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Monday | 30 September, 2013 | 12:37 pm

Customer-driven change

By Gretchen Salois

Taking on a big project prompted one manufacturer to invest in flatness upgrade

September 2013 - The ability to anticipate and adapt to a customer’s needs usually is acquired with years of experience. Sometimes satisfying customers’ requirements means making a capital investment and modernizing equipment and capabilities. “We had one specific project where we needed precise flatness for the customer’s needs,” says Joe Arceneaux, manufacturing engineering manager for O’Neal Manufacturing Services in Greensboro, N.C. “Flatness requirements have become critical for our customers, and we can’t afford to use a manual or slow secondary process to flatten sheet.”

OMS purchased an Arku Flatmaster 80 in April 2013 after researching other options in the marketplace when bidding on a contract requiring a tight flatness tolerance. “We reached out to Arku first because they were a name we knew,” Arceneaux says. “We’d seen their machines in Germany and liked that we could send parts to their facility in the U.S. to test.” 

By working with Arku in Cincinnati, OMS was able to see first-hand how the Flatmaster operated and its overall efficiency and accuracy. “OMS’s parts are typical construction machinery parts,” says Chad Ellis, leveling center supervisor, Arku. “We had been leveling a lot of similar parts, and therefore it was no problem for us.” 

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Most of OMS’s customers in Greensboro produce equipment for the construction industry, including road pavers, skid steers, excavators and light towers using mild carbon steel sheet ranging from 16 gauge (1.5 millimeters) to about 3 inches (76.2 millimeters). The company has 10 North American manufacturing plants that use nonferrous, alloy and thicker/thinner carbon steel. The Arku Flatmaster is used for 6 millimeters through 12 millimeters. Although the Flatmaster can go as thin as 2 millimeters, OMS hasn’t used it for that thickness. 

Smooth transition

Once OMS locked in the contract, it was up to Arku to provide the Flatmaster in a timely manner. The quick-turnaround order was possible because Arku had some precision levelers in stock and ready to load. “The installation was simple, and we delivered the Flatmaster the next morning [after the contract went through],” says Patric Jobst, operations and engineering manager, Arku. “All we needed was the power hook up, and after lunch, the Flatmaster was up and running.”

“Other than pouring the foundation, the installation was easy and quick‚” Arceneaux says. “In fact, Arku got the machine set up faster than the electricians could pull the power.” The machine is heavy-duty, weighing in at 85,000 pounds. Once installed, OMS immediately saw how consistent the Flatmaster was compared to traditional secondary processes the company had used in the past. 

“We could put the Flatmaster in line with the outfeed of one of our lasers and we also use it with our press brake,” Arceneaux says. “It goes from the outfeed of the laser to the infeed of the Arku and fits very well with our workflow. It keeps up, whereas with the manual process we used before, there was no way we could keep up with the laser. It made the most sense to partner the machine with our laser and easily transition to the press brake.”

Arku spent three days training OMS’s lead operator. He now can train other operators at OMS to work on the Flatmaster. “And if I needed it, Jurgen or Patric would send someone for more training,” Arceneaux says. 

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Moving ahead

The contract that motivated OMS to make the investment required parts be 65 ksi minimum yield (65,000 psi minimum yield strength), a strong steel. “It’s 85 inches long and had to be flat within 2 millimeters,” explains Arceneaux. “We tried flattening some parts the traditional way but found we had to flip parts back and forth to get it close enough. 

“It went from a 30-minute process to flatten a part using traditional means, a large gantry-style flattening press, down to a 10- or 15-minute process using traditional methods with some tweaking,” he continues. “With the Flatmaster, that timeframe dropped to 45 seconds. There’s no comparison. It’s a high-volume part. We’d have to purchase three to four traditional flattening presses and hire three more shifts of operators per press. The bottom line is: If we didn’t have the Arku, we wouldn’t have been able to quote the part.”

Arku’s Flatmaster is easy to operate and its leveling rollers are quick to clean. “The hydraulic leveling unit and gap control provide consistent leveling results with tight tolerances,” Jobst says. Processing time is cut considerably, in part, because the hydraulic system has more leveling rollers, achieving better stress relief of parts and allowing for tighter flatness tolerances. 

There is more throughput without the need of additional leveling setting adjustments. “These benefits add up and result in process reliability for subsequent processes such as welding and forming,” Jobst says. Compared to other methods, the hydraulic roller leveling system is faster and provides a tighter flatness and more stress relief, resulting in less rework, less scrap and higher-quality parts, he adds.

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OMS is among a group of manufacturers experiencing the benefits of a repeatable flattening process. “The Flatmaster is used in a variety of industries,” says Jurgen Jost, president, Arku. “Steel service centers use it to supply better sheet, plate and parts. Typical industries include construction machinery, agriculture, mining, transportation, military, shipbuilding and automotive, among others.”

Going forward, OMS expects to branch out into other market segments. “We’re still digesting the results of the Flatmaster for this current project,” Arceneaux says. “But we can see that anyone using robotics and needing tight flatness requirements will be able to come to us for quality, repetitive parts. We can compete and having this capability makes us feel we’re ahead of the competition in a lot of ways.”

Arceneaux says peace of mind is the biggest takeaway from its Arku Flatmaster experience. “It’s made a real difference for us and improved the quality of product overall,” he says. “I know we used to cringe before we had this machine if something needed to be really flat. Even if it came flat from the mill, once you apply a thermal cutting process, the material can be unpredictable and warp, requiring secondary flattening processes. With the Arku, we know we can handle it and bring it back in line by running it through the Flatmaster.” MM

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