Laser Technology

By Lynn Stanley, senior editor
Dallan coil-fed LXN 1500 fiber laser
(L) The Dallan coil-fed LXN 1500 fiber laser’s vision repositioning system eliminates seconds from the process and improves cut quality. The machine helps CaptiveAire reduce inventory for hard-to-source stainless steel.
Cookin’ with gas

Coil-fed fiber laser technology automates cutting process, reduces inventory and scrap, and improves work environment


he advertising slogan, “Now we’re cooking with gas,” originated in the 1930s and was adopted as a catchphrase by comedian Bob Hope for his radio and TV performances. Almost a century later, the motto has morphed into an American idiom for positive progress or achievement. It’s a definition that fits CaptiveAire Systems. The Raleigh, North Carolina-based company is the nation’s leading manufacturer of commercial kitchen ventilation systems and turnkey solutions for fans, heaters, ductwork and HVAC equipment.

The company launched its small, one-room operation in 1976. By 2016, CaptiveAire’s sales had surpassed $400 million. Today with more than 1,500 employees, the manufacturer has 90 sales offices in the U.S. and Canada, and six plants in North Carolina, Iowa, Oklahoma, California, Pennsylvania and Florida. CaptiveAire serves restaurants, national chains, and other public and private institutions. Product fabrication for CaptiveAire’s integrated kitchen ventilation packages includes HVAC, hoods, exhaust fans, electrical controls, direct-fired heaters, grease duct systems, fire suppression systems, grease filters and utility distribution systems. The company has built its business on quality products and fast, reliable lead times.

Historically, extractor hoods used in CaptiveAire’s ventilation packages required assembly with panels pre-cut from punched, notched stainless steel sheet. A manual shear and plasma cutting operation was used to make cuts and holes. Different-sized panels required CaptiveAire to hold an inventory of hundreds of sheet metal blanks.

Worker using Dallan coil-fed LXN 1500 fiber laser
“I met with one of my engineers to talk about ways we might reduce scrap and increase productivity,” says Bill Griffin, president of engineering and manufacturing for CaptiveAire. “We needed to boost capacity and reduce scrap and felt a fiber laser cutting operation might be the best option. But we weren’t sure where to start. An online search led us to identify Dallan America Corp. as a supplier of fiber laser systems for coil fed and sheet metal.”

Dallan S.p.a., headquartered in Treviso, Italy, opened its North American division in Brooklyn, New York, in 2018, followed by a 16,000-sq.-ft. sales and service office in Dayton, Ohio, in 2021.

The coil-fed lasers have proved their value, especially in the current climate.
Bill Griffin, CaptiveAire Systems
“The concept of a coil-fed fiber laser able to automate cutting was new for us,” Griffin says. “We wanted to do our research. We travelled to several sites to evaluate different brands and talk to users.”

In 2019, CaptiveAire installed a Dallan coil-fed LXN 1500 fiber laser with an integrated vision positioning system. “It was a significant purchase for us,” Griffin says, “but we like to push the limits of technology.”

The fiber laser’s decoiling reel stores raw material. The in-line straightener eliminates the coil-set before material enters the laser. Once loaded, processing is automated. The laser cutting head can move up to 1,000 mm in the x-axis and y-axis directions. A series of roller brushes, assembled on special transport chains, support the strip and move with the cutting head while the laser cuts the material. Once the cut is completed, roller brushes deliver the part to the discharge zone. Dallan unloading equipment uses suction cups to pick up and move processed sheets.

CaptiveAire has since installed a Dallan coil-fed LXN 1500 fiber laser at each of its production locations. The cutting systems can accommodate 5-ft. by 16-ft. stainless sheet up to 16 gauge. “The coil-fed lasers have proved their value, especially in the current climate,” says Griffin. “The cost of stainless has skyrocketed and it’s hard to source. Our ability to cut coil-fed sheet allows us to more accurately control our supply chain. Instead of maintaining huge amounts of sheet, we just stock a few coil sizes. We have also significantly reduced scrap.”

Coil-fed fiber laser eliminated the manufacturer’s plasma cutters
In addition to automating CaptiveAire’s manual operation, the coil-fed fiber laser eliminated the manufacturer’s plasma cutters.
Raising throughput
Online sales orders are fed directly to the fiber laser. The Dallan vision repositioning system eliminates seconds from the process and improves cut quality. Previously, long sheet lengths meant the cutting head had to perform two repositionings. Accuracy and the ability to resume the cut in the correct position is critical, particularly for the longitudinal cut.

According to Ralph DeLuca, business development manager for Dallan America, “It’s nearly an impossible task to perform on coil-fed machines that rely on lateral guides alone. The vision repositioning system on the LXN positions panels on the surface of the coil dynamically to optimize panel length in the portion of the coil being processed.”

Once panels are cut, unloaded and stacked, they move downstream to bending processes and assembly. “Improved accuracy gives us higher quality fit up and assembly,” says Griffin. “Despite the labor shortage, these laser cutting systems have allowed us to increase throughput. They have also helped us improve air quality because we were able to eliminate our plasma cutters. Employee retention is very important to us.”

Dallan’s service and support, coupled with its advanced cutting technology, has helped CaptiveAire to achieve its goals—automating manual processes, improving indoor air quality, reducing scrap and increasing production with comfortable, safe equipment. “The supply chain has become simpler for us to manage,” says Griffin. “And as time progresses, we are confident we’ll become even more efficient.”

CaptiveAire Systems
919/882-2410, Raleigh, North Carolina,
Dallan America Corp.
937/417-0663, Brooklyn, New York,