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Laser center boosts job-shop profits.

In established maker of X-ray equipment, the H L, Lyons Co, Louisville, KY, expanded into contract fab work three has since doubled in size. An aggressive capital reinvestment policy, which included the purchase of a Cincinnati Incorporated CL-7 laser center, has given the company a reputation for accuracy and quality.

"We weren't particularly scientific in our justification of that laser," says Keith Lyons, vice president, "we just knew we needed to work smarter. Contouring heavy-gage stainless on our turret punches, for example, was very slow and ate up our tooling. The laser, in contrast, handles stainless like a dream, along with other materials coming into our shop from nontraditional sources. "

Started on wooden legs

Founder H L Lyons, III, a medical-equipment salesman, developed the company as an offshoot of his woodworking hobby. When people needed glove racks, foot rests, or special accessories, he made them in his basement. After a slow transition to sheet metal, he quit his regular job in 1977 and started the company with his two sons, Keith and Livingston. Their product line soon became more complex, focusing on X-ray support equipment; i.e., shielded components, carriers, and stands.

"To improve quality and control our work," explains Livingston Lyons, "we began to upgrade our metalworking capability, starting with a turret punch. When others found out, they began asking us to make components for appliances, elevators, and other machinery. This work helped us build a fab shop for our X-ray product line, but it is not justified by that line alone. About 85 percent of our work is for outside customers. "

Today, the company employs 90 people, operates two shifts per day, and has two facilities totaling 90,000 sq ft. Shop equipment includes a variety of punches, shears, press brakes, iron workers, spot and arc welders, and a finishing department.

Correcting inefficiencies

"Like most job shops," says Keith Lyons, "we take on any kind of work, then worry about how we're going to do it. It's impossible to have exactly the right tool for every job. We realize we sometimes must use our turret punches inefficiently, but we never had a customer base clamoring for laser cutting.

"We finally concluded that physical punching of material just wasn't leading-edge technology; we had to take the plunge into advanced cutting to build a competitive edge. "

That plunge has been successful enough to keep the laser going two shifts a day since September 1988. Although existing customers had no experience with laser cutting, they quickly realized its versatility and began sending new work.

"What's particularly pleasing is the work we're getting from new sources for cutting nonmetallic materials: mica, wood, fiberglass, paper, and plastics," he notes. "We've cut all kinds of steel, some light gages that could not be punched, some aluminum, and even 1/4"-wall, mild-steel tubing."

Laser benefits

The CL-7 laser center uses a fastaxial-flow CO [sub.2] laser with 1350 W power output. The breakaway laser head is mounted on a moving bridge with travels of 12011 X, 60" Y, and 8 Z. Positioning and repeatability accuracies are +/- 0.001 ". Twin independently driven pallets allow one pallet to be processed on the 5-ft x 10-ft table, while parts are loaded and unloaded from the idle pallet.

"We haven't formally calculated the laser's payback," Lyons admits. "We know it's expensive to operate, but it has opened doors for us with new work, and it has improved our efficiency in many ways. For example, we used to buy lots of nibbling tooling for our turret punches, and that's been drastically reduced. The laser also lets us process work that couldn't be done any other way, such as intricate contouring of 30-gage stainless. "

Since they prefer high-precision, low-volume work, saving a minute or two per part wasn't important in originally choosing the laser, but it has proven to be a time saver. "We used to give a man 10 pieces of 10-gage stainless to punch in the morning," says Lyons, "and he'd still be working on that job in the afternoon. With the laser, that same job can be done in 30 minutes, while our punches are being more productive doing work for which they're better suited. "

Blank quality has improved, too. Distortion from clamping and mechanical cutting forces has been eliminated, and cut edges are more nearly perpendicular for better fit-up. "With plastics, those edges look as if they were polished," adds Lyons, noting that laser-cut blanks are more accurate than those sheared and punched. "When you shear and punch, blank accuracy is dependent on the shear work. On the laser, all edges are reference edges, and the result is super-accurate blanks."

Except for stainless steel that requires some dross removal from edges to prevent rusting, laser cutting has reduced or eliminated post-processing work. On one large lot of enclosure boxes, laser cutting allowed the part to be redesigned to include tabs that formerly needed to be welded. "We even etch bending lines on parts, marking them left' and 'right' to simplify assembly," Lyons explains. Tackling tubing

Although they do not have machining capability, they've made good use of the laser as a substitute, particularly for tricky tubing cuts.

When tubing is rolled and butt welded, stresses build up that can relieve at the point of cut, allowing the material to flare out like a potato chip and knock the head off the machine. Also, the tubing surface is no longer perfectly flat after rolling.

Lyons successfully cuts holes and slots in mild steel tubing by making a series of small cuts and leaving a knockout attached with one or two tiny tabs. "We can laser cut 1 0 or I I holes in a piece of 8 x 8 " tubing before a person could even get started with a drill, " Lyons points out.

Software side

Although they use a PC-based CAD system for design work, they do not have the means to create laser-cutting programs automatically from design data. "Cincinnati is about to introduce a program that translates part-print data into machine-readable CNC commands, and we plan to try it," he notes.

Without actively marketing their laser cutting expertise, the word is traveling fast.. "One of the intangible factors in owning a machine like this is its effect on our reputation for quality and productivity," Lyons says. Customers whose work doesn't even require the laser are impressed to see it in our shop. It puts us a laser cut' above the competition in their eyes."
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:H L Lyons Co.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Previous Article:Injected metal saves manufacturing steps.
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