How to choose the right mechanized cutting equipment for your operation?

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How to choose the right mechanized cutting equipment for your operation?

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When talking about the mechanized cutting equipment your manufacturing plant might need, any technical advisor is going to ask you three basic questions, which are:

  • What are your current needs?
  • What are going to be your future needs?
  • What is your budget?

I have done the test myself with a few of my workmates here at Codinter, and the same questions were asked once and again.

When asking these three questions, of course, more specific questions would arise, and we are going to take a complete look at all of them.

You need to feel confident about the decision you are making regarding the mechanized cutting system you need to get. It is very expensive equipment that is going to be part of your company for many years, maybe decades.

Before digging deeper into these three questions, let’s first consider why you are researching what would be the ideal mechanized cutting equipment for your operation.

The need for a mechanized cutting system

In its growing path every industrial company will face the need to acquire equipment. This might happen once and again through the decades. They might be needed to improve how a task is performed or to accomplish an entirely new project.

For example, if you are a manufacturing company, you might need some new equipment when there is a project to manufacture a new product. That new product is going to be part of your portfolio from now on.

In other cases, the need for certain equipment has existed for a long time, but due to budget limitations, the company has not been able to acquire the equipment but relies on service companies who might do the leg work for them.

To explain this better, let’s say that you are a construction company, and you need some beams to be cut in a special way, as required in the bridges you are going to be working on for years to come. Since you do not have that cutting equipment, you send the beams to a company that cuts them for you, or you rent the equipment to cut them on the construction site.

Another possibility is that actually you have some mechanized cutting equipment at your facility, but the quality you get does not match what you desire, so you must redo many parts, falling behind on production, leading to bottle necks, and ultimately to unsatisfied clients.

Let’s say that you produce spare parts for cars. Since the quality you are having now is not the best, and you are taking more time to fulfill orders, your customers might be looking for other options.

Leasing or buying?

In some cases, when the need for certain equipment might be temporal, leasing it might be the wise course of action, to avoid spending monetary resources on something that probably is not going to be used frequently or whose ROI is difficult to calculate.

Now, in all three scenarios described previously, the need for mechanized cutting equipment is not temporal, but continuous. So, the question is not whether you should buy some mechanized cutting equipment or not, but which one to choose, based on your specific needs.

This being said, let’s look into the three basic questions any technical advisor is going to ask you, starting with your current needs.

What are your current needs?

If you are considering getting mechanized cutting equipment it is because obviously your current needs are poorly met or not met at all. So, why ask for your current needs? The reason why lies in whether you just need to produce better what you are already producing or you are on a growing path.

Let’s play some scenarios

To explain this, let’s suppose that cutting equipment has been in place for decades, and the productions needs are met and are not changing, but the quality has decreased. The spare parts and even the consumables for that cutting systems are getting difficult to get. Also new cutting technologies are available, but you are not benefiting at all from them. In this case, your current needs are essential to define what mechanized cutting equipment you need.

Now, following the example, let’s suppose that your equipment is still in good shape, and quality is ok, but your production needs are not being met because demand has increased. That is a good problem to have, some people would say. So, you would need mechanized cutting equipment that could help you to reach your goals.

To define clearly your current needs, you must answer the following five questions.

What size are the parts do you cut?

This is important because that defines what size your cutting table must be. Let’s say that for a long time you have used 4 x 8 feet (1250 x 2500 mm) carbon steel plates to cut your parts. Now, when recalculating the area, you notice that using a 5 x 10 feet (1500 x 3000 mm) carbon steel plate you could get more parts per plate, lowering costs and speeding up production. So, despite the fact that production needs have not changed, you could take advantage of getting one 5 x 10 feet (1500 x 3000 mm) cutting table now that you are going to update the equipment.

An even better option might be to use larger metal sheets, such as 8 x 20 feet (2440 x 6000 mm) or 8 x 40 feet (2440 x 12000 mm), if you have the room for it. These may allow you to get even more parts per sheet, especially when we are talking about large sizes.

How thick are the parts do you cut?

The thickness of the material to be cut is one key factor that defines the cutting process to use. In many manufacturing plants most parts are something between 1/8 to 1 ½ inches thick.

Plasma is used to cut any conductive metal up to 1 inch thick. For thicker materials, oxyfuel is used. Even though oxyfuel can cut carbon steel up to 10 inches thick, usually is used for 2 inches thick plates.

How are the parts that you cut?

This is related to the repeatability of the cutting pattern. It is quite different to cut the same part once and again throughout the metal plate than to cut a wide range of different pieces out of the same sheet.

If you are cutting the same part once and again, you could install more than one cutting torch. In some cutting tables up to six oxyfuel or two plasma cutting torches can work at the same time. So, if you have two torches, you will spend half the time getting the parts cut. Of course, you will need a power source that can meet the challenge.

Obviously, if you are cutting a wide range of different pieces out of the same metal plate, there is no point in having more than one torch.

What is your cut quality?

Laser is by far the cutting process that provides the best quality. So, if you are using oxyfuel or plasma, but cut quality is fundamental for your production, changing to a laser cutting table could be the solution to your problems.

What is your cutting speed?

Many companies have increased their production capacity by increasing the work shifts. That is a way to get their money’s worth, for what they invested in the equipment. This solution brings along the need for getting more operators.

Companies that have multiple working shifts sometimes face hidden problems. As an example, in certain manufacturing plant, they noticed that the night shift operators tend to be slower than the morning shift. They just blamed the operators and tried to do something to motivate them. But, when they installed new cutting equipment, that allowed them to receive data from each unit, management found out that there was a problem with the electrical current during nights at the facility. Once they solved that problem, all shifts were producing the same.

From this lesson it can be learned that there are several aspects to look for when trying to improve cutting speed. If that is something you want to fix at your facility, newer mechanized cutting equipment can help you to achieve your goal.

Now, if you are on a growing path, you definitely need to consider not only your current needs, but also your possible future needs. Let’s talk about that now.

What are going to be your future needs?

If you have met someone who can predict perfectly the future, please, introduce him or her to me, because I have a lot of questions to ask.

Jokes aside, nobody knows the future for sure, but companies can predict production increases based on the trend they have had for some time.

Also, when negotiations lead to a new project to set in motion, you will have to calculate the future needs. To do so effectively, you can answer the same five questions we asked you before, changing the verbal tense.

What size are the parts do you plan to cut?

Again, this is to define the size of the cutting table you need. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity to open your eyes and plan for what, inadvertently, could be in store.

Let’s say you want to double your production capacity and you have calculated that with a 5×10 cutting table you would be able to do just that. What if something else is needed very soon or you were short in your calculations? It is not a good idea to be so tight in these calculations.

The amount of money you need to add for a slightly bigger cutting table could be really insignificant in comparison with what you can be able to reach, in case your production needs increase.

It would be very disappointing finding yourself getting a whole new mechanized cutting equipment system in place and still, very soon reaching out to subcontrators to get more parts cut. What you will pay in there is way more than getting something more than what you calculated you needed.

How thick are the parts do you plan to cut?

If you are planning to cut medium to thick metal plates, it would be ideal to get a cutting table that can have both oxyfuel and plasma torches. That way you will always be able to cut whatever you need.

When planning about this point, you will have to think also of the power source you need. You need to make sure what the power source’s maximum thickness cut is and if it can handle several torches. A reputable cutting system manufacturer like Hypertherm publishes all that technical information for every single piece of equipment they offer.

How are the parts do you plan to cut?

Chances are that your future needs are not going to be an exact copy of your current needs. This is especially true if your company makes construction projects.

In this regard, feel free to consult with others in management or the production department. This can give you a clue whether you are going to be cutting the same part once and again or going to do intricated cuts in the same metal plate.

Anyway, the idea here is to be free to expand if needed. So, if extra torches can be set in place, get them, because probably they could be used in the future.

What cut quality do you need to achieve?

This question is one that you need to consider carefully. As of now you might be ok with the quality you offer, but, for example, what if a competitor offers the same part, at the same price, but with better quality? So, quality can never just be taken for granted.

The best cut quality can be achieved with a laser cutting table. They also are faster than other processes and are low maintenance, but the thickness is limited, and the price can be a barrier to some small companies.

In any case, we have seen in recent years how laser cutting technology has evolved rapidly. So, even when you conclude that a laser cutting table is not ideal for you right now, don’t just forget about it. Probably in a few years conditions will change and the company might be able to get it.

What cutting speed do you need to achieve?

Maybe you have heard that with great power comes a great responsibility. Well, in a sense, with an expanded cutting capacity, you will need to make some adjustments for your staff too, in order to benefit from a higher cutting speed.

For example, as of now material probably is handled by operators. But if you get mechanized cutting equipment that is 2X faster than what you have, you will need to set in place some automated material handling too. Otherwise, you will need to just stop the machine to feed the material and remove the parts.

Also, mechanized cutting equipment is just part of the whole manufacturing process. So, is the rest of the production ready to receive the increased number of parts? Does the warehouse contain enough metal plates to process, or do you need to increase your regular purchasing?

Calculating the cutting speed is an important part of the production process but you need to do it in harmony with the rest of the manufacturing plant.

What is your budget?

It is not that the technical advisor just wants to empty your wallet, but setting a budget might help to get the best equipment possible, according to your circumstances.

The three most used cutting systems, which are oxyfuel, plasma and laser, have quite different prices ranges. Usually, oxyfuel is considered the cheapest option, plasma stays in the middle, and laser is the most expensive.

But it is not the price, but your current and future needs what defines what cutting system you should get. So here, the idea is to set your budget up regarding the specific cutting system that is right for you.

Let’s suppose that plasma is the appropriate cutting system for you. When looking for a mechanized plasma system, the first thing you should decide is the cutting table.

The cutting table

Once again, the size of the cutting table depends on your present and future needs. For example, some common metal plates sizes are 4 x 8 and 5 x 10 feet. Are these plates enough to produce the parts you need to manufacture? Will these plates be enough to satisfy your future needs?

If the answer to both questions is yes, probably one 5 x 10 feet cutting table could be exactly what you need. If the answer is no, the cutting table must obviously be oversized.

The cutting table of your choice must be in sync with the power source you need to get. So, let’s pay attention now to that important choice.

The power sources

When it comes to mechanized cutting equipment, Hypertherm offers several power sources:

  • MAXPRO200
  • HPR400XD
  • HPR800XD
  • XPR170
  • XPR300

Given all these options, a comparative table can help us to see the differences between power sources and choose the one that best suits your present and future needs.

Output voltage50-165 VDC50 - 200 VDC50 - 200 VDC50 - 210 VDC50 - 210 VDC
Maximum output current200 A400 A400 A170 A300 A
Duty cycle rating100% a 33 kW, 40 °C100% a 80 kW, 40 °C100% a 80 kW, 40 °C100% a 35,7 kW, 40 °C100% a 66,5 kW, 40 °C
Operating temperature-10 °C a 40 °C-10 °C a 40 °C-10 °C a 40 °C-10 °C a 40 °C-10 °C a 40 °C
Power factor0,98 @ 33 kW0,98 @ 400 ACC0,98 @ 400 ACC0,98 @ 35,7 kW0,98 @ 66,5 kW
Dimensions102 cm H, 69 cm W, 105 cm L118 cm H, 88 cm W, 126 cm L118 cm H, 88 cm W, 126 cm L125 cm H, 82 cm W, 127 cm L125 cm H, 82 cm W, 127 cm L
Weight740 lb1.877 lb1.877 lb1.000 lb1.500 lb

The fumes extraction system

The fumes are not a problem only for welding. The cutting process also produces a lot of fumes that can be damaging to both people and equipment.

Any cutting system, whether laser or plasma, must have a fume extraction and filtration system. In some countries, the use of plasma cutting tables with water pools is widespread, in an attempt to solve this situation. These water pools only trap 60% of the fumes and generate a thermal shock with the cut sheet, producing a burr.

The remaining 40% of the fumes are absorbed by the machine, reducing its accuracy in the medium term, and by the personnel working in the plant, deteriorating their health. It is clear that having a fume extraction and filtering system improves the cutting quality, the life cycle of the mechanized cutting equipment and avoids damage to the health of the personnel.

The rest of the mechanized cutting equipment

Once you have defined a cutting table and a power source that can match, the rest of the system must work along with them.

Define what torch or torches you will need. This is usually based on the power source of your choice.

Make sure that the requirements for air (both pressure and quality) are met. A reliable gas flow must be set in place, depending on the cutting process you have chosen. The electrical current is as well quite important to get a constant cut quality and a good consumable’s life.

Finally, where in your plant is going to be placed the new mechanized cutting equipment? The ideal location must be according to the material handling situation, and the rest of the production.

How to choose the right mechanized cutting equipment

By reading this article you can be aware that installing brand new mechanized cutting equipment or updating it is not an easy peasy process. But it shouldn’t be traumatic.

Consider us your best ally to reach the right decision regarding your mechanized cutting equipment. For decades we have helped many companies to choose the right mechanized cutting equipment, customized to their needs. Feel free to contact us to get started with you.

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The authors

Codinter Editorial Team

Codinter Editorial Team

The Codinter Editorial Team is composed of a diverse and multinational group of specialists, researchers, and writers, equipped with field experiences throughout decades of developing solutions with technology for industrial purposes.

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