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Manchester University Case Study

An image of the front of Manchester University

Manchester University Case Study

The University of Manchester School of Engineering has a requirement to demonstrate and teach students the machining and processing of different materials.

There were several existing CNC machines dedicated for this purpose on site but the alternative method of using a laser system for cutting was identified and considered attractive.

Customer: Manchester University

Machine: HPC Mini PRO LS1390

Working Area: 1300 x 900mm

Laser Source: 3kW IPG

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Standard features:

  • Class 1 laser safety enclosure with Allen Bradley Guardmaster safety switches and Pilz safety relay
  • Pneumatically driven up/ down door with pull-out loading/unloading table
  • Cypcut laser control software featuring edge seek and nesting functions
  • Wireless hand controller

Why Did The University Identify A Requirement For A Laser Cutter?

Lasers have many advantages over some conventional machining systems in terms of speed, throughput, and ease of use. Laser cutters are widely used in a vast range of applications, such as cutting of a wide range of plastics, manufacturing architectural models, cutting foils and films, signage, paper, wood, and many more.

The University considered that investment in a system such as this would provide a valuable state-of-the-art teaching and research resource. An application was therefore made to the University to assist with the possible purchase of a large-scale fibre laser cutting system.

“I would highly recommend HPC Laser to anyone looking to purchase a laser cutting system. As the University of Manchester Laser Safety Officer, I am delighted with the quality of the machine and to see that the necessary machine safety features have been properly accommodated. I would be happy to confirm our satisfaction with HPC Laser, and recommend their products and services to anyone who is looking to invest”

David Whitehead, Senior Technical Specialist, Laser Safety Advisor (LSA), MECD, University of Manchester.

Lower power laser cutting machines typically use a CO2 laser tube up to around 150W designed for engraving and cutting a range of non-metals. You can learn more about how CO2 lasers work here.

A fibre laser is usually rated at 1kW or above and uses a different wavelength of laser to CO2 which facilitates the cutting of metals including aluminium, stainless steel and carbon steels.

You can learn more about the differences between CO2 vs fiber lasers here, but compared to other methods such as plasma and water jet cutting, laser cutting is a much cleaner and less expensive option.

It was proposed that the machine would be housed in the Laser Processing Research Laboratory (LPRL) within the newly built Manchester Engineering Campus Development (MECD) https://www.mecd. manchester.ac.uk/.

The ethos here is collaboration, and the facilities are geared to unite people from different areas with different expertise to work on real-world solutions to tackle some of the challenges we face globally.

Teaching & Research

Several teaching modules use lasers as an example of technology that can be used for machining of different materials. With the UG and MSc individual projects there is a significant amount of teaching that can be carried out on a laser-based system.

It was considered that in the future, and following the move to MECD, there may also have been an opportunity to offer laser modules to other departments.

Current & Future Benefits to the University of Manchester

Within the University of Manchester, there are a large number of projects that require cutting of materials in the faculty workshops and research departments.

Before the investment in the laser cutting machine, the annual investment in these projects was significant as the majority of work was carried out externally.

The laser cutting system would give flexibility for all future cutting work and should decrease production time throughout the University. The system would also offer an excellent opportunity for teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students.

How Was The Specification of the Machine Determined?

Close up picture of the fiber laser chosen for the universities installation

HPC Laser received an initial enquiry from the University in March 2021. This began as a 1kW machine capable of cutting 10mm carbon steel, 4mm stainless steel, and 3mm aluminium.

Further discussions around power and material capability led to the consideration of a 3kW option capable of cutting up to 22m carbon steel, 10mm stainless steel, and 8mm aluminium.

Here’s a full article on how to choose a laser cutter.

A number of University staff visited HPC Laser in Halifax where a machine demonstration was carried out on their LS1390 machine equipped with a 1.5kW IPG laser source. The staff were very impressed with the demo machine and this confirmed that the purchase of a laser cutting machine was an extremely attractive prospect.

The larger 1300 x 2500mm bed machine (LS1325) was considered but space and access limitations at the University meant this larger machine would be much more difficult to install.

Once further clarification work on dimensional constraints had been carried out, it was clear that the standard LS1390 would not fit through the laboratory doorways.

HPC Laser proposed a revised machine design with an external electrical cabinet which still necessitated a full machine strip-down and reassembly on site, but meant that the preferred working area of 1300 x 900mm could be achieved.

External ventilation in the intended installation was not possible, so a BOFA AD2000IQ self-contained fume filter was included in the scope of supply.

It might have been possible to use a smaller filter machine with the LS1390 but the larger AD2000 offered far superior filter capacity, longer filter cartridge life, and was within the prescribed budget.

The Bidding Process

Manchester University were already familiar with HPC Laser as they have several of their CO2 laser cutting and engraving machines in various locations across the site.

Excellent experience of service support from HPC Laser had been demonstrated with these machines which made the decision-making process easier.

Several other companies were involved in the bidding process, however the comprehensive and competitive nature of their quotation, and the location of the engineering support team, made the option to buy the HPC Laser system a much more straightforward decision.

An application for University funding for the metal-cutting machine was made on the basis of the HPC Laser proposal and subsequently approved.

Delivery & Installation Arrangements

An imagine of the HPC fiber laser installation at Manchester University

  • Full machine build and testing at HPC Laser Halifax.
  • The machine was then stripped down for delivery on a HIAB vehicle, rebuilt in its final location in the basement at the University.
  • HPC Laser engineering team were on site for 4 days carrying out installation, commissioning and training on how to use machine as well as proper laser cutter maintenance.
  • Access was tight (20mm clearance through some doors), but careful planning was carried out prior to installation, and work was successfully completed as planned.
  • Assist gases, compressed air, and electrical supply were all in place and correctly configured on the day of delivery.

The machine arrived at the newly built MECD facility in early September 2022 along with the HPC installation team. The initial reaction from University staff when the machine arrived on the delivery vehicle was that it would not fit through the doors.

However, the planning and the initial inspections of the workspace made the transportation of the system through the building very straightforward. Once the machine was fully assembled on site, the University expressed their satisfaction with the build quality of the machine and the many safety features provided.

Following the installation process, University staff were trained on the hardware, software and maintenance aspects of the machine. It has since proven to be simple and very easy to use and maintain. Since the installation of the system, the University has further developed their excellent working relationship with HPC Laser.

Such is their satisfaction with the HPC Laser machine, the University are now collaborating with HPC on carrying out machine demonstrations for other prospective customers and collaborating on future projects.

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