Plasma Technology

All in the details

By Gretchen Salois

Above: The Hypertherm X-Definition plasma produces edge angularity that rivals laser and cut quality of up to ISO 9013 Range 2 on thinner materials and Range 3 on thicker metals.

Steel vehicle racks require engineering prowess coupled with pristine cutting abilities

March 2019 - When automakers launch a new model—whether brand new or an updated version of an existing model—a part of the budget must be dedicated to transporting parts throughout the production process.

“The logistics and warehousing world uses wooden pallets to transport parts but in the automotive world, they use fabricated steel racks that hold and protect the part whether it’s going down the road in an 18-wheeler or traveling overseas,” says Blake Oakley, vice president of product management at Morrison Industries.

The OEMs let Morrison Industries know how many cars will be produced and how many parts must be transported to the next assembly/manufacturing location. Morrison designs and completes 3D modeling and prototyping of the racks, then mass-produces them so automakers can transport parts from one manufacturing facility to another. The steel racks must withstand all the rigors of transport as well as the test of time.

FFJ 0319 plasma image1

Morrison Industries produces 200 to 300 steel racks per day and needed a faster, more accurate cutting method.

“These racks will be in circulation for up to 10 years. We produce anywhere from 200 to 300 racks per day,” Oakley says. “Twenty-five years ago, we started as a tool and die shop supporting Japanese auto manufacturers in the Southeast U.S., but we’ve grown significantly to include major OEMs.”

In-house advantage

Previously, Morrison depended heavily on other processors for details-cutting work. However, says Oakley, “we were having problems with timing and expenses. Prior to purchasing a plasma cutter, we had to outsource all of our detail cutting. We didn’t have control of turnaround times, and we needed to be competitive.”

Through a sales representative at nexAir, a welding gases company, Oakley says the fabricator selected a Hornet plasma cutting table equipped with a Hypertherm XPR 300 high-definition torch and head.

“What that does for us is bring in 85 percent of our details cutting in house. That alone has allowed us to save a significant amount in overhead costs as well as to cut down our turnaround times,” Oakley says, which means faster deliveries.

Morrison has three locations in Lebanon and Morrison, Tennessee, and Novi, Michigan. “We work closely both geographically to our customers as well as during the design and engineering processes,” Oakley says. “That close relationship between Morrison and our customers is a big part of why we decided to change our cutting method from outsourcing detail cutting to in-house detail cutting with the plasma.”

Making that choice revolved around costs savings and earning customers’ confidence. “We don’t have a lot of capital just sitting around waiting for us to spend,” Oakley says. “Our previous process of outsourcing cutting was expensive. Now we can prototype quickly on premises instead of having to wait on outside vendors to get a handful of parts before we can complete a job for a customer.”

One of Morrison’s larger automotive customers, for example, wanted to see what the fabricator could absorb internally without outsourcing production/control. “That capability alone gave us an advantage,” Oakley says.

After installing the plasma cutter in July 2018, Morrison is already running two shifts. “Our research indicates that we’re running at speeds that are comparable to a laser, with cut quality that doesn’t require a lot of grinding. Cut quality is key for us.”

FFJ 0319 plasma image2

Since installing the X-Definition plasma system, Morrison Industries no longer needs to outsource its cutting processes.

Technology breakdown

Hornet is an authorized Hypertherm channel partner. “They purchase our power supply, and in the case of Morrison Industries, an X-Definition plasma system, as well as other components, and install them on one of the cutting machines,” explains Phil Parker, Hypertherm plasma product manager.

“Hypertherm devotes a substantial amount of money and resources to research, development and engineering,” Parker says. “Our entire focus is on the power supply and related components, whether plasma or waterjet. We do not make welders or cutting tables; we make the power supply and the cutting torch (or head in the case of a waterjet).”

The X-Definition plasma produces “edge angularity that rivals laser and cut quality of up to ISO 9013 Range 2 on thinner materials and Range 3 on thicker metals,” Parker says. “Not only that, but the cut quality is consistent, meaning operators will see the same, high-quality cut with hundreds of cuts.

“X-Definition also takes hole quality to the next level,” he continues. “We’ve improved our patented True Hole technology so that cylindricity and roundness from the top to bottom is even better than before.”

Customer feedback also plays a role in Hypertherm’s offerings. For example, a customer may say they are dissatisfied with their current cutting methods or level of productivity; may have an older system that is breaking down; or need a more reliable tool that can help expand their business activity, attract more customers or bring more profit-generating work inside their own shop, Parker says.

Combining a plasma with a quality cutting table or machine is paramount, Parker says. “You can buy the very best plasma, but if you install that plasma on a low-quality cutting machine or one that was designed for conventional but not X-Definition plasma, you will not get a good outcome,” he says. “Operating an XPR300 plasma system on a cutting machine, even if equipped with the very best CNC and software, does not ensure optimal cutting results.”

The quality and capability of the cutting machine itself are critical, he continues. “If you want to maximize the investment that you make in your plasma power supply and torch, you need to also invest in a cutting machine that is designed to handle its performance. You need to ask questions about machine motion capability and provide your potential machine builder with part programs for the parts you will be cutting to ensure you get the results you are looking for.”

“It’s been a busy year,” says Oakley. “We don’t see signs of that slowing down. We’re now looking at other areas where we can take advantage of having a fast and accurate cutting method.” FFJ



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