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Smoking fast

Metal fabricator adopts plasma cutting technology to improve offset smoker production rates

Everything has been thumbs up since Felipe Guevara began making offset smokers for a living. He’s the proud owner of Easy Flow Smokers based in Houston.

Like countless others hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, Felipe Guevara lost the job to which he was completely committed. He had worked his way up from an entry-level “helper” position at an architectural metal company in Houston, eventually becoming the installation superintendent. But fairly early in the pandemic, work slowed and the layoffs began.

“It was actually very stressful and concerning,” he says of the transition from dedicated employee to finding himself jobless.

Troubling as the situation was, Guevara didn’t sit idle for long. He found purpose again when his uncle asked him to construct a large offset smoker, which is a barbecue device that has a horizontal cooking chamber with a heat source below and to the side of it. That request led to the formation of a new business – Easy Flow Smokers, and an investment in Hypertherm plasma cutting technology to help boost production.

Combining skills

Many of Easy Flow Smokers’ customers are competition-level barbecue masters, but the owner also does smaller smokers for the enthusiast.

Guevara has always been into art, particularly metal sculpture, and has a love of welding and metal fabrication. His first foray into metalworking was with metal sculpture, but he took those skills to jobs in the architectural, structural, and gas and oil industries. With this background, it made Guevara the perfect person to tackle his uncle’s offset smoker project. In fact, he jumped on it with vigor, using his home-based shop from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., cutting, grinding and hammering on metal and shaping a customized smoker – the kind used in barbecue competitions.

“I took my time with it,” Guevara says, offering that the first one was a three-month project. “I realized this brought together everything I’ve ever dealt with in the past with metalworking. It kind of grabbed my attention and I enjoyed it – from the design part of it to the fabrication to the metalwork. It all kind of fell into place.”

Most offset smokers, Guevara says, are built with large pipes and cylinders. His approach is to go octagonal. It definitely adds a unique look to his smokers, but Guevara has a theory that the smoke lingers longer in the 8-sided interior than it does in a round tube, giving an advantage over traditional smokers. He also uses diamond plate steel, which provides a unique aesthetic.

Moving up

Guevara got his start in metalworking at a sculpture foundry, and he transfers that artistic flair into creating custom smokers for his customers.

Guevara finished his uncle’s smoker and posted the results on his Facebook page. Soon after, he received several requests from people around the country who wanted a custom smoker of their own. Given the amount of noise associated with these projects, Guevara knew he’d have to take this new career away from earshot of neighbors. Almost five months after he started construction on that first smoker, he was out of the backyard shop and working in a larger space only a short drive from home. A few months after that, he upgraded to yet an even larger shop.

In addition to expanding the business, having more space allowed Guevara to take on a monumental steel sculpture restoration project by artist Beverly Pepper, a renowned sculptor known for monumental works installed in many locations, including New York, Washington, D.C., Missouri, Georgia, Colorado, Spain and Italy. Her sculpture titled “Dallas Land Canal,” which is a line of pyramid-shaped structures, was installed near a shopping center in Dallas decades ago and is now in Guevara’s shop where he recently began restoring the piece. Having a new plasma cutter has been a huge advantage on this unique sculpture.

Upgrading equipment

Guevara’s first experience with Hypertherm plasma cutting technology was at the sculpture foundry where he got his start with metalworking.

“I just felt like the Hypertherm was a little better and stronger than other plasma cutters,” he says. “The torch was more ergonomically friendly. Ever since then I’ve wanted one.”

Guevara invested in Hypertherm’s Powermax65 Sync because he wants to speed up production.

He bought an older Hypertherm model on the cheap several years ago from a friend who was moving and needed to lighten his load, but as the smoker business picked up, he knew it was time for an upgrade. Plus, he needed to invest in technology that could help him get the work completed faster, as lead times for orders have been stretched out to at least six months.

Given his experience with Hypertherm, Guevara was set on purchasing from them. He bought the Powermax65 Sync, which gives him the power he needs today and room to grow in the future. He also acquired a Langmuir Systems CrossFire XR table, which means he can perform automated cuts with the Langmuir/Hypertherm combination. Check out the Easy Flow Smokers’ Facebook page for video of the equipment in action.

“Two weeks of constant use with my new Crossfire XR and Powermax65 Sync,” Guevara says, “and I am absolutely happy with the combination of both. I know there are other CNC tables out there that are bigger and more expensive but I could have not asked for a better setup. One thing I have learned thus far is that the plasma cutter is a beast, as it has the capability of leveling the playing field for new entrepreneurs wanting to sit with the big boys.”

Guevara says the Powermax65 is also much faster than his former plasma cutter, adding that one of the biggest time-savers is that he no longer has to take apart the torch head tips every morning to make sure everything is okay.

“This guy cuts like butter,” he says of his new machine. “It’s crazy.”

Max advantages

One of the major advancements in the Powermax Sync line is that the torch cartridges now have a RFID-enabled chip in them, which automatically sets the correct amperage and operating mode. This means Guevara doesn’t have to go back and forth from where he’s working and the machine to change settings. Also, the user-error issues related to setting amperage and operating mode are erased. Furthermore, with the RFID-enabled chip, the cartridge usage data is tracked, allowing users to evaluate how they’re using the torch.

“The new cartridge technology is way more efficient and user friendly,” Guevara says. “The hand torch continues to be ergonomically friendly and handling it is surprisingly comfortable considering the size difference from my older one. As far as cut quality – to this day I firmly believe that Hypertherm surpasses the competition by miles.”

In the background are pieces of land sculpture Guevara  is renovating.

Given Guevara’s goal of faster production, the new technology is definitely helping out in that respect.

“I’m trying to transition from always being behind and having people wait,” he says. “I want to get ahead and have smokers sitting outside the shop. I understand that people don’t like to wait when they pay for something. That’s one of the main reasons I went with the Powermax 65.”

And while the focus right now is on building customized grills for customers, Guevara sees a day when he can jump back into his art, creating metal sculptures of his own.

“Maybe one day I’ll go crazy and start doing sculpture-influenced smokers,” he muses.

Easy Flow Smokers

Hypertherm

Langmuir Systems