Plasma Technology

A good fit

By Lynn Stanley

Above: The SGX’s heavy steel beam construction and precision machined mating surfaces support part accuracy allowing Safety Rail to effectively cut round holes without distortion.

Fabricator brings work in-house, boosts profit margins with machine that’s ‘just right’

September 2015 - In the tale of The Three Bears, Goldilocks found the papa bear’s breakfast porridge too hot and the mama bear’s porridge too cold, but the little bear’s porridge was neither too hot nor too cold; it was just right. Fabricators sometimes face a similar dilemma when shopping for capital equipment. Craig Erickson’s search for a CNC cutting machine led him to both ends of the spectrum. High-definition plasma or laser models were too costly and had capabilities that exceeded Erickson’s job parameters. Plasma cutters for do-it-yourselfers required frequent maintenance and didn’t have the features he was looking for. ESAB’s SGX plasma cutting machine proved to be just right.

“We were outsourcing our cut parts to a local laser cutter,” says the owner of Safety Rail Co. LLC. Based in Spring Park, Minnesota, Safety Rail manufactures railings and fall protection for a niche customer base. “As the economy improved, lead times for these parts were stretching,” he continued. Longer lead times had the potential “to impact customer service and result in price creep. We knew we needed to bring our cutting work in-house but our product didn’t require the precision of a laser cutting machine.” 

FFJ 0915 plasma image1Safety Rail fabricates OSHA-compliant fall protection equipment for commercial and industrial markets. “When I first saw the ESAB plasma cutter, I was impressed with how beefy the componentry was,” Erickson says. “Critical components were well protected. It was high quality equipment at a competitive price.”

Fits like a glove

Located in Florence, South Carolina, ESAB manufactures welding and cutting equipment and consumables. 

“We use the same heavy-duty components and design features in the SGX as we do our larger machines,” says Steve Zlotnicki, product line manager for ESAB’s cutting equipment. “We wanted to bring the same quality to a lower cost market but we also thought about the small manufacturer. For example, we intentionally designed a rail system that would allow forklift operators to easily load and unload the SGX without interference. It’s a good machine for job shops that don’t have overhead cranes.”

Safety Rail chose to fabricate its own downdraft table and install an overhead crane with a vacuum lift hoist system. “We got a high-caliber machine for under $100,000,” says Erickson. “The SGX has been a workhorse for us.”

In addition to accommodating forklifts, ESAB’s rail system design “eliminates connections between the machine and the rail pedestals, giving the operator a clear floor space to work with,” affirms Zlotnicki. “As a result, a fabricator like Safety Rail can drop in any type of table they want.”

The company installed the SGX at the end of 2014. “ESAB performed a very professional installation, provided on-site training for our production foreman and had us running at full production very quickly,” says Erickson.

“Initially we didn’t have the resources to invest in a lot of machines and so we purchased [semi-finished] parts from local suppliers,” he explains. “Our growth gave us a big push toward fabricating parts in-house. Outfitting the SGX with our ancillary accessories required minimal effort. We’ve run it without any problems and we’ve observed that it goes easy on the consumables.”

Clean cuts

The real test for Erickson with the SGX was its ability to cut holes cleanly. Before joining Safety Rail Co., he worked with “plasma cutting systems that tended to collect debris and required a lot of babysitting,” Erickson says. “I was really pleased with how much standard plasma cutting technology has advanced.  

The company slated the plasma cutting machine for rush jobs but based on its cut quality, “we are now using it for high-volume jobs and we’re realizing ROI at a much faster rate. We’re able to effectively cut round holes without getting distorted or oval shapes.” 

Safety Rail makes both standard and custom products on the SGX. “We run 12 gauge to 1⁄2-in. mild steel on the SGX but the machine has the capacity to cut 3⁄4-in. material,” observes Erickson. Quality cutting is critical for Safety Rail’s downstream processes such as bending. 

The SGX’s heavy steel beam construction and precision machined mating surfaces support part accuracy. “We’re getting really nice looking components,” Erickson adds. 

FFJ 0915 plasma image2

On the spot

Dual-side, high-speed AC drives and a fast torch lifter allow the SGX to deliver rapid cut-to-cut cycle times for higher productivity. “Now if we need a component right away, we have the capability to make it on the spot,” Erickson says. “If we were outsourcing these parts we might have to wait two to three weeks to get them.”

Safety Rail faces tough peers that compete on pricing and fast turnaround. “The SGX has enhanced our customer service. Throughput and lead times have improved. We’ve also seen improvement in our profit margins as a result of this investment.”

A compact footprint contributes to efficient use of Safety Rail’s floor space but the control technology on the SGX has also cut down on the number of steps operators take. “I think the ESAB plasma cutter has about the coolest touch screen control on the market,” Erickson says. “Other machines tend to make you run around the table to perform different tasks. The ESAB plasma cutter is not like that. They put all the controls in one place. It’s nice to have everything in one location.”

ESAB’s VisionT5 CNC has a built-in process database and a touch screen for simple, automated operation. “We evaluated the needs of a small shop and determined that ease of use was paramount,” says Zlotnicki. “We designed automatic nesting into the controller and included our EasyNest automatic software. We integrate all of our process controls into the CNC so there are no additional switches, dials or boxes an operator has to attend to.” FFJ



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