Thursday | 08 September, 2011 | 12:27 pm

Cutting-edge solutions

By Nick Wright

LS Starrett’s proactive approach brings blade technology to Klein Steel

August 2011- The best strategic suppliers in any business aren’t providing reactionary solutions. Attentive suppliers know how to hone their clients’ operations proactively with time-tested products. The LS Starrett Co., Athol, Mass., a 131-year-old provider of specialized precision cutting, measuring, and gauging tools, stays ahead of the curve with its cutting-edge specialized industrial saw blades. Its distributors make sure customers do the same.

One of LS Starrett’s customers, steel service center Klein Steel, Rochester, N.Y., has increased its productivity since December 2010 when it installed an Intenss Pro-VTH blade. Klein’s clientele ranges from large companies to small, local job shops across central and upstate New York. Klein is a longtime user of Starrett blades, says Pat Hanna, sales representative with Abrasive Tool, Rochester, N.Y., Klein’s supplier for LS Starrett’s blades. “We’ve represented Starrett for 27 years,” he says. “Starrett came out with a new technology, and we saw that as an opportunity to help Klein cut stainless steel faster.”

Hanna worked closely with Trevor McDonald, a representative with Turpin Sales & Marketing Inc., West Springfield, Mass., to introduce the Intenss Pro-VTH to Klein Steel. Hanna and McDonald’s dynamic, team-based approach included testing and data collection, comparing the productivity of the Intenss Pro-VTH to the Intenss Pro, the blade Klein was using. “Our goal going in was to increase the speed of cuts they were getting by at least two in order for [Klein] to make the switch,” McDonald says.

After constructing a multifaceted material handling and storage retrieval system in its 206,000-square-foot Rochester facility, Klein is well-versed in the practices of maximizing efficiency.

“LS Starrett has been a great fit for us,” says Jim Sloan, manager of quality and engineering at Klein. “We’re always looking for operational excellence here at Klein Steel, and we’ll look for 2 percent or 4 percent gains. But we do know, through all of our process improvements, every little advantage we can get, we will take. Starrett and Abrasive came to us and said, ‘We’d like to bring in a blade we think is really going to work.’ It wasn’t us looking for the next solution. We tried it, and we loved it. Our operators have raved about it.”

The results were clear. “Our productivity rate jumped up. Blade life is about 10 percent better, and we’re really getting much better productivity, which is what it’s about,” Sloan says. “I’m willing to trade for a 10 to 15 percent gain or equal life if I can get improved efficiency gains and better throughput.”

A fine tooth
With the Intenss Pro-VTH, Klein cuts solid, bundled steel blocks and rounds of several grades—1018, 1045, 8620—and plenty of nickel-based alloys. “It’s pretty diverse in terms of the material it can cut,” McDonald says. “What allows it to hold up against your exotic materials is its triple-tempered M-42 material, its cobalt high-speed steel teeth, and when you put those two together, it cuts through your exotics, your Inconels, Monels or other solids.”

A closer look at the Intenss Pro-VTH’s tooth pattern reveals its heat- and wear-resistant properties. Klein uses a 15-foot, 6-inch blade at a width of 11⁄2 inches by 0.05 inch on its saws and cuts steel solids mainly between 2 inches and 6 inches in diameter, according to Sloan. When the saw is activated, the variable tooth height on the blade generates a surging, pulsating cutting action, which gives it versatility to cut a broad range of steels effectively. However, to receive the full benefit of the blade’s cut, Klein needs to run its saws 15 percent faster.

Gene Ramsdell, production metallurgist at LS Starrett, says the wave-like pattern of the Intenss Pro-VTH design “allows the teeth to basically dig in and minimize any work hardening.” The pulsing action “varies the chip load on the teeth, so there are several teeth that are meant to dig in and prevent any work hardening, and there are also several teeth in back of them that are basically used to clear out the cut and generate a kerf to prevent material pinching,” Ramsdell says.

The M-42 heat- and wear-resistant, high-speed steel blade is 8 percent cobalt. LS Starrett developed this metallurgy for customers that need to cut more mold steels, tool steels and austenitic stainless.

“We’ve been offering this product for close to 20 years,” Ramsdell says. “It’s definitely a good niche product.” It provides an intermediate solution where the alternatives are standard Intenss Pro or a far more costly carbide tip blade.

Although it has a jagged tooth pattern, the Intenss Pro-VTH provides a clean finish with minimal striations. “The quality of the cut is really nice,” Sloan says. “The chatter is minimal; it’s a very nice finish and does a very good job.”

The blades hold up, as well, depending on the feed rates and steel to be cut. “We run a 24-hour, five-day operation and half days on Saturday,” Sloan continues, noting Klein is adding a third shift because its business is picking up. “It depends on what we’re cutting. We’re getting two to three days [of blade life] depending on the cross section and grade of the material we’re cutting. We’re using it very hard. We could use them for a week, but it depends.”

From a workflow standpoint, Klein is cutting different grades for different orders constantly. The Intenss Pro-VTH keeps Klein from having to change blades or worry about inconsistencies in the cuts. With Klein’s material-handling system, the saws can be loaded up and the blades will cut several bars at a time.

“The cutting remnants get stored with all the critical information, heat number, traceability, things like that,” Sloan says. “So if you saw the flow, it comes out of what we call a cassette onto the table, the table then queues it in, it’s NC programmed in, then cuts the quantity and length needed. The remnant then goes back into the storage retrieval, the parts get a quick hit with a deburr, stickered, put into a box and shipped to the customer.”

Saw doctors
In addition to the Rochester headquarters, Klein has facilities in Syracuse and Buffalo, which overlap with Abrasive Tool’s distribution centers in the same cities. The proximity enables LS Starrett and Abrasive Tool to check in with Klein on a regular basis.

“Starrett has a saw-service team that regularly attends to Klein’s machines,” Hanna says. “Starrett does a wonderful job of coming in and diagnosing any problems.

“What Starrett also has done well with Klein is train their operators,” Hanna continues. “They actually come in on a classroom setting and train new operators, which has been very valuable support to me and Klein Steel. They then take the practice to the machine for hands-on training so the operators are comfortable.”

LS Starrett will visit Klein as needed but typically will visit twice a year. The in-person guidance that LS Starrett provides through Abrasive Tool is comprehensive, according to Sloan. Klein’s operators get trained in proper use, breaking in blades properly, speeds and feeds. “Starrett sits down with our operators and asks them questions: ‘How are you doing on feed rates? How have you been paying attention to your break-in times?’” Sloan says. “It’s really a vendor-managed inventory, and Abrasive Tool handles that part for us.”

By delivering solutions to its customers, LS Starrett lets Klein focus on its operations rather than seeking new products.

“Both the team of Abrasive and Starrett, they really come with solutions,” Sloan says. “I don’t have to chase and find solutions, and we like that. Everyone’s busy in today’s market, everyone’s running as long as they can, especially on a personnel end. It’s impressive the way they work together as a team, both as supplier and manufacturer. You don’t see that a lot.” MM

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