fiber, and the interior structure of the fiber optic helps to produce a laser beam with a wavelength of 1.07 m to 1.09 m. That small spot size allows the technology to be used to cut different thicknesses without changing lenses and allows for very fast cutting of thin-gauge materials. Also, because of the high efficiency of the pump source and of the beam's extraction from the gain medium, fiber lasers have a higher wall-plug efficiency than CO2 lasers—sometimes double depending on which machines are being compared.
Industrial Laser Solutions for Manufacturing, a publication that tracks laser technology usage in the world, suggested that fiber laser sales are indeed growing aggressively. It reported in November 2011 that revenues related to the sales of fiber laser equipment grew from $326 million in 2010 to $486 million in 2011, a jump of 48 percent. The publication stated that the growth was related to sales of high-powered units used for sheet metal cutting. For 2012, the magazine predicted another 8 percent growth in sales for fiber lasers.
"We are now able to enter more industries with the fiber laser, and the electrical industry is a good example," Bello said.
In fact, he said, since the company started selling fiber lasers in 2009, a majority of the fiber laser sales were to six industry sectors: electrical; food equipment; job shops; heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning; office furniture; and refrigeration. Of those customers, more than half were new to Salvagnini.
This interest in the technology can be tied to the obvious benefits of fast cutting and energy-efficient operation, but the technology also has been improved considerably since it first serious debut in the metal fabricating market in 2008. The fiber lasers are more powerful, with 3-kW units now available. That power boost has helped the fiber laser cutting machines become better at cutting thicker materials; for instance, Salvagnini's can cut up to 0.787-in. steel. Additionally, fabricators who might be interested in fiber lasers but have shied away because the technology has struggled to deliver high-quality cuts on materials with plastic coverings should be aware that one supplier has developed a plastic covering that is tailored to work with the small spot size that the fiber laser produces.
Bello added that the technology developments promise to increase the fiber laser's market share in the metals processing industry worldwide. He mentioned that at the 2012 Lamiera sheet metal technology show in Bologna, Italy, in May, most of the machine tool builders exhibited fiber laser cutting machines, with many opting to leave their CO2 units at home. Each country has a different adoption rate, according to Bello, and European companies have been the early adopters for this type of technology.
At the dealer meeting, Salvagnini talked about the new 4-m by 2-m cutting surface that will be made available for machines in late 2012. Company representatives also talked about other equipment introductions, one of which is the new B3 KineEtic press brake, which combines smart motor and control technology with hydraulic technology performance to give fabricators the big opening and high tonnage associated with traditional press brakes, but with the speed and energy usage commonly linked to electric press brakes.
The fiber laser, press brake, and other new equipment can be seen at EuroBLECH 2012: International Sheet Metal Working Technology Exhibition in Hannover, Germany, Oct. 23-27.