Combination Punch Plasma: Case Studies

More Parts Per Hour. Period.

Our combination punch plasma machines have made a material difference in thousands of applications. They improve part quality, increase production speeds and decrease per-part costs for their owners.

Scroll down to learn how Wilco, Great Plains, Patrick, and Degelman take advantage of the benefits provided by our combination punch plasma machines.

Case Studies

Wilco Increases Throughput 50 Percent With 3400 XP Production Speed and Quality

In the heartland of the U.S., Marlow, OK, there are 27 acres with over 90,000 sq.ft. of manufacturing facilities known as Wilco Machine & Fab., Inc. A good location for shipping world-wide.

Turnkey products produced within the plant walls require machined and fabricated metal parts for a broad range of products primarily used in the oil and gas service and cattle working industries. On any day, items shipped may include small or large ASME pressure vessels, bulk cement tanks and conveying equipment, bulk trailers, cattle loading and working chutes. And then there are the less frequent but important products such as pumping units and road boring equipment.

Offering manufacturing services for over 25 years, Wilco has experienced a rapid level of growth since 2000. The company has added acreage, buildings, employees and machines to satisfy customer demands. As needs arise, Kris Boles, President, doesn’t hesitate to do what it takes to get the job done.

Want It Now

When the production of cut and punched parts started falling behind in 2005, Boles researched equipment via the internet. A Whitney 3400 XP combination punch plasma machine caught his eye. From the first email inquiry to Whitney’s website to shipping the machine, only 16 days elapsed.

Within that time, Wilco erected a new building to house the punch/plasma combination. From building trusses to finished building was just under three weeks. “We moved in a hurry,” says Boles. “That’s how we usually do it. When we decide to do something, we’re going to do our best to make it happen.”

According to Boles, the company philosophy mirrors the requirements of their customer base, “A lot of the time we don’t know until a customer calls and says, ‘We’ve got to have this in 60 days.’ If we don’t have a place to accomplish the job or we have to do something different, we’ve got to move.

“The oil industry is getting back to a point where people want it and want it now. We have to react to that.” That meant more part production.

The addition of the Whitney plasma punch was based on the need for a machine to rapidly produce parts in a great variety of configurations, from a range of material thicknesses, while holding good tolerances.

Speed and Quality

Plate going across the Whitney machine ranges from 14 ga. to 1/2″. Many of the higher volume products are run in kits creating the consistent set of parts.

But the variety of products manufactured at Wilco and the flexibility the company offers its customers, demand production flexibility. Two staff engineers and two programmers provide engineering support for Wilco customers to help assure quality construction and efficient flow through the facility.

One individual is assigned the task of creating the nesting programs. Using the nesting software, the 3400 XP provides the part production flexibility needed for quick reaction to orders. An added benefit is an average of 90 percent plate utilization.

“We run just countless different parts,” Boles explains. “For example, in the cattle-working lines there are probably 120,000 different parts between the tubing and the plate. Then there might be parts for a boat trailer or a tank. We build flanges by the thousands. The equipment going out of here is different every time.” It’s not just the flexibility that saves Wilco time. It is also the speed and quality of the finished parts.

The 3400 XP combines the Whitney RAMPAGE!™ Plasma Cutting System, with a cutting speed of 120 inches/minute in 1/2 ” steel, with the speed of hydraulic punching to complete parts in one operation. Parts are in tolerance and ready to go to the next operation with no clean-up.

“Edge quality is real good. And we’ve been able to hold good enough tolerances with the Whitney that we’ve eliminated two processes. We used to cut parts out, machine them, then drill them. Before the Whitney we tried to punch but couldn’t hold the hole sizes close enough.”

Boles adds, “Probably the one thing that’s been as satisfying to us as anything is the tolerances we’ve been able to hold. We’re able to cut the I.D. and O.D. and punch before we machine the parts. It has saved us a tremendous amount of time.”

On the 3400 XP finished dimensions of punched holes are held within 0.001″ accuracy. Wilco has been using Whitney’s patented TuffSkin™ tooling to increase the number of holes per punch (nearly tripled from standard punches).

Boles estimates a nearly 50 percent increase in throughput of parts since the installation of the 3400 XP.

Related Equipment

When installed at Wilco, the 3400 XP joined other equipment from Piranha-Bertsch.

Wilco’s Piranha-Bertsch 4R Model 62-10 Plate Roll has been serving the company since 1997. Used every day, the Piranha-Bertsch is a key piece of equipment rolling not only cylinders but all of the cones used in building pressure vessels, surge tanks and other products.

The digital readout is particularly helpful in rolling the cones which is still considered an art. “You have to set the rolls at different angles but once you get your numbers established it’s pretty easy to repeat. But it’s definitely an art,” Boles says.

Cones rolled on Wilco’s four roll Piranha-Bertsch typically range from 60° to 80°. Plate up to 10′ long and 5/8″ thick can be rolled to a 15-5/8″ diameter.

The Piranha SEP-120 has been punching holes for Wilco also since 1997. Although the majority of parts requiring holes are now produced on the 3400 XP with punching and cutting in one operation, the 120 ton Single End Punch is a good secondary source for holes up to 1-1/2″ diameter in 1″ material or up to 5″ diameter in 1/2″ materials.

Boles anticipates the continuation of the current business level. “We bought the current place in 2000 and we’ve been growing pretty steady ever since. The last two years the market just exploded. Two years ago we had 40 people working for us; now about 160. We’ve got a pretty good market and it looks like it’s going to stay for a while.”

Great Plains’ 4400 MAX Produces Heavy Parts For Rugged, Durable Agricultural Equipment

Great Plains Manufacturing, Inc., considered a “short-liner” in the agricultural equipment field, manufactures more than 40 models of grain drills, planters, spraying and tillage systems – different lengths and types of drills, different types of tillage equipment. If their customers and salesmen have their way, the number of models will continue to expand.

With three manufacturing facilities on the company campus in Salina, KS and a fourth about 90 miles away in Tipton, KS, Great Plains Manufacturing has the central location ideal for quick shipping to 1000 farm equipment dealers across the U.S., Canada and overseas.

“We compete with some big guys in this type of equipment,” says Vance Stinnett, Manufacturing Engineering Manager for Great Plains Manufacturing. “In most areas of the country, where they plant crops that require seeding accuracy, our grain drills are considered the most accurate and efficient machines made.”

What makes Great Plains grain drills and other equipment outstanding? All are designed and built with customer input. Agricultural producers want – and need – to produce more with less. To accomplish greater productivity, their equipment must be reliable, accurate, and a size that meets their needs whether they are a small, medium, or large operator.

Great Plains satisfies those needs by providing a range of rugged, reliable equipment. For example, their heavy-duty grain drills are designed for flexibility to provide uniform seeding depth to precisely place seeds in variable field conditions. The variety of size models plus seeding and press wheel options give operators the opportunity to assure maximum productivity based on their individual requirements.

Rugged Equipment; Heavy Parts

To produce metal components strong enough to build their equipment, Great Plains needs heavy-duty, reliable fabricating equipment to efficiently handle thick plate. About half of the metal parts that go into a Great Plains implement are produced from 1″, A36 Steel.

“Farm equipment is heavy. We make big stuff. So we use very heavy material. Years ago we got into looking for a better way to produce parts. Piranha-Whitney was the only one I thought was making cutting equipment for the heavier plate,” Stinnett says.

Parts started coming off the first Great Plains Piranha-Whitney in 1997 when the company purchased a 3400 RTC (Rail Tool Changer), to punch and plasma cut parts up to 1/2″ thick. It’s been running three shifts since installation.

As equipment designs advanced, Great Plains products became larger and the plate size heavier. So when Piranha-Whitney introduced the 4400 MAX combination punch plasma machine, which punches and cuts plate up to 1″ thick, Stinnett says “our antennas went up”.

The 4400 MAX joined the smaller punch/plasma model in 2003. Again, running three shifts a day since installation, over half of the plate is 1″ thick with the rest 5/8″ or 3/4″. Parts from 1/2″ plate are still run on the 3400 RTC or sometimes the 4400 MAX.

Constant Parts Flow

Keeping up with part demand to feed assembly for all Great Plains models demands accuracy and productivity. Stinnett explains why they choose the 4400 MAX: “If you’re looking for a big plate processing machine, productivity-wise, you’re not going to produce more parts on anything else. With laser, when you get into that thickness, your productivity goes way down. A 1″ plate on the Piranha-Whitney, with 400 amp cutting, runs about 80″ a minute.”

In addition to the cutting speed, productivity comes from the ability to rapidly punch holes in the 1″ material as part of one fabricating process. Parts are produced faster and material handling time is greatly reduced.

The majority of the Great Plains parts run on the 4400 MAX plasma punch are automatically removed via the drop door while production continues and go directly to welding, to paint or to a secondary fabricating operation such as a press brake.

“Accuracy is very good. That thing eats 1″ plate day in and day out. We like running 1″ plate on the 4400 because there is nothing that will cut 1″ plate better than that.”

Patrick Enterprises Saves Time With 3400 XP

Pembroke, Virginia, a small community nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the southwest part of the state, is not where you would expect to find a world class supplier of fabricated and machined parts and weldments, but Patrick Enterprises Corporation is well on its way to becoming just that.

Founded in 1984 by Paul B. Collins, Patrick Enterprises began in a small garage in Patrick County, VA, well south of its current location. At that time, there were only four employees and work mainly consisted of supplying carts and maintenance parts for the regional textile and furniture manufacturers. Not that Collins was a stranger to big-time manufacturing. In fact, he was the vice president of manufacturing for a mining equipment manufacturer in Pembroke, with responsibility for several facilities. Eventually, that company shut down the Pembroke facility, and Collins left to work with a family friend who had a machine shop. Quickly, Collins realized a need for a fabricating shop in the area, and he started a new business in a 40′ x 100′ service garage. Eventually, Collins’ former employer left the Pembroke facility vacant, and Collins took the risk of purchasing the 50,000 square foot facility for Patrick Enterprises.

Strengthened Position

Today, Patrick Enterprises Corporation is run by Mark Collins, the second of three sons, and there are 42 employees including Mark’s wife Teresa (controller and human resources), and brothers Dwight (materials /purchasing) and Ken (quality assurance). Patrick now has a full complement of fabricating, welding and machining equipment that processes material from 28 gauge (0.015″) to 6″ thick plate, and machined weldments up to 20,000 lbs. Processes include laser cutting, plasma cutting, oxyfuel, shears, CNC punching, press brakes, welding, and painting. In addition, unlike many other metal fabricators, Patrick has a large complement of machining equipment including CNC mills, lathes, and boring mills. In 1999, a 10,000 square foot addition was built, bringing the facility size to 60,000 square feet. Patrick’s customers include major players in the heavy truck and construction equipment industries, and they compete against both regional metal fabricators, and global fabricators from countries like Mexico and India.

At a time where the term “outsourcing” has taken on new meaning (as in “global outsourcing”), Patrick has actually strengthened its position and penetration within its existing customer base. Mark Collins attributes Patrick’s success to a high level of customer service. For example, some of its work is high profile, high priority work where another supplier is unable to ship fabricated parts in time. Patrick receives orders today that need to ship tomorrow morning, or line stoppages may occur. This premium service brought Patrick’s name to the forefront within its customers’ purchasing organizations and earned Patrick the opportunity to compete for higher volume contract work.

The Right Angle

For the last several years, Patrick has been contracted to produce fifth wheel angles for the heavy truck industry. These hole-intensive parts are made from 5/16″ thick high strength steel and are the mounting surfaces for the fifth wheel assembly at the rear of a heavy truck. In order to fabricate these parts, Patrick took steel plate, sheared it to size (in two directions), punched the sheared blanks on a CNC press, and deburred the sheared edge and punched holes.

Up against both capacity constraints and cost pressure, Patrick set out to purchase additional equipment for the manufacture of the fifth wheel angles in 2004. In March of 2004, they took delivery of a Piranha-Whitney 3400 XP punch/plasma machine, and they hit the ground running.

The 3400 XP now produces fifth wheel angles at a rate of one to two minutes apiece. This represents a savings of 4-1/2 to 5 minutes for each part. Even the deburring operation has been eliminated as they have found that there is no need to deburr either the punched holes or the RAMPAGE! plasma cut edge as produced on the 3400 XP. This time savings translated to an annual savings of approximately $200,000 on fifth wheel angles alone. Additional parts such as fifth wheel ramps and cross-members yield additional savings. For example, the 3400 XP produces cross-members in one-half the time of Patrick’s production laser, located across the aisle from the 3400 XP plasma punch.

Under Pressure

The 3400 XP could not have been purchased at a better time. Like all contract shops, Patrick is constantly under cost pressure from its customers. Steel prices have increased almost two-fold, and the forecast for fifth wheel angles calls for a 40 percent increase over previous levels.

“It used to be that service and quality were most important to our customers,” states Mark Collins. “Today, quality is a given, and everyone seems to be putting pricing first. Right now, we would be in major trouble if we didn’t have the 3400 XP. If I knew then what I know now, I would have bought two machines. For plate fabrication, I don’t see another machine that competes.”

Patrick has quickly adapted to its new machine. Instead of just punching holes and contouring the parts complete, Patrick, with the help of Piranha-Whitney’s application services, developed a process to use common line cutting. This both improved material utilization and reduced cutting time. Mark has also embraced Piranha-Whitney’s online ordering system for punches and dies. “It’s easy. I don’t have to worry about calling people and leaving messages. I just do it and it’s done.” Next on his agenda is trying TuffSkin™ tooling.

Cross Training

After three months in production, two employees are trained to run the 3400 XP, and two additional employees are being trained. This is part of Mark Collins’ philosophy that his employees need to be cross-trained on many processes. For example, 3400 XP Operator Jamie Lucas has been with the company for 10 years and is able to run all CNC punch presses and shears, as well as spray painting. Press Brake Operator Jason Cook can run almost every piece of equipment in the fabrication and weld shops after eight years with the company. “It is impossible to find trained fabricators,” says Collins. “For that reason, we take welders and machinists who are willing to be cross-trained.”

In addition to training, Mark has taken advantage of other opportunities as well. The State of Virginia offers a program for reviewing safety programs proactively to determine compliance to OSHA (called OSHA SHARP—Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program). A large banner in the lobby proudly boasts Patrick’s compliance, indicating that Patrick Enterprises is a safe workplace.

After several years at the helm (Mark phased in to replace his retiring father in the late nineties), Mark now sees the realities of running a fabrication shop run deeper than just making parts. His three biggest concerns today?

  1. Difficulties in sourcing material. Patrick has found that they need to hedge their bets by stocking at higher inventory levels today in order to meet their quick delivery requirements.
  2. Rising cost of employee benefits. Benefits, most notably health insurance, are rising dramatically. This makes it difficult for a small business to compete against larger corporations for the same labor pool. He finds that employees are more interested in benefits than wages today. This past year, even though health care insurance premiums rose substantially, Patrick actually reduced the employee’s share of the premiums.
  3. Growth under control. Mark feels that he could double his business today—the work is there. But growing too fast is risky. Mark’s goal is to grow his business a modest 30 percent this year, and to double his sales within five years.

Degelman Produces With 4400 Max

Manufacturers who provide a wide variety of agricultural equipment products can be found throughout North America. The Western Canadian province of Saskatchewan is no exception. A population of just over 1 million people occupies nearly a quarter of a million square miles in “The Land of Living Skies.” Recognized as a world leader in dry land farming technology, thousands of skilled workers make products used for tillage and rock removal, spraying and fertilizing, livestock and forage, zero- and minimum-tillage seeding, and grain handling, storage and transportation.

One of these highly regarded agricultural manufacturing companies, Degelman Industries, is located in Regina, the capital city of Saskatchewan. In 1962 on the family farm in Raymore, Wilfred Degelman developed a uniquely designed rock picker and founded the company that bears his name. A move to Regina in 1966 began a series of expansions. Dozer blades were added in 1969 and commercial rotary mowers in 1998. Their current product lines include land levelers and rollers, strongboxes for snow removal, rock rakes and diggers, and straw control machinery.

Serving the Market

The products that Degelman Industries manufactures are developed after direct communication with the markets they serve. Face-to-face meetings with farmers at agricultural products shows give rise to new ideas. The company considers four factors when deciding if a product should be developed: Is the product salable? Does the product fit into current manufacturing capabilities? Can the product be manufactured at a competitive cost? Is there a readily available market for the finished product? Key to the success of a new product is quality and durability, and each is heavily field tested and scrutinized in a development cycle of six months to two years.

In 2004, Degelman Industries occupied 128,000 square feet and employed 140 workers. Privately held and family owned, Degelman continues to head the company as president, and his six children oversee daily operations, including research and development and plant operations. The Saskatchewan labor market supplies a wealth of skilled labor, many of whom come from rural backgrounds and farms. Within the family of current employees, 30 percent have seen over 25 years of service at Degelman.

Traditional methods of manufacturing —shears and oxy-fuel cutters—were used during the early years. As the company expanded, cleaning and painting operations were added and machinery was upgraded. Production requirements and quality expectations demanded that Degelman move to robotic welding. Blair Flavel, operations manager, recalls that traditional manufacturing equipment could not support robotic welding requirements and moved the company into advanced manufacturing technology. Today the plant is populated with CNC milling machines and lathes, multi-axis press brakes, CNC plasma cutters, and CNC punch/plasma.

Customer expectations have led to the implementation of some lean manufacturing concepts. Degelman has reduced lot sizes by a factor of ten. Flavel says that the key is coordination in all aspects of operation. They use a minimum/maximum system whenever possible, both in production and in purchasing. One problem with lean concepts, he believes, is that it does not adequately level the load in seasonal markets. Degelman’s philosophy is to run in batches large enough to allow reaction to customer demands within seven days yet small enough to equalize production throughout the year and keep production costs competitive.

Searching for Power, Speed and Flexibility

The need for a fast and flexible operation demanded a study of new fabrication manufacturing processes beginning in 2000. The staff was in place and prepared. All that remained was finding the right piece(s) of equipment.

The first step was determining the type and thickness ranges of the materials moving through the shop. Much of the load was in 7 gage mild steel, but most work centered on nearly equal amounts of 3/8″, 5/8″, 3/4″, and 1″ steel. Any considered solution had to process all of the thicknesses effectively. A second concern was the need to produce a high quality, straight hole of 1.25″ diameter through 1″ plate. Degelman uses a compression bushing to improve their product reliability and durability. Unfortunately, a traditional punched hole had too much break out, a plasma cut hole was too inaccurate, and a laser cut hole was too expensive. Drilling and machining historically produced the best hole.

Degelman was also faced with a tremendous amount of outsourcing. Blair Flavel understood that outsourcing could reduce capital investment costs by minimizing the number of machines required, but that it also reduced direct control over production run sizes, quality, response times, and costs.

Laser technology was sometimes used to cut many of the parts that Degelman outsourced. Although the costs were often high, they could be less than in-house production costs that were burdened by multiple set-ups for numerous secondary operation and non-value-added material handling. With the advances in laser plate cutting technology, it was natural that laser-cutting machinery would be a priority. A visit to the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) held in Chicago, Illinois in 2000 presented a wide array of lasers that might support their operations. It was at this time that Degelman witnessed the capability of punch/plasma equipment. The machine shown at the Piranha-Whitney booth (a 3400 RTC) was able to process a maximum of 1/2″ thick material, but information describing the recently introduced 4400 MAX compelled them to visit the nearby Piranha-Whitney factory to see the machine up close.

The Piranha-Whitney 4400 MAX

Specifications for the 4400 MAX combination punch plasma machine are impressive. It has 100 tons of hydraulic punching force that can successfully fabricate material from 14 gage through 1″. It has a working envelope of 96″ x 160″ that supports larger part sizes. An optional Hypertherm HT4400 oxygen plasma system cuts at very high speeds (70 IPM in 1″; 160 IPM in 1/2″), surpassing the cutting speeds of laser by a factor of two or more. Edge quality and accuracy were well within requirements and dross-free cutting could reduce the amount of grinding. Blair Flavel was well acquainted with plasma cutting but his prior experience with older systems brought some skepticism. Morris Elynuk, who supervised the production floor, also questioned whether the 4400 MAX could truly perform as advertised.

Piranha-Whitney prepared numerous time studies that documented actual floor-to-floor part times. Initial results showed a possible production rate for punch/plasma that was three times that of the laser. Estimated scrap rates were 10 percent that of their current traditional methods. Furthermore, when compared to stand-alone fine plasma cutting systems, production requirements (for the sample) dropped from 50 percent of capacity to 6 percent—one machine could replace several!

Production costs drive profitability. A typical 1/2″ part that was costing $15.94 to produce with current methods would drop more that 50 percent to $7.47 by using a laser. Significant. But that same part would cost only $3.14 if made on a 4400 MAX—a reduction of 80 percent. Similar results were seen in a typical 1″ thick part—traditional processing cost $4.66; laser processing cost $3.73; punch/plasma processing cost $1.66. The economics were clear.

A challenge remained, however. A major part of the justification included eliminating the secondary processing required to make the 1.250″ diameter holes in 1″ plate. Piranha-Whitney produced a sample part that demonstrated the technique of punching and shaving to achieve the straight sided holed needed for the bushing. This involved pre-punching a hole smaller than the desired finished diameter, and then re-punching the same hole with a punch of the final diameter along with a die of minimum clearance. The result was a hole with straight sides suitable for the bushing.

During the sales cycle, the Piranha-Whitney distributor for Saskatchewan, Wallace Machinery, worked directly with Piranha to provide information and samples. Dan Joss even drove sample parts from Winnipeg to Regina late one night. The process was validated and verified by demonstration. The 4400 MAX was justified financially. They installed their machine in August of 2002.

Efficient Production

Today, 90 percent of Degelman’s sheet and plate is first processed by the 4400 MAX plasma punch. They have eliminated shearing as an operation, keeping only a single shear for utility work. The greatest impact has resulted from the punch and shave operation that produces the bushing holes. Instead of requiring multiple secondary operations, the compression bushings are now installed by the operator of the Whitney machine immediately after the parts come off of the machine.

Half of the parts are created in disposable, ever changing nests (dynamic nesting) to accommodate fluctuations in demand. The remaining parts are made from fixed nests (kit nesting) that supply common product components. Glenna Herman utilizes SigmaNEST® to support the 5 or 6 nests per day that are required. They have a library of nearly 8,000 part numbers and create about 10 new part programs each week. Operators like the Piranha-Whitney a lot. The old plasma only table was dirty and slow. The 4400 MAX is fast, reliable, and clean. Would Degelman Industries purchase another 4400 MAX if needed? Blair Flavel says yes, indeed!

“We probably wouldn’t consider anything other than punch/plasma for future needs. The accuracy on punch/plasma is more than good enough to accommodate robotic welding. 80 percent of everything we robotically weld comes off the 4400.”

The 4400 MAX plasma punch currently runs 20 to 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Degelman allows four hours per week for routine maintenance and the operators are responsible for daily upkeep and cleanliness. It has been integrated into their lean manufacturing concepts and runs multiple families of parts with low lot sizes without the cost penalties incurred by traditional manufacturing.

Degelman Industries is known for their innovation, product quality and durability, and customer support. The addition of a 4400 MAX to their operation places them in the forefront of manufacturing technology in “The Land of Living Skies.”