Plasma Cutting Machine Gives Almex Even More Efficiency


Almex does not take part in the ordinary. This is the case with the types of projects that the steel constructor takes on and it also applies to the machines in which they invest.
With the MicroStep plasma cutting machine, that approach is apparent more than ever. What other manufacturer combines plasma cutting with so many other operations and technologies? Because, in addition to plasma and oxyfuel cutting, you can use the machine to cut pipes up to a diameter of 1 meter and weight of 9 tons. It is partly thanks to this special versatility that production efficiency at Almex has once again switched to a higher gear.


The investment in MicroStep’s plasma cutting machine, distributed in Belgium by Wouters Cutting & Welding, is a direct consequence of Almex’s decision to cut workpieces in-house.
“If you take control of the production yourself, you have more control over the quality.”

For Civil Engineering
Civil engineering is the segment for which the steel constructor Almex builds flood barriers, bridges, industrial installations and all other conceivable infrastructure. As long as it is a project for engineering and production to sink their teeth into, there is a good chance that Almex will rise to the challenge. The storm surge barrier in Wenduine and the pedestrian bridge at the Antwerp Schijnpoort underground station are just two of the projects that Almex has produced and delivered from start to finish: the engineering, production and assembly on site. The requirements in terms of quality, safety and planning are anything but commonplace. As a supplier who has to be able to react super flexibly to urgent assignments and unexpected orders, the steel constructor from Essen and Hoogstraten already knows they will be assembling a bridge on 13 February between 1 and 5 o'clock in the morning, hard as it is to imagine… We have to remember that their deadlines are very tight.

Execution Class 4
The move from Essen to a building in Hoogstraten that is six times as large reflects the steep growth curve that the company has been on in recent years. That extra space was urgently needed, because together with the size of projects, the dimensions of the workpieces also increases. Also remarkable are the six bridge cranes with a capacity of no less than 16 tons, three for each of the two sections in which the new building is divided. Why this remarkable evolution? Dirk Peeters, newly responsible for the sheet metal processing division, points to the EN 1090 standard, which shook the construction world to its foundations in 2014. The standard, imposed by Europe, brought with it many new requirements, both in the field of administration in regards to the CE marking (1090-1) and in the technical field (1090-2).

One of the innovations was the introduction of four execution classes, of which 1 is the lowest and 4 the highest. The higher the class, the larger the projects you can take on, but the stricter the requirements. For example, in class 4 full traceability applies. Not everyone can meet the requirements of that class, which means that the pool of companies in that segment is automatically much thinner than in the lower classes. From the start, Almex aimed for EXC 4 and the steel constructor is reaping the benefits today. After the bridges in Oostkamp and at Schijnpoort, the construction of another bicycle and pedestrian bridge is in progress right now.

In-House Cutting
Although the investment in MicroStep’s plasma cutting machine, distributed in Belgium by Wouters Cutting & Welding, is a direct consequence of the decision to cut workpieces in-house, the high requirements of EXC 4 also played a part.

Gert Neelen, owner and director, explains why they decided to do the cutting in-house: “If you take control of the production yourself, you have more control over the quality. At the level at which we operate, this is an important consideration. For example, we want to see the weld edges made in a certain way. It was also an exercise in efficiency. In the past, all the cut parts were delivered at once. Until the whole batch arrived, we were unable to start welding or assembling, which now we can. As soon as the first plates have been cut, the assembly team takes over. We also save a lot of time on sorting now that the pieces no longer come in all together.” There are even more reasons. Do you remember the tight deadlines? By completely covering the three core competencies of engineering, production and assembly yourself, your coordination is also better and you can tighten the reins if necessary. Ultimately, you never want deadlines to be compromised.


From left to right: Nic Wouters (Wouters Cutting and Welding), Dirk Peeters & director Gert Neelen (Almex) at the new machine.
“The cutting quality of the machine is undisputed, the programming is intuitive and the combination of technologies offers us the opportunity to take our production efficiency to a higher level.”

An Exceptional Machine
In line with the profile of the projects and the company culture, the plasma cutting machine was also required to be that little bit “more” in all possible aspects: cutting quality, dimensions, flexibility, combination options… That is where Wouters Cutting & Welding, the supplier of MicroStep machines, comes into the picture. Dirk Peeters describes what the chosen machine has to offer in terms of technology: “The plasma cutting machine has a cutting area of ​​16.5 x 3 m for flat plates. In addition, thanks to the 4-point chuck, it can cut both pipes and profiles with a maximum diameter of up to 1 m, weighing up to 9 tons. Hypertherm's XPR plasma source provides a cutting capacity of 300 A. Theoretically, we can cut through 80 mm thick plates, but for cost-effective cutting, the tipping point is 50 mm. Above that – and up to 150 mm – we switch to the machine’s oxyfuel technology.”

“Bevel cutting, e.g. for weld edge preparation, is hassle-free thanks to the cutting head that can tilt up to 50°. In order to calibrate it quickly, the machine is equipped with a calibration station at the front. As a result, we lose much less time manually adjusting the cutting head: we screw the probe onto the cutting head, which then performs a series of rotational movements, recording the results. Deviations are measured and as long as they fall within certain tolerances, they are automatically compensated by the machine’s software, resulting in a perfect cut in the focal point. The calibration station is also used to measure the length of drill bits as this MicroStep plasma cutting machine also has a separate drilling unit. It is precisely the combination of all these different operations and technologies that makes the machine special, especially in the cutting range we need.” To complete the description, there is also a tool magazine for the drill located at the front of the machine. It holds up to eight tools, which are exchanged automatically in a matter of seconds.

Made to Measure
According to Nic Wouters of Wouters Cutting & Welding, it is not only the combination of technologies that gives Microstep an edge over the competition, in many cases it also involves a large degree of customization. That was no different with Almex. Nic Wouters says: “In order to reach the diameter of 1 m for the pipes and profiles, the workshop floor had to be lowered locally. Because of that, the design and installation was done in close consultation with the customer. This includes the placement of the power source and the mounting of the cable chain above the machine. It is normally placed on the ground next to the machine, however operators often step on it, which obviously does not benefit its life span. Finally, we installed the fume extraction system under the ground. Specifically, the table extracts the fumes, which, together with the oxides and particulate matter, are processed by a Donaldson filtering unit and discharged outside. This way you can cut almost smoke-free.”

Final Balance
The plasma cutting machine has been there for a month now and the final balance looks very well. Dirk Peeters: “The cutting quality of the machine is undisputed, the programming is intuitive and the combination of technologies offers us the opportunity to take our production efficiency to a higher level.” That sounds like a good investment…

02 December 2020 by Kevin Vercauteren
Source: https://metallerie.pmg.be/nl/dossier/EMTbe2047S09_00/plasmasnijmachine-voor-meer-efficientie-bij-a

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