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Plasma Technology
Tuesday | 18 January, 2011 | 3:14 am

Building for the future

By Modern Metals' staff

January 2011 - Founded in 1969, Behlen Industries, Brandon, Manitoba, is Canada's largest producer of steel building systems in terms of annual units. The company serves the industrial, institutional, commercial and agricultural markets. It is the largest user of steel in Western Canada, consuming more than 9 million pounds of steel annually.

As the company grew, it needed to upgrade its equipment. Recently, Behlen invested in a plasma cutting system that replaced a 10-year-old unit, which had been operating around the clock. After researching its options, Behlen purchased the new cutting machine from Linde Canada. It is equipped with integrated plasma cutting solutions from Hypertherm, Hanover, N.H., including a HyPerformance HPR260XD plasma cutting system with Autogas, an Edge Pro CNC, Sensor THC and MTC's ProNest 2010 nesting and process automation software.

Successful investment
"The plasma system is considered a vital component of the workflow at the company," says Doug Riddoch, Behlen's production manager. "If it is not working, it really affects the overall operation of the shop. It [the plasma] dictates the workflow with 40 welders waiting for cut parts.

"Quality and reliability were our big drivers for the purchase," he continues. "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."

In the short time it's been running, the machine has delivered impressive results and changed the way Behlen operates.

"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," Riddoch says. "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 outside 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," he continues. "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."

The system also provides the company with high material utilization without programmer intervention through the ProNest True Shape automatic nesting. Collision avoidance also is 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.

The bottom line at Behlen is the machine has helped the company better serve its customers.

"From the time we receive the paperwork on a job, we can be ready to ship the job [complete building, etc.] in just two days," Riddoch says. "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." MM

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