Plasma technology opens doors for Alberta fabrication shop
by Noelle stapinsky
Problem: Missing out on business opportunities due to long lead times with only one source of cutting technology
Solution: Investing in Hypertherm XP300 plasma cutting technology for faster throughput with thicker materials
It’s only been a year since Calgary, AB-based Shoreline Fabrication added Hypertherm XP300 plasma cutting technology to its arsenal, but according to president and owner Kevin Raber, that investment has paid dividends.
Established in 2006, this family-run business specializes in a wide range of welding and metal fabrication, supplying mining, industrial, agricultural, oil and gas and construction companies, as well as material handling and processing plants. “We’re an all-in-one shop for structural and construction packages. We design, manufacture and supply equipment for bulk material handling such as screw conveyors, bucket elevators and augers,” says Raber. “We do a lot of work with stainless and aluminum and we do custom process cutting and forming on a customer basis.”
Six years ago, Shoreline invested in an OMAX waterjet, which propelled the company’s rapid growth and quickly became the backbone of the operation. Initially, Raber had considered adding another waterjet system, but then started looking at laser and plasma technology.
“Shoreline has very diverse requirements. With such a broad scope of work, they needed a machine that can cut mild steel, aluminum and stainless steel,” says Giles Young, sales manager for All Fabrication Machinery. “We suggested the XPR because of the new technology it offers.”
Raber says that today, both the waterjet and the plasma are running 10 to 12 hours a day, six to seven days a week. “For the most part we’re using the plasma to cut mild steel, 16-gauge all the way up to four-inch, which we used the torch option for. Recently, we’ve gone through some of the consumable setups and have been cutting stainless and aluminum as well. But 99 per cent has been mild steel for in-house and customer purposes.
“The plasma is probably 30 per cent faster than the waterjet. We’ll use the waterjet for stainless, aluminum and more intricate cutting if the customer needs a higher quality cut,” continues Raber. “The plasma is a lower quality cut for sure, but it’s the speed. We were losing jobs because the waterjet was our only option to quote.”
Raber and his team had considered a fiber laser, but the cost and power requirements were a deterrent, as they would have needed a higher power input, which meant associated construction costs. “The plasma has been great, it’s adaptable and we can add to it. And we went with a big envelope with a 10 x 25 ft table. So I have the versatility to do a lot of mill sized sheets, which has brought in more work because we have larger capabilities.”
The XPR300 is an X-Definition Plasma system that features a unique two-piece vented nozzle that aligns and focuses the plasma arc for increased arc stability and energy density. “What that does is producer a cleaner, sharper, more consistent cut edge on all steel,” says Tyler Kipp, Hypertherm’s product marketing manager for the heavy industrial team. “Another technology it features is what we call Vented Water Injection, a process that uses a vented N2 plasma gas and H20 shield gas for less angularity and squarer cut edges.”
The XPR also has a cold nozzle feature that sends liquid cooling directly to the nozzle bore, extending cut quality over the life of the consumables by more than 40 per cent. “Another innovation is the Arc Response technology, which senses what is happening with the plasma arc and automatically intervenes to reduce the impact of an electrode blow-out or possible torch failure. This feature can also sense when the arc is about to terminate in an uncontrolled manner. The XPR power supply senses a ramp down error is about to occur and rapidly terminates the arc in a controlled manner for a threefold increase in consumable life,” says Kipp.
“Just having this plasma on for the past year has generated a lot of industry recognition. We are in the same cutting realm for capability as the major steel suppliers in our area,” says Raber. “We now have a similar table capacity of what they do. And work wise, it has allowed us to take on bigger projects because we can bring in bigger steel and process it. Just the benefit of not having to wait for another vendor is one of the biggest things. Once you get a purchase order from a customer, you’re not waiting three to four weeks for the parts to come in. It expedites so many things on so many levels. You can create faster feed times for customer products. And we hold the quality aspect in our hands now; we’re not at the mercy of a vendor. If there’s a cut quality we don’t like, we can change our parameters. It not only benefits us, but our customers too. It has definitely opened more doors.”
Servicing Alberta, neighbouring provinces and some U.S. customers, Shoreline has tripled its size in the last year. “We started in 2018 with seven employees, one salesperson, and myself. At this point, we have 24 employees and three salespeople. There are 12 welders, two press brake operators, a plasma operator, a waterjet operator, and a field service crew,” says Raber.
And while Shoreline may look at upgrading its waterjet table or adding another plasma system in the future, this rapid growth spurt has it more focused on sustainability. “The only challenge for me and my wife running the business is that there are just not enough hours in the day. As a growing business and a small business, you know that the bank accounts aren’t deep. Both of us take on multiple roles in the business.”
Like many family-run fabrication shops, Raber wears many hats. He is part of the sales team, heads up Shoreline’s CWB welding program, helps oversee QC aspects and handles a lot of the design work for profile cutting.
“Right now it’s about sustainability and getting to a point that we’re comfortable with where we’re at as opposed to trying to grow even more where suddenly you can lose touch, lose quality and start falling short on delivery dates. We want to grow our customer base, while maintaining all the aspects that got us to where we are right now.” SMT