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Downsizing for dollars

A year into GMTA’s partnership with Arnold Ravensburg and laser welding and cladding in a small automated work cell leads the list of innovations

Arnold Ravensburg, a leading supplier of laser welding and cladding technology to global manufacturing companies, is a year into its partnership with German Machine Tools of America (GMTA). The relationship has enabled new machine offerings in North America, including the compact M800 work cell with full laser integration technology.

This latest addition is a good fit for producing large volumes of small, round parts, which is attracting automotive manufacturers producing powertrain and transmission parts. Specifically, the M800, a very compact laser welding cell, brings together all the components required for producing round parts in a footprint that is only 800 mm by 1,200 mm.

Scott Knoy, vice president of sales and marketing at GMTA, says the relationship with Arnold Ravensburg came through a contact at Präwema, a German-based company specializing in gear tooth honing that works with GMTA. Werner Waldleben, a former sales director at Präwema, and a childhood friend of Thomas Arnold, was looking to work with an American-based partner that offered sales, service and spare parts support. After a year of discussions, a partnership was formed, and Knoy says, “communication has been great.”

The decision to offer both CO2 and solid state lasers opens the door for GMTA and Arnold to work with a wider range of customers.

Upgrading the compact cell

The partnership announcement last year kicked off with the introduction of Arnold’s M800 laser, which is used for laser welding small, round parts, similar to what the “Compact Cell Laser” is currently doing. Knoy further says that the M800 is an upgrade to what was initially being offered by Arnold in terms of reliability, robustness, reduced cycle times and maintainability.

“If the client is an Arnold customer, the M800 directly replaces the compact cell,” Knoy says, adding that in competitive situations, the M800 also replaces other big-name automated compact laser solutions due to the price point and maintainability of the equipment.

The M800 is available to use with solid-state or CO2 laser technology, and integration to any laser brand is also possible. Just as important as offering laser choices, Arnold and GMTA are also listening to the requests of customers who desire a smaller footprint.

“If you can fit a machine into an existing space,” Knoy says, “you can save a lot of money. Factories are very hesitant to expand because of the costs associated with the task. If they can replace three machines with one, that’s always a good option – anything they can do to save real estate, they’re interested in it.”

Parts can be manually or robotically loaded into the laser welding cell’s rotary carousel. From there, the part is lifted into position, clamped, rotated in the C-axis and laser welded. During the clamping and welding phase, a new part can be loaded.

Catering to the industry

Usability, cost and size – these are the three major concerns of manufacturers today. However, Knoy says there aren’t many companies that integrate laser welding technology into machine lines, which is what GMTA and Arnold are uniquely positioned to offer.

“The message we want to get across is that we can do that,” Knoy declares. “That’s right in our wheelhouse – integration and flexibility.”

Automatic loading is another perk, which, depending on the size of the operation and the scope of requirement, the M800 can offer. Knoy says an R&D shop might prefer a manual loading solution, but a large production house like General Motors, “usually wants an automated system.”

Keeping the process simple is also important to the end user. Knoy says the CNC program only asks users for basic part dimensions, and there is “no complex measurements that the customer needs to do.”

“From the customer training standpoint,” Knoy explains, “it’s very easy to learn how to use. The standard software is incredibly user friendly. By using a standard Siemens 840D SL CNC standard interface we are in line with the industry standard.”

Solid state vs. CO2

Knoy says manufacturers working with lasers in the United States are “big” on solid state due to the efficiencies found in that technology, which has been a trend for the last four or five years.

“However there are some benefits to CO2,” Knoy counters. “You get much less spatter using CO2 than when using solid-state lasers resulting in better weld consistency. In Asia, CO2 systems are still very popular.”

Knoy explains that their decision to offer both CO2 and solid state gives them more flexibility when it comes to working with a diverse range of customers. To narrow down a preferred method, GMTA discusses with the customer their exact part, their quality measures and what they want the end product to look like.

“We go over both scenarios with them and let them make the choice,” Knoy says of solid state versus CO2. “When you offer both, it’s a lot easier to go over the pros and cons.Some of our competition only works with one laser vendor or only offers solid-state laser systems. When you’re in that boat, you have to sell hard on one side without really knowing the benefits or takeaways from the other side. It’s nice to have the freedom to look at both options objectively.”

Get to know more about Arnold Ravensburg and its laser welding systems for industrial applications.

Real-time QC

A standard option for the compact laser cells offered by GMTA and Arnold is online process monitoring. Increasingly, customers are demanding technology that allows them to monitor their production. The M800 utilizes technology that analyzes reflected light during welding to monitor laser output, seam position and other process parameters.

“They demand to see what the machine is doing at all times,” Knoy explains. “And that’s from their desktop, laptop and cell phone. They want to know what the machine is doing and the part quality it is producing.”

They also want faster cycle times. The M800 includes automated loading and unloading times of less than 20 seconds.

“Our robots are quick,” Knoy says. “They don’t need to take a break for lunch. They’re always doing what they’re supposed to do. When you take the human factor out of it, you get better productivity.”

 

Arnold Ravensburg’s compact laser cell features incredibly fast cycle times. Watch a virtual demo of it laser welding with external operated processes.

Positive pressure

The M800 features the newly designed and movable platen system, designed to absorb the pressure that occurs during the laser welding process. Furthermore, the system features a pneumatic clamping force of up to 400 kg.

“Basically,” Knoy explains, “it’s holding the parts in a position where they need to be so the weld is accurate. You need that positive pressure that ensures that the part remains in the correct position. It is also engineered to protect the rest of the part from spatter and it covers, more or less, the entire face of the part. The fixture is actually elevated and pushed up against the platen with a specified amount of force.”

Because the M800 is equipped with modular software components, users can put any common laser type into operation with minimal time and effort. GMTA and Arnold utilize the Siemens 840D SL CNC for managing the input masks and system parameters. Furthermore, the 840D interfaces with any additional processes users may require, such as preheating, ultrasonic testing and pressing.

So no matter the customer requirement, the goal is to deliver a piece of equipment that tackles on the major concerns of manufacturers today: usability, cost, speed and size. With the help of this newly founded partnership, those concerns can now be addressed in the laser welding and cladding industry – and now in the North American market.

Arnold Ravensburg

German Machine Tools of America