Plasma Technology

Field work

By Lauren Duensing

Above: An angle iron supported by two magnet squares acts as a guide for the desired plasma cutting path.

Werner Fabrications’ portable and in-house plasma cutters can handle a variety of jobs

September 2016 - Evolving plasma-cutting technology has resulted in lightweight equipment that is easier to transport, giving fabricators the ability to bring high-quality cuts to the job site. Michelle Chamberlain, product manager for manual plasma at ESAB Welding & Cutting Products, Denton, Texas, says newer-model plasma cutters have more power; multi-voltage capabilities; reduced torch air flow requirements, which allow use of a smaller compressor; improved cut quality; and simpler controls.

Ed Werner, the owner of Werner Fabrications, West Bend, Wisconsin, says plasma cutting is a mainstay of his 16-year-old company, which focuses on design, build and installation. He started as “a union sheet-metal guy, so I got some good welding and fabricating training there. I’m an engineer by trade, so companies will approach me with a problem or a system they need to put into place. Problem solving is what we do.” 

Typical customers include makers of food preparation equipment and sausage-packing facilities. Werner processes carbon and stainless steel and aluminum in order to build “trailers and heavy-duty carts.” West Bend is surrounded by farms “so we remodel broken farm implements and heavy machinery. I usually use plasma when I have to cut parts for this type of job. The only time I don’t use plasma is when the material is really heavy and I have to gouge out something. Then I get back to the oxy-acetylene torches; however, I prefer not to use that because plasma is more efficient.”

FFJ 0916 plasma image1

Drag tips, such as the one on this 60-amp 1Torch, cut with a narrower kerf, which enables more precise cuts.

Portable plasma

Ed Werner performs work both inside and outside his shop so he owns an ESAB Cutmaster 152 and a smaller model, the Cutmaster 52. “The smaller ones are easy to move; I’ll tote my job box, and we’ll set up somewhere, usually working off 240 volts,” he says.

The Cutmaster 152 offers multi-voltage one or three-phase input capability for a 1¼-inch recommended cut and a 2-inch maximum cut. The Cutmaster 52 produces a recommended 1⁄2-inch cut on mild steel, stainless steel or aluminum but can sever metal up to 11⁄8 inches thick. Both Cutmaster units feature the 1Torch, which “uses just one electrode for the entire amperage cutting range—this is a unique selling point of the 1Torch,” Chamberlain says. She notes this standardizes and simplifies consumables and gives users fewer parts to inventory. “Otherwise, to ensure optimal cut quality, it is important to make certain the proper amperage tip (nozzle) is installed for the set amperage output.” 

Werner recently used the Cutmaster 52 on a project involving a carbon filtration air-handling unit. The customer wanted to be able to clean inside the unit’s chambers, “so they hired me to cut access holes and fabricate new stainless doors,” he says. To ensure a smooth workflow, Werner fabricated metal templates that could be screwed onto the side of the machine and serve as a guide for the plasma cutting. After attaching the templates, Werner and another fabricator were then able to work seamlessly together to complete the cutting. 

“We’d just pass [the plasma torch] back and forth because we each had our own template. We were working on scaffolding right next to each other. He’d get to one stage, and I’d get to the next stage, and we’d just pass the tools back and forth. We were able to blow through that job in half the amount of quoted time because the plasma machine worked great.”

FFJ 0916 plasma image2

On site, a worker cuts access holes in a stainless steel air handling system.

The right tools 

The portability of the smaller machines makes it easier to complete jobs in the field.  “If you use a bigger machine, it’s always faster, but it’s not always necessary,” Werner says. In the case of the air-handling unit project, the small plasma cutter “was perfect for the job. We carried it up the scaffolding. I tied it off and ran the electrical and the air hose to it. It was plenty of power for the 11-gauge [stainless].”

When deciding which type of plasma machine will meet their needs, Chamberlain says shops should consider variables such as the material, desired quality of the cuts required, budget, versatility, stationary or portable, manual or mechanized, available power (volt and phase, generator), and gas flow requirements so they can determine air compressor size, torch lead length and duty cycle.

Buyers, says Chamberlain, “need to be certain they purchase based on their normal mode of operation. Most [tool] manufacturers have a recommended cut capacity and then a maximum cut capacity. They also have cut charts included in the operating manuals, which specify the setup.”

FFJ 0916 plasma image3

 Magnetic roller guides help fabricators cut long straight lines.

“The plasma machines I use in the shop are generally larger machines that require three-phase power,” Werner says. “I can run three-phase in the field, if we have to, but it’s more challenging.”

He typically uses the larger machine for trailer and farm implement remodeling and repair. “You have all this heavy equipment, and the farmers twist it up or hit something, and we have to cut a part and repair it. Plasma is easy because you can climb inside tight spots and be careful of what you are cutting, whereas if you are using oxy-acetylene, you’ve got that big flame there and it’s throwing sparks all over the place. Plasma is [also] suitable in the shop for when you are working in tight spots and you need to be careful of what you’re cutting and not overspray it.”

When combined with project planning, the fast cutting capabilities of plasma allow fabricators to complete jobs efficiently. Every hour Werner spends engineering a project “equals two hours in the shop. And the next step from that is one shop hour equals two field hours. In other words, solve problems at the top before you head out into the field.” FFJ


  • ESAB Welding & Cutting
    Denton, Texas
    phone: 800/372-2123
  • Werner Fabrications
    West Bend, Wisconsin

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