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Plasma Technology

Expanding capabilities

By Russ Olexa

East End Welding, Brimfield, Ohio, has always considered itself a welding shop. But when the company’s capabilities are viewed as a whole, welding is just a small part.

In fact, with the company’s latest equipment, it’s easy to wonder if the company is a welding/fabrication job shop or a CNC machining company. It can now produce welded fabrications that are similar in size to what shipbuilders make and CNC machined parts that many machining shops couldn’t touch.

Part of President John Susong’s strategy is to be a full-service job shop that offers turnkey solutions to its customer base. He feels this strategy offers the best long-term security for East End.

To go along with large fabrications, a company needs a large amount of production space, so East End now has 135,000 sq. ft. and 100 employees working two shifts. East End grew from a 3,000-sq.-ft. facility started by Susong’s uncle in Akron, Ohio, in 1949. Later, in 1971, Susong began working for his uncle and eventually bought the company in 1983.

How does a company manage its growth and add the appropriate equipment to keep it profitable? This was a question that Susong had to answer.

"This has been an ongoing question and we continue to evaluate the best available options to meet the changing needs of our customer base," he says.

Don Hanan, project coordinator, says, "I think we still consider ourselves a welding shop. A good deal of the burning and processing we do is for consumption by manufacturing, but it’s also nice to sell some hours on the machines to outside companies. We’ve got a pretty good customer base from this. We even have some service centers that we do burning for, customers that sell plate to their customers."

Hanan says that as the company grew in square footage, it was able to produce larger fabrications. East End also builds complete products for companies that sell equipment to the power generation industry. One, for instance, is a conveyor system that is roughly 120 ft. long by 10 ft. high with 14 ft. in width made of multiple steel plate fabrications used to transport fly ash from a coal-fired boiler. But the company also produces small parts. It has worked with steel plate up to 8.5 in. thick along with 20-gauge steel sheet.

"It’s always interesting to see these large projects come together," Hanan says. "Our guys take a lot of pride in what they do, whether it’s building a gigantic conveyor or only a small part that could fit in your hand. We’ve done some fabrications that weigh 250,000 to 280,000 lbs., such as a gear box or housing for a gear box. And typically there’s a lot of machining for something like that because it starts out with a large piece of steel. Each size and type has its own special handing and processing techniques. I think that’s what keeps our job so interesting."

To produce these parts, Susong has vertically integrated the company, moving from fabrications and welding to CNC machining operations. "I think CNC machining is something that Susong always wanted to move toward," Hanan says. "CNC is all about precision control and having this control of cutting-edge technology here in-house has saved us considerable time in completing projects for our customers."

As the company grew so did its needs for various types of equipment. Along with oxy-fuel cutting, it purchased a plasma system with two oxy-fuel torches. Later the company realized it had outgrown this first plasma system and decided to upgrade to high-definition plasma cutting with the ability to move the plasma head to a 45-degree angle in either direction to bevel-cut pieces.

"Our first plasma machine wasn’t designed for what we were doing with it," Hanan mentions. "We’re always pushing the envelope, trying to do the impossible by getting the maximum capability out of man and machine. The old plasma unit just couldn’t do the kind of new tricks we had in mind for it, so we decided to upgrade to a more versatile workhorse, and that’s when we bought the first Koike plasma system with a contour beveling head."

The Koike plasma machine East End bought was a Versagraph Millennium 2000 with Hypertherm Voyager-III CNC, a 3-D Link Contour Bevel Head, a Kaliburn Proline 2260 plasma system and a Hypertherm Arcwriter Marking System. It cuts 8-ft.-wide-by-26-ft.-long plate.

A year later the company purchased a second machine because of internal growth. Hanan says the second, larger machine has a 14-ft.-wide bridge and a 54-ft.-long bed. It’s a Koike Versagraph Millennium 3100 with oxy-fuel torches using a Hypertherm Voyager-III CNC, a 3-D Link Contour Bevel Head, a Kaliburn Proline 2260 plasma system and a Hypertherm Arcwriter Marking System.

Koike worked with East End to develop just the right system for its needs. For instance, the company had a water table that it used with an older plasma machine, so instead of scrapping it, they recycled it as part of one of the Koike systems. Hanan adds, "We gave Koike the length, width and height of our water table and they were able to use that to fit their plasma bridge-style system around it."

Along with oxy-fuel and plasma cutting, East End also uses a Wardjet waterjet. For thinner-gauge sheet steel the company has a Mazak Spacegear 510 4-kW CO2 3-D laser that has a 5-ft.-by-10-ft. table. For the larger fabrication work, East End doesn’t need extreme tolerances that the laser offers. Its high-definition plasma system can hold ±0.03 in. on everything, mentions Hanan. "I know sales literature will claim that we have repeatability within thousandths, and they do, but in the real world with consumable wear and things like this, I’d say we’re getting into the ±0.03 in. range, which is pretty typical."

Eliminating secondary beveling,br> Koike’s beveling head capability saves East End a tremendous amount of preparation time by eliminating secondary work on parts. Now the company doesn’t need a welder taking time to bevel the part’s edge in preparation for welding using inefficient equipment like a hand beveller.

"We knew the plasma beveling technology was out there," Hanan says. "Before we bought the second Koike machine, we were doing all of our beveling as a manual, secondary process to the plate burning. It takes a lot of man hours, and it adds to lead time, cost, and wear and tear on the workers. So when we started looking for a second plasma system, we put our distributor to work and said, ‘Go out there and check out what’s available on the market.’ He came back to us and gave us four options. We talked about it and decided on the Koike system. We wanted to buy the best. We had been happy with the other plasma system we had from them, along with Koike welding positioners that we use. So we knew Koike, but we looked around before we put money on the table."

As to how the plasma equipment is controlled, Hanan says that the company’s technicians in its on-site programming office use computers networked to a file server to review and complete all of the programming. The plasma machine operator may then access the finished burn program after a programmer in the office produces the final code.

Although mild steel is a staple for the company’s fabrications, it also builds fabrications using stainless steel and aluminum. Stainless usage is about 30 percent compared to carbon, says Hanan. The company also cuts titanium, stainless steel up to 5 in. thick and aluminum up to 10 in. thick on its waterjet.

As to the need for a waterjet and laser, Hanan remarks, "I would say in both cases that these are machines we saw a need for to enhance our unique processing abilities and allow us to apply modern technologies to the ever-changing tasks at hand.

"I think that East End has come a long way toward achieving that vision of offering a full spectrum of services," he says. "There are a lot of good people here, and we like a challenge. We’re not afraid to buy a good piece of equipment if that’s the best way to get the job done right. However, we will continue to push the limits to maximize the utilization of our skills and equipment toward meeting the changing needs of customers." FFJ

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