A Multi-Axis Pattern for Success

Nov. 10, 2011
A 25-year commitment to laser processing is the secret to success for a fast-growing aerospace fabricator
Steve Leitner, president of Rentiel Precision Laser Cutting LLC in Federal Way, Wash., “teaches” a part program prior to processing on the Laserdyne 890 BeamDirector. Leitner was involved in the purchase decisions for many Laserdyne systems before buying two to start his own contract fabricating business.
A titanium scuff plate that protects fuselage airframes is being trimmed to a ± 0.005-inch tolerance on the Laserdyne 890 system, prior to welding. Rentiel processes all types of aerospace parts, including shields, nozzles, and de-icing tubes, in Inconel, stainless, and other materials.
The Laserdyne 780 (left) is equipped with a rotary and shuttle table while the 890 (right) has two rotary tables. The two laser systems give Rentiel flexibility to process parts ranging in size from very small to very large, and to load/unload parts while both machines are processing — for optimal productivity.
Machine operator Cheryl Leitner positions an Inconel part prior to laser processing. The laser beam moves at all angles to the part, and because the laser imparts no cutting pressure, workholding is simple yet strong enough to hold the part accurately and securely, and without the high cost of tooling.
Both ends of a titanium nozzle are being trimmed at a ± 0.002-in. tolerance for an aircraft ducting system. Consistent tolerances and quality, trimmed edges are possible because of the 780 BeamDirector’s Automatic Focus Control feature. AFC guides the motion system, maintaining critical focus position and following the contour of the part regardless of slight surface irregularities.
A giant aircraft engine exhaust nozzle is refurbished using the Laserdyne 890 BeamDirector. The damaged, contoured lower portion of the part is being removed and replaced. Refurbishing high-value titanium aerospace parts is a growing part of Rentiel’s business.
Rentiel fabricates temporary fixtures like the one pictured. The tool-building process is fast so that production on the lasers can move forward quickly, so orders are filled in just a few days.

From the time he started working in metal fabricating, Steve Leitner has been watching laser processing advance into the multi-dimensioned technology that it is today — and in that he recognized a pattern for his own success. He started his own business as a side project, in his garage, with a refurbished and retrofitted Laserdyne 780 BeamDirector. Now, Leitner is demonstrating those abilities to various high-end manufacturers, and proving that experience, along with the accuracy and flexibility of the Laserdyne technology, is a forceful combination.

Leitner started out with an associate’s degree in Applied Science, working as a 5-axis laser system operator. He built his business — Rentiel Precision Laser Cutting LLC in Federal Way, Wash. — with one laser system, and when it was filled with work orders he purchased a second system. That process was repeated again, and again.

Rentiel Precision Laser Cutting is a four-man, contract laser-processing business specializing in three-dimensional parts, primarily for the aerospace industry. However, Leitner and his crew are expanding into other industries too, including medical and electronics parts. Relocated now to a new, 3,500-square foot shop in an industrial park, Rentiel is outfitted with multiple laser systems, milling machines, and support equipment.

Recently, Leitner added a large, gantry-style Laserdyne 890 BeamDirector system and other capital equipment, positioning the company as a supplier to Tier 2 aerospace suppliers in the Pacific Northwest. And, he has an aggressive plan to double the size of the shop over the next two years.

The core of Leitner’s strategy is the Laserdyne multi-axis laser technology. Rentiel uses these systems to apply complex solutions to difficult aerospace applications for customers like Boeing, United Technologies, Gulfstream, and others. Along the way, Leitner has contributed to the development of several Laserdyne system and software features – systems like the ones Rentiel has been using everyday over two decades.

“Back in the 80s, my employer saw the value of laser processing right after purchasing the first Laserdyne system,” said Leitner. “We kept adding to those machines’ capacity by finding new jobs and parts that were perfect for laser processing. And, as the company grew so did the laser department. I was promoted to supervisor and was responsible for programming, training, and maintenance of the equipment.

Gaining experience
Leitner's experience placed him close to the evolution of multi-axis laser technology, working with Laserdyne technicians as they added new features and capabilities to their machines.

“If my company needed a special software feature added for a particular issue, Laserdyne would come up with an elegant solution,” he recalled. “I worked with them on the development and refinement of system features like their Breakthrough Detection, Automatic Focus Control, and part mapping. These features resulted in faster and more accurate laser processing and really helped me, as a supervisor, and more important, my company, to deliver high-quality parts cost effectively.”

Laserdyne Systems is an operating unit of PRIMA North America that develops and supplies precision laser processing systems for components used in land and aero turbine engines. It is the largest supplier of these systems to customers worldwide. Leitner described his working relationship with Laserdyne as a partnership, addressing various difficult parts and processes over many years, and he credits the support of Laserdyne engineers for success in those efforts.

“A unique quality of Laserdyne is their ability and desire to work with customers, even on the most mundane problems,” Leitner said. He believes that openness is critical to the company’s premier standing as a supplier of precision laser processing systems. “And they share their successes with the entire customer base,” he emphasized. “If you are not taking advantage of their frequent new offerings for older equipment, you are making a big mistake.”

Sources at Laserdyne indicate that company has always understood the necessity for users like Leitner to optimize all the laser system components. To get the best results from laser processing it’s necessary to integrate the laser, motion system and control, user interface, and process sensors. The way to do that is to design, manufacture, and integrate all critical system components, and the company has never assigned its component parts or system engineering to outsiders. Their goal is to provide systems capable of fine precision laser processing, and this allows Laserdyne to work with its dedicated customers to develop new system features.

Growing potential
As he grew more experienced with multi-axis laser processing, Leitner was growing aware of the potential for a fabricating job shop to specialize in that service. “When a used Laserdyne 780 BeamDirector became available on the open market, I bought it,” he explained. “It took some work to re-commission the machine but I fitted it with a JK701 laser, a rotary table and shuttle table. I started operating it at home in my garage. I ran jobs off hours for my employer for a few years, and when a previously owned Laserdyne 890 became available I decided to buy it and to work full time in my own business.”

The specialty at Rentiel Precision Laser Cutting is laser processing three-dimensional aerospace parts, like scuff plates, de-icing tubes, exhaust liners, and other types of jet engine transition components. Rework on high-value aerospace parts is another aspect of the business that’s growing. Leitner said the Laserdyne systems’ flexibility and accuracy allow his shop to excel at processing new and refurbished parts. “Jobs we do that previously were milled required multiple setups and multiple tools,” he pointed out.

“Cutting and drilling the parts in one setup using a single tool is much faster, and ensures that the part conforms to the required tight tolerances,” he detailed. “With our laser systems, there is virtually no cutting pressure so the tooling is very simple and robust, at a fraction of the cost of mill tooling.”

Both of Rentiel’s Laserdyne systems are refurbished models, yet the speed and accuracy of their performance is without question, according to Leitner.

“The Laserdyne motion system is faster than our current laser’s power sources can cut,” Leitner said. “My machines have many hours on them. They are very stable … (but) with smooth motion. One would think they would lose accuracy and repeatability over time.

“Not so,” he assured. “I am continually impressed that our machines maintain tolerances and accuracy. This speaks to their durability (and) robustness, and to the fact that all of Laserdyne system components are fully integrated.”

Laserdyne has introduced new technology and innovations as quickly as possible within its own objective of maintaining close integration of critical system components. Thus, users like Leitner have the ability to be first with the new technology, and are ensured of always having access to the most advanced processes and controls.

“Using the five-axis capabilities of Laserdyne, we are able to laser-process parts completely in a fraction of the time it would take to complete them by machining or hand work,” reports Leitner. “The repeatability of the systems is outstanding. We produce better parts because we can scan and measure the sheet metal part before processing, and offset the program to the part. The only variable we constantly see is in the part contours as we receive them. This is typical in the sheet metal world. A part may have a contour allowance of 0.030-in. and we need to hold a dimension with 0.005-in. This is easy to accomplish with the Laserdyne’s ability to scan the part automatically and reposition the program back to the datum features.”

Fast turnaround
Rentiel uses a four-axis milling machine to make laser tooling for prototypes and longer running jobs. It uses the Laserdyne systems to make temporary fixtures that resemble egg crates. Fixture components are cut from stock in a pattern that locks the pieces together. Then, the assembly is laser welded. According to Leitner, this process is very fast and results in batch processing of a complete part order in just a few days after receipt of the part data.

“Customers really appreciate the fast turnaround,” he said. “We have a five-axis programming station that allows us to design tools and then program the Laserdyne systems to operate at their full potential. We have many processes and techniques that allow us to be successful with the most difficult parts. That is where our specialty lies, with the complex, five-axis laser process that few companies have the experience to accomplish.”

What is obvious is that Leitner truly enjoys his work in the fabricating business — whether its laser processing difficult parts for customers or developing new products. “It has been and continues to be a wonderful experience working with all of the talented individuals who make up the laser processing world. I wouldn’t change a day of it.”

Another Idea Evolves

Steve Leitner shows off a container of Calleit, the anti-spatter compound he developed and now markets as “non-toxic and 100% effective.”

Always looking for improvements in his laser processing work, Steve Leitner is planning to market a number of new product ideas. One of these is an anti-spatter compound called Calleit. Before he developed it, Leitner said he tried a number of anti-spatter products and found that too many contained a cancer-causing substance. When heated, metheleyne chloride products create dangerous fumes, and it evaporates too fast when used in dip tanks.

So, Leitner developed his own compound that contains no metheleyne chloride, making it much safer to use. Calleit provides complete product coverage, whether its used in dip tanks or applied by roller, spray bottle, or sponge. Leitner said Calleit is 100% effective at eliminating spatter, and he indicated that Rentiel operators have had no instances of parts requiring rework due to spatter when using the product.

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)