Plasma Technology
Thursday | 05 June, 2014 | 8:25 am

Unified processes

By Lynn Stanley

Above: The PCS Zero Offset plasma bevel head doesn’t rotate around a C axis or have to return to a zero starting position.

Manufacturers save steps, gain accuracy with multitasking technology

May 2014 - Multitasking is a skill we’re all too familiar with in the workplace and at home—and we’re seeing consumer products moving in that direction, too. From phablets [a smartphone/tablet hybrid] to smartwatches, the trend toward commercial products that can perform two or more tasks simultaneously continues to gain traction. The advantages of saving time and eliminating steps aren’t lost on manufacturers like Profile Cutting Systems. The engineering and design company saw an opportunity to infuse new life into established technology by developing an automated, multitasking plasma bevel head able to cut steel plate with a bevel or straight edge and weld prep at the same time. The fully programmable Zero Offset plasma bevel head can cut and bevel 1⁄4-inch to 3 1⁄8-inch plate without limits on cutting direction.

Headquartered near a Ford Motor Co. factory in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, PCS combines more than 60 years of mechanical and electronic expertise to design and manufacture oxy-fuel and plasma cutting machines. Its research and development team evaluates challenges faced by users to create solutions like its 24-tool automatic tool changer for plate drilling and its newest innovation, the Zero Offset plasma bevel head. 


Ground zero

“Forty years ago if you cut a square out of plate, it had to be moved to a layout bench where workers with chalk, a ruler, hammer and punch, marked hole locations for drilling,” says Leon Cottee, director of PCS. “Other workers would take the plate and bevel specified areas by hand.”

The emergence of plasma contour beveling in the 1970s helped to consolidate some of these work processes but the industry has been slow to adopt the technology both in Australia and the United States, Cottee says, noting that it’s not unusual to visit job shops in both countries and find workers performing beveling and weld prep by hand. “To some degree there is the inherent resistance to change that we all experience,” he explains. “Also, in many cases there remains a disconnect between management and employees on the shop floor.”

PCS vice president of sales John Zuehlke, based in Boulder Creek, California, agrees, pointing to equipment limitations as another obstacle. “Getting the torch arc close enough to the material to work has always been one of the challenges with plasma beveling,” he says. “Typically, if you tilt the torch 45 degrees you can, in some cases, experience a gap up to a 1⁄2-inch between the electric arc and the material, preventing the pilot from igniting. Plasma cutters work by sending an electric arc through a gas that moves through a tight opening. Most models on the market, including ours, have to be started in a near vertical position before they can be tilted. That’s one of the problems we wanted to solve,” he says. 

“We looked at what was out there, considered some of the difficulties, evaluated technology advances and basically found a way to build a better mouse trap,” Cottee says. 

Profile Cutting Systems’ zero offset feature is unique to its plasma bevel head. “It solves the problem of angle,” Zuehlke explains. “If you are cutting a square, for example, our plasma bevel head can make a 90-degree turn without offsetting the cutting machine. Other systems on the market don’t have that capability. Instead they are required to loop the corner, which means the plasma torch has to move past the turn and then loop back around to make the cut. Our bevel head doesn’t rotate around a C axis or have to return to a zero starting position. This is especially important if you are cutting multiple parts. You want the second part to be as close to the first part as possible so you don’t waste material, especially if you are using costly metals such as stainless, aluminum or bronze. If you have a plasma bevel head that has to loop corners, your second part is going to be anywhere from 1⁄2 inch up to 2 inches from the first part, creating scrap.” 

The Zero Offset plasma bevel head, patented in Australia and patent pending in the U.S., also is lighter weight, 200 pounds, making it possible to fit the PCS bevel head on an entry-level, light-duty machine. “Other plasma cutting manufacturers don’t currently offer this configuration,” Zuehlke notes.


Saving steps

PCS first introduced the Zero Offset plasma bevel head at the 2008 Fabtech show. It caught the attention of Ferrocut, South Australia, when the plate profiling business was tagged by the Royal Australian Navy to supply steel plate for its Australian Submarine Corporation Air Warfare Destroyer shipbuilder program. To keep bevel cutting and etching in-house, Ferrocut installed a PCS Zero Offset 400-amp plasma bevel head with a large bed in 2009. The bed size accommodates multiple plates at the same time for improved efficiency. Apart from defense customers, Ferrocut serves the mining, quarry, construction, specialty fabrication and agricultural industries from a new 11,250-square-meter warehouse and plate profiling center. The ability to provide cut steel plate that is weld prepped at the same time allows Ferrocut to eliminate double-handling of material and parts. The system also equips the fabricator for other part processing with its ability to perform 95-degree side-to-side and forward-backward cuts and 360-degree rotations without twisting cables or hoses. 

Arc voltage automatic height control provides accurate bevel tolerance while the system’s robust design and stainless steel construction make it durable for a heavy, industrial environment like that of Ferrocut. 

Ferrocut took multifunctionality a step further when in 2012 it purchased a PCS BHB Series integrated plate processing system. The next-generation model integrates drilling, tapping and milling with a Zero Offset plasma bevel head, giving Ferrocut the ability to perform multiple processes on steel plate. The system’s two oxy torches allow the fabricator to process a full range of plate thicknesses without the need for a separate machine. 

“Drilled holes are becoming an important part of profile cutting requirements,” says Cottee. “Drilling small and large holes into thick plate is a niche market very few companies are capable of [servicing]. The feature also reduces the need to clean parts after cutting, which reduces processing time.”

PCS has installed over 500 systems worldwide, but Cottee says he feels most at home in the U.S. “I spend a lot of time in the States and find very little difference between shop floor workers in America and Australia, except maybe the accent.” 

PCS also teams with U.S. companies for system components. The majority of PCS plasma bevel head cutting systems are equipped with a CNC control from Lincoln Electric Co. subsidiary Burny Kaliburn and Hypertherm’s ProNest True Bevel software. If the system is specified with a drill, it’s fitted with a Burny Kaliburn XL CNC control. Where cut quality is critical, the system is typically sold with a downdraft table. Water tables may be used when economics outweigh other factors.

“In addition to helping customers specify the right system, we continue to support them long after the installation,” says Cottee. “Good service is the same in any language and regardless of company culture or the particular mindset of a job shop’s management and employees. When it comes to our plasma bevel head technology, increased productivity, reduced factory noise and labor savings speak for themselves.” MM


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