Plasma Technology

A better angle

By Gretchen Salois

A manufacturer plasma cuts in tight locations to fabricate its grain-handling equipment

November/December 2011 - The food on a family’s table has a long trip to make from the farmer’s field. Part of that journey is made using grain-handling equipment fabricated by J&M Manufacturing Co. Inc., Ft. Recovery, Ohio. The company builds grain carts and seed delivery systems, including hopper wagons. To maintain its high-quality parts for farmers, J&M needs accurate, versatile plasma cutters.

In business for more than 50 years, J&M provides farmers with products throughout the United States as well as internationally. The company provides grain carts with up to a capacity of 1,325 bushels with a 22-in. diameter unloading auger, delivering 600 bushels per minute.

According to J&M, from 2002 through 2004, the company manufactured its patented front-folding, single-corner auger carts, gravity wagons, header transports and hydraulic augers for John Deere under the Frontier Equipment label. No longer manufacturing its patented products for Frontier Equipment, the company offers the equivalent to customers through John Deere dealerships.

J&M uses plasma-cutting equipment from Hypertherm, Hanover, N.H., for both large-scale and tight-cornered tasks. “We use the Hypertherms to cut holes in certain areas of steel, like scale wires, light wires—any kind of electrical inside the tubular steel. [We] cut a hole in it with the Hypertherm to run our wires through,” says Eric Albers, foreman at J&M. “We use it for whatever we can for a lot of our production line as far as trimming the steel.”

Need for speed
J&M switched to Hypertherm because the company wanted to try something different and found Hypertherm’s torching systems to be better than what the company was using previously. “We build a variety of different products and have been using Hypertherm for the last six to seven years,” Albers says. “At the time, we also bought new plasma machines, tables, stationary CNC torches—all of which have worked well for us so we decided to get some handheld units as well,” he says.

Speed was a major factor for the switch. “You can cut so much faster with a plasma, which is even faster than a laser,” Albers says. Meeting orders quickly and efficiently is key. As the economy remains volatile, it’s essential for companies to keep ahead of competitors. “Business is up slightly and every year is different,” Albers says. “It’s up and down. We’re constantly changing designs and trying to better our products.”

J&M’s latest innovation is the company’s seed delivery system, which provides a faster way for farmers to get seeds to the field. “Everyone is going away from bags to bulk seed,” Albers adds. “The delivery system is a way to get your bulk seed from point A or your machine shed to the field and feeds the planter fast.”

The farming industry “has advanced so much in the last 20 years,” Albers says. “Everything is bigger. To build bigger products, you need bigger building space, so we’re constantly expanding.” In the past, J&M “didn’t need handheld units as much until we had a design change,” he says. Six years ago, the company introduced a different design and needed the accuracy of a handheld plasma torch.

“We bought our first Hypertherm table machine six or seven years ago,” Albers says. “Then we bought another table machine a year or two later just to keep up with demand.” The company was able to make the design change once it purchased the Hypertherm table machines. “Before that, everything was sheared and squared, and you couldn’t make all the parts needed for the design change,” he says. “We also knew we’d need more handheld units. It’s something that goes along with it. We’re doing these changes to better ourselves.”

Making the cut
Knowing what customers want is a large part of the research process for Hypertherm. “Hypertherm initiates a process called Voice of the Customer,” says Michelle Avila, public relations manager at Hypertherm. “We’re constantly out in the field, asking, ‘What can we do better?’ The responses we receive play a large role in the development of our systems, including the Powermax65 and Powermax85.”

The two systems are smaller and more powerful than before and easier for people to use, Avila says. “During the VOC process, we heard and observed two recurring themes. Torches take a lot of abuse. They’ll accidently fall off scaffolding, get banged against metal plate or seared by the heat of cutting and gouging. We also learned there were a lot of jobs people couldn’t do with a standard 90-degree torch.”

Hypertherm experimented with different-shaped torches while maintaining durability, Avila continues. Traditionally, the shape of handheld plasma torches has been limited by the need for an internal plunger to bring the electrode in contact with the nozzle and start the arc. The solution was to work from the inside out. Engineers knew they first had to remove the plunger before they could attempt to change the torch’s shape.

After months of work, the team agreed on an entirely new consumable design that replaced the plunger in the torch with a blowback spring in the electrode. This Spring Start technology enabled Hypertherm engineers to design a nearly straight torch that angles down just 15 degrees at the tip. “The advantages are huge,” Avila says. “Operators have greater visibility. They can get into tighter places and cut overhead.”

While it was possible to cut in tight locations and overhead before, it was much more difficult, Avila says. “It also makes gouging a whole lot easier because the operator’s hand is positioned further away from the plasma arc.” FFJ

Wind-powered innovation
Harnessing the power of the wind begins with quality fabrication. In Canada, the government is making efforts to subsidize and support alternative energies in an attempt to compete on an international level, which means growth for a Canadian wind tower manufacturer.

Automated Cutting Machinery Inc., Barrie, Ontario, a full-service dealer of Messer Cutting Systems, supplies customized high-production CNC plasma cutting machines, “from small 6-ft. by 12-ft. machines to large multi-axis plasma beveling machines over 100 ft. long,” says Adam Bender, Automated Cutting Machinery president. “We are currently installing two large 120-ft. machines side by side in Windsor, Ontario, Canada for a large wind tower manufacturer, CS Wind.” CS Wind makes wind towers worldwide, “but this will be their first using high-definition plasma contour beveling technology to help streamline their fabrication process,” he adds.

Hypertherm’s HPR400XD high-performance plasma systems are cutting on two large Messer beveling machines. “Each machine is 120 ft. long, 12 ft. wide and bevel cuts with plasma up to 2 in. thick,” Bender says.

The Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is an advocate for wind power and the nearly 700 jobs the project will bring to the province. Ontario government investments in green energy financed the facility because of the partnership between Samsung Corp. and CS Wind. “This is one of the first plants they’ve built, a brand-new facility,” Bender says.

CS Wind is attempting to automate the entire manufacturing process, which often requires a substantial amount of labor in Korea. “We use Hypertherm plasma systems because of their low operating costs, consistent cut quality and proven reliability under heavy use,” Bender says, adding the availability of parts is also a benefit to using Hypertherm, allowing companies to obtain parts easily.

Hypertherm’s machinery, including handheld torches, will enable CS Wind to manufacture wind towers in Canada, bringing the country into the wind power marketplace, competing against heavily subsidized countries throughout Asia.

A number of industries are benefiting from Hypertherm’s latest product line. “A lot of people are surprised by how far plasma has come in the past 20 years,” says Michelle Avila, public relations manager at Hypertherm. “The advent of the straight torch opens up even more possibilities going forward.”

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  • Automated Cutting Machinery Inc.
    Barrie, Ontario
    phone: 705/718-8253 
    fax: 705/252-4563
  • Hypertherm
    Hanover, N.H. 
    phone: 603/643-3441
    fax: 603/643-5352
  • J&M Manufacturing Co. Inc.
    Ft. Recovery, Ohio
    phone: 419/375-2376 
    fax: 419/375-2708


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