A top 10 list from FABTECH & AWS Show

November 16, 2007
By: Dan Davis

North America"s largest metal fabricating technology show is over, and for those who couldn"t make it to Chicago this week, I"m hoping to help you out.

Here"s a list of the top 10 things that caught my attention at the 2007 FABTECH International & AWS Welding Show:

  1. Everyone knows that dust collection cartridge replacement in welding shops is a fact of life many people
    don"t want to talk about. As a tire store owner used to say on his television commercials, They ain"t pretty, but you got to have "em. United Air Specialists introduced its Advanced Nanofiber Filtration Technology for dust collection cartridge filters, and the company believes that these cartridges can double the life expectancy of typical commodity filters. The nanofibers that are at the heart of the technology advancement measure 70 to 150 nanometers, or 0.07 to 0.15 micron—which is about 1,000 times smaller than a human hair. The microscopic pictures of the nanofibers are even more interesting as the spider webs of fibers clearly are evident as they coat the dust collector material. Company officials said the cartridge filters are certified to collect submicronic dust particles at MERV 15 efficiency levels—which is supposed to be a really good thing.

  2. Bob Wolbrink, Eaton Leonard's regional sales and marketing director, talked enthusiastically about his company"s VB 42 ELEC tube bender. The equipment has many standard features that were at one time only options on other benders, he said. For example, the equipment has a servomotor-controlled
    pressure die, which helps to control speed and timing and to protect the tube from pressure die marking. In another
    example, control software automatically calibrates the pressure die reach, eliminating the need for manual setup.
    Everyone loves the soft touch, and the same can be said for tube bending.

  3. Laser cutting machines feature incredible cutting speeds nowadays. You know the comparisons of cutting
    technology are getting out of hand when marketing material start talking about G forces. With this in mind, Mike
    Zakrzewski, Bystronic"s president, posed an interesting question: What if material handling can"t keep up with cutting speeds? To help fabricators keep up with their machines, Bystronic developed its ByTrans compact material handling system. The two-tiered system has a 15- by 10-foot footprint and can handle a sheet as thick as 1 inch. The top tier holds the blanks, while the lower tier holds the
    laser-cut parts; both tiers can be loaded with a lift truck. When laser-cut parts are moved out of the cutting
    chamber, a blank sheet, which has been waiting for the cutting phase to end, is lowered and moved into place. The
    goal is to have loading and unloading take just 60 seconds, maximizing the machine"s uptime.

  4. Sick demonstrated its 3-D vision technology by having a robot
    grab small basketballs out of a crate and shoot them into a goal. The vision technology, which is designed to analyze up to 35,000 frames of information per second, makes the random bin picking possible. And don"t underestimate the technology"s impact on free-throw shooting. Eat your heart out, Rick Barry.

  5. TRUMPF Inc. introduced what it calls its single cutting head strategy
    on its TruLaser 5030 New. (Not sure if that name applies after a week or a month? Hmmm.) The cutting head features a
    redesigned beam guide that allows it to be used on several material thicknesses, which means no need to switch the head when moving from sheet to plate, according to Jim Rogowski, TRUMPF"s laser machine product manager. One of the reflective lenses in the laser delivery system automatically changes from a concave shape—which results in a narrow beam for cutting thick materials—to flat—which delivers a thick beam for thinner sheet. Nozzle exchange is still required, but an automated feature means operator intervention is not needed when a new material thickness has to be cut.

  6. Welding Solutions Inc. showed its Super-MIG" system, which
    combines plasma arc and GMAW technology into one welding process. The plasma part of this hybrid equation provides
    the deep penetration with a smaller HAZ; the GMAW part delivers the reliable joining, even in variable gap
    conditions, according to Ray Davis, Welding Solutions" sales and marketing manager. As an example of the
    technology"s potential, the company demonstrated how a continuous or a stitch overlap weld was possible. For a
    company considering laser welding for a particular project, this might prove to be an economical option.

  7. A lot of cutting and punching technologies and their CNCs are perfect fits for the high-mix, low-volume world of
    job shops. Maybe the same can be said for welding. SmartTCP unveiled its
    Automatic Welding Solution, comprising a gantry welding system, which moves a robotic arm from is overhead perch,
    and software components. The basic system is constructed of nine axes—six robot axes and three gantry axes—with the possibility of adding manipulators of one or two axes to the work envelope for a maximum of 16 axes. The key is the programming software, according to company President Efi Lebel. Using its own proprietary
    programming language, the software takes any 3-D engineering drawing and converts it into robotic programming. Lebel said any company"s drawings could be converted in six minutes or less. Now when will they figure out a way to turn out welding fixtures in six minutes?

  8. Kaliburn introduced its 400-amp plasma cutting power source to the North American market at the show. To demonstrate the technology"s power, the Spirit400a and a plasma table from Genstar Technologies Co. Inc. (www.genstartech.com) were used to cut a 2-in.-thick steel plate. Of course, fabricators don"t have to use the technology exclusively for plate that thick. The company reminded others that it could process 1-in.-thick plate at speeds of up to 85 IPM. However, it"s just cool seeing thick stuff cut.

  9. It"s not Guitar Hero III, but the Welding Workbench virtual welder looks pretty cool. CS WAVE developed the training tool in Europe and now has more than 100 of these virtual welding trainers installed across the continent. The workbench simulates GMAW and SMAW and comes with several tools that track the trainee"s mistakes to determine how much progress is being made during training. The interface also can be positioned horizontally or vertically to replicate real-world welding scenarios. Judging by the lines of people holding a GMAW torch up to a monitor, the virtual training tool may become a reality in more technical educational environments.

  10. Wayne Trail Technologies calls it the Flex Lase Universal Laser
    Processing Cell. By the looks of it, laser in the box might work as well. The cell contains an IPG fiber laser (up to 4 kW), a chiller, fume exhaust system, a robot, and Precitec laser cutting and welding heads—all in a package that measures 168 in. by 120 in. by 126 in. The 13,000-lb. cell can be delivered in one piece and moved with a lift truck. The cell"s robot, a Motoman HP50 six-axis model, moved from laser welding to cutting in less than five seconds, simply placing one head in a holster in one section of the cell and grabbing the other one from a similar staging position. The laser welding process is an interesting sight as a 680-mm standoff distance between the welding head and the material occurs, which opens the door to components that might have been very difficult to weld using automation in the past. The cell can accommodate other processes as well, such as heads for drilling, inspection, and material handling. When fabricators are being asked to do more and more, having a tool that can do just that is a pretty good idea.
Dan Davis

Dan Davis

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8281