While flat plate laser cutting has been in existence for a long time, new tube laser cutting technology is revolutionising the tube and pipe industry. This is according to Andrew Poole, Managing Director at First Cut, sole distributor and representative for BLM in South Africa.
Poole notes that exciting possibilities are opening up for tube processing - resulting in a mind shift within the fabrication sector both locally and globally.
“The high-speed efficiency of BLM’s fibre laser machines for tube cutting is challenging our thinking around what is and what is not possible. Traditional fabrication relies heavily upon labour and infrastructure, with many steps in the process. Tube laser processing is changing all that,” says Poole.
First Cut, an established distributor of cutting consumables and capital equipment, has strong ties with some of the leading global brands in steel processing machinery, including BLM. Based in Italy, BLM has for decades focused on optimising the tube fabrication process through its range of tube end-forming/bending machinery and tube laser cutting equipment.
For First Cut, it was a priority to build a strong relationship with the ‘best in the business’, to ensure its customers receive the benefits of a world-class service - and the multiple advantages of tube laser technology.
“We have been excited to introduce BLM’s tube laser machines to the South African market. They provide a highly versatile, automated cutting solution that is significantly faster and more accurate than conventional processing,” says Poole.
One of First Cut’s customers which is an innovative ‘early adopter’ of this technology is TWTLP (TW Tube Laser Processing).
Founded in 2014 with the well-known TW Profile as its majority shareholder, TWTLP has pioneered its way to fast becoming one of the largest service centres in the laser and profile cutting industry in South Africa.
Having purchased two BLM tube laser processors from First Cut (in 2015 and early 2016), TWTLP – and its customers - are already seeing significant return-on-investment.
“We were passionate about finding an all-in-one solution for the processing of tubes and sections. It is exciting to note that, through tube laser technology, anything which can be done on plate can now be done on tube and section,” says Tharin Stuart, Managing Director of TWTLP, who has extensive experience in the fabrication sector.
“Thanks to the high-speed output of the BLM tube laser process, production schedules have been drastically reduced, leading to much higher productivity levels for our customers. For example, processing a notch or cope on a beam, channel or pipe development now takes minutes; whereas previously by hand, this could take up to an hour when marking out is included,” Stuart points out.
TWTLP has invested in a BLM L14 3D tube laser, which is a ‘heavy duty’ machine suited to large component manufacturing. With a footprint of approximately 40 metres, the LT 14 can cut diameters up to 355mm and handle tube and sections 13m in length and up to 100kg/metre.
More recently, and also through First Cut, TWTLP commissioned a BLM LT Fibre which is a smaller, high-speed laser machine designed for cutting tube and open sections of between 12mm and 152mm.
“The beauty of the LT Fibre is not only the incredible speed of its throughput; but its ability to cut reflective materials such as copper, brass, aluminium, stainless steel and titanium, delivering a smoother cut surface. It also cuts carbon beautifully,” says Stuart.
With the two tube laser processors ‘up and running’, plus an Everising bandsaw machine (also supplied by First Cut), TWTLP is able to service a wide cross-section of industries and varied steel fabrication requirements.
“The applications for tube laser are vast - from office furniture to balustrades, gym equipment and bicycles - to stadiums and architectural structures. The automated and software-driven process minimises the human error element, creating high levels of accuracy and repeatability of component parts,” Stuart comments.
Automating the tube and section cutting process creates many benefits for the fabricator, including a reduction in labour and infrastructure costs; and for TWTLP’s customers, the benefit of minimising the risks associated with stock-holding.
Because TWTLP takes care of all tube processing as well as stock-holding on behalf of its customers, trust is critical to successful customer relationships. This is something which is mirrored in the relationship between TWTLP and First Cut. In fact, a focus on relationship-building is an important part of the ethos of both companies.
“There is no sale without a relationship,” says Stuart. “A strong relationship between customer and supplier – such as ours with First Cut - helps to overcome any challenges very quickly,” he adds.
“It is about both technology and people – and for First Cut the sale of the machine to our valued customer TWTLP is just the start of the relationship,” agrees Poole.
Ongoing support, service and training are also offered by First Cut’s principal BLM, based near Lake Como in Northern Italy.
“First Cut is extremely proud to represent BLM in South Africa. The speed and precision demonstrated by their tube laser technology is phenomenal. Thanks to this, customers such as TWTLP are experiencing much faster turn-around times on processing and delivery which, in turn, translates into significant cost-savings and benefits for their own customers,” Poole concludes.