Plasma Technology

No room for error

By Gretchen Salois

As orders piled up, one manufacturer needed a faster fix

November 2012 - When demand grows, a company’s reputation relies on its ability to deliver quality products in a timely manner. Business has been brisk at Schramm Inc., West Chester, Pa. The company found itself operating two shifts on its original burn table to keep up with orders and needed to remove bottlenecks from production. The solution: add equipment.

Schramm manufactures mobile land-based drilling rigs used in a variety of demanding applications, including oil and gas drilling, mineral exploration, water and geothermal well drilling and other drilling activities to depths of 15,000 ft. According to David Kerstetter, manufacturing engineer at Schramm, to ensure customer satisfaction and avoid bottlenecks during production, the company turned to Cleveland-based AKS Cutting Systems for a new state-of-the-art plasma cutter to dramatically accelerate production and flexibility in this key area. 

AKS, a subsidiary of Kiffer Industries, manufactures CNC plasma cutting machines and flame cutting systems. It also has OEM distribution relationships with Kaliburn, Ladson, S.C., and Hypertherm, Hanover, N.H. In June 2010, Schramm

installed the AKS DuraKut, a table that included an AKS-designed RotoBevel bevel head and Hypertherm’s HPR400XD plasma system with ProNest CAM software, EDGE Pro CNC and Sensor THC height control.  

Before purchasing its plasma cutter with bevel head from AKS, Kerstetter says beveling was done manually with a hand grinder—a time consuming process. “Our original table didn’t have a bevel head on it so we couldn’t bevel cut parts unless we set the torch at an angle and set it at a straight line,” Kerstetter explains. “We do a decent amount of welding and need a bevel cut that allows our guys to get a bead in.”

No guesswork

Once installed, the team at Schramm trained its workers and followed up with questions for AKS. Fortunately, learning how to take a lead in and lead out and make starts at the corner of the material was not difficult. “If you spend some time with the machine, you get to know it,” Kerstetter says. “It’s easy to understand once you know how it works.” 

Before Schramm updated to the latest Hypertherm firmware, Kerstetter needed to be at the machine adjusting the settings to get a clean bevel on new material sizes. “Now I just add the material to the cut chart, write the program, and within a couple of minutes, it cuts out nice parts for us,” he says. “It saves a lot of time. Hypertherm and AKS not only have a great product but they continue to improve it.”

Hypertherm’s TurboNest and NestMaster software is designed for conventional plasma or oxy-fuel cutters. However, for more advanced high definition jobs, such as bevel cutting, ProNest Software is necessary. The software includes a 2-D CAD editor to create or manipulate a detailed CAD drawing. 

“When you’re beveling, you have available cut charts already developed by Hypertherm,” says Greg Mayfield, service manager for AKS. “Before Hypertherm’s nesting technology, once you flipped the torch over, all the parameters for the bevel head no longer worked. So it became sort of like a science experiment—no one had any facts or figures to fill in until Hypertherm developed its nesting software.”

Such a trial-and-error approach, required for each new bevel cutting job, can take one to four hours with multiple setup attempts. Robert Boyes, product marketing manager at Hypertherm, surveyed customers to get an idea of how much time they devoted to parameter setups. “Sixteen different customers told me it took a significant amount of time to set up parameters and in some cases, they just gave up trying for some of the more complicated parts,” he says. “Bevel head systems are fairly expensive. These customers have spent the money to get the finished edge with the plasma torch and they’re unable to do so in some cases.”

Another consideration is the potential need for adjustment throughout the cutting operation. Over time, the consumables on the plasma machine wear out. As the torch gets closer to the plate, it removes more material than intended. “The torch will continue to get closer and closer to the plate as the consumables wear down if the operator doesn’t make adjustments, initially showing up as a reduction in the cut edge quality,” Boyes explains. “It ends up changing the actual part dimensions and you don’t want to be on that ship.” The machine’s CNC automatically controls the multi-axis head on the machine, sustaining proper arc voltage and preventing it from changing part size during cutting.

Multiple jobs, varying tolerances

Schramm manufactures parts with several variances between jobs, making the nesting component a key feature. “We’ll cut out 50 different gussets and it takes an hour to do—the operator sets up the machine and walks away, comes back, unloads and that’s it,” Kerstetter says. “We’ve been able to do some cool parts, like the toolboxes, with our machine and cutting shapes into tubes.” 

Kerstetter says Schramm cuts square tube and can place a semicircle onto the end of it and then put a round tube onto it. “The plasma makes it easier for welders to weld the different bars,” he adds. “We mainly use the bevel head for weld bevels. ProNest is a relatively easy program to use and you can use any type of 2-D software to create programs.”

The nesting technology allows Schramm to use more of the plate, producing less scrap. “We’re pretty much left with only a skeleton of material to scrap,” Kerstetter says. “Plasma cutting permits us to use almost the entire steel plate now. We used to have almost 25 percent scrap with this process before we installed the new machine.” 

Schramm’s plasma cutter is a gantry machine, with rails located on the outside of the table. “The rails are not on top of the table because we wanted to be able to cut things that are bigger than the space between the table and the actual cutting torch. We cut metal tool boxes outside the table,” Kerstetter says. 

Part specifications vary and often mean cutting materials at an angle—a complicated process when limited to straight parameters. “When you turn a 45 degree angle and are cutting 2-in. mild steel, for example, it ends up cutting it bigger and bigger, meaning more weld prep,” Mayfield says, adding AKS is selling machines with  bevel heads even for customers who don’t yet need to use them.

“You have all these people out there grinding and grinding to make that bevel angle, whereas our torch just tips it over and does that for them at a fraction of the time,” he adds. 

Using the software on the plasma takes less time compared to one worker cutting out parts that need to be punched or sheared on another machine. “You cut down how many times a part moves and how many people you need to make that part,” Kerstetter says. FFJ

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