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Trumpf Adds RFID to Its Laser Cutting Machines

To make it easier to know if a machine's lens is being properly used and maintained, the company is embedding an RFID tag in its lenses, as well as installing a reader in its cutting heads.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 18, 2013

When manufacturing companies use laser machines to cut through pieces of sheet metal, the maintenance of such devices falls in the hands of the machine operators. Cutting through metal requires a very precise laser beam that passes through a lens to ensure it is directed properly. If the lens is dirty, worn or damaged, things can go wrong during the metal-cutting process.

Trumpf, which has provided laser cutting machines for sheet metal since 1979, is incorporating RFID technology into its products to help end users track how long and how often a particular lens has been used, as well as when it was cleaned, in order to ensure that the lens receives the maintenance it requires and is not being utilized past its lifespan, which could result in bad cuts. An RFID tag embedded in a lens not only stores data about the processes conducted on that lens and its use, but also makes it possible to determine if a lens is being installed incorrectly, since its RFID chip would not respond to the reader built into the machine if the lens' orientation was wrong. What's more, if someone were to attempt to install the wrong lens (there are multiple types with differing focal lengths), the system could identify this mistake as well.

A 6-millimeter-wide passive HF RFID tag is embedded into the outer edge of a lens that is only 7 millimeters thick.
The RFID technology has been available in Trumpf's TruLaser 3000 series of laser cutting machines since mid-summer, according to Jürgen-Michael Weick, the company's head of optical components development. "Products manufactured with the company's technology can be found in almost every sector of industry around the world," he states, including computer and automotive manufacturers and custom manufacturing shops. In February 2014, it will also be available in the TruLaser 5000 series. With the technology, he says, customers can not only track the lens' usage, but also determine which processes may be wearing the lens down faster than others, and thereby better plan lens cleaning and replacement schedules. "It's intended to make things as user-friendly for the customer as possible," Weick says.

Traditionally, when operators use laser cutting machines, they must visually inspect each lens on a regular basis, in order to determine whether it has become dirty and will thus be less effective for cutting metal. In many cases, however, the thin dirt layer that can compromise lens performance cannot be seen via the naked eye. Therefore, Trumpf has recommended that users clean the lens regularly (such as once a week) whether or not they can view dirt on the lens. In some cases, Weick adds, customers have told him they clean the lens daily, just to ensure there is no dirt present at any time. This process takes about 10 minutes and disrupts the machine's use, he says, thereby delaying production.

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