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Material Handling
Wednesday | 05 February, 2014 | 11:00 am

The art of manipulation

By Lynn Stanley

Above: After horizontally rolling a cylinder, Koike’s custom, heavy gauge steel tilt/roll table moves the vessel 45 degrees on end to clean the head.

Positioning technology isn’t just for welders anymore

January 2014 - Recent reports from sources like Forbes magazine’s contributing writer Joshua Wright confirm what the metalworking and fabrication industry has known for years: Welders, machinists and other skilled trades continue to hold the title for most difficult U.S. jobs to fill. With fewer workers 65 years and older, just 1.9 percent compared to 4.8 percent of the total labor force, the percentage comparison also underscores the physically taxing nature of skilled trades. 

Koike Aronson Inc./Ransome, Arcade, N.Y., is helping fabricators grappling with these issues get ahead of the curve. The company specializes in high-performance welding, positioning and thermal cutting equipment for customers in the mining, energy and heavy industries. Its custom approach to positioning equipment also is opening doors for the manufacturer in material handling, a niche market that until now has hovered outside Koike’s comfort zone.

“Positioner technology is advancing so quickly that most welders today don’t realize what the equipment can do,” says Don Burgart, welding product manager for Koike. “Parts are getting heavier and bigger, time is shorter and it’s harder to find workers that know how to move loads. There’s also less welding talent available so companies are looking at automation to help offset lack of experience.” Koike’s newest crop of positioners makes a welder’s job easier by holding, rotating and tilting a fabrication as it is being worked on. “If you can place a part in the most ergonomic position for the operator, it eliminates the need for the welder to crawl all over the part to access areas of weld. In a work cell, a positioner and manipulator can handle several parts at once creating a dedicated system for welding specific components.” 

New ideas

Koike’s G3,500 - G10,000 positioners are some of the largest standard gear-driven positioners in the world, making them economical, safe and practical for manufacturers to machine, weld and assemble massive structures. Hard automation equipment that is specially designed for production is cost effective and offers manufacturers flexibility. “Robotic automation requires a greater level of expertise,” says Burgart. “It means more programming and the operator has to determine whether or not the robot is sized correctly for the parts. Our hard automation takes less setup. Individuals hired off the street can quickly be trained to use it.”

As the need grows to move and manipulate large items, Koike is finding applications that are taking the company outside its welding boundaries—like its latest project with uranium chemistry specialist Ron Noe. A consulting engineer for Daher-TLI, Fulton, Md., Noe turned to Koike for a positioning solution when the transport and engineering company launched plans to build a UF6 Cylinder Service Center in Kevil, Ky. The facility will house a new washing and recertification operation for 48Y steel cylinders. This cylinder type is most commonly used for transporting uranium hexafluoride.

Daher-TLI provides a full complement of transport management services for all forms of radioactive materials between North America and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. In 2011 the company began exploring the market for cylinder washing. ANSI requires cylinders carrying uranium hexafluoride, or hex, be washed out internally and pass a series of tests every five years before they can be recertified and placed back into service. Typically facilities like uranium enrichment plants have handled the washing operation for these cylinders. But Noe says companies tend to find the work a nuisance. “Most businesses would rather have someone else take care of this job for them,” he says. “We thought, ‘why don’t we be that person?’”

To clean and manipulate the 5,200-pound, 48-inch diameter cylinders, Daher-TLI would require the right positioner technology. “Years earlier, I had had previous experience with a tilt/roll table built by Koike,” Noe says. “The excellent performance of that table was the key factor in selecting Koike to work with us on developing this new table.”

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A tailored solution

Using Koike’s basic design, Daher-TLI added some modifications that would allow the new tilt/roll table to handle different cylinder lengths. “About 75 percent of the projects that come through here are custom jobs for special applications,” says Burgart. “Most are modifications of our standard units. We tailor the tables further to meet a customer’s individual requirements.”

Noe designed a patent-pending end mount with the mobility to move in and out depending on cylinder length. The design concept and operating specifications were submitted to Koike in January 2013. “Don was a jewel to work with,” Noe says. “We went through a number of design iterations. Koike was very agreeable. The level of communication also made collaborating on the project effective. When they got done, everything was exactly the way I wanted it.”

The heavy gauge steel table, 18 feet long by 7 feet wide and 12 feet tall, was installed and field-tested in the new Kentucky facility Nov. 20, 2013. The tilt/roll table is able to support a cylinder when the table is in full tilt. Its range of motion and programmability allow operators to manipulate the cylinder for optimal cleaning.

The cylinders’ lifting lugs and a 10-ton bridge crane make placing the vessels on the table simple. The end supports lock a cylinder in place. The cleansing agent, a water-based solution with 7 percent hydrofluoric acid, is introduced and the roll program initiated.

“No other company uses my cleaning solution recipe,” says Noe. The cylinder is horizontally rolled then tilted 45 degrees on end to clean the head. The process is repeated so that both ends are thoroughly washed. “The net result is the table allows us to clean 100 percent of the cylinder’s internal surfaces,” he says. Noe’s unique cleaning mixture, also patent pending, breaks down patches and deposits of scale that can build up inside a cylinder.

Dirty jobs

The table’s control makes programming the tilt/roll table easy. “Koike did a great job on the control,” says Noe. “They integrated the ability to move the end supports, control roll speed, change tilt, and set timing increments and other program parameters into a convenient pendant configuration. The operator really just has to monitor the cleaning process which takes about 30 minutes.”

Following cleaning, cylinders are placed in a recertification testing sequence. Once completed, the cylinder is recertified and released to the customer for service. 

Daher-TLI opened its new UF6 Cylinder Service Center Dec. 3, 2013. The plant gives the company the capacity to clean and recertify more than 700 cylinders a year and has created more than 20 jobs for Ballard County. Daher-TLI expects to double the number of employees onsite in the next five years. 

With commercial operations underway, Daher-TLI has taken a dirty job off the hands of its customers. For Koike, the project is a mile marker on where its positioner products are headed. “More and more of our positioning equipment is being requested for assembly work and cleaning hazardous waste,” says Burgart. “Serving the welding industry will continue to be a core component of our offering, but collaborations like this one with Daher-TLI show us avenues for expanding our reach.”

The job for Noe is a second career. With more than 20 years of experience in cylinder washing, Noe’s talent was tapped by Daher-TLI to help launch the new venture in a central location. “They asked me to work with them because they knew I had experience,” says Noe. “I reached out to Koike first because I knew they had the background experience we needed to get the operation off the ground. I take my hat off to them. Most companies won’t even talk to you about a project like this. If it’s not part of their standard lineup, they don’t want to fool with it.” MM

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