January 2012- The new year will bring growth for Viking Materials Inc., predicts Jack Gibson, vice president of operations at the Minneapolis-based service center. A new precision blanking line installed in the fall is enabling the company to bring previously subcontracted work in-house and grow its client base, he says.
“Because we now can provide a wider variety of items, some current customers have increased their business with Viking Materials,” says Gibson. “And we’ve begun expanding into new accounts with items we could not process in-house in the past. As we enter 2012 and we make contact with more customers, we anticipate increased volume.”
Viking, which is a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co., often found itself lacking the necessary capabilities to process heavier-gauge material. This, in turn, forced the service center to subcontract work to other businesses.
“A couple of years ago, we recognized that despite having contact with potential customers, the company was not selling to them because the customers required thicker sheets and blanks. By investing in a new blanking line, we would not only serve our existing customers better but it would expand our customer base,” says Gibson. “We saw both of these avenues as opportunities.”
In addition, instead of relying on outside vendors, bringing the work in-house would give Viking more control over the process, Gibson notes. Quality control and production costs can be impacted negatively when subcontracting work. Also, Viking will be better equipped to respond to short lead-time customer orders.
As a result, the company invested in a blanking line from Red Bud Industries, Red Bud, Ill. The newest line, which is the second Red Bud line for Viking, shipped in August 2011. It is capable of processing stainless steel up to 0.25 inch thick and aluminum and carbon steel up to 0.312 inch thick with coil weights up to 50,000 pounds.
One of the features of the fully automated, cassette-type leveler is the AutoFlat system from Machine Concepts, Minster, Ohio. Viking operators already have responded positively to this feature, which, in certain applications, enables the leveler to adjust to shape changes automatically without them intervening, according to Gibson.
“The leveler setup is much easier because the operator enters parameters including type of material, thickness, width and yield. With that completed, the machine will preset to that material and only minor adjustments may be required after that,” Gibson says. “Our older levelers require more adjustments, made from visual inspections, to create a flat sheet. Our new line will create a flatter sheet in a more efficient manner.”
Part of the efficiency is a result of the AutoFlat system that displays shape changes graphically on the operator’s console, allowing the worker to monitor and make adjustments as required. The operator may select to use the shape-correction system to correct shape automatically as material is running.
Traditionally, the trickiest aspect of most cut-to-length lines is getting the material flat, says Dean Linders, vice president of sales and marketing for Red Bud. “From one operator to the next, depending on his skill level, it will dictate how flat your material is,” because levelers can be difficult to operate, he says. “You can tell people how they work, but chances are the first time they run them they aren’t very good, so there’s a certain amount of skill involved.”
The leveler in the new line is fully automated. It has sensors that can read the profile of the strip and feed that information back to the leveler for adjustment, says Linders, noting Viking chose Machine Concepts for the corrective leveler portion of the line.
The cassette system also enables companies to have interchangeable roll diameters, says Linders. “Instead of having two separate machines, one with maybe a 31⁄2-inch roll and one with a 13⁄4-inch roll, they’ll have one machine. The rolls come in and out of the head very easily,” he says.
For instance, the 31⁄2 -inch roll can come out on to a cart and the light-gauge roll can be placed into the line. The cassettes can be exchanged in as little as 10 minutes, and when the rolls are out, the system can be accessed easily for cleaning.
In addition to handling thicker material in-house, the line gives Viking the capability of working with longer sheet lengths. “Previously, we could do up to 16-foot sheets on our other equipment, and this new line will do 20-foot sheets in the stacker. It will produce longer sheet lengths if the back stop is raised,” Gibson says.
The line includes Red Bud’s high-speed hydraulic shear and a three-side blank support drop stacker with automatic part diverter. The drop stacker mounts to the back of the shear, which allows material to enter the drop stacker before shearing, according to Red Bud. Once sheared, the material drops straight down to the waiting stack table.
Another important feature is the grip feed system, which gives Viking the capability of producing blanks with ±0.005-inch length tolerances down the center of the strip. The service center runs surface-critical products, and the grip feed system doesn’t add surface defects to the material.
“We like the idea of the grip feed because it advances the material by grabbing only the edges as opposed to a roll feed that is contacting the strip continuously down the center,” says Gibson. “Due to our surface-critical products, we wanted a line that would run the full length without imparting any defects to the material.”
Viking also has improved inventory control efficiency and purchasing because of the new Red Bud line, says Gibson. Previously, the company relied on vendors of thicker sheets to supply its inventory of various products in different sheet lengths. “Now, we can order master coils without regard to specific sheet lengths,” he says, noting the company has the ability to cut the exact lengths customers require. This helps maximize inventory turns and minimize the impact of inaccurate forecasting. “We should no longer end up with excessive sheets in stock. Now we maintain a strong coil inventory, level sheets as customers require and hopefully cross apply coils to multiple users,” says Gibson.
Ultimately, the new line will help give Viking a competitive edge, says Linders. “Their existing machine could cut to length, too, but this machine is faster. It’s also a lot more accurate on length and squareness. It’s got the auto-leveling capabilities, so hopefully they’ll produce a better, flatter product more consistently with less effort. So that, in turn, should equate to high throughput on the machine,” he says.
“We are excited about 2012,” says Gibson. “We’ve already seen growth with existing customers, and we are optimistic of more expansion with new customers as we bring the line up to its full potential.” MM