Heavy Fabrication Shapes Up to Meet Demand for Natural Gas

Chart Energy & Chemicals installed an Avenger 3 plasma precision shape cutting machine from ESAB that added new beveling and marking capabilities and enabled the shop to slash its processing times, increase its capacity, and eliminate a second shift.

The domestic demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG) is growing and Chart Energy & Chemicals, Inc. (New Iberia, LA) stands ready to capitalize on the upsurge with a new heavy-duty shape cutting machine used to manufacture the cold boxes, core-in-kettles and battery assemblies it supplies to the petrochemical and LNG plant markets.

As a subsidiary of Chart Industries, Inc. (Garfield Heights, OH), a leading global manufacturer of products and systems for cryogenic and heat transfer applications, Chart E&C has a proven business model. And as LNG continues to take an increased share of the overall gas supply picture, this shop is now prepared to respond to market needs with a 45 acre coastal facility that is fully equipped for high quality fabrication.

It wasn’t always this way. Early on the shop was at full capacity and challenged to keep up with its fabrication workload. Chart knew it had to step up to a higher level of cutting technology to meet production demands and address market growth. The solution was to replace their old cutting machine with a new Avenger 3 shape cutting machine from ESAB Welding & Cutting Products (Florence, SC) that eliminates manual part marking and secondary clean-up operations and adds programmable beveling capability to greatly enhance the company’s production capabilities.

The new cutting machine plays a significant role in Chart’s capabilities and its future plans. The largest gantry in ESAB’s standard product line, the Avenger 3 is designed to provide precision support for heavy-duty bevel cutting and marking stations, and can span up to 32 ft. It lends the versatility that Chart needs to quickly and accurately process a wide range of material thicknesses and sheet sizes, from 6 in by 6 in up to 10 ft wide by 40 ft long. The shop uses the machine to cut carbon steel up to 4 in thick and process aluminum and stainless steel in thicknesses up to 3 in.


A demonstration of a 300 sq ft ESAB Avenger X with twin m3 plasma cutting heads, working it’s way through some 12mm A656-80 steel plate. GALT ballasted water tables for support and cooling.

We wanted as much modern technology as we could get in this machine,” said plant manager Eddie Clay. “We were looking for efficiency and high cut quality, and we wanted to be able to put through more cuts, more product to avoid having to double shift the machine to complete our work.” Chart’s former equipment was a bottleneck in the fabrication process that created the need for a second shift to keep pace with production. The speed and efficiency of the new machine slashes processing time and moves more jobs through faster, eliminating a second shift. “The machine helps us reduce man hours, gives us the product we’re looking for without having to grind or do any other processing to the material,” added Clay. “We make the cut and basically put the cut parts into pre-fab or sub-assembly.”

The machine is equipped with a 720 amp m3 Plasma system that gives Chart the full range of plasma cutting capabilities, including water injection plasma cutting, high-speed low-cost standard plasma cutting, high-quality precision cutting and marking, and high-current, thick-plate cutting. The m3 Plasma system delivers a better cut quality across all of the materials that Chart processes and is able to cut stainless steel without the need for expensive mixed gases. The high quality of the cut has eliminated what used to be a considerable manual effort to clean up parts.

The machine also features Precision Hole Technology that automates cutting of bolt-ready holes in mild steel up to 1 in thick, down to a 1:1 hole-to-thickness ratio, eliminating the need for a secondary drilling operation. “Precision Hole Technology was one of the technical factors that influenced our decision,” said facilities engineer Vince Perez. “It allows us to complete a hole without needing a secondary clean up on the hole.”

An extensive three-month technical and commercial evaluation preceded the shop’s purchase. A key feature in choosing the Avenger 3 was the machine’s water injection module. For Chart, water injection cutting significantly increases the quality of the cut in stainless steel and aluminum leaving very smooth surfaces which eliminate grinding.

Water injection can cut up to 70 percent faster than some gas-shielded methods, and eliminates the use of specialty gases for cutting thick stainless steel and aluminum. This reduces both process cost and consumable cost. “The water injection torch was a main differentiator,” said foreman Doug Ardizone. “It adds cutting capacity allowing us to cut thicker materials and it also produces a cleaner cut than other plasma processes. We’re seeing the advantage in both stainless and aluminum.”

Chart chose a water table versus a downdraft table to quickly cool parts so they can be immediately handled after cutting, and to prevent molten spray from adhering to stainless steel parts. Limited floor space also made the water table an ideal choice. The Avenger 3 features a 14 ft wide by 85 ft long water table.  “Once we decided to go with water injection processing, it was preferable to have the water table,” explained Ardizone. “With the water table we have the cooling effect and less distortion in the plate. We didn’t need a ventilation system that would be required with a downdraft table, particularly for the amount of aluminum that we process.”

The shop equipped its new machine with an ink jet marker to automatically mark cut parts and pieces. This capability has put an end to time-consuming manual marking. Chart has a high requirement for marking, as all parts must be properly marked for identification and traceability purposes. “Before the new machine, we were hand stenciling,” said Perez. “We had one worker essentially dedicated to stenciling. We use that worker for other more productive jobs now.”

Chart now also has the advantage of programmable beveling. The machine’s plasma bevel head accurately cuts up to 1.25 in thick carbon steel or up to 1.75 in thick stainless or aluminum at bevel angles up to 45 deg. The beveling capabilities proved a huge advantage for Chart in cutting the bevels on the reinforcement pads the company produces, which are used to structurally strengthen sections of pressure vessels and which represent a high volume of the company’s work. Before the Avenger 3, this work was done manually using an acetylene hand torch and required manual grinding to smooth the part. The operation took about four to six hours per part. It’s now completed in about four minutes.

Installation and startup of the machine was quick and, while operators had a learning curve to adjust to the new machine, this did not prevent Chart from reaping immediate production benefits. The user friendly Vision T5 CNC, a touch-screen based controller designed specifically for plate cutting machines, features a built-in operating wizard that simplifies basic machine operation for Chart, from machine start-up all the way through running a nest. Operators set up any cutting process by simply selecting material type and thickness.

The intuitive nature of the control was important for Chart, as it eased the transition from older technology to the new machine. As Chart’s entire Detailing department had to undergo training on the new system, Clay was concerned that the training would hinder a quick start-up of the machine. However, the opposite was true. Mechanical/electrical installation and start-up of the machine was accomplished in less than one week, and the Avenger 3 was handling production work within a week. “Because it was all new to us, service support is a big factor in our production,” said Clay. “We have no other capability of doing what this machine does other than sending work to a third party, which we do not want to do and did not want to do at that time. We needed to minimize the set up time so that we could get back into production as quickly as possible.”

From a service and support perspective, Clay and his team also felt having a single-source supplier was an advantage – and ESAB manufactures, integrates, and supports this entire system, including the plasma, CNC, height control, programming software, and the motion system.

Our old machine caused us to be inefficient in that it created other tasks that we had to do, like grinding, marking, beveling,” explained Clay. “The new machine is bringing more solutions to the table for us. It is more efficient; it’s less work that we have to put into parts and how we’re going to process them. It saves us man-hours, which means we can bring more capacity to this yard and more work in the future. With growth of the LNG market domestically, Chart is well positioned to have a three– to five-year run of work for this facility.”

Chart Energy & Chemicals, Inc., 3415 Earl B Wilson Road, New Iberia, LA 70560, 337−369−9195, www.chartindustries.com.

ESAB Welding & Cutting Products, PO Box 100545, 411 South Ebenezer Road, Florence, SC 29501, 843−669−4411, www.esabna.com

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