By: Gary Villa


thicksteel 048Up until last year the thickest steel we could cut was 1/2”… all of that changed when we got our new Mazak Optilex. We always asked ourselves: who needs thick plate cut? It turns out that many companies are building products that need 5/8”, 3/4” and 1” steel parts cut.


Is it easy to laser cut thick steel? No, it is not, but we have worked out many of the challenges here at Smidgens. Everything from the quality of the steel, to the distance between parts on the sheet layout, affects the final outcome. We have partnered with American Steel, in Liverpool NY, to provide us with USA made laser quality thick plate by Nucor. This is a critical step, as foreign made steel will not produce clean cuts and will in many cases delaminate along the cut edge.


When laying out the parts in AutoCad the distance between them is critical. As the first part is cut in thick plate the steel around the perimeter of the part gets super heated. This will cause the adjoining part to cut poorly if the correct distance is not maintained. Too close and the cutting goes bad. We also use heat avoidance cutting technology. The best strategy is not the fastest way around the parts but to jump big distances between parts so the steel has some time to cool down. Slow ramping pierce technology minimizes the heat and doesn’t leave a big crater when we start the cut, giving you a beautiful clean part, ready for the construction site.


Cutting small holes in thick plate is nearly impossible. We recommend a minimum hole diameter of not less than the material thickness- when cutting 3/4” thick plate no less then a 3/4” hole and so on. If your part requires small holes we can mark the plate surface with a circle and crosshatch and you can drill this later. Many of our customers have their own CNC machining equipment and can easily add holes quickly and cleanly. Cutting holes in thick parts can also heat up the part possibly causing the exterior geometry cuts to go bad.


Who uses thick plate? Last year our local casino added a big addition and Smidgens cut all of the end plates used to connect the ‘I beams’- mostly 3/4” thick squares with a hole in each corner for bolting. This turned into a huge project, consisting of hundreds of parts, and thousands of pounds of steel. We also laser etched the part number on every plate to help the guys doing the welding figure out what went where.


If you’ve seen the big post and beam wooden structures that are being built for outdoor stores, then you’ve seen what we can do. We are cutting the metal plates that are used to bolt the roof timbers together on many of these types of buildings.


How about that big crane used to build the 747 Dreamliner at Boeing? That’s right- Smidgens leveling shim plates are along both sides of that monster. It’s awesome that our shop, here in Lima NY, was involved in creating something so enormous!

Every week we are cutting thick plate here at the shop. Give us a call to discuss your project or stop in for a visit. We love to show off our equipment and the amazing technology that allows us to cut 1” thick steel with a beam of light.thicksteel 031