Tube & Pipe
Wednesday | 31 October, 2012 | 12:52 pm

A constant cut

By Gretchen Salois

Structural tube makes a reliable sawmill possible

October 2012 - Whether for commercial or personal use, portable and industrial-strength sawmills equip woodworkers spanning different levels of expertise. High-quality metal components create long-lasting and durable sawmills.

Ending 23 years with its former supplier, portable and industrial saw equipment manufacturer, Wood-Mizer Products Inc., Indianapolis, decided to make a change. During January 2005 negotiations, Wood-Mizer awarded Chicago Tube & Iron, Romeoville, Ill., its steel contract. According to Mark Law, procurement director of Wood-Mizer, trust was the No. 1 qualification necessary to lock in the deal. “Trust that prices would be fair, trust that a quality product would be provided ... and delivery schedules would be met,” he says, adding customer support also was an important consideration.

Currently, Chicago Tube & Iron provides Wood-Mizer with more than 400 items. The company provides both raw material and fabricated parts, including ASTM A500/B structural tube, ASTM A513 tube, hot- and cold-rolled electric weld and DOM tubing. Chicago Tube & Iron also provides cold-finished bar in rounds, flats, squares and hex sizes, ASTM A269 stainless steel tube and ASTM A53 pipe.

Structural tube is the primary material used to manufacture the bed assembly, which is the foundation of the sawmill. This foundation allows the sawmill head to run parallel over the bed assembly, “resulting in the accurate cut Wood-Mizer is known for,” Law says. “The same tubes used in our sawmill bed assemblies are processed and sent to the Wood-Mizer facility in Kolo, Poland, each month.”

Wood-Mizer needed a service center that could provide not only the materials but also special-order fabricated parts. Chicago Tube & Iron manages the majority of Wood-Mizer’s steel inventory needs, ensuring the company has adequate inventory on-hand for scheduled as well as quick-turnaround orders. The company also laser cuts parts for Wood-Mizer, allowing it to eliminate its plasma cutter, which frees up valuable manufacturing floor space for additional products, Law says. 

A steady supply of various sized ready-to-use materials is invaluable for Wood-Mizer. “Such services offer peace of mind,” Law says. Chicago Tube & Iron laser cuts 25 different items per print and has them stocked at all times specifically for Wood-Mizer. 

“This ensures quality parts and on-time delivery,” Law says. “They pre-cut items and maintain them in an inventory as well as offer monthly billings.” 

First response

A big reason Wood-Mizer chose Chicago Tube & Iron as its supplier was the company’s competitive and fair pricing. “With Chicago Tube & Iron’s buying power and rapport with the mills, they keep Wood-Mizer competitive on all of our steel requirements,” Law says.  Weekly deliveries on Chicago Tube & Iron’s trucks help the company control costs and eliminate costly in-house inventories, “which makes them a valuable business partner,” he says.

Chicago Tube & Iron cuts from 1⁄2 inch up to 14 inch diameter OD round as well as square and rectangle tubing. Chicago Tube & Iron has six industrial tube lasers, with its newest machine in production as of April. 

“The Italian-manufactured Adige 14-inch Jumbo laser cutter can not only produce product almost twice as fast as any machine out there but also can handle product up to 40 feet long and with diameters up to 14 inches,” says Steve West, general manager of the general line of fabrication division at Chicago Tube & Iron. 

“The whole purpose of the new laser was to service our customers and to be able to give them the cost, quality and lead time they require,” West continues. “Customers can call us with very short lead times to fabricate small, medium and even very large parts.”

Wood-Mizer’s longest part is an 8 inch by 4 inch by 3⁄16 inch wall part that is 20 feet long with 230 features fabricated into the material, including holes, slots and notches, using the laser cutter, West says. “The tube laser gives us the capability to put in a very unique set of features very economically,” West says. “The more features that are put into the part, the more unique the part is and the more economical the tube laser process is.” 

A pre-emptive approach

One of the largest steel service centers in the United States, Chicago Tube & Iron has nearly a century of experience. The company has 10 subsidiaries throughout the Midwest, provides raw material and fabrication services, and has state-of-the-art facilities totaling more than 1.2 million square feet. The company houses more than 30,000 line items of inventory from a wide array of tube and pipe mills as well as valves and fittings.

Recently, Chicago Tube & Iron received the 2012 Tube and Pipe Journal’s industry award for service as well as growth. In an industry that has been fraught with economic hardships, a bold approach into a new market helped propel Chicago Tube & Iron’s reputation. 

Ten years ago, Bruce Butterfield, general manager of the industrial boiler and fabrication division at Chicago Tube & Iron, went to the company’s owners and proposed the company branch out into a new technology—laser tube cutting. At the time, Butterfield says the $1.5 million expenditure was by far the single largest equipment purchase in Chicago Tube & Iron’s 88-year history.

 “When we started in 2002, I believe we were the sixth company to purchase a tube laser unit in North America. There really weren’t that many companies offering this service,” Butterfield explains. 

The market was so new, there was no playbook on how best to approach the market. “We had to figure out how to go to market, integrate our sales staff and systems, train our employees and, most importantly, educate our customer base on what the new technology could do for them.”

The company had to formulate a new quoting system and developed the laser processing division as a cost center, supporting its distribution branches. “We basically started from scratch, and it has been truly amazing to see the expansion and growth from a fledgling start-up to the six tube laser operation we run today,” Butterfield says.

With the right equipment and steady inventory, potential disasters can be avoided swiftly and successfully. Recently, Wood-Mizer ran into a situation where the mill had run its 8 inch by 4 inch tube out of specifications and shut down production. 

Immediately, Chicago Tube & Iron and Wood-Mizer employees met with the mill to determine the cause of the problem and came to a solution. 

“The mill processed new tubing and shipped to Chicago Tube & Iron. The laser department worked both Saturday and Sunday to laser the tubes and deliver to our manufacturing plant on Monday morning,” Law says. With nearly 30 years in the business, Wood-Mizer has a reputation to uphold, and Law says Chicago Tube & Iron has helped maintain the company’s reliability.

“Chicago Tube & Iron has provided recommendations for both products and technology that have resulted in cost savings and increased manufacturing efficiency,” he adds. MM 


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