Laser/Punch Laser/Punch

Hidden champions

For anyone still on the fence about punch/laser combo machines, it’s not too late to change your mind

by Kip Hanson, senior editor



A lot can be said for a top-notch punch press or laser cutter. Either is an important part of the sheet metal processing landscape. Throw a press brake and maybe a welder into the mix and there’s little you can’t make.


Yet lasers are limited to flat parts, and they can’t tap holes or form louvers and countersinks. Punch presses, on the other hand, require expensive tooling, especially when odd shapes are called for. Nibble marks and burrs are common, giving lasers a slight edge in part quality. Granted, punch presses can knock out holes like there’s no tomorrow, but for materials greater than 5/16 in. or so in thickness or for complex part profiles, a laser is the clear winner.


With robotic parts handling, parts leave most punch/laser combo machines stacked and sorted, ready for bending, welding or other secondary operation.



Wouldn’t it be swell then if you could pick and choose the best attributes of each type of machine? If that was possible, you might not have to look at stacks of partially completed parts sitting around the shop floor, waiting for the secondary operations that neither machine is able to complete on its own.


A sample part showing the various operations possible on a punch/laser machine, including extruding, tapping, embossing, offset flange forming, lancing and laser cutting.



Jack of all trades

As it turns out, you can pick and choose. Punch/laser combo machines offer the best of both worlds, and with a few additional capabilities to boot. Considering that this two-in-one technology has been around for decades, it’s a tad perplexing that so few shops avail themselves of its benefits.



“They’re nothing new,” says Tim Brady, punching and combination machine product manager for Amada America Inc. “We’ve been offering combo machines for 30 years. They remain a popular choice for a number of shops, but they’re admittedly a small percentage of the market. If you were to add up all the turrets and flat table lasers sold during that time, combos might account for only 5 percent of the total.”


The problem is the cost. Where a combo machine is clearly a two-fer in terms of capabilities, its price tag is quite close to that of a punch press and laser combined. For those who don’t have the right kind and amount of work for a combo machine or where floor space is not a premium, the argument is simple: Why buy a Swiss Army knife when a pair of Leathermans will do?


A modular machine design allows customers to field-retrofit a laser module to their punch press years after installation.



Everyone else

Brady offers several reasons why this way of thinking might be flawed. A shop that doesn’t do any forming or tapping will get by just fine cutting everything on its laser. A shop that produces parts with lots and lots of small holes will almost certainly see faster cycle times on a punch press. And a shop that doesn’t have to worry about labor costs or high amounts of work in process will see no value in a punch/laser combo machine. For everyone else? Combos are definitely worth considering.


“The decision to purchase a punch/laser combo machine most often comes down to parts handling,” says Brady. “You have to analyze how many people are involved in getting parts from a blank to a finished workpiece; combo machines make much of the secondary processes that would otherwise occur unnecessary.”



Automated parts sorting eliminates the morning “shake and take” workout that shops have begrudgingly come to accept as a part of doing business.



With that comes increased part quality, because a combo machine lets you drop many parts complete without additional setups. The laser generally produces cleaner edges than punching, so many shops laser cut the periphery of the part and any special shapes where they don’t have a tool available, then use a punch press to knock out the holes, slots and take care of whatever forming is required. “Setups are typically faster, as well,” he says. “It’s just a very flexible solution.”


Automation is another big factor. Combo machines allow the operator to bring the part to its micro-tabbed conclusion then use the laser to gently release the part to a waiting robot or through a trap door below. There’s no more hours of laborious “shake and take” whenever a nest is completed – just grab the bin, box, or pallet of parts and carry them to the press brake, or directly to the shipping department.


A trap door underneath the work area allows parts to drop through into a waiting bin. No more micro-tabbing and manual parts removal.



Hidden champions

“Shaking all those parts out of the skeleton is labor-intensive, and not much fun besides,” Brady points out. “When made part of an automated material handling solution, a punch/laser combo machine eliminates all of that extra effort.”


Kristian Taraba, product management technical assistant at Trumpf Inc., agrees, adding that the idea behind combo machines is to bring as many processes as possible into one machine. “I call them the hidden champions because they can do everything necessary to complete a workpiece. Unfortunately, not as many shops recognize this as they should.”


Taraba says that identifying and eliminating non-value-added time needs to be a top priority for manufacturers. True, cycle time is also important, but there’s no point in cutting or punching a part 10 times faster just to have it sit on the floor waiting for the next operation.


Whether punching, laser cutting or forming, combo machines give shops the ability to use whichever technology is most appropriate for a given operation – thus reducing cycle time – while offering a huge leg up on to shorten lead times and increase flexibility.


For example, a laser might take two seconds to pierce a hole, whereas a punch press takes around a quarter of a second, Taraba explains. On a sheet with 500 holes, this makes a significant difference in overall cycle time, so a shop would normally put it on their punch press.


Similar arguments can be made for complex profiles. In most cases, these are cut on a laser. With a combo machine, you don’t have to choose which machine is best because everything can be completed in one operation.


A shop willing to invest in punch/laser combo technology can gain a significant leg up on the competition.



No more workouts

They’re also easy to operate. “The software is flexible, so there’s no need to follow a specific programming sequence,” Taraba says. “You can do one part at a time, you can do the inner contour then the outer contour, you can switch between the laser and the punch press as often as you want. But a good rule of thumb is to punch all of the holes within the nest first, do all the forming, engraving, stamping and embossing, then laser cut whatever’s left.”


Taraba says that combo machines also have the ability to separate internal scrap – a window or cutout, for instance, that would normally have to be micro-tabbed and removed by hand later – can be automatically “smart ejected” into the scrap bin.


Imagine for a moment cutting a sheet containing 10 different parts, each with a mix of punched, formed and laser cut features. With a punch/laser combo machine, there’s no more sorting, no more secondary processing, no more work in process. Every part in the nest comes off the machine complete and is sorted into the appropriate bin with the scrap and skeleton kept separate with no human intervention whatsoever. 


The only downside of a combo machine is that you might have to purchase a gym membership because the daily upper body workout you and your employees have been getting at the tail end of the punch or laser machine will soon be a thing of the past. Regardless, I think most would still take the combo.


Amada America Inc.

Trumpf Inc.

Hybrid fabrication

Reducing the footprint and saving steps with a laser/punch machine with multi-tooling

by Jimmy Myers, senior editor




Reducing the footprint, accomplishing more than just one task per machine, improving productivity – these are the goals that fit into just about any fabricator’s strategy for success. However, these goals haven’t always been easy to achieve given the fact that some fabricated parts require specialized tooling, which means a different machine is needed for each step.


Take, for instance, a part formed from a piece of sheet metal that requires tooling for louvers, yet also requires tooling for elongated bends as well as a solution for precision laser cuts. A job shop might have to employ three different machines in an assembly line scenario to fabricate such a part from a single piece of sheet metal. That means a lot of real estate on the shop room floor, not to mention time and labor costs.


Granted, most parts are going to filter through a number of processes before they reach the end stage, but what if a few of those stops along the way could be performed on one machine? This would certainly help a fabricator improve the way it leverages usable space on the shop room floor and improve productivity.


This is what Trumpf has aimed for in its latest hybrid development, the TruMatic 1000 laser/punch combination machine.





A 40-year history

Trumpf has a four-decade history of manufacturing combination machines. Along the way, the company increased its laser power and brought in new generations of punch machines with added automation. This long history of designing new machines resulted in the recently released TruMatic series, including a CO2 laser machine in the TruMatic 7000 and a fiber laser/punch combo machine featuring a SheetMaster material handling automation system in the TruMatic 6000.


Most recently, Trumpf introduced the TruMatic 1000, which is marketed as an entry-level machine for fabricators, but also as the world’s smallest laser/punch machine, which is 24 percent smaller than the previous model. Despite its entry-level moniker, it packs a big punch; it offers users the ability to laser cut, sort, form, tap and punch on a singular compact platform.





The newest addition

The focus with the TruMatic 1000 is on flexibility and delivering high-quality parts. One of the keys to the machine’s flexibility lies in its frame. The “O” style frame brings a modular concept that fits well with the patented drive system, which accommodates automation capabilities.


“The ‘O’ style frame is there to ensure we have full support of the punch and laser head over its entire travel,” says Brian Welz, product manager, punch and combination products for Trumpf. “Secondly, this design provides an extremely compact footprint.”


A cross section of the head shows how a punch works.



For organizations that aren’t quite ready for fiber laser cutting, the TruMatic 1000 is offered as a punch-only machine, the TruPunch version. When the time is right, the user can add a 3-kW laser, transitioning the machine to a laser/punch combo. The process is fairly straightforward, only requiring the addition of protective housing, a chiller and a dust collector. Running on nitrogen, the TruDisk laser can cut 18-gauge steel at 1,000 ipm.


“It’s designed to grow with you,” Welz says.


While the punching and laser cutting capabilities are the most highly touted by Trumpf, the TruMatic 1000 embosses and stamps and can also bend up to 3.5-in.-long flanges and 1-in.-high 14-gauge material.


For instance, a 4-in. louver can be created with a single hit. A wheel tool can be implemented to allow the operator to raise the material or lower it by two times the material thickness. Trumpf’s multi-tool includes up to five tools in one head for added performance.



The heart of the machine

What makes all this possible? Along with the “O” style frame, Trumpf points to the Delta Drive system, which Welz refers to as the “heart of the machine.”


In most traditional punching applications, the sheet metal moves on the Y axis. However, with the patented Delta Drive system, Trumpf has eliminated the need for the sheet and worktable to move on the Y axis. Powered by two servomotors, the drive system allows the punch head to move back and forth on the Y axis, which is considered somewhat revolutionary in punch head technology, while the material handling clamps move the sheet on the X axis.


“Because the sheet is only moved in one direction,” Welz says, “we can move the punch and laser head at a higher rate. This improves the dynamics and processing of the machine.”


According to the company, the Delta Drive system “opens up new and innovative methods. For example, it lets small laser cut parts be reliably removed. Previously, most of them fell through the die into the scrap container and had to be removed by hand. Now the punch can operate in a slightly offset position.”


To further improve the efficiency of moving parts, the Delta Drive has a triangular shape. The wedge part of the drive is a 3-ft. platform with integrated linear rails, which ensure that the movement is exact. And it’s powerful too, exerting 18 tons of electrical punching force and 600 hits per min.




Tooling and automation

Ejecting parts in an efficient manner is also something the drive system in the TruMatic 1000 is uniquely suited to handle. Trumpf has included a new ejector tool to punch out parts through a chute into specific sorting boxes. A total of four boxes can be used. The machine is engineered so scrap punched out via the ejector tool falls through the die, which means operators don’t have to go through a separate step of sorting waste material from actual parts. Furthermore, the ejector tool is delicate enough as to minimize scratches on the parts.


On the left side of the machine is a 48-in.-by-16-in. part flap. Processed parts can be sent down the chute onto a pallet or conveyor if it’s going off to another application.


“A second 7-by-7-in. part chute is available,” Welz says, “and is located in front of the punch head. Smaller parts can be sent down this chute into a container or into the optional integrated sorting unit.”


The TruMatic 1000 has 20 stations, 17 of which are dedicated to tools. The TruPunch punch-only machine also has 20 stations, 18 of which are dedicated to tools. The maximum tool size for punching is a 3-in. round.


During the punching process, any housing associated with the laser is in the down position, allowing the operator to monitor the parts being punched and to get into the machine, if necessary. However, during the laser cutting process, the protective housing automatically goes into the up position. A secondary housing area moves down around the immediate cutting area, adding extra protection.


Another automatic feature involves a height sensor around the laser cutting head, which allows it to move effectively around flanges, bends and louvers.


Finally, there is an automation option for loading and offloading material called the SheetMaster Compact shared automation kit. It can be used on the TruPunch and TruMatic models. The kit loads raw sheets from 20 in. by 12 in. and up to 96-in.-by-48-in. material. It has a 3-ton loading and unloading capacity and an optimized footprint. Suction cups lift the sheets onto the table, and a detector alerts the operator if more than one sheet has been picked up.


Trumpf Inc.

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