There is more than one unique aspect to Canam Bridges, a Canada-based company that plays a part in the development of major bridges on the East Coast. One of the things the company has bragging rights to is that it owns one of the largest cutting beds in North America.
Canam’s plant in Claremont, N.H., features a 240-ft. cutting bed used to create parts for notable East Coast bridges like New York’s Tappan Zee Bridge and the Whittier Bridge in Massachusetts. Thanks to utilizing Hypertherm technology, Canam is making quality cuts, reducing rework and meeting the strict standards that are part of the industry.
The company’s humble beginnings in Canada started in the fall of 1960 when workers used shovels to dig trenches for the foundation of a steel frame building in Quebec, which would be completed the following year. Canam workers constructed 2,000 tons of joists in that first year. The company’s milestones are numerous in part because every couple of years, Canam expanded and acquired businesses, including a steel works company.
In 1986, Canam expanded into the United States by acquired Standard Building Systems in Point of Rocks, Md. In the 1990s, Canam acquiring businesses and buildings in Washington and Florida, including a new structural steel fabrication plant in Jacksonville.
Implementing new tech
One of the more notable acquisitions occurred in 2007 when Canam bought the assets of Eastern Bridge LLC, located in Claremont, where the company fabricates steel structures for highway and railway bridges. This is the facility housing the 240-ft. table.
“The benefit we have with that capacity is the basic girders we build and the products we produce are easily over 100 ft. and go up to 180 ft.,” says Zach Hurst, plant manager at Canam. “This bed being 240 ft. really increases our output capacity.”
Hurst explains that the cutting system for the 240-ft. bed has two gantries, one at each end of the table. Canam has installed four HyPerformance HPR400XDs for heavy industrial plasma cutting. The cutting machines can handle mild steel up to 3.2 in., but can make dross-free cuts on mild steel up to 1.5 in. thick.
Hurst maintains that one of the biggest advantages is the repeatability aspect – being able to get the same quality of cut over and over and with a wide range of thicknesses.
“This is such a high-definition cut,” Hurst says. “Being a bridge fabricator, the shape and thickness of the plate we deal with can vary greatly, so the repeatability is important and the rework is very minimal.”
Given that thousands of people a day travel over the bridges, the industry’s strict guidelines require a high degree of accuracy.
“In general,” Hurst says, “peoples’ lives are in our hands. The standards are very tight and stringent for the quality and products. Any little nicks or kerf issues can cause severe strain on the structure. Therefore, the repeatability and the quality of cut of the HPR400XDs is the biggest benefit for us. And, we don’t have to manage extra labor.”
Built to make a difference
Hypertherm describes the HPR400XD as a system that has been “designed and built for maximum performance and productivity in x-y, bevel and robotic cutting operations.” It is a 400-amp system that “combines fast cutting speeds, rapid process cycling, quick changeover and high reliability.”
While the HPR400XD delivers superb mild steel cutting performance, it also has aluminum and stainless steel cutting abilities. For example, it offers production piercing on 1.75-in. stainless steel and reaches maximum pierce capabilities at 3 in. on stainless.
The cutting system also features some operation cost minimization, such as the patented LongLife technology that increases consumable life and enables consistent cut quality. The higher quality cutting all but eliminates the cost associated with secondary operations. Finally, the unit comes with patented PowerPierce technology, which allows operators to pierce thicker materials, replacing the slower-paced oxyfuel technology.
Hypertherm also touts that the HPR400XD’s simple architecture has 50 percent fewer parts than competing systems, but it also features “best-in-class manufacturing and extensive testing,” which ensures the customer gets a machine that meets the highest quality standards.
Kenneth Allgair, director of Canam’s Claremont plant operations, says the 240-ft. cutting table was installed for the Whittier Bridge project, which is named after the poet John Greenleaf Whittier and spans the Merrimack River in Massachusetts, connecting some of the earliest established communities in American history. It features three lanes of traffic in each direction and has shared use paths for pedestrians and cyclists. The 1,400-ft.-long structure was completed in 2018.
“We basically made the decision to do the upgrade,” Allgair says of the long cutting bed and four HPR400XD machines. “We were dealing with much larger plates and needed much more control over the tolerance of the cut and drill plate … the whole system has exceeded our expectations.”
Allgair says prior to adopting the Hypertherm plasma technology, the company was using an oxyfuel process, which introduces a high amount of heat to the cutting area. Now, the heat input is significantly reduced.
“It’s very precise on where it is cutting,” Allgair says of the HPR400XDs, “so you don’t have the extra heat, the slag, the blowouts or the material changing shape.”