Plasma Machine Makes The Cut
Behlen Industries, founded in 1969, is Canada’s largest producer of steel building systems, in terms of units produced annually. Behlen serves the industrial, institutional, commercial, and agricultural markets with systems sold and installed throughout North America and parts of Europe by a network of authorized builder-distributors. Behlen is ISO 9001 certified and is consistently listed as one of Canada’s 50 best managed private companies. As a result of its success, it is also the largest user of steel in Western Canada, with consumption typically exceeding nine million pounds annually.
The company recently invested in a new plasma cutting machine which replaced a 10 year old unit that had been operating 24/7. The replaced machine was no longer serviced or supported by its manufacturer and had reached the end of its reliable service life. After some research, Behlen purchased the new cutting machine from Linde Canada—their existing supplier of industrial supplies and gas. Linde Canada also provides service for the new machine, which was a major factor in the final purchase decision.
The newly installed cutting machine is equipped with Integrated Plasma Cutting Solutions from Hypertherm including a plasma cutting system with Autogas, an EDGE Pro® CNC, a Sensor® THC, and MTC’s ProNest® 2010 nesting and process optimization software.
According to Behlen’s production manager, Doug Riddoch, “The plasma system is considered a vital component of the work flow at the company. If it is not working, it really affects the overall operation of the shop. It [the plasma] dictates the work flow, with 40 welders waiting for cut parts.
“Quality and reliability were our big drivers for the purchase,” continues Riddoch. “The new machine was selected because we felt that it was more heavy duty than the other models we saw. Trouble-free operation is what we are looking for and we’d rather spend a little more to get this, if needed. We purchased the machine with growth in mind. Knowing we had our last machine for ten years certainly made capacity planning a little less difficult.”
Mike Trupp, a Technical Sales/Automation Specialist for Linde Canada, was primarily involved in the pre and post sales process, including system installation and training. “The buck stops with me, as far as ensuring my customers’ machines are operational,” says Mike. I plan to start using the Hypertherm online Remote Help capability soon. It’s a win-win solution for the customer and for us, the equipment distributor. Even though the new technology, like True Hole, is automated and simple for inexperienced programmers and operators to use, it also means that when there is a technical question those same operators may not be able to help diagnose the issue. Remote Help will allow me to resolve, or be a part of resolving, technical and applications questions right from my office.”
According to the Behlen team, the new cutting machine has also delivered impressive results and changed the way they operate. Riddoch comments, “Since the plasma was installed three months ago, we’ve seen some major improvements in the way we process jobs and the results we achieve. Firstly, we have more flexibility with the new machine. We transferred work from our plate machine and were able to bring some work back in-house from outsource vendors. We also consolidated some projects from our other company locations. All in all, the new machine capability has given us the flexibility to alleviate production bottlenecks, reduced our work in progress, and our material handling. Another major impact [from the new machine] is the improved I-beam weld fit-up based on optimized part quality from reduced edge taper. I-beams are now consistently fabricated to tighter tolerances, which helps our installers by reducing costly in-field rework. Other major process improvements include use of the new Hypertherm True Hole technology available with this machine. While we’ve not yet used it to its full thickness potential, because right now we mostly do very thin sheet work, based on the bolt-ready hole quality we’ve seen so far, we will definitely gain a lot of benefit from the technology in the future.”
Two nesting programmers use the ProNest 2010 software each day to program Behlen’s cutting jobs. Programming at Behlen includes the use of ProNest’s True Shape automatic nesting to rapidly achieve high levels of material utilization without programmer intervention. Collision avoidance is also applied automatically to each nest, yielding optimized tool paths, lead styles, and positioning. The resulting tool path translates to productivity improvements in cut-to-cut cycle time.
Summarizing the investment, Riddoch notes: “From the time we receive the paperwork on a job, we can now be ready to ship the job [complete building, etc.] in just two days. Just by bringing some of the hopper-bin work in-house, we’ve seen a 40 percent cost savings on that product alone, as well as a significant savings in production lead time. All of these changes to the way we process jobs using the new machine have helped us improve our profitability.”