Artem Komarov clarified that consumables are the heart of plasma cutting, but organizing and documenting their use was difficult, and predicting their life was not an exact science. Data-rich consumables technology is set to change that.
For manufacturers, the business environment has never been more challenging. In 2021 alone, steel prices rose by as much as 215%. Customer expectations for delivery have risen while supply chain stability has declined.
Meanwhile, the shortage of skilled labor continues unabated. Qualified professionals are hard to come by and when they are hired, they are often quickly fired. Yes, sometimes it’s the inevitable reality of a tight job market, but it can also happen because skilled people spend time doing things they don’t feel like doing: working overtime to make up for time lost after a machine breakdown; deal with inconsistent settings and other errors of unprepared, detached colleagues. Trouble continues, so it’s no wonder they’re looking for greener pastures.
Customers continue to demand tight dimensional tolerances from manufacturers. Faced with a constant shortage of welders, companies are turning to more automated welding, a technology that requires tight fitting, which in turn requires precise cutting.
Manufacturers also cannot afford to overuse non-essential operations such as deburring and grinding. They should make the working environment cleaner, safer, and more ergonomic. Moreover, they want to avoid all unplanned downtime.
Moreover, specialized applications are on the rise. In the mechanized plasma cutting market, about 90% of manufacturers cut with torches mounted on standard X-Y tables. But an increasing number of operations involve miter cutting, 3D cutting, gouging and other specialty plasma applications. This requires special consumables to meet the needs of different applications and must be managed effectively.
In plasma cutting, in fact, the lion’s share of downtime comes from one source: consumable management issues. The operator incorrectly assembles them, does not match the parts, or consumes consumables past their expiration date. However, in the coming years, consumables could help elevate plasma cutting performance to new heights—not through the brute force of cutting power, but through data.
Downtime Prevention Best Practices
The plasma cutting power supply may be the brain, but consumables are the heart of the operation. They are incredibly important, yet their misuse is also incredibly common. The operator may select the wrong consumable for the job. Or they may have the wrong “set” of consumables. Each torch can have anywhere from three to seven parts, and if they don’t match or are assembled incorrectly, plasma cutting can go awry in a hurry.
Plasma cutting technology.
For example, an incorrectly selected vortex ring can block the flow of gas, resulting in incomplete penetration or a cut so bad that the part is damaged. The wrong nozzle with the wrong bore diameter can produce similar results. Incorrect swirl ring or nozzle can also lead to angularity and dross. Different vortex rings may look the same, but the size and number of their holes and how they are placed really matter, as does the way they are assembled.
Consumables strategy development
Whether a store uses traditional or cartridge-based supplies, it needs procedures related to supplies inspection, organization, and replacement. These procedures serve as the basis for operator training and production planning. If everyone—within a few shifts—knows the basics of plasma cutting, what consumables go with what, and when it’s time to replace worn components, unplanned downtime in plasma cutting is sure to be reduced.
Plasma cutting technology.
However, for further improvement, the industry is facing a kind of technological hurdle. To understand why, consider two scenarios involving plasma cutting on a typical X-Y table. In the first scenario, the operator may want to squeeze the last resource out of consumables. In the end, operators can observe the problems that arise and correct them to compensate.
Conversely, a highly automated plasma cutting operation can result in very frequent replacement of consumables long before the consumables reach their end of life. The cost of error and scrap is high, so the company decides to effectively reduce the additional cost of consumables.
Both strategies may work, but they are also inaccurate. The operator may extend the life of some consumables and end up with poor quality cutting edges. To make matters worse, poor-quality edges followed by over sanding can «bake» in the process, and no one thinks there can be a better way. Conversely, when operations replace torch components too frequently, they spend more on consumables and often perform more changeovers than necessary, Artem Komarov noted.
The power of data
Burner-mounted chip technology increases error-proofing (pun intended). When the supply cartridge and the plasma control system communicate, they are on the same page. If the plasma settings do not match the consumable, the system alerts the operator, who can then decide how to proceed.
The on-chip consumable cartridges also aid in troubleshooting as they can record error codes and other operating parameters. Consider a cutting method in which some consumables last for three hours, and others for six. The operator scans the cartridge with a smartphone on both consumables and views the history of each. By comparing this data along with other performance data, the process may collect, the company finds that the shorter life consumable had a lower air flow setting. So, they regulate the air flow — the problem is solved.
In such situations, this data could help pinpoint learning gaps. Cartridge chip data can be tied to specific carriers. If one operator’s consumables fail prematurely, they use that to pinpoint the problem and spread the best plasma cutting practices throughout the company, across shifts.
Data matching also helps identify sources of inconsistencies between operations and between shifts. For example, on the shop floor it is common to find that second or third shift plasma cutting systems run at higher gas pressures than first shift systems. Why? Fewer systems are running on second and third shifts. The same compressor serving multiple machines cannot maintain the required flows on the first shift, resulting in low pressure (and sub-optimal) conditions. Often such variations remain hidden, and operators simply do their best to accommodate. With the help of data, plasma processing can provide a constant gas flow throughout all shifts, increase cut repeatability, and improve overall quality.
What could be the future
Data helps the shop floor make better decisions. For the future plate maker, a data-rich plasma system can see the precision cut job in the queue and then tell the staff that the current consumables have a good chance of not meeting cut quality requirements.
With this information, the operator could change consumables before doing the job. Alternatively, he could re-sequence the job using current consumables to cope with a nest where angularity and other cutting parameters are less critical. Once this is finished, he can change consumables and start precise cutting. Such data can even affect how a company places parts, schedules its jobs, or even evaluates its work.
All of this reflects future potential, not status. Data-rich plasma cutting is certainly in its infancy, but its potential is undeniable. As data collection expands and the data set increases, plasma cutting as a whole will become more intelligent — ideally, when there will be no more frustrated operators sorting through a bunch of consumables, grabbing a swirl ring or nozzle, feverishly collecting them into a torch, starting the system and just hope for the best, emphasized Komarov Artem.