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Plasma Technology

Boundless business

By Gretchen Salois

Tools allow manufacturers to venture beyond typical customer requests

May 2012 - The ability to handle unplanned orders as well as scheduled tasks is achievable if a company has the right tools at its disposal.

“We are a farm equipment manufacturer, but we have always had people drop in with requests for parts that are not in our line of equipment,” says Justin Byrd, shop foreman at Roll-A-Cone, Tulia, Texas. “We carry such a large inventory of steel, tubing and plate, they would come in wanting speciality items and we’d have to turn them away because we couldn’t complete those requests at a competitive price.”

According to Byrd, many times potential customers only wanted a handful of parts or pieces. Roll-A-Cone preferred mass production, using a die in a large punch press once and punching out multiple pieces. The company was outsourcing so much, it decided it could better control inventory and reduce costs by bringing the work in-house. Cutting 18-gauge up to 11⁄2-in. plate required many punch presses with multiple dies.

Initially believing that building a die and stamping out parts was more convenient than using plasma technology, Roll-A-Cone soon discovered it was easier to draw and cut a piece instead of making a die. “If we’re not making thousands of pieces, it’s simpler to go out on the computer and cut it with the torch,” Byrd says.

To better compete with other shops, Roll-A-Cone decided to invest in the Plate-Pro Extreme plasma cutter from Arcade, N.Y.-based Koike Aronson Inc./Ransome with St. Louis-based Thermadyne Holding Corp.’s Thermal Dynamics Ultra-Cut 300 plasma torch and a controller from Promotion Controls Inc., Medina, Ohio.

“If someone wants a few parts or pieces, it’s pretty simple to make it for them,” Byrd says. “We can tell them we will take it on and cut it with our torch and not have to have a die. We can avoid turning that business away.”

Branching out
The majority of items Roll-A-Cone cuts are for farm machinery made from mild steel and aluminum, but the company also receives requests from customers spanning multiple industries. In one instance, a customer went to a different welding shop in town requesting shields to protect the mechanical parts for machinery used in bowling alleys.

The shop couldn’t complete the order and referred the customer to Roll-A-Cone. While not in its line of work, the company was able to draw the part and cut it out within 30 minutes, Byrd says. “Had I needed to use a band saw to cut the part and then punch the holes, I would have turned him away because of the amount of time it would have taken,” he says.

Despite having a number of angles and holes, Byrd programmed the computer to produce the part easily. The customer later called Roll-A-Cone and ordered another 50 parts. “That’s business we would have had to turn down before,” Byrd says.

The flexibility of having the torch and accompanying software is helpful as the company cuts mild discs and round discs, bolts them onto components and torches holes through the pieces. Previously, two workers would shear and cut each truckload of metal into 6-ft. by 2-ft. strips from 6-ft.-wide by 20-ft.-long pieces. An additional two workers would pick up the rectangles and cut them yet again down to 2-ft. by 2-ft. square pieces, followed by punching the center hole for the hub and six holes for the bolts. Workers then used the circular plasma torch to extend that disc to cut in a circle.

Now, workers lay the entire sheet on the table and plasma cut the holes. The software makes use of the entire sheet, cutting parts from the remaining material, reducing labor, scrap and time because the material is handled less.

A customer can submit a diagram of a part, which is programmed into the computer. Because the plasma cutter reduces labor, Byrd can offer lower prices. Promotion’s nesting features on the controller allow the machine to fill a plate with the part he needs, resulting in minimal waste. “I can then fill the remaining plate with a smaller part to further reduce scrap,” Byrd says. “It is fast and simple to run.”

Efficient programming
Seeking its own upgrade, Eckel Manufacturing Co. Inc., an Odessa, Texas-based manufacturer of hydraulic power tongs and power units, uses Promotion Controls software with its Koike MGM II and Thermal Dynamics Ultra-Cut 300 plasma torch. “I cut thousands of different parts in 100 different thicknesses and grades of plates,” says Kyle Gregg, CNC table operator. Using Promotion’s software nearly has eliminated the need for a programmer. “Even though I have many parts to cut and no two are exactly the same, it’s very easy to do,” he says.

The micro CAD has a large selection of macros from the shapes library and the standard tool box allows workers to modify an existing file quickly or generate a shape from scratch. “The integration between all of the components of the cutting table is seamless with this software,” Gregg says. “We are able to cut from gauge thickness plate (very thin plate) to 81⁄2-in.-thick high carbon steel plate ranging from mild to tool grade with the same high level of confidence each and every time, whether using plasma or oxy-fuel.”

The machine constantly checks itself for true position, enabling an operator to nest and cut part to part with less torch kerf widths. The feature reduces costs for Eckel, especially when cutting costly thicker plates of various grades. Eckel can cut up to 2 in., typically up to 1 in. or 11⁄4 in., depending on the application, according to Gregg. “A weak point of cutting tables and plasmas has always been the ability to cut accurate small-diameter holes,” he says. “Promotion has addressed this issue with their Hole Optimizer program.”

Producing strong, high-quality parts quickly is due in part to Promotion’s unique, intelligent controller system. “Basically, while you’re cutting the program, the second computer runs it in the background, leaving the CNC free to prepare your next job,” says Randy May, technical specialist at Promotion. The computer software takes a lot of the guesswork away from the operator, he says.

It’s important to take the heat over to a different part of the plate as it warps, May says. “The software knows what the best lead in and lead outs are and the computer sets it and several other important process settings, leaving you with much better cut quality,” he adds.

Prolonging perishables
Consumables life, another factor when using a plasma cutter, also improved by threefold or fourfold over the old system, Gregg says. Promotion’s software includes the option to chain cut multiple parts individually or by bridging parts together with a single piece, greatly extending consumables life.

“Needless to say, this helps to keep down operating costs. Various grades of steels may require different cutting parameters for the same thickness of material,” Gregg says. “I like having the capability of customization of standard processes and saving them for each different grade and thickness.”

Taking on impromptu orders, including parts previously cut using a waterjet, is where Gregg has seen a significant difference. “With the old table, various departments would come and ask if I could cut their concept,” he says. “Now, they tell me they need 20 [parts] and can they get that to go?”

Eckel has been building hydraulic power tongs for more than 50 years and production equipment needs to be oil field tough. “The [cutting] system is rock solid, dependable and able to meet their every demand,” Gregg says. FFJ

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Sources

  • Eckel Manufacturing Co. Inc.
    Odessa, Texas
    phone: 432/362-4336 
    fax: 432/362-1827
    www.eckel.com
  • Promotion Controls Inc.
    Medina, Ohio
    phone: 330/721-1464
    fax: 330/239-1531
    www.promotioncontrols.com
  • Roll-A-Cone
    Tulia, Texas 
    phone: 806/668-4722
    fax: 806/668-4725
    www.roll-a-cone.com

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