Precision Sheet Processing Pays Big

Tuesday, January 1, 2008
In 1982, H. ne Ferguson founded Aerospace Alloys to provide specialty alloys to
A new cut-to-length line sets production records
A new cut-to-length line at United Performance Metals has set production records while producing blanks that transfer directly to box skids—a huge time and cost saver.
meet the unique needs of that industry. Over the years the company, as Ferguson Metals, diversified, providing stainless steel to customers in other markets as well, including automotive, medical, food service, electrical and petrochemical. In 2006, Ferguson, now named United Performance Metals, added 39,000 sq. ft. of warehouse and processing space to its Hamilton, OH, 82-employee location, bringing total square footage to 109,000.

Prominently displayed in the recent addition is a state-of-the-art cut-to-length (CTL) line from Red Bud Industries, Red Bud, IL, which adds to the company’s existing slitting, shearing, edging and leveling capabilities. The new line contains a 50,000-lb.-capacity reel and coil stage-and-load system, peeler breaker, crop shear, two Herr Voss levelers, dual-motor grip feed, variable rake shear and stacking system.

The new space and the CTL line grew out of the company’s commitment to lean manufacturing.

“The addition has really allowed us to capitalize on many of the suggestions and learnings that have resulted from our lean-manufacturing efforts over the past two years,” says Bob Vogel, director of operations. “The technology represented in our new cut-to-length line will certainly provide efficiency gains, but having the space to better organize and streamline our processing and warehousing operations also will be beneficial.”

Sheet Must Meet Exacting Standards

Prior to purchasing the new line, United Performance did have a pieced-together CTL with much of its supporting equipment old and worn, according to company officials. Essentially, the line could not produce the flatness tolerances required by the company’s customer base.

“We bring in master coil and can either slit it or sheet it out, and the sheet business is something that has been growing for us,” says Scott Fasse, director of marketing at United Performance. “We see a lot of opportunity there because of the proliferation of laser cutters into machine shops and stamping operations. Given how critical flatness is for laser applications, we needed something that could provide very flat material.”

The new CTL line handles coils to 50,000 lb. and from 0.015 to 0.130 in. thick, with the ability to deliver ±0.005-in. length tolerances.

“Most customers don’t need such tight tolerances, but performing better than customers want results in better repeatability in their shops,” says Fasse. “It costs a lot of money for our customers to shut down a line due to material-tolerance issues, and that is constantly in the backs of our minds. Reducing variation in the process, which this line does, makes jobs easier for our customers.”

The ability to hold length tolerance also has benefited the company. One job for example, the production of 15-in.-square stainless-steel blanks, required cutting of full sheets on the old line, then transfer of the sheets to a stand-alone shear to obtain the correct size. The company had to double-cut due to lack of precision on the old line as well as waste time and manpower hauling material for multiple operations.

“Now we can actually slit the sheet to width and blank it directly off the line—a huge savings,” says Roger Haire, plant superintendent. “That job run typically took eight hours on the shear and we’ve got it down to two to three hours on this new line.”

Blanks Directly into Box Skids

A key feature of the new line is its ability to stack blanks directly into box skids, according to company officials.

“With the old line we had to level a quantity of sheets on a flat skid and transfer each sheet into a box skid,” explains Haire. “We worked with Red Bud to figure out how to design the shear such that it would stack the sheets directly into a box skid.”

The stacking system aligns material just

The addition of a looping pit on the line results in less tops and starts
The addition of a looping pit on the line results in less stops and starts, meaning less opportunity for marks on valuable surface-critical material.
prior to shearing and then arranges blanks in a perfectly square stack in a box skid that lowers automatically as the blanks stack up.

“Not having to move the sheets again eliminates the double-step process and has allowed us to increase efficiency dramatically,” Haire continues. “Blanks come off of the line and are packaged and ready to go. We are one of the first in the industry to be able to do that.”

Company officials estimate annual savings of $103,000 due to the productivity gain and the fact that box skids are less expensive to purchase than flat skids with boxtops.

Another plus of direct box-skid loading: reduction in damage to high-priced surface-critical sheet that may result from excessive handling. The line also employs a dual-motor grip-feed that processes surface-critical material without leaving a mark; a looping pit also helps to eliminate marking.

“The prior line did not have a looping pit to accumulate material, so the entire line would stop during sheet cutting, creating the risk of marking material via starting and stopping,” says Haire.

All of that is important, as United Performance works with high-value materials, some grades purchased by the company for as much as $50/lb. With customers expecting perfection, blemishes can result in costly scrapped product.

Lean Efforts Bring Productivity Results

Testament to efficiency gains, less than three weeks after commissioning, United Performance Metals set a production record on the new line, which produces at twice the speed of the old line. The company will soon add a scale to the line’s stacker pan, removing another added step: moving blanks to a standalone scale during processing. All told, the productivity improvements have opened up capacity and allowed the company to take on more work.

The addition of the CTL line fits nicely into United Performance’s ongoing lean efforts.

“This company has been very involved in lean manufacturing over the last two years,” says Vogel. “We’ve made plenty of efforts to increase efficiency and remove the bottleneck that was our old line.”

The lean drive really began with the new addition, laid out so that material enters via the receiving docks and takes an orderly, minimal route through slitting and blanking and flows toward the shipping door.

“We’ve had huge efficiency gains with lean manufacturing,” Vogel continues. “We’ve eliminated waste in every area of the plant. For example, in our packing area we eliminated 42 percent of distance traveled by employees to pack orders and receive packing supplies. I think every area in the plant has been examined at least twice if not more. There is als something we can change and improve on.” MF


See also: Red Bud Industries, Inc.

Related Enterprise Zones: Coil Handling, Materials/Coatings

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