A North Shore company’s technology cuts more than steel – it also cuts time and production costs in plate processing plants around the world, including several Caterpillar factories.
Kinetic Engineering Design’s plate cutting machines have always offered customers a little more. In 1995 the Albany-based company pioneered computerised control of plasma plate cutting machines. Twelve years on, the company’s plasma-cutting machines incorporate multiple operations into plate cutting and typically include drilling with high-speed spindles and automatic contour bevel cutting.
Says managing director Murray Forlong: “Our product is simply the best available in accuracy, reliability and functionality.”
And with the company’s machines now on the factory floor of companies like Caterpillar in the US and Australia, Fletcher Steel in New Zealand and Smogan Steel in Australia, Forlong believes Kinetic’s attention to detail has made a crucial difference.
“We manufacture our machines with a demanding end user in mind. Our objective is to provide a machine and technical service that exceed customer expectations. We design the machines to save costs and time…and we’re succeeding all the way.”
Small beginnings for seven big winners
Kinetic started when Murray Forlong and his brother Bruce in 1995 realised there was an opening in the market for PC controlled plasma-cutting machines.
Both Forlongs are qualified fitters and turners and both hold Bachelor of Engineering Degrees with first class honours. In 1998 Chris Were, who holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering and manages the software department, joined the company.
Kinetic’s first machine was sold to Easteel Industries of Dannevirke in 1996 and is still in full production today. The first combination drilling and cutting machine was sold to Metso Minerals in Australia in 1999, and the first K4000 was sold to Caterpillar in the US in 2002.
The company today exports about 90 percent of the machines it manufactures, and it offers the market seven models. The K1000, K1200 and K2000 downdraft table machines are suited to precision plasma cutting of gauge material to 1½-inch plate. Their bigger brothers, the K2500 and K3000, are suited for precision plasma cutting on larger span cutting tables. However, the two machines that pack the really big punches are the K4000 and K5000.
The K4000 and K5000 are heavy-duty precision combination plasma and machining centres fitted with (respectively) the 20hp BT40 and 40hp Cat50 spindles and automatic tool changers for 10 to 50 tools. These machines can also be fitted with the in-house developed, patented combination bevel cutter.
“With these machines, some customers are drilling 25mm holes in 25mm plate at three seconds per hole,” says Forlong proudly, “Once drilled, the parts are plasma or flame cut from the plate – a considerable labour and time saving feature.”
He says when comparing the financial return of one cutting
machine with that of another, the commonality of the various primary cutting systems and their variables may obscure distinguishing competitive advantages.
“However, if we directly compare features such as the integration of multiple tools on one machine, machine accuracy and repeatability to minimise errors, ease of use, maintenance requirements and spare parts cost, and the sophistication of software and machine on-board diagnostics, the picture looks different. And we at Kinetic, as well as many satisfied customers, believe Kinetic machines are unmatched for all of the above.”
Integration of multiple tools on one machine
According to Forlong the golden rule for automation is to minimise handling. “On Kinetic machines we achieve this by performing as many tasks as possible on a single machine. The integration of multiple processes on one plate-cutting machine minimises downstream labour or simply adds value in service centre applications.
We have customers in the US who realise savings through using these machines that exceed US$1 million per year.
“Performing all these asks with a computer programmable machine ensures part consistency and provides large labour savings throughout the manufacturing process,” he explains.
The K1000 and K1200 are fitted with three-lifter stations, and the other models with four-lifter stations plus, for the K4000 and K5000, the high-speed machining spindle. Software for programming the machines was specifically designed in-house for seamless integration of multiple tools,
All seven models can incorporate cutting-edge plasma-cutting technology from HyperthermTM, using HydefinitionTM systems and can also fit oxyfuel flame torches for thick plate cutting of steel.
The K4000’s BT40 spindle taper is suitable for universal tool applications and the servomotor’s drive provides speeds up to 8000rpm, drilling to two inches and tapping to one inch.
The K5000 is the largest machine in the Kinetic range and was launched in 2006 at the Fabtech exhibition in Chicago. This drilling and cutting machine has a Cat50 high-speed spindle that can drill to four inches and tap to 1½ inches and has an optional 24 automatic tool changer. The first machine was sold to a company in Wisconsin. It sported a cutting area of 21x60 inches and had two HPR260 plasma cutters with bevel cutting heads and four oxyfuel torches.
Forlong says the automated combination plasma and oxyfuel bevel cutting tool, an option on the K3000, K4000 and K5000, is a strong advantage for the Kinetic machines. The unique and patented
tool can do contour bevel cutting to 45 degrees, has full height control during cutting and incorporates a pneumatic breakaway for torch protection.
“It requires no windup of cables or reversing of the torch and can change from plasma to oxyfuel cutting in minutes. We are proud to have established a reputation for the simplest and most functional bevel cutting system available,” he says.
All the Kinetic models also offer flame cutting and plasma, inkjet or powder marking options.
According to Forlong, integration of multiple tools on one machine is by far not Kinetic’s only edge in the market. The company also delivers on increased machine accuracy and repeatability, ease of use, reasonable maintenance requirements and spare parts cost, sophisticated computer technology and software, and the consequent convenience of machine onboard diagnostics.
He says customers increasingly demand closer part tolerances and better cut quality, translating into a demand for improved accuracy and repeatability in modern plate burning machines.
He explains the primary factors that allow a machine to produce consistently accurate and high cut quality parts are the machine’s design, and drive and guiding systems. “Kinetic machines’ simple design, successful implementation of modern technology into the machine, and use of the highest specification components make all the difference.
“The machines are very rigid and not too heavy so they can accelerate quickly to deliver smooth, precise travel. Their design allows them to withstand the high vertical loads generated during high speed drilling.
“The dual drive system on either end of the travelling gantry provides machine accuracies to around 0.15mm/m. The vertical axes use programmable motors driving ball screw drives. This enables automatic settings for height, vertical speed and drilling depths,” he explains.
Kinetic machines use recirculating linear bearings on all axes of the K1000, K1200, K2000 K4000 and K5000, while linear bearings are optional on the K3000 machine. In addition every axis of the
Kinetic machine has full protection for the linear guides and for the drive system.
Kinetic was also the first machine manufacturer to incorporate the advantages of PC machine control to plasma plate cutting in 1995. “So much so that competitors told prospective clients ‘everyone knows you can’t put PCs on plasma machines’. But well, now all plasma machines are going to PC control,” Forlong says.
This use of this control now enables cutting machine operators industry wide to have graphics and user-friendly screens on the machine. The machine controller has comprehensive onboard diagnostics for all I/O analogue signals and servomotor control functions. Counters and machine monitors keep track of the actual processes over time, including consumable monitoring.
The controller is configured to prompt the operator for regular maintenance procedure, including greasing, plasma filter cleaning, plasma coolant checking and gas line inspection.
makes them happy
Forlong says Caterpillar’s full-scale acceptance of the Kinetics K4000 was a milestone for the company, affirming years of hard work. Caterpillar currently has three K4000s in service, with two more shipped the second week in May.
Caterpillar’s decision was partly the result of testimonials by other satisfied customers.
One such satisfied customer is Tauranga-based NZ Profiles Ltd. The company operates two Kinetic plasma and oxyfuel profile cutters and sums up its experience as follows:
“…we are now able to drill holes using the 20hp BT40 spindle attachment and cut the profile all in the same process. Significant cost savings are easily achieved through this integration, enabling us to offer our customers opportunities to not only reduce costs but increase factory productivity.”
Or, short and sweet, in the words of another US customer commenting on their new K1200: “The machine is working great and it has increased my productivity and shop production tremendously. I made the right decision in buying your equipment.”
For more information go to www.kineticusa.com