Monday | 24 October, 2011 | 1:13 pm

Shelving foibles

By Gretchen Salois

Kasto relies on studies to improve efficiency beyond faster cutting speeds

October 2011- Slicing steel and metal products at faster speeds is one area worth improving, but how quickly materials are stored and loaded onto saws also is critical. Kasto Mechanical Engineering GmbH & Co. KG, with headquarters in Achern-Gamshurst, Germany, and locations in the United States, takes the idea of automation to new levels as the company seeks to improve the overall production process rather than simply increasing cutting speeds.

Kasto1-140pxIn Austria, many companies are employing an automated approach to the service center business. “As far as we know, Kasto is the only supplier that can supply both saws and storage systems with fully integrated systems (as in automated sawing centers, combinations of honeycomb storage systems and sawing centers, etc.),” says Christian Ruef, assistant general manager of EHG Steel Center GmbH & Co. OG, Dornbirn, Austria. Ruef says each of the equipment’s control systems is compatible with one another and operators can interchange from one system to another easily.

“Automation is a key factor to our order fulfillments, and Kasto is the best choice for us,” Ruef continues. It’s important to EHG Steel that Kasto provides quality machines because the company provides more than 10,000 different steel and metal products to customers, “which we process with 24 Kasto saws,” he says.

In Germany and throughout Europe, there are service centers that are virtually unmanned, says Werner Rankenhohn, Kasto president. “With a business-to-business connection and software downloads that meet their sawing needs, a customer’s system can talk to our sawing system’s center,” Rankenhohn says. “The end user sends part orders to the service center and from the service center’s ERP system. Sawing orders are transmitted to our server, and within a couple of minutes, the machines start cutting without a person doing anything.” Rankenhohn estimates Kasto has 400 to 500 systems installed worldwide.

Discovering which methods would fix the most efficiency problems required a significant amount of research. “We have done studies not only with systems here in the states but almost every system we sell,” Rankenhohn says. “The result is almost always similar: One completely integrated machine replaces three to five standalone machines not because they are faster but because the feeding process is automatic.”

Rankenhohn says because someone doesn’t have to dig manually for material or wait to load and feed the machine, fewer steps are required and efficiency increases.

“This type of automated process has been in Europe since the 1970s, and we did a few systems in the states in the 1980s,” he says. “Nowadays, service centers in the U.S. are warming to the idea. The reason for that is the business model for service centers is changing. While the order quantity is about the same, the number of line items is increasing together with the number of cut-to-length items.”

Seamless turnaround
Not only does EHG Steel provide an assortment of steel and metal products, but the company assures its customers it will process and deliver products to their sites within 48 hours, so “equipment availability is very important to us,” Ruef says, noting the company’s customers are in the machine-building industry, plant construction, metalworking and other steel and metal distributing industries.

EHG Steel’s business is primarily local, with 49 percent of its revenue in Austria. “Fifty-one percent of our revenues are international—Germany, Switzerland and Italy—but are located within a 700 kilometer radius from our headquarters in Dornbirn,” Ruef says, adding EHG Steel’s headquarters is located 5 kilometers from the Swiss border and 10 kilometers from the German border.

Automating processes was EHG Steel’s main goal. “The Kasto storage and sawing equipment enabled us to automate our processes,” Ruef says. Because of the automation, the company has been able to increase capacity and meet elevated customer demand. The company’s “fully automated order-fulfillment process” allows it to process orders from the initial form order receipt, transfer the order to the Kasto honeycomb storage systems and automated sawing centers, print labels, partially package the material as well as inform customers about delivery information the following day. The entire process can be completed without “manual interference,” Ruef says.

The Kasto system allows EHG Steel to process data transfers to and from its ERP system, allowing EHG to be an e-commerce company because order processing is fully automated. “We’ve been able to establish ourselves as a single-source supplier,” Ruef adds. In recent years, the Kasto system has allowed EHG Steel to meet the needs of large machine-building companies in the region.

Behind the process
According to Rankenhohn, only a handful of companies in the United States run automated machines, and one of those companies is a shipyard. “Orders in service centers are changing,” Rankenhohn says. Companies need to automate because they cannot afford to have someone manually climb the rack, bring the material to the machine, take the remnants, put it back somewhere else and ship only three or four pieces. It’s often not cost-efficient for suppliers to go through the process for smaller orders “unless it’s a special order for a regular customer, which often results in a premium charge to account for the labor costs,” Rankenhohn says.

Automating the process can reduce the number of saws needed. Rankenhohn uses the example of a company that has 11 machines, “when two machines, running on an automated system, could do the same workload,” he says. He notes this type of automation is not ideal if the company mass produces “for example, 10,000 feet of material a day, day in and day out,” he says. “But [it can be helpful] if you are sawing a lot of orders from a large variety of different materials in small quantities, where you always create rest-pieces that can be used for another order.”

“Kasto provides good service around the clock,” Ruef says. The company works quickly to resolve any equipment issues, minimizing delay to operations. “We run five Kasto high-rack storage systems, two automated sawing centers and a total number of 24 saws,” he continues, adding EHG Steel has found Kasto to be an innovative company that is open-minded and available when needed to answer questions or resolve issues. MM

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