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Plasma Technology
Wednesday | 12 October, 2016 | 9:59 am

Up to the task

By Gretchen Salois

Above: MultiCam’s tables are anchored to prevent movement during the cutting process.

Cutting capabilities require quick turnaround without sacrificing accuracy

October 2016 - It started with specific cutting jobs that required tighter tolerances. That swiftly segued into jobs where rapidly cutting thicker material would make or break a deal. “We needed a way to cut multiple thicknesses up to 2 inches quickly, affordably, and with precision,” says Barry Yoes, production manager at Cardinal Metals Inc. in Dallas.

Using a waterjet cutting machine was not an option for Cardinal Metals due to high overhead costs and a speed that didn’t match the required production rates. “I can’t even fathom what a laser would cost with the capability of cutting 2-inch-thick steel,” Yoes says. “With waterjet we knew there would be no limit on thickness, but the thicker [the material] gets, the slower it cuts—that’s why high-definition plasma ended up being the quickest and most economical option for us.”

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What takes Barry Yoes hours to design is cut in minutes with the Multicam HPR-400XHD.

Established in 1979, Cardinal Metals  provides full-size sheets, plates and mill-length structural items such as angles, flat bars, channels, beams, tubing and pipe. In the 1990s, customers began requesting that items be processed, via plate burning and saw cutting. A band saw purchase preceded the company’s acquisition of a high-definition plasma table built by MultiCam Inc., followed by the HPR-400XHD, giving Cardinal Metals more power and control when burning heavier plates (1 to 2 inches thick) and a third plasma, with an added 5-axis head for automatic bevel cutting when needed. 

“We had such success and demand for bevel cutting parts that we had MultiCam upgrade one of our other tables to the 5-axis bevel-cutting feature,” Yoes says. 

Cardinal Metals selected plasma cutting due to its speed, precision and ability to handle multiple metals. MultiCam’s automatic tracking head follows the contour of uneven plate no matter plate condition, which saves time and secondary processing. “We push these machines to the limit and they stand up to it. Our customers don’t care if we run into equipment trouble or need to shut down for service,” Yoes says. “They want their orders quickly and don’t want to hear about equipment problems causing delays.

“The one thing people are looking for in this industry is how you’re able to burn holes,” Yoes continues. “The industry standard says you can’t burn symmetric holes unless the hole diameter is 1.5 times the plate thickness. We can produce holes that are the same diameter as the plate. That’s breaking the rules, but these machines can do that.

“I’ve had customers come to me wanting 3⁄4-inch diameter holes in 1-inch plate and we can do even that,” he continues. “As you go smaller, the hole might taper. We’re able to tweak how the plasma burns holes from tools on the keypad screen to get it done.”

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Plasma cutting allows Cardinal Metals to cut intricate designs and tight tolerances without damaging the material.

Motion matters

Motion matters when it comes to plasma cutting, says Kris Scherm, fabrication product group manager at Dallas-based MultiCam. “The manner in which a table is manufactured makes a huge difference in the cut quality over time.” MultiCam manufactures heavy-duty tables with full steel construction, stress relieved and milled both parallel and perpendicular “where it matters.”

Instead of shimming the table to get it aligned which, due to movement or residual stress, often leads to having to repeatedly realign the machines, MultiCam makes it a point to anchor tables. It builds tables for use with waterjet cutting machines, routers and digital finishing systems in addition to plasmas.

Plasma cutting is a versatile method that works on anything that conducts electricity. “So, for a shop that is exposed to different materials, like stainless and aluminum in addition to [carbon] steel, it gives the shop flexibility in their ability to say yes to work involving multiple materials,” Scherm says. 

“When dealing with materials thicker than 1⁄2-inch, plasma often becomes the process of choice due to its ability to cut cleanly and with minimal effect on material,” he notes. “In most cases, laser is cost prohibitive and sometimes incapable, and waterjet is just slow, making it a bottleneck in the manufacturing process.” Depending on the processing and material needs, MultiCam provides laser or waterjet cutting technologies in addition to laser. 

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MutiCam's tracking head automatically follows the contour of uneven plate no matter its condition.

Cleaner cutting

MultiCam focuses on the overall cutting process as well as motion. Features such as laser pointers, enhanced height control units, bevel heads, gas control systems, software and fume excavation systems are examples of upgrades and add-ons MultiCam offers.

With two downdraft tables equipped with a fume extractor and one water tank table, Yoes says the filtered burn process helps keep the area clean while cutting. “We can cut up to 2-inch thick plate with tolerances +/- 1⁄16 inch and we’re able to hold it to 0.032-inch when really needed,” Yoes says. “We just dial in adjustments as required to win tight tolerance jobs otherwise not obtainable by our competition using flame burning or other plasma systems.” 

Maintenance is minimal, says Yoes. “We have our MultiCam machines going Monday through Saturday and they just don’t quit.” 

Training is also easy so Yoes can bring in help from operators with limited experience. “I actually prefer finding people with minimal or no CNC equipment experience because they don’t bring in bad habits,” Yoes comments. “After about two weeks of training, I can confidently walk away from a new operator knowing they are good to go. After that, it’s more about problem solving and learning how to read codes. Often, if something goes wrong, it is operator error and a quick fix.”

Cardinal Metals has always received prompt service and readily available parts from MultiCam. “We had a customer that wanted to bring its plasma cutting in house, so they bought a plasma table from China. Two weeks after installation, it was broken,” recalls Yoes. “So while they waited for tech support to fly in and replacement parts to ship, their machine was down and they were back ordering burned plate parts from us. They had to wait two full weeks for the needed parts and repairs before they could burn their own parts again.”

The MultiCam’s ability to reach intricate tolerances allows Yoes to get creative. “I’ve cut everything from a blue unicorn for a local sorority to a catfish and bass that took me weeks to draw and just a couple of minutes for the plasma to cut it. We can try to throw the machine off but it handles what we put it through.” MM

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