Wiltshire-based Altex Engineering, a leading precision sub-contractor with a facility in Calne, has invested in a new Salvagnini L5 CNC fibre laser cutter to increase capacity and meet growing demand.
This 6kW machine supplied by Salvagnini UK & Ireland Ltd
Salvagnini UK & Ireland Ltd in Ross-on-Wye, features a 50µm beam which, in combination with its proprietary air pressure multiplier (APM), means mild steel, aluminium and stainless steel up to 10mm thick can be cut using nothing more than a standard compressed air supply.
Established over 30 years ago by current owner John Jackett, Altex Engineering has grown into a 30-employee business with UK-wide customers in sectors such as medical, telecommunications, defence and office furniture. The company, which undertakes fabrication, machining and finishing operations, extended its premises in 2014 to cover about 20,000m2
Mr Jackett said Altex is committed to an ongoing programme of investment in plant, software and processes, key among which is laser cutting. “Due to rising orders, we recently ran out of capacity on our existing Salvagnini L1Xe laser cutter and decided to invest in another machine — the L5 — and take advantage of the progression in technology. The two machines are now running side-by-side.”
Mr Jackett recalls the time 10 years ago when he invested in his first Salvagnini, the aforementioned L1Xe. When it was installed in 2010, it was thought to be the first fibre laser cutter in the UK from any manufacturer.
“So many people were sceptical. CO2
laser cutting technology was dominant and hardly anyone had heard of fibre lasers; installing one took a real leap of faith.
“I even visited Salvagnini’s headquarters in Italy to see a demonstration. Although everyone thought I was crazy to consider a fibre laser, we went ahead and bought the L1Xe. Over the years it’s been a fantastic performer and is still going strong today. We simply ran out of capacity.” New contracts
The arrival of significant new contracts from the telecommunications sector proved to be the tipping point. It was clear that alongside extra capacity, Altex would need to seek out a new machine with even greater speed and efficiency.
The L5’s ‘highly dynamic’ laser cutting system has no optical path and is equipped with a ‘patented compass that comprises two carbon arms’. These arms are driven by a pair of rotary motors that move the laser head itself in the X-Y plane in small steps, thereby reducing the movements of the whole carriage.
A specially developed algorithm in the control provides the greatest acceleration to the axis with least inertia, thus ensuring highly dynamic performance of both the cutting movement and rapid traverse motion.
In combination with the new 6kW power source, the L5 is notably faster than previous-generation models. For instance, in tests against the company’s L3 with a conventional 6kW source, cutting times were 30-40% quicker on materials up to 3mm thick, and 10% quicker on 4mm-thick material.
From 6-10mm, the performance was the same. Furthermore, Mr Jackett says the quality gap that historically differentiated between cutting with nitrogen and air has now narrowed to negligible levels.
“Unlike our L1Xe, which uses nitrogen, we can cut with standard compressed air on the L5, which provides a significant reduction in operating costs and a more competitive way of cutting. The L5’s APM will clean, dry and boost the pressure to ensure we can cut much thicker plate using compressed air than anyone else.
“Using Salvagnini’s APM, the cost savings grow even further as there are no costs for dedicated compressors: the compact turn-key APM connects directly to the shop’s pneumatic supply, normalises the pressure, and filters and dries the compressed air to ensure it is optimised for cutting.”Good accessibility
Another benefit offered by the L5 is accessibility, with an ‘up and over door’ giving access to the full length of the table.
“The machine’s versatility is also beneficial. If I want to stop mid-cut due to an urgent request for a one-off, we can do this easily with the L5, which is very user-friendly. However, possibly the biggest reason for buying the L5 was our personal experience of Salvagnini machinery and the excellent service back-up we receive.”
Installation of the Salvagnini L5 took place in July 2020. Although the machine cuts material up to 10mm thick, on a day-to-day basis the L5 at Altex processes parts made from zintec up to 3mm thick, as well as various gauges of stainless steel and aluminium. Batch sizes range from one-offs up to 10,000 parts.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone, but at Altex we have seen strong demand from certain sectors, notably telecommunications and healthcare. We are also starting to see a certain amount of our more traditional work return, which is encouraging.
“For these reasons we felt that now was the right time to invest and stay ahead of our competitors, who may be thinking the opposite. We are trying to look at the long-term, as investments like the L5 will put us in a really strong position when the economy really gets moving again. We will have the best technology in place and can easily add shifts in response to demand.
“Business at Altex is all about meeting the exact requirements of the customer in a cost- and delivery-optimised way. We are not just another sub-contractor, but a full service provider that can offer design advice to help reduce manufacturing costs.
“If there are savings to be made because of the technology we use, these will be made apparent to the customer at the enquiry stage. I built the business on this very ethos.”