Laser School: Part 5 – Laser stations increase the safety of industrial laser processing
A reliable laser process requires a safe and complete laser station. No two laser stations are the same and they often differ in terms of their degree of automation in production and the laser methods used. The fifth part of laser school looks at laser stations, what’s needed to make them safe, and how laser stations are affected by trends in the engineering industry.
The laser source, fibre, and laser tool – the heart of a laser station
A laser station is a machine that safely utilises the high energy density of the laser light for the efficient processing of metal. The laser source, fibre, and laser tool are the components at the heart of a laser station
The laser source produces light. There are different types of laser source depending on the laser process. The fibre transfers the light to the laser tool, which focuses the light in the process. The combination of the laser, fibre, and optics determines the size and power distribution at the process point and is selected according to the desired process. The laser tool is located on a manipulator that orientates the laser focus in order to carry out the processing. The most flexible manipulator is a robot. Using a robot ensures flexibility in the programming, as it is possible to change, develop, and add new components in the production cycle.
Light-proof housing – essential for safety
The high power of the laser source and the harmful wavelength mean that the laser process must take place within a light-proof laser housing in order to occur safely. The laser housing protects the operators from coming into contact with the laser beam and protects against the possibility of a fire occurring due to the high power of the laser. However, the laser housing primarily protects the operators from the wavelength of the laser beam, as it can damage the eyes and vision.
In order to monitor the process, most laser housings have a camera which displays everything that’s happening inside on a screen on the outside of the station. The camera can also be a safety feature by guaranteeing that no one is inside the laser housing when the process starts. It can also ensure that the robot is working properly.
Each laser station should be adapted to ensure an optimal laser process
It is important to look at the laser station as a whole, as it is possible to integrate safety solutions into different components of the station. In doing so, it is important to work with a skilled and experienced laser system integrator. This is essential for the laser station to adhere to the EU Machinery Directive and be CE marked. In order to achieve an optimal laser process, it is important to adapt the laser station according to the production and products in question, as well as to the size and energy distribution desired at the process point. The size and reach of the robot that are required for it to work freely are determined by the size and weight of the products, for example.
Different classes determine the safety level of laser stations
All laser stations are divided into classes. Class 1 is the safest. It includes lasers or laser systems that do not normally pose a danger. A laser station in class 4 includes lasers and laser systems that could cause fire and personal injury. Under normal conditions, a laser station in the engineering industry is a class 1 station. As soon as servicing or any other intervention is carried out to the station, it must be categorised as a class 4 station. This is because the station’s safety is often interrupted or affected during the intervention such that the laser process and laser station do not function normally.
Automation trends result in connected laser stations
There are several industrial trends that are having an effect on laser stations, including Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things. Laser stations have been fitted with sensor systems for collecting data for some time now. The next step is to analyse the data and use it for preventative maintenance, among other things. The sensor technology of a laser station can be adapted according to what is to be monitored and how the data is to be saved and presented. This can be done separately in the laser station itself or as an integral part of a more comprehensive system. Other benefits of connected laser stations include the ability to install updates and carry out servicing and troubleshooting remotely.
Another trend that is widely discussed in the engineering industry is “high-mix low-volume” (HMLV), where you move from large runs of one and the same component to smaller runs of many different products. This trend fits well with robotic laser processing, as it is a flexible solution in which it is relatively easy to adapt your laser processes according to different products and requirements.
If you want to know more about laserstationer laser stations and how they work, contact me or visit our website for more information about Permanova and our solutions. Also, keep an eye out for “Laser School: Part 6”, which is about the requirements companies must meet before they can use lasers.