Guest Editorial

Answering tough processing questions

September 2013 - Chicago Steel has always had two components to its business. One component is what we call standard practice business, where the mills, service centers and OEMs identify the need for superior product from a shape characteristic, dimensional characteristic or edge-quality characteristic. They tend to identify these early on in the process, and therefore Chicago Steel is built into the supply chain to be the last process before the material enters their operation, ensuring consistency coil to coil, month after month, year after year.

The other component to our business is reclamation. Typically this involves solving problems when something out of the ordinary occurs at the mills, service centers or OEMs. This type of business can have a wide variety of issues—from out-of-round coils; damaged sidewalls; oiled product that should be dry; or shape issues such as center buckle, edge wave, cross bow or coil set. Chicago Steel has several pieces of equipment under one roof and is able to resolve multiple issues without incurring the cost of freight by shipping product from one location to another.

If customers have out-of-round, damaged or defective coils, they will send them to us to resolve the issue and return the coil to their customer as a prime coil. 

If you look back 25 years, shape was not a critical characteristic in the automotive industry. ASTM specifications would suffice. If a customer could get the material into his die, the extreme force of the die would pull out most shape issues. As the automotive industry progressed, automation began to play a key role. That automation, such as suction-cup feeding systems, required flat, clean and consistent product. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we saw a major move on shape characteristics in deep-drawn applications, not as a necessity of the final part but as a requirement of the automated equipment on production lines.

As the automotive world started moving to higher-strength steels, including products with yields in excess of 100,000 psi, it created a new market for enhancing shape characteristics. Chicago Steel began working with these ultra high strength steels in 2004.

These changes are being driven by the need for improved quality in all characteristics of the product. For quality to improve, the product must improve. From a production standpoint, automation is used in most of those lines, and as automation improves, the product must improve for automation to work successfully.

More efficient material

Out-of-specification and inconsistent product will create internal problems such as jammed equipment, damaged equipment, loss of material and loss of production.

When a customer contacts us with problems, we look at their operation to evaluate and determine the root cause of the problem. Many times, as we have seen in laser-cutting operations, shape is a major contributing factor. Poor shape generally results in damage to the laser torches or jamming in the line. Many times, the root cause is a shape-related issue such as cross bow, coil set, center buckle or edge wave. Once we have determined the root cause, we attempt to move that customer toward standard practice tension leveling to ensure consistency of the product. Tension leveling eliminates shape distortions, creating a permanent change in the product. Now, every panel that goes into a laser-cutting operation will be consistently flat, allowing the automation to work correctly.

To achieve the full benefit of tension leveling, customers need to be open and candid to allow us to show them the savings a consistent and uniform product can provide. Substandard product creates delays in lines, and that product will need to be removed from the line. Not only does this result in scrap but also lost production time, costing a company thousands of dollars. It is these types of costs that are categorized as the hidden costs of quality, and many companies don’t take a hard look at the costs associated with defective product.

The same thing occurs with slitting. Most service centers have their own processing lines, yet we slit for service centers. With our equipment and tooling, we can virtually eliminate burrs, dimensional issues and shape concerns. Often, this provides their customers with a consistent product at a lower cost than they can provide themselves.

We are able to partner with our customers to solve problems because we are a toll processor. Therefore, we pose no threat to our customers from a competitive standpoint. We don’t buy or sell any steel, so there are no confidentiality issues. 

Companies live and die by their reputations. Chicago Steel has progressed over the years to become a benchmark for quality in the processing industry. This allows us to benefit from customers’ favorable comments about Chicago Steel, which results in many referrals. Chicago Steel can help your company answer tough processing questions and become a one-stop shop for your processing needs. MM


Dan Phillips is president of Chicago Steel and Bill Boak is the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. The Gary, Ind.-based toll processor focuses on providing quality services to the flat-roll marketplace, including tension leveling, cleaning, side trimming, slitting, cut-to-length, rail service and warehousing. Contact the company at 800/367-8110, ext. 401 or


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