Experience plus efficiency helps Energy Weldfab deliver for the oil and gas industry
Seventy miles west of the Louisiana state line you’ll find the small town of White Oak, Texas, home to roughly 6,500 people and wide open land. There, a 30 acre compound houses a nearly 130,000 square foot facility where roughly 200 people work two shifts a day to fabricate enormous pressure vessels for the oil and gas industry. Metal is bent and welded. Holes and edges cut, pipes fitted together, finished and painted. The final destination could be anywhere in the United States, the world even.
For nearly a quarter century, the folks here, working for a family run company named Energy Weldfab have supplied the oil and gas industry with processing equipment. Like the state of Texas, the equipment needed by this industry is big. The metal can vary in thickness from less than ¼ inch all the way up to 8 inches. The products often have numerous connection points, requiring lots of cutting and welding. Until just recently, Energy Weldfab did all of this cutting by hand using an oxyfuel torch. “It’s been our industry standard since the beginning. It’s what we’ve always done,” explains Stoney Lake, a vice president at the company.
But the problem with doing things the old way was that Energy Weldfab could no longer keep up. Booming business meant the old way wasn’t fast enough and hiring more workers wasn’t an option. “There is a real shortage of skilled labor,” says Lake. “It’s not like it used to be when people who had pipefitting experience were knocking on our door. Now it’s a struggle to find guys who can manually lay out a vessel and cut the holes on orientation.”
Energy Weldfab knew it had to make a major change if it wanted to protect its business. That’s why today, the company is doing things a whole lot differently. It has moved away from hand cutting, and no longer uses oxyfuel when cutting material one inch or less in thickness.
Instead, Energy Weldfab worked with Mueller Opladen, a 100-year-old German company, to purchase a 3D pipe profile cutting machine to do the work traditionally done by hand. The model selected was part of the company’s “Heavy Duty” line, a robust system capable of cutting pipes weighing up to 30 tons.
“We had seen other cutting machines out there but nothing like what the Mueller Opladen could do,” Lake says. “The capacity and size of the cylinders this system can handle are much bigger than anything else.”
Though Mueller Opladen makes systems that can profile pipes up to 4,064 mm (160 inches) in diameter, Energy Weldfab selected a system with the ability to handle 100 inch pipes. The system can profile round pipes and dished ends (domes). Better yet, it is completely automated. Software manages jobs from start to finish, smoothly coordinating the exchange of information between the machine and its six CNC controlled axes, the cutting torch, and CAD/CAM application software.
Energy Weldfab’s system, installed about six months ago, is equipped with two cutting torches. The company uses an oxyfuel torch to cut pipes with walls of up to 6 inches and a 400 amp high definition plasma system to mainly cut stainless steel parts or parts with lower wall thicknesses. The plasma system suggested by Mueller Opladen was a Hypertherm HyPerformance® HPR400XD®. So far, the system has far surpassed what Energy Weldfab was expecting.
Tolerances are twice as good and productivity is through the roof. Lake explains that a job cutting holes that used to take 6 hours and two people now takes 18 minutes. “In the past, we would have needed two employees to lay out lines and mark holes to be burned. After that, they’d call in quality control to double check the dimensions and orientation.”
Once quality control had signed off, the two employees could finally cut the holes and clean up the edges. When done, they’d have to call quality control back in for a final check. Today the pipe profile cutting machine does it all. “We’ve condensed five steps into one,” marvels Lake.
Not only that, but by using an automated system, Energy Weldfab is able to fabricate more uniform parts with hardly any variance. Cuts and holes are remarkably consistent from job to job, and operator to operator. The other big surprise for Energy Weldfab is the quality of the beveled holes made in pipes and vessels. “Holes come out as slick as glass. The cut quality is very surprising and the bevel cuts are spot-on.”
The cuts are so precise that no clean-up is required saving the company yet another step and more time, which of course translates into more competitive pricing for the customer and extra profit for the company. Energy Weldfab is actually so pleased with its new system and plasma cut parts, it is already considering purchasing a second system.