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issue: February 2006 APPLIANCE Magazine

Special Report: Dehumidifiers
At Lightning Speed


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by Jill Russell, Senior Associate Editor

When HVAC OEM Thermastor needed help keeping up with orders increased by Hurricane Katrina, it turned to contract manufacturer Dane Manufacturing, which utilized an automated laser cutter from Salvagnini America, Inc.

Salvagnini's L2 Lightning Hi-Dynamic Laser System is an automated material handling and laser cutter in one. The unit loads material, cuts parts based on a software-based control system insert, then places finished parts on a conveyor or pallet for use later on in the assembly process. According to Dane Manufacturing, a contract manufacturer and recent customer, the laser system helped them keep up with an estimated growth rate of 30 percent in 2005, and a large order from dehumidifier OEM Thermastor after Hurricane Katrina, by having the ability to run the machine during the midnight shift without an operator.

Dane Manufacturing had just completed the final installation and set-up of an automated laser cutter and material handler from Salvagnini America, Inc. when it received a large order from Thermastor, a maker of restoration and whole-house dehumidifiers. Due to an increased demand for humidifiers after Hurricane Katrina for homes and businesses that had suffered severe water damage, Thermastor turned to Dane to complete the order and, according to Dane, Salvagnini's L2 Lightning Hi-Dynamic Laser System made it possible.

According to Troy Berg, president of Dane, he starting looking into installing an automatic laser cutter to accommodate the substantial growth the company has recently experienced. The company grew about 30 percent in 2005 and achieved a 54-percent growth rate in 2004. To keep up, Dane, located in Dane, Wisconsin, U.S., installed punching equipment, but Berg says he wanted an automated laser machine that would not only cut material, but separate parts from scrap as well. After contacting several equipment suppliers, Dane chose Hamilton, Ohio, U.S.-based Salvagnini because of its flexibility and its ability to provide a customized design. "Salvagnini kept coming to the top of the list as the company that would actually design the equipment to fit our facilities and wasn't going to force a standard solution, but give us a solution that we needed," Berg tells APPLIANCE. And a customized solution is what Dane received.

Only 4 weeks after placing the order, the equipment was installed; 2 weeks after that, training had been completed. This was not, however, done without any challenges. Dane expanded its facilities with two additions-one for the equipment itself and the other to accommodate assembly and a finished goods warehouse and shipping area-and reconfigured its entire plant. It was in the construction stage that the two companies hit their first potential roadblock. In the design, Dane was allowing room for an automated tower; although the plant didn't plan to install one immediately, it planned to in the future. Because of this, Dane fell 10 feet to 12 feet short of the space needed to install the laser system. To fix the problem, Salvagnini reconfigured portions of the equipment vertically and manipulated the laser around a different axis to allow Dane the option to install an automatic feed tower down the road.

After installation was complete, Salvagnini was on hand to provide training and initial programming for the equipment. Elizabeth Kautzmann, product manager of Laser Technologies for Salvagnini and part of the team that helped Dane get the machine into operation, says part of the product ramp-up process included running parts for the actual order until a consistent product was formed, in conjunction with the working robotics and software systems. "Our focus on that hand off is to get them to a level of confidence, a level of expertise," Kautzmann says. "First to crawl, then walk, then run, and pretty soon, they are giving us feedback on modifications they would like to see in the software, robot or automatic sheet loading."

According to Berg, training the operators was one of the main challenges due to the sophistication level of the equipment, but Salvagnini helped solve the problem with hands-on instruction. It sent an expert for a 2-week period to Dane's facility to work with engineers and operators. The trainer returned later for another full week to troubleshoot any problems and provide additional training.

Used to produce the 304 stainless-steel sheet metal parts for the Thermastor dehumidifier's outside assembly, Salvagnini's L2 laser system utilizes a Rofin SLAB DC series CO2 laser that is said to provide a high-quality beam for high-speed cutting and feature a low laser gas consumption via an automated, integrated 6-axis robot. In addition to loading, cutting and removing part from scrap, the laser system features a flying optic and an airplane-type beam that allows the laser to cut stationary material. This works in conjunction with an intelligent controller that enables the equipment to restart after collisions and identify an edge of a blank sheet, as well as specifically designed software that includes modeling ability with CAD and enables users to optimize equipment performance using past data. These capabilities provide a completely automated and customized laser cutting and material handling solution.

"The feature that clearly distinguishes the Salvagnini unit is the ability to take a processed part, separate it from the skeleton and then either hand it to the conveyor, place it on a pallet or place it in a kit fashion," Kautzmann explains. "This is really a marriage that we never had until this type of technology existed. You get the best of both worlds; you get high speed, but also high quality."

Dane agrees and says the equipment and its relationship with Salvagnini was a success and made its relationship with Thermastor a success as well. "Salvagnini has proven to be a good partner on the application side as well as with application and technical support. They have put their efforts where their promises were, so to speak," Berg says. "The customer came to us in their time of need, and the Salvagnini laser helped us deliver, because we were able to run the equipment 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, around the clock."

 

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