18 January 2021

TRUMPF five-axis laser cutter supports car panel manufacture

QFS Technologies, a specialist supplier of body-in-white (BIW) parts to the automotive industry, has invested in a new TRUMPF TruLaser Cell 5030 five-axis (3D) laser cutter. Although the company has an older TRUMPF five-axis machine that has given many years of reliable service, QFS knew that investing in the higher performance and richer feature set of the TruLaser Cell 5030 would provide a number of competitive advantages, particularly in relation to new project work for a major customer.

Founded in 1997, Birmingham-based QFS provides the automotive industry with quick-turnaround metal-panel prototyping and low-to-medium volume production parts. Such has been its success that QFS has today become the first choice in its field for most UK automotive OEMs and tier-one suppliers, as well as yellow goods manufacturers. Current turnover at the 60-employee company is circa £7 million.

QFS develops and manufactures prototypes from single panels to complete assemblies’ for BIW, concept and show vehicles. Customers often continue to use the company’s unique blend of skills right through the initial prototype and manufacturing process, into mass production.

“As we supply panels in batch quantities of 25-150 through various prototype build phases, we already have some of the tooling in place, we’re increasingly being asked to support OEM customers with production volumes – often running into thousands of parts,” explains Managing Director Neil Holloway. “Maybe the pandemic situation where major production suppliers of panels being shut down during lockdown has contributed to production dies being delayed, but of course the OEM’s still need to meet their build schedules to sell vehicles. We’ve found ourselves in a position to provide the necessary support.”

When Mr Holloway recently put forward a business case for a new project with a major automotive customer, he realised that a new five-axis laser cutter would be required. Fortunately, he knew exactly where to turn.

“Once the investment decision had been made, it was always going to be a TRUMPF machine,” he states. “I’ve worked with other laser cutters in the past, but TRUMPF machines are a lot more reliable. When you think about the curvature and complex shapes of a car panel, it’s easy to imagine the essential role of a 3D laser cutter at QFS. We cannot afford to run an unreliable machine.”

The TRUMPF TruLaser Cell 5030 is the perfect entry-level solution for flexible 2D and 3D laser cutting. With its low machine-hour rate, the TruLaser Cell 5030 is ideally suited to small and medium batch sizes, and for applications where components are frequently changed. Furthermore, TruTops Cell Basic software enables users to make quick adjustments to programs directly at the machine.

Supplied with an energy-efficient, low-maintenance TruDisk solid-state laser, the machine offers a wealth of functions from the tried-and-tested TruLaser Cell product groups, including dynamic and precise flying optics. Notably for QFS, it is easy to run-in components with the help of the teachbox and touchscreen.

Installed in August 2020, the machine’s arrival has coincided nicely with an uptick in business after a recent suppression following the UK’s full lockdown in March. Mr Holloway describes the current market conditions as “getting there”, with the new laser already heavily utilised.

BIW parts produced on the new TruLaser Cell 5030 are mostly made from aluminium, although some are cut from high-strength steel, typically 1-3 mm thick.

“Our guys became accustomed with the machine really quickly,” says Mr Holloway. “The controls on the TruLaser Cell 5030 are notably easier than our much older five-axis model. In addition, we were already familiar with the TruTops offline programming software, so our learning curve has been pretty shallow. We’re now in the process of migrating programs over to the new machine.”

The TruLaser Cell 5030 is located within the company’s dedicated laser shop, in a total space of 34,000 sq ft.

“More speed is an obvious advantage with the new machine, while quality has also been enhanced,” states Mr Holloway.

Clearly, investing in the latest equipment and facilities allows QFS to maintain the high-quality services expected by its customers. Capital expenditure at the company in recent years has extended beyond the five-axis laser cutter to include CNC machining centres, hydraulic and mechanical presses, and optical scanning inspection technology.

“Alongside this investment strategy, our can-do attitude is also a clear market differentiator,” concludes Mr Holloway. “No matter the complexity or lead time, we’ll always go the extra mile to meet customer requirements.”

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