Takeshi Yamamoto
Country Manager

New Plasma Technologies Changing Cutting Industry

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 13:07

“It is difficult to approach a market like mining because it is one of the oldest industries in the world,” states Takeshi Yamamoto, Country Manager of Hypertherm. “For instance, mining companies have managed to satisfy their cutting necessities for years, so we endeavor to understand the challenges that they face on a day-to-day basis. Armed with this knowledge, we are able to prove to them that our cutting products can surpass the performance of traditional technologies.” According to Yamamoto, mining companies are constantly on the lookout for one-source suppliers to supply them with safer and more efficient technologies. Two of the main product lines in Hypertherm’s broad portfolio are oxy-fuel cutters and plasma cutters, both of which serve the purpose of slicing through metal objects such as pipes or beams. Despite possessing similar applications, the two products vary wildly in terms of usage rate and construction. Oxy-fuel is limited to mild steel or carbon steel due to a process that can only cut through materials with the properties to oxidize. Plasma, on the other hand, utilizes a thermal cutting principle with an electric arc which allows it to cut through any material that conducts electricity, meaning it can cut through virtually any metal on the planet. In fact, plasma technology opened the door to stainless steel and aluminum cutting, which was not possible before. Oxy-fuel makes use of gases like propane and oxygen, representing a significant cost element since the equipment must be refueled constantly. Plasma also requires gas to perform the cutting, but in far less volume than oxy-fuel. Furthermore, the most attractive element of plasma cutters is their cutting velocity, which is six times greater than oxy-fuel, representing a revolutionary gap between both technologies

One of the main hazards involved in the process of oxyfuel cutting is compressed gas, as these processes can require products which hold up to 20,000lb of gas in some cases. If you remove this huge tank from the equation, then many of the safety concerns can be mitigated. In order to manage these technologies, Yamamoto believes that mine managers must consider how the products will be refueled, how to train the people who will be using them, and where to store or confine them. Even though oxy-fuel technologies were sufficient for many years, there was still a need of a solution that could enable the industry to accelerate the pace of cutting procedures. The preferred attributes of this potentially revolutionary product would need to be that it was easier, safer, and more affordable to use. This opened the doors for new technologies that did not rely on oxy-fuel, and enabled the use of plasma applications and mechanized applications such as beveling, pipe fitting, and hard coating removal.

Plasma technology is now presenting itself as a benefitrich alternative to oxy-fuel, negating the need to pre-heat the material before cutting it, as Yamamoto explains, “Oxyfuel technology requires pre-heating the material before attempting to cut it, which naturally results in important time losses during production.” “Plasma technology is so potent that it starts piercing the metals as soon as it contacts the material and can cut up to two inches thick materials in very short periods of time. It is also affordable, easy to manipulate, and profitable for the end user.” During the construction of pipes or conveyor belts, mining companies must cut the material in order to bevel and weld them. Another benefit of plasma is that the correct mechanized plasma tool could do the cutting and the beveling in one process. This removes the process of grinding and creates general savings on capital equipment while simultaneously reducing any potential safety hazards.

Despite being such a viable alternative, mining companies are reluctant to make the jump to plasma due to many established mining processes being heavily grounded in oxyfuel technologies. “Our technology has limited penetration in this segment,” states Yamamoto. “I attribute this to the fact that mining operators are already confidently acclimatized to oxy-fuel technologies. Most repairs are performed on mild steel or structural steel, which is why there have been no investigations into more advanced technology.” Oxy-fuel is a tried-and-tested technology that has been in use for years. Although this situation will not change in the shortterm, Hypertherm is educating its customers about the operational advantages that plasma products can provide. After all, Yamamoto believes that if his company does not lead the research for new cutting technologies, then its competitors will. “It is our job to improve on existing cutting technologies as well as to find new ones,” he states. “Right now, no other company in our segment is dedicating as many resources to R&D as Hypertherm. We are confident that by staying at the forefront of cutting technology, we will obtain the recognition we are striving for. Innovation is a principle to which we are fully committed.”

To expand its water jet product line Hypertherm acquired AccuStream, which bolstered its portfolio with a range of high-precision cutting tools. Since this acquisition, Hypertherm now has an in-house business unit developing software for its cutting solutions. This software has enabled the company to push its cutting applications into new realms, giving it more control over the levels of gas that are directed to the torch, and an ability to manage the movements of the torch with extreme precision. “The challenge here is to become recognized for the solutions we provide. By fully understanding the environments where our technologies will be deployed, we will become a trusted supplier of these types of solutions. I can say with confidence that our wide array of products can solve pretty much any cutting necessity the mining industry, or any industry, might have,” concludes Yamamoto.