Experience Pays Off

Departments - Reference Guide

Dedication, commitment leads to a thriving laser contract manufacturer.

September 14, 2011
Matthew Grasson

Steve Leitner, president of Rentiel, is shown teaching a part program prior to processing on the Laserdyne 890 BeamDirector.  A 25-year commitment to Laserdyne multi-axis laser technology is paying off for Steve Leitner, founder and president of Rentiel Precision Laser Cutting LLC. After years of watching and participating in the growth of laser processing technology as an employee of a successful fabricator, Leitner decided his accumulated laser knowledge was sufficient to start his own laser shop.

Beginning in his garage with a refurbished and retrofitted Laserdyne 780 Beam Director a few years ago, Rentiel is quickly rising in the laser world, with much expertise to offer his customers. Rentiel is proof that experience with complex laser technology, coupled with the inherent accuracy, flexibility, and robustness of Laserdyne technology, wins in the competitive world of fabricating.

Today, Leitner operates his own four-man contract laser business specializing in laser processing 3D parts primarily for the aerospace industry, while also expanding into different industries including medical and electronics. Relocated from humble beginnings to a 3,500ft² facility in an industrial park, the operation is well-equipped with multiple laser systems, milling machines, and support equipment.

Having recently added a large, gantry style Laserdyne 890 BeamDirector system and other capital machine tools, Leitner has positioned his company as an important supplier to tier two aerospace suppliers located in the Pacific Northwest, with plans to double its size in the next two years.

Leitner's success path is built using Laserdyne multi-axis laser systems. With it, he has seen and done it all – applying complex laser technology to the most difficult aerospace applications for Boeing, United Technologies, Gulfstream, and others. Along the way, Leitner has contributed to the development of numerous Laserdyne system and software features since the late 80s – similar systems to those he now uses at Rentiel on a day-to-day basis.

Leitner grew up with Laserdyne systems starting as a 5-axis laser system operator fresh out of Green River Community College. He tells the story of how filling up one laser system with work led to the purchase of a second system, and how this process was repeated, again and again. Today, the company is operating numerous systems, all in everyday use including the first one purchased more than two decades ago.

"Back in the '80s, my employer quickly saw the value of laser processing right after purchasing the first Laserdyne system," Leitner states. "We kept adding to the machine's capacity by finding new jobs and parts that were perfect for laser processing. 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.

"Through the years, I was part of the evolution of multi-axis laser technology. I worked closely with Laserdyne on adding 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. I worked with them on the development and refinement of system features like their Breakthrough Detection, Automatic Focus Control, and Part Mapping," Leitner explains. "These features resulted in faster and more accurate laser processing, which really helped me as a supervisor, and more importantly my company, cost-effectively deliver high quality parts. My close relationship with Laserdyne has continued over the years – we tackled many difficult parts and processes in partnership and were always successful thanks to their engineering support.

Older Machine, New Adventure
"While all this was going on, I was very aware of the potential of starting a job shop business so when a used Laserdyne 780 BeamDirector became available on the open market, I bought it," Leitner reports. "It took some work to re-commission the machine but I fitted it with a JK701, 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 came available, I decided to buy it and to work full time in my own business. With many thanks to my previous employer who provided me with opportunities and support, I was able to dedicate myself to my dream – my own contract manufacturing business."

Rentiel's specialty is laser processing 3D aerospace parts such as scuff plates, de-icing tubes, exhaust liners, and other types of jet engine transition components. Rework of high value aerospace parts also is growing. According to Leitner, "The Laserdyne systems allow us to be experts at processing new and refurbished parts because of their flexibility and accuracy. Jobs we do that were previously milled required multiple setups and multiple tools.

"Cutting and drilling the parts in one setup using a single tool is much faster and ensures the part conforms to the required tight tolerances," Leitner explains. "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."

With both of Leitner's refurbished Laserdyne systems, the question arises as to their speed and accuracy. What kind of performance does he get from them? Accurate and fast, is his answer.

"The Laserdyne motion system is faster than our current laser's power sources can cut. Although my machines have many hours on them, they are very stable and rigid with smooth motion. One would think they would lose accuracy and repeatability over time. Not so," Leitner states. "I am continually impressed that our machines maintain tolerances and accuracy. This speaks to the durability, robustness, and the fact that all of Laserdyne system components are fully integrated."

A Competitive Edge
The Laserdyne 780 (left) is equipped with a rotary and shuttle table while the 890 (right) has two rotary tables.Laserdyne officials report that in the early days of the company, they understood the key to success for users like Leitner was in thoroughly integrating all of the laser system components. Getting the most from multi-axis laser processing required integrating the laser, motion system and control, user interface, and process sensors. The only way to do that was to design, manufacture, and integrate all key components in the system. There never has been a reliance on the engineering of outside designed and purchased components.

The goal was to provide systems capable of the finest precision laser processing. This philosophy also enabled Laserdyne to work with dedicated users, like Leitner, to develop new system features. Laserdyne has introduced new technology and innovations as quickly as possible, always maintaining tight integration of the key system components. This gives users like Leitner a chance to be first with the new technology. The results are superior process capability and control, and a strong competitive edge for Laserdyne system operators.

"Using the 5-axis capabilities of Laserdyne, we are able to laser process parts, complete, in a fraction of the time it takes to conventionally machine or hand work the parts," Leitner reports. "The repeatability of the systems is outstanding. We produce better parts because we can scan and measure the sheetmetal 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 sheetmetal world. A part may have a contour allowance of 0.030" and we need to hold a dimension with 0.005". This is easily accomplished with Laserdyne's ability to scan the apart automatically and reposition the program back to the datum features."

Rentiel uses a 4-axis milling machine for making laser tooling, both for prototypes and longer running jobs. The company also makes temporary fixtures that resemble egg crates using their Laserdyne systems. Fixture components are cut from stock in a pattern that locks the pieces together. The assembly is then laser welded. According to Leitner, the process is very fast, resulting in batch processing of a complete part order in just a few days from receipt of the part data.

"Customers really appreciate the fast turnaround," Leitner says. "We have a 5-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 5-axis laser process that few companies have the experience to accomplish."

Always looking for improvements in his laser processing work, Leitner has a number of new product ideas that he plans to market. One is an anti-spatter compound called Calleit. Prior to developing Calleit, Leitner says that he tried a number of the available anti-spatter products and found that too many contained a cancer-causing substance. When heated, metheleyne chloride products create dangerous fumes and evaporates too fast when used in dip tanks.

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

Whether its laser processing difficult parts for customers or developing new products, it is obvious Leitner really likes what he does in the fabricating industry. He summarizes it when he says, "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 would not change a day of it."

Rentiel Precision Laser Cutting LLC
Federal Way, WA

Prima Power Laserdyne LLC
Champlin, MN