Automatic loader boosts production efficiency

Located in the southern Slovak town of Nové Zámky, Hykemont spol. s r. o. has been producing steel construction elements for more than 25 years now. To achieve greater self-sufficiency, the Slovak producer invested into an automatic laser cutting cell.
Almost the entire history of the company has been tied to the Austrian steel shipping and storage container producer CONTAINEX by an exclusive deal. This mutually beneficial relationship has brought stability to Hykemont and ensured continuous growth. Originally, Hykemont's production was focused solely on steel warehouse containers and only later it was extended to component production. 

The decision to invest in a brand new cutting and material handling equipment has been a part of the company's long-term growth plan. Hykemont wanted to innovate the production process and be less dependent on third-party suppliers. Since the company's production is highly specialized, requiring large numbers of the same parts with minimal variability, an automated solution was preferred. Therefore, Hykemont was looking for a system able to cut 6 mm mild steel plates in two shifts per day and to automatically load the raw material and unload cut parts.

After careful deliberation, Hykemont opted to buy MicroStep's fiber laser machine MSF Pro with a work area of 3,000 x 1,500 mm, equipped with a 4kW IPG laser source capable of cutting mild steel up to 20 mm thick. Productivity of this machine is further augmented by MicroStep's automated plate loading system MSLoad – a stack of plates just needs to be placed on a designated position and the rest of the process is fully automated. Vacuum pads pick up a plate and a tactile sensor measures its thickness. Based on this information, a corresponding cutting program is selected by MicroStep's Machine Production Management (MPM) software. The vacuum loader deposits the plate onto a cutting table and the cutting may begin. Meanwhile on the other end, previously cut parts are being unloaded from the other pallet of the automatic shuttle table onto an external pallet using a fork unloading unit. The pallet with the unloaded cut parts is moved to the unloading position of MSLoad where it is processed.

“The new solution enables us to meet markets' high demands in both the quantity of ordered parts and their quality, which is vital since the cut parts are further being processed at a robotic welding station,” says Kristína Koláriková Kulichová, CEO of Hykemont spol. s r. o. “Apart from these major advantages, there are also others like lower costs for a unit of production, higher utilization of resources, increased safety of our workers and a lower amount of manual labor.”   

The production manager Pavol Stromček also acknowledges the production boost: “Using this machine, two shifts are now able to process 4 to 5 tons of mild steel per day. The solution greatly saves the time that would be otherwise needed for manipulation with material.”

Since Hykemont has opted for nitrogen laser cutting, they faced a new logistical problem. Even though nitrogen cutting is better for thin plates, it also consumes much more gas than oxygen cutting. The standard solution would require building a nitrogen tank and carrying out frequent gas deliveries in order to maintain the nitrogen supply necessary for production. But Hykemont preferred a more efficient option: the company purchased a nitrogen generator. Though the cost is substantial, it makes Hykemont self-sufficient in this regard and the investment should return within 5 years.

There is another aspect of the the cutting machine’s purchase as the CEO points out: “From the environmental point of view, this solution has significantly reduced the number of trucks that were previously delivering pre-cut parts from our suppliers.”

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