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LCGHS view how technology has changed metal working for Don Bode
Computer aided plasma cutters deliver speed and precision

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[October 23, 2014]  LINCOLN - Members of the Logan County Genealogical & Historical Society attending the monthly meeting took a short walk Monday evening from their research center on Chicago Street. The adventure was just a block to Don Bode’s welding shop at the corner of Pekin and Sangamon Streets.

Bode has been in the welding business since taking a high school welding class in the late 1960’s. After graduation, he entered the Navy and honed his welding skills during his enlistment. He advanced to being certified to work on nuclear component welding. After his military service, Bode returned to Lincoln to open his own welding service, a business that has been a Lincoln staple for the past thirty years.

Don Bode is well known for his skill at welding, and has worked on a myriad of projects for individuals and corporations. He is also an artist who has exhibited his metal sculptures at the Lincoln Art Festival for many years. He credits his niece for adding art to his considerable welding projects.

During the visit, Bode demonstrated his computer linked plasma cutting table.

The plasma cutter that Don Bode has in his shop uses electrified ions to produce an extremely hot cutting flame. The cutter is linked to a computer that controls everything from the height of the cutting head to the speed of the cut. It also controls how much power can be generated to the cutting head. The amount of power determines how thick a piece of metal can be cut. Speed, cutting height, and power in the correct balance produce the perfect cut with a minimum amount of melted metal on the surface that would have to be removed by hand.

While the cutter is at work, a brilliant flame is evident and an enormous amount of smoke is produced. Bode has installed an exhaust fan that removes over 3000 cubic feet of exhaust per minute. Sparks fly as the cutter head moves unaided across the metal surface producing a perfect shape.

Bode has linked his plasma cutter’s computer with a computer aided drafting program so that he can design special shapes that are then imported into the cutter’s computer. The shapes that can be produced are almost endless.

One design that shows the intricate cutting ability of the plasma cutter is a University of Illinois logo which has over 400 inches of cutting lines on it. Bode does custom art work on a regular basis.

He has produced a St. Louis Cardinal logo as well as one for the Chicago Cubs for a charity auction. “The St. Louis art work went for over $5,000 at the auction, while the Cubby one went for less than $500,” he said with a laugh.

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With the collaboration of a Champaign resident who is a horse person, he designed horse yard art that is so delicate that it moves in the wind.

Bode related that before purchasing his computer aided plasma cutting table, he had to make a template of a design out of cardboard and then transfer that outline by hand to a piece of metal. He then had to cut the shape by hand with a cutting torch. With the computer aided cutting table, all he has to do is enter the dimensions of the cut into the computer and turn it on. The cutter does the rest guided by the computer program. He can replicate each design endlessly with just a few keystrokes on his computer.

While the LCGHS members watched, Don Bode did an actual job for a client as a demonstration. The client wanted a quarter moon and stars design to hang on his man cave restroom door, like an old outhouse design. It took the cutter less than a minute to produce the intricate finished product.

Bode related that the high cost of the computer assisted plasma cutting table was paid for in one year by the specialty work it was able to produce. He also credited the use of the device with increasing his computer savvy. He is self-taught on all aspects of the plasma cutting table.

Bode isn’t the only one who uses this device in his craft. He regularly goes online to a website with other welders who use plasma cutters. At the site, members share their knowledge and artwork with one another. A community has grown up around this industrial device.

Don Bode has seen a lot of change in the welding business in his thirty years on the job. The use of a computer to guide a welder was not even on the radar when he began.

The Logan County Genealogical and Historical Society meets the third Monday of the month at their research facility at 114 North Chicago Street at 6:30 p.m. They always have an interesting program and the public is invited to attend.

[Curt Fox]


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