Plasma Technology
by LYNN STANLEY, senior editor
Beautiful cuts
Manufacturer processes plate quickly and accurately with short delivery windows

ike Allen believes in do unto others as you would have them do to you. Dubbed the Golden Rule in the 17th century, the New Testament scripture is a simple idea about the ethical treatment of others. When Allen talks about his reasons for starting Precision Flange and Machine Inc. in 1989, he says, “I wanted to open a company, hire all-star welders and burning machine operators and treat them with the respect they deserve.”

In addition to cultivating a sound work environment and a strong customer base, Allen learned the value of a good vendor.

Growing the business meant 20-hour work days and jobs that required short delivery windows. The Houston manufacturer had to cut parts in house to support demand, prompting it to shop for a plasma cutter. That’s when Allen crossed paths with Houston-based Plasma Systems Inc. and found a like-minded partner in its president, Richard Keeton.

Precision Flange and Machine installed an 8-ft. by 20-ft. Plasma Systems burn table with a Hypertherm conventional 200-amp torch in 1993. The purchase cemented a relationship that, like the equipment, endures. The manufacturer added a Plasma Systems Hypertherm 400-amp plasma cutter with four oxy-fuel torches in 1999 followed by a 1200-amp plasma cutter with four oxy-fuel torches. In 2019, Precision Flange and Machine added a Plasma Systems high-definition, 800-amp plasma cutter with the new InSight CNC controller.

Cut quality
“We cut a lot of plate primarily for refineries and petrochemical companies,” says Allen. The ISO 9001 certified supplier’s customer list reads like a regular who’s who of the industry, including Exxon, Shell, DuPont, Chevron, Amoco, Marathon Oil, Phillips 66 and BP North America.

Products include Figure 8 and paddle blinds, paddle-type spacer and bleed rings and reinforcing pads along with a variety of flanges, flow measurement products and custom parts. “We have the best machinists and machines in our industry and we use the highest quality rough material available,” Allen notes, “but the plasma cutters feed our entire shop.”

The newest plasma cutter processes material twice as fast and helps the company stay ahead of its other equipment and its delivery schedule, he says. “Our machining operation covers two shifts. You don’t want people standing around waiting for parts.”

Material and parts sizes are diverse. Stainless alloys, Hastelloy, Monel, chrome alloys, carbon steel and aluminum are regulars on the 800-amp, high-definition plasma. An operator might cut 4- to 6-in.-thick stainless, 6-in.-thick chrome grade 387, a spacer ring nearly 70 in. in diameter or parts as small as 1¾ in.

“We have to satisfy all sizes so we need to have a full-service line,” Allen explains. “We also have to be able to hold tight tolerances on parts.”

He has found Plasma Systems’ plasma cutters, particularly the new high definition machine, to be “extremely well built. [They] hold close tolerances and deliver very accurate, true cuts.” His customers have said “they are spoiled by the beautiful cuts we provide.”

Cut quality impacts secondary processes, too. “We have to machine the faces of some parts to receive a gasket. We find that once the part is sealed between two flanges, the seal is good. That starts with the right cut.”

The 800-amp, high-definition plasma cutter supports Precision Flange and Machine’s traceability requirements by marking material with key information like grade and heat number to match the mill test reports.

“Mill test reports are like a birth certificate for the metal,” Allen says. “If you lose traceability, you may as well scrap the part.”

Plasma Systems’ high-definition 800-amp model laser in use
Plasma Systems’ high-definition 800-amp model quickly processes plate and delivers the power to cut up to 6-in.-thick stainless steel.
The 800-amp and 400-amp machines are able to mark material without digging into the metal. “It’s also cosmetically appealing. It’s a great showpiece for us when customers from refineries visit. They are able to see that we are on top of things.”

“Primarily we use domestic steel,” he adds. “We like to support domestic mills, and demand for raw material to be melted here in the U.S. is growing among refineries.”

Software allows Precision Flange and Machine to perform CAD drawings on the machine and nest parts for efficiency.

Operator AT control
Plasma Systems’ InSight controller uses proprietary algorithms to provide full true-shape nesting and communication via EtherCAT for high-level precision cutting.
Plasma Systems’ InSight controller—built on a Windows 10 IoT-based open architecture platform—uses laser technology to measure distance for plate skewing and torch height. In addition to monitoring movements in real time, InSight can schedule machine maintenance and allows cutting operations to be monitored from remote locations.

A user-friendly format makes training sessions shorter, even for personnel with no experience. “The training we received on the new plasma machine was great,” says Allen. “Not all equipment suppliers are good at teaching personnel but we were up and running right away.”

A step ahead
“We have always been big on technology,” says Plasma Systems’ Keeton. “Cutting capabilities have changed over the years and, as an equipment supplier, it isn’t enough just to keep up. We have to stay ahead. That has meant teaming up with the right tech partners.”
The plasma cutters are well built, hold close tolerances and deliver very accurate, true cuts.
Mike Allen, Precision Flange and Machine Inc.
Plasma Systems builds its high-speed gantry designs with fabricated steel construction and delta bracing across the width of the main beam. Other differentiators include heavy-duty frames and rail systems engineered for accuracy and reliability. Yaskawa servo tuning algorithms provide superior vibration suppression, ripple and friction compensation as well as advanced auto-tuning or tuning-less commissioning.

“It is the same with service and support,” Keeton says. “We’re always looking for ways to help our customers. For example, we can look at a company’s machine from a cell phone and lots of times save them the cost of a service call.”

High-level Precision Cuts from a machine
Money in the bank
“I’ve been in business for myself for more than 30 years,” says Allen. “I wouldn’t use anyone else. Our shop is full of lathes, fiber lasers and mills but no one takes care of us like Plasma Systems. They understand how important uptime is. You can’t expect to get repeat business if you are late on deliveries due to downtime.”

All four plasma cutters run eight to 10 hours a day. When incoming orders slowed due to the pandemic, Precision Flange and Machine took the dip in stride. “COVID-19 halted business temporarily but what I’ve found during the years is that, when you hit a slowdown, that’s the time to build stock. The only thing you’ll regret is that you didn’t produce more parts. It’s like money in the bank.” The strategy has also helped Allen retain personnel. “I’ve never had to lay anyone off,” he says.

In 2016, Precision Flange and Machine built a stocking warehouse. The manufacturer had some slack time so it built stock and modified its processes. The warehouse has racks for 4,000 pallets that can each hold 3,500 lbs. of goods ready to ship. “Most competitors quote 12 weeks on parts orders,” Allen says. “When someone calls us, we can ship the same or the next day. And the plasma cutters help make that possible.”
Precision Flange & Machine Inc.,
Houston, 281/447-8077,
Plasma Systems Inc.,
Houston, 832/243-9900,