Pal Con, Ltd.
Based in Stephenville, Texas, Pal-Con, Ltd. is in the business of making industrial-sized gas turbine regenerators, also known as heat exchangers in the pipeline and plant industry. Customers turn to them when they want efficient gas transmission products to reduce their fuel consumption and emissions. To stay competitive in the manufacturing market, Pal-Con turned to abrasive waterjet technology to produce the 1,500 components that go into the core that looks like a radiator on steroids, explained Chief Operating Officer Randy Thompson. Since the waterjet cutting process proved to be more cost-efficient than traditional cutting equipment, Pal-Con eventually acquired three OMAX 80160 JetMachining® Centers in the course of two years.
"We originally bought the OMAX waterjet to cut stainless steel fins," Thompson said. "These fins and other brazed components go into the regenerator casing where air exhaust goes through the regenerator core."
The regenerator core fins are made of 409 stainless steel shaped into a corrugated, waffle-like form. Before the company added waterjet equipment to their shop, they used band saws and grinders to cut the patterned material, eventually wearing out numerous high-priced saw blades in the process. They discovered plasma and laser cutting options didn't fit the bill either.
"Plasma won't cut the waffle pattern fin the way we want it," Thompson said. "Plasma will warp the material and change the molecular structure. Laser won't easily cut through the formed metal either because it won't pick up the bottom ½" pattern. The waterjet was just far superior for cutting the fins."
The cold cutting process of the waterjet also allowed Pal-Con to eliminate the undesirable heat-affected zones (HAZ) on their stainless steel material. This is essential for their gas turbine regenerators since the interior components must withstand 1000° F heat without cracking, and this can only be accomplished when the components are made from material devoid of HAZ.
To save more time and money in the manufacturing process, Pal-Con worked with OMAX technicians to find the best Intelli-MAX® software parameters to cut their regenerators fins efficiently. Pal-Con's operator learned how to customize a tool path with alternating cutting speeds to successfully cut through the top and bottom fin patterns. By applying this software control feature, the company is able to keep specific component costs down for their regenerators, and then pass on the savings to their customers.
"We are able to waterjet all 1,500 regenerator parts within 80 hours, as opposed to 80 days with traditional cutting equipment," Thompson said. "And I'm not exaggerating."
One of their OMAX waterjet machines is supplied with a Tilt-A-Jet®. It's been ideal for producing tapered plugs for tube-type regenerators, such as boilers. Before Pal-Con had the waterjet option, cutting the 1½" plug out of stock plate would cost about $8 to $9 a piece. Now it runs about $1 a piece.
After experimenting with time-consuming laser programming and expensive plasma operations, Pal-Con is now familiar with the advantages of abrasive waterjet technology.
"Owning a waterjet has kept us in the market," Thompson said. "It has also opened the doors for us to respond to other cutting jobs. My shop guys fight over time on the waterjet machine."
He said Pal-Con continues to buzz with business despite the nation's economy being in a recovery mode. Now more than ever, his customers require gas turbine regenerators with greater fuel efficiency. Whether they manufacture new gas transmission products or refurbish older versions, the company's cost-efficiency factor will rely on the benefits of abrasive waterjet technology.
Specializes in: Gas turbine regenerators
Location: Stephenville, TX