Cutting with precision and accuracy is an integral part of any metal fabrication enterprise – and for good reason. A clean, exact cut makes for more accurate welding and less time spent grinding and refitting. But, getting that quality cut is no easy task.

Another vital part of improving production efficiency is getting the flow of materials through your shop just right for your specific need. MMC contractors, a US based mechanical contractor, realized this was the key for them to keep up with the growth of projects.

With Growth came Growing pains

As MMC was growing rapidly projects surpassed the capabilities of the then 17,000 sq.-ft. shop. Janning and current pipe fabrication manager, Matt Townsend, say jobs were time and labor intensive with the smaller, more primitive entry-level machine they used at the start. Featuring a rollertype system with single-axis cutting capability, the machine wasn’t built for speed or accuracy and often that meant rolling 42-ft. randoms that had to be manually set at bevels and angles and cut by hand.

Steamfitter foreman, Justin West, says this often resulted in a series of inconsistent cuts. “When we did these pieces by hand, we’d have about 2 ft. of drop,” he explained. “The cuts were not as precise.”

We recently released the full case study video filmed at MMC Contractors. Watch the case study on the ProCutter 900 RB here.

Finding the Right fit

These challenges, combined with the opportunity to move the fab shop in November 2020 and acquire 40,000 sq. ft. of new warehouse space, gave the team at MMC the ability to imagine a better way of doing business. Prompted to implement process improvements, they began looking at what it would take to expedite their workflow and upgrade their equipment.

“We wanted to automate our process,” Janning explains. “The building next door was for sale. It was a pivotal moment. We needed a machine that fit the space, though.” Specifically, they needed a machine with an offload system that was oriented sideways. This would enable them to discharge pipe into the flow of the shop.

HGG offered to design and build a machine to fit MMC’s space – a machine with a unique infeed and a side discharge.

While the team at MMC was aware of a pipe profiling machine from HGG Profiling Equipment that promised much of what they were looking for in a plasma cutter, including durability and increased precision and accuracy, the stock model was simply too big for their space, and size wasn’t the only concern. It didn’t offer the side discharge they needed and would take precious time off the clock training operators to use it – or so they thought.

The team decided to meet with HGG to discuss options. According to West, HGG listened intently to their wish list of desired features and machine capabilities, undaunted by the need for a unique solution. “When we discussed design, they came to our offices and asked, ‘What do you need?’” Janning notes.

HGG offered to design and build a machine that fit their space – one with a unique infeed and a side discharge – and in November 2020, MMC purchased and installed the fully automated, customized ProCutter 900 RB.

Instant time and material savings

The results were immediate, with nearly instant time savings. A recurring job involving 30-in. pipe that took two weeks to cut prior to installation of the new machine now is complete in only four days. The configuration with the infeed feature turned out to be an “incredible addition,” changing the way pipe is brought into the shop, West says. The infeed bed with outside conveyor and side discharge bed on the pipe profiler inside the shop has streamlined the overall workflow.

Additionally, there is a lot less scrap. The software is programmed to drop about 0.5 in. between cuts. This, paired with the ability to optimize the pipe to get the most cuts-per-length possible, dramatically decreases the amount of scrap generated.

“Being able to stack different sizes of pipe on the infeed and just have them at your fingertips and roll the pieces in as you need them has really cut down on material handling, let alone the manpower needed to do it,” West explains, adding that for a fab shop that turns out about 8,000 welds per year (an average of 40,000 weld in.) on pipe ranging in size from 1/2 in. to 48 in., this is an important benefit.

Push the CAD design straight into the machine

Not only is the fabrication process less taxing overall, but it is much more efficient. With the customized ProCutter, pipe lengths are directed along the roller bed toward the main drive automatically, with pre-calculated precision and speed, turning out finished profiles with ease. “We design it in CAD, push it through from CAD into the machine, and then pick which ones we want, push a button and it cuts it all at once,” Townsend says.

Justin West, a steamfitter foreman at MMC, is seen here working with a CAD file.

Making employee safety a priority

Fortunately, increased productivity hasn’t meant increased risk to their team of steamfitters, plumbers and sheet metal workers. That’s in part thanks to an air purification system included in the new machine – a feature HGG insisted on, even though not mandatory in the United States. The system filters out particulates and solids that are easily emptied from a drawer in the air scrubber. “We had never thought about air purification before,” West admits. “By installing the purification system, we’ve changed the fabrication shop. It’s so clean. HGG wouldn’t build the machine without it.”

The heartbeat of the shop

Safe to operate and built to last, the machine Janning now affectionately refers to as “the heartbeat of the shop” is what makes the work that gets done on a daily basis possible. Going from a hand-cutting, primitive machine to a fully automated, customized workhorse “that will do everything,” has only created one problem, Janning says – he can’t imagine doing business any other way. “I think we got kind of spoiled having this machine; it would be very difficult to go without it.”

“Everything here starts with this machine,” West concludes. “We would nearly shut down if not for it.”

This news item is an excerpt of the original article written for Fabshop magazine. Read the full article in Fabshop Magazine January 2024 edition.