Plasma Technology

Steps ahead

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Since switching from oxy-fuel to plasma cutting using the SteelPro600 equipped with Hypertherm's XPR300, Tech-Steel cuts clean holes instead of drilling.

To stay competitive, one shop changes cutting methods without shutting down production

January 2018 - Installing an equipment upgrade doesn’t always mean a company must shut down the production line and lose sales. “We’re in full-blown production—we couldn’t just shut all our machines down and build buildings at the same time,” says Mark Rowley, production manager at Tech-Steel Inc. in Clearfield, Utah, about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City.

After years of relying on oxy-fuel cutting, Tech-Steel decided to change the way it cuts metal. Company operations experts turned to Inovatech Engineering Corp., Vankleek, Ontario, to figure out what kind of plasma would fit the customer base’s evolving requirements. Tech-Steel already owned a 2D table, so Inovatech recommended the SteelPro600 equipped with the newest Hypertherm XPR300.

FFJ 0118 plasma image1

The plasma’s cleaner cut means there is less slag to be ground away later. The SteelPro600 and XPR300 combination compensate so that workers are not changing out tips as frequently.

Inovatech’s software, interface and free updates work seamlessly with Hypertherm’s XPR300. According to Inovatech clients, its newly patented Async software increases machine speed by 40 percent. Async gives the robot the ability to foresee moves ahead of time. Inovatech is the first to offer the XPR300 directly with a robot. The machinery builder provides integrated robotic solutions for manufacturers that seek to improve productivity. Inovatech’s CNC engineers take the time to understand customer concerns in order to develop fabrication solutions that fit each company’s requirements.

Separately, the SteelPro FullCircle software provides automatic part nesting to on-the-fly path jogging, editing and detailed production tracking. Its SteelPro600 cuts profiles up to 44 in. wide by 65 ft. long.

“Hypertherm gave us the specs we wanted,” Rowley says. “For one thing, it can cut all the way around or all the sides on a tube and will lay out both sides of a beam. We can add piece marks and lay out where the flame torch cut. ProNest nesting software allows us to increase speed while using more of the material. We never had those capabilities before.”

Calculated change-up

Tech-Steel compared cutting with oxy-fuel to plasma “and the production gains were just astronomical,” Rowley says. “We’re conservative but believe in keeping up with the times to stay competitive. We needed to expand and we had to change how we were cutting in order to achieve that change.”

The profile machine houses the Hypertherm and is integrated onto Tech-Steel’s transfer system. “We had a handling system that the original coper was part of, so we integrated that to the new line,” explains Rowley.

Before switching to plasma cutting, workers had to manually preheat metals before cutting. “Especially with thicker materials, it was necessary to spend a lot of extra time to preheat the metal,” adds Dave Spinner, material prep leadman. “Plasma [does not require pre-heating the metal]. We save a lot of time between cuts.”

FFJ 0118 plasma image2

Applying real-time data, Tech-Steel can adjust its time and speed with greater accuracy.

Since installing the plasma, Shop Superintendent Bob Greer says the environment in the shop is a lot cleaner because there is less smoke.

“We haven’t realized its full potential and looking toward the future, we expect to expand production if the machine continues to perform as it has.

“The layout capabilities help us expedite the fabrication process,” he continues. “We can put the marks on the beam where all the items have to connect so we expect the Hypertherm to improve our efficiencies a lot.”

Just-in-time capabilities have also improved, according to Rowley. “We are actually implementing a time control variable in how we bring things through and where it ends up on the shop floor,” he says. “Plasma allows us to accommodate that better than the old profiler did. Our estimating times are going to be a lot more consistent.

“Without pre-heating, [we are no longer] at the mercy of the inherent nature of flame cutting, which can be inconsistent,” he continues. “We’ve also found that cleaning is considerably easier.” Holes can be cut into material instead of drilled now that Tech-Steel no longer has to worry about heat-affected edges.

Faster line

Machine data has also sped up production time and improved accuracy, says Josh Muir, assistant production manager. “We no longer have to estimate times because we can use the hard data the machine tells us,” he says. “We can adjust our estimated times and speeds according to the actual data.”

“We used to hear quite a bit of grumbling from the shop floor about the output of the old oxy cutter,” recalls Rowley. “The workers would have to change the tip and adjust the flames to every thickness, which resulted in a lot more slag.

“The plasma compensates so that they’re not changing tips as often,” he continues. “There is less slag to grind off and we’re left with a much better cut.”

Hypertherm’s XPR300 with X-Definition plasma includes a two-piece vented nozzle whose design aligns and focuses the plasma arc to enable increased arc stability and energy density for a cleaner, sharper, more consistent edge quality on materials including stainless and aluminum, says Michelle Avila, communications manager at Hypertherm.

“Another patent-pending process is something we call Vented Water Injection (VWI),” Avila explains. “This process features a vented N2 plasma gas and H2O shield gas for less angularity and squarer cut edges on stainless steel and especially aluminum.

FFJ 0118 plasma image3

“We managed to improve the cut quality by an entire ISO range,” she adds, “going from a Range 3 with our HyPerformance XPR260XD to a Range 2 with this new system.”

Consumables life

The consumables powering the system also last longer, saving changeout time, adds Avila. “With the previous HPR260XD system, consumables life when cutting at 260 amps was about 900 starts,” she says. “The XPR300 can deliver nearly 1,400 starts at 300 amps.”

Hypertherm developed the XPR300 plasma cutting system because customers expressed interest in new methods that could enable them to become more profitable, says Avila. “That’s what we heard when talking to them,” she says. “They asked for things like better cut quality, faster cut speeds, and a lower operating cost.

“In order to take things to the next level,” she continues, “we knew we’d need to design an entirely new platform as it just wasn’t possible to meet those goals within the framework of our existing technology.”

The XPR300 contains 30 newly patented or patent-pending processes. “At 300 amps of output, we believe the XPR300 can reduce the relative cost per meter or foot of cutting by more than 50 percent,” Avila says.

“You have to stay with the times or else you’re not going to be able to keep up,” Tech-Steel’s Rowley says. “We’re hiring more people to handle the increase in production—the plasma has allowed us to do that. We’ve got a lot of plans moving forward now that our cutting capabilities have improved.” FFJ



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