Plasma Technology
Tuesday | 02 April, 2013 | 8:32 am

Renewed resources

By Gretchen Salois

Capital investment pays off as demand steadily climbs

March 2013 - When the economy floundered, many companies laid off employees and slowed down production. “Now, as they ramp back up, they don’t have the equipment or personnel to fill the jobs they need. That’s where we’re able to help out,” says Dennis Maddox, president, DenCol. 

A job shop spanning a number of industries and capabilities, Denver-based DenCol uses laser cutters, oxy-fuel cutters and plasma cutters. The company uses laser machines for lighter thicknesses and oxy-fuel for heavier thicknesses, ranging from 4 inches to 6 inches thick. Its plasma cutter does the bulk of its work, cutting the majority of carbon steel orders. The company also cuts a number of different grades to serve the mining, bridge building, abrasion resistance and standard steel industries. 

“We also do some stainless and aluminum, but the vast majority of what we do is hot-rolled steel,” Maddox says. “The products vary and accommodate any project where you need steel, including bridge building or construction machinery parts, mining, road building components, equipment manufacturing, sunk towers—just about any industry.”

As industry demand moves forward, DenCol felt it was necessary to invest in new technology and purchased an Alltra table from Alltra Corp. in Dewey, Okla., with two Hypertherm HPR400XD plasma cutters with beveling capabilities. DenCol also has five Hypertherm 260 machines as well as an HT2000 from the Hanover, N.H.-based company. 

mm-0313-plasma-image1“2009 was very difficult because of the collapse of the economy as well as steel prices, and we had to hold on to expensive inventory,” Maddox explains. “The steel was simply worth less than what we paid for it, so we had to slow down until 2012 where we felt we could commit to this new Alltra machine.”

Anticipating the upswing in the market, DenCol installed the machine. “2012 was a very good year for us—the most profitable since 2009, and 2013 is starting out that way, as well,” he adds. The Alltra machine with two 400-amp Hypertherm units is a customized table, with a second bridge over the burn table. “With the new machine, the material is cut so much faster and cleaner. Turnaround times have shortened, allowing us to take on more work and fulfill tighter tolerance requirements,” Maddox says. “We can give customers a superior part.”

Traditional versus high definition

When comparing older plasma cutting technology to Hypertherm’s latest high-definition technology, the cutting approach and efficiency is different, according to Jim Aitkenhead, district sales manager for Hypertherm. This latest technology for the 400 model versus older 4400 models allows more accurate cutting at tighter angles. 

Aitkenhead explains the process: “If you place your hands together, as in a clapping position, and separate your knuckles wide apart, your hands form a triangular shape—that’s the traditional plasma cutting approach,” he says. “You want to cut where your knuckles are, so as it gets thicker, you find your hand (or the arc) is now curved, resulting in the angle on the cut edge or angularity. In other words, you can’t cut very accurately because the top and bottom are different angles and thicknesses.

“What high definition does is the same motion as if you push your knuckles together, making the plate relatively straight with minimal curve,” he continues. “High definition is 3 degrees of angularity or less, whereas a traditional plasma can be from 

6 degrees or more.” Although the difference doesn’t seem significant, the difference of a few degrees greatly affects the angularity and accuracy of the cut. In many cases, operators would have to complete a secondary operation to get the part to fit the tolerance needed.

“Before you might end up with ±1⁄16 inch, but now with high definition, you can get below 0.003 inch accuracy,” Aitkenhead says.  

Easily integrated

Using the high-definition Hypertherm HPR400XD with the Alltra table “is entirely different from our other tables,” Maddox says. “It’s so much cleaner and controllers are so much more integrated. Setup times have dropped anywhere from 50 to 60 percent with the new [equipment].

“You don’t have to square up plates because the machine will do that,” he continues. “The software figures out the auto speeds and feeds for the parts, speeding up the overall cutting process.” 

Another way DenCol saves time is by not having to switch thicker materials to the oxy-fuel cutter. Before, if a part exceeded 11⁄4 inches thick, DenCol operators would have to switch to the oxy-fuel machine. Now the company can cut through 3 inches using the plasma. “That’s a big change, and with oxy-fuel being so much slower, using the plasma cutter now allows for faster output,” Maddox says.

DenCol can get more tons per hour completed using the Alltra/Hypertherm HPR400XD combination, says Dewayne Deck, CEO. “We’re not a manufacturer. We don’t have a set product line, so we have to be able to respond to every customer’s individual needs,” Deck says. “Our table is 10 feet by 82 feet, so we can handle a number of projects. We have to be able to fulfill the needs for a customer who might need base plates, which don’t require tight tolerances, and then follow that with an order to cut gears to be used on a machine, which need to be very accurate—all while turning around product quickly.”

Other factors, such as consumables, also play into DenCol’s efficiency. The company has Hypertherm come in a couple of times a year for preventative maintenance. Switching from 4400 models to 400 models has greatly increased consumable’s life. “DenCol is able to get about four times more consumable’s life now,” Aitkenhead says. “Hourly cost, or product cost, is going to reflect that. You pick up better speed and also longer consumable’s life. Parts are cheaper, cost per hour/minute/part is reduced, and that is another major reason to make the investment in the long-term.”

Since putting in the table, DenCol has noticed an uptick in orders from existing customers. Instead of inquiries for hundreds of tons, customers are asking for thousands of tons. Despite taking on more orders, DenCol hasn’t had to hire more employees. 

“With the new equipment getting more steel through, we haven’t really had to put any more manpower against it because the machines are doing more of the work,” Deck says. “We get paid for finished parts, not by the hour. Having to pay overtime cuts into our overhead costs. So the quicker you can get from one job to the next, the more profitable we are.” MM


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