These are created by Prima Industrie, a company based in Torino, Italy. While Optimo is part of Prima’s product lineup in early 2010, I’m writing of the machines that Amada sold in the late 1980s, not the later ones.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Amada had the franchise to sell Optimo in the US. (all except welding versions, for which Prima retained sales rights)
Not just another laser cutting machine
Optimo has an overhead gantry, “flying optic” design. It has 5 programmable axes, plus an independent axis to maintain nozzle standoff.
The X, and Y carriages rode on air bearings, and the head had continuous rotation around the vertical (Z) axis. Versions were built for cutting and/or welding.
The control was a creation of Prima Electronics, descended from controllers used on various pioneering robots and measuring machines. It had its own programming language (RML), with some very interesting capabilities. It used its own PLC as well, leading to many long days (sometimes into the late night) for Tony and Dale.
Amada (Japan) sold and installed a number of these machines in Japan, with very limited success. (air bearing failures, probably other problems as well) Amada (US) sold a number of machines in the US, with somewhat better results: All the machines served for many years; some may still be in operation. Amada just couldn’t make money with the product.
Update: The machine originally sold to AlloyTech in Grand Rapids served for many years, then went inactive. As of 2011, it was being bought back to life at American Hydroformers, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The machine sold to Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford got moved to a plant in Arkansas, I believe. By now, they have probably been retired, or possibly upgraded by Prima to a later specification.
What the US Amada group did to and with Optimo
Amada made changes in the laser beam delivery system, in the console user interface, and in the program handling system. Also, see Thoughts on Focus and Gas Pressure.
Optics-Aiming and Delivering the Laser Beam to the cutting head:
The Amada Laser Systems group created an all-reflective collimator and aiming system. Created own optics mounts for collimator and beam delivery sytem. Wrist mirrors changed from raw copper to gold plated. (No joke: Gold doesn’t tarnish, and wastes substantially less laser power than copper.)
Once we had eliminated Prima’s telescope-style collimator, we had a lot easier time of aligning the system. Since mirrors (unlike lenses) treat all wavelengths pretty much the same, it was then practical to use the HeNe laser as an alignment tool. Once the motor-driven mirror system was working, we could at least tweak adjustments from the floor, and cut alignment time a fair bit. The next step (really about the same time) was to have a CCD camera mounted to the head, with a crosshair target. The camera gave the alignment person a view of HeNe beam location from the control console. We created a series of simple programs to move the machine from one alignment position to the next.
The final step was an automatic laser beam alignment software and hardware package. A program written in Quick Basic would acquire the camera image through a framegrabber. The user would tell the software where the crosshair was on the screen, and the software would then proceed to move the machine, grab an image of the HeNe, adjust the mirrors, and move to the next location. Magic!
Console User Interface:
That means “Control Keyboard” for normal people. Optimo used a custom membrane key panel with graphics and key assignments intended to make the system logical and usable. We (the Amada US team) didn’t like it very much. Well, most any design can be improved upon, and maybe we don’t think like Italians?
So, we designed our own key assignments, labels, and graphics. We had a self-adhesive overlay made for us, to cover Prima’s keyboard with our layout. Add a substantial amount of PLC work so that the right keys did the right thing, and it worked. We liked it.
Program Handling System:
In the days of MS-DOS, Prima offered a PC-XT computer running MS-DOS and a series of command-line utilities to compile programs from man-readable (RML Source) to control-readable (RML Object) format, and from Object back into Source. Another program allowed the user to transfer the object-format program into the control memory, and programs created or modified on the control back to the PC. Crude, but functional.
Amada created a menu system to make it much easier to perform compiling, transfers, and so forth. Passwording was provided, to keep unauthorized persons from doing too much damage. This system ran under DOS, and was written in MS Quick Basic by Dale Davis. (Tony Rotunno of Prima also had a hand, I believe.) Amada had an inch-metric conversion utility written, and it was also handled by the menu system. Dale was looking into Windows, but Win 286 wasn’t (really, really wasn’t!) ready for prime time.
About the time Windows 3.0 came out, we proposed and sold a system which would have a lot of nifty new features. It would provide:
- Integrated program tracking (what program number is that part?)
- Automatic compilation and transfer to the console
- Beam quality monitoring , using a spinning-wire Laser Beam Analyzer
- “Feature Finder” system, which was a laser-type distance finder to determine locations of reference pins to be placed on a part or fixture.
This system would also provide an interface to the system PLC for enhanced diagnostics and reporting or machine status and error conditions.
Unfortunately, we had some personnel changes and other turbulance, resulting in the loss of critical source code for the beam alignment system. This and a shortage of money and programming personnel doomed the beam alignment to remain a DOS-based program.
The Windows-based MMI turned out (of course) to be quite an undertaking. Eventually it was flogged into a semi-functional condition, and delivered to the first customer. After much more flogging at the customer site, the system was accepted and paid for by the customer.
Windows MMI System Final configuration:
Windows 3.1, Wonderware (Intouch 3.x ?), various modules built in Visual Basic 3.0, various DOS utilities glued together by VB modules and batch scripts, and a Beam Analyzer interface written in C by Tony.
All this running on a pair of 80486-based PCs with touchscreen monitors.
Another Optimo system with the Windows-MMI system was sold to another Aerospace customer, and that one went in much more easily. Unfortunately, this was in the early 1990s, and Aerospace had pretty much dried up for years to come. Technical success, commercial failure for Amada.