Manufacturer tames hot-rolled carbon steel with custom line
July 2014 - Technological innovations in the 19th century helped fuel rapid economic growth, giving rise to big business and national labor unions. Strong lines were drawn between management and workers, setting the stage for acrimonious, often violent labor conflicts that proved especially problematic for the railroad, mining and steel industries. Looking to bridge the gap, John Eagan took a different approach to employee relations.
He founded the American Cast Iron Pipe Co. in 1905 on the Golden Rule. The phrase, which refers to Matthew 7:12, “so in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you...,” remains the company’s guiding principle more than a century later. “It means doing things the right way, from the highest level of customer service to engineering products that solve customer problems, stand the test of time and can be recycled to fill another order, not a landfill. It’s who we are and how we do business,” says Joy Carter, spokeswoman for the Birmingham, Alabama-based foundry.
Eagan devised an infrastructure that provided American with a framework that has held up through the present day. “He wanted his business run in a manner that would contribute positively to customers, employees and the community,” Carter explains. “He left the company in a trust that is governed by a board of trustees made up of employees representing both management and labor.”
Despite marketplace and societal changes, Eagan’s belief that a company founded on faith could prosper for the benefit of others has proved sustainable through a century of American economic history. American Steel Pipe, a division of American, is expanding with a 150,000-square-foot processing facility addition to its North Mill.
The company is also detaching an existing processing facility from the North Mill and reattaching it to the South Mill, doubling that mill’s processing capacity. The $55 million project should be completed this year.
American has expanded its product line over the years, making ductile iron pipe, spiral-welded pipe, and fire hydrants and valves for waterworks utilities. The company serves the oil and gas industry with electric-resistance-welded (ERW) steel pipe and has a diversified product offering that includes static castings and high-performance fire pumps.
American employs about 1,600 people at its Birmingham plant and about 1,000 more at subsidiaries across the U.S. and in Itauna, Brazil.
Making hot-rolled carbon steel pipe in 0.188-inch to 0.625-inch wall thicknesses for transmission of oil, oil products, natural gas and natural gas liquids, the company processed its coil heads and tails with a traditional flattener.
American Petroleum Institute standards demand consistency of properties and dimensions to facilitate safe and efficient flow of volatile energy products. The company sought ways to minimize problems with incoming material such as coil camber and material deviations.
“We considered a number of equipment suppliers,” says Mike Petrus, assistant works manager for American. “After initial conversations with the sales team from Bradbury Co. Inc., we decided to take them up on their offer to process some of our more problematic material on their eDrive leveler at Mississippi Steel Processing LLC.”
“Once the material was leveled, we took a straight edge and placed it on the metal strip. It was perfectly flat,” says Brownie Cox, industry manager-flat products for Moundridge, Kansas-based Bradbury.
“After witnessing the capability of Bradbury’s equipment, we decided to work with them on our equipment needs,” Petrus adds.
The family owned, third-generation company is the founding organization behind the Bradbury Group with product lines that include roll forming equipment, levelers and automated production systems. In the case of American, Bradbury was able to take service center technology and transfer it to the heavy-wall pipe manufacturing industry.
“Typically with leveling, metal is cut into sheets and stacked,” says Cox. “In this case we had to design a system that could feed a giant tube mill making large-diameter, heavy-walled pipe that wasn’t cut until processing was completed some 200 feet down the line. It was a new application for us, but one we were excited to take on because we felt the tube and pipe industry offered a lot of potential as a market opportunity for our equipment.”
Working closely with American’s engineers, Bradbury installed a custom system comprising several critical components in January 2014.
A powered snubber roll holds hot-rolled carbon steel coils in place and prevents rewinding while a peeler table helps peel and thread the material into the eDrive leveler. The patent-pending eDrive combines roll bending with tension leveling techniques for gauges from 0.02 inch to 0.625 inch to correct shape while equalizing internal stresses for superior flatness.
Finally, Bradbury’s custom conveying system adjusts for camber misalignment, keeping material on track for a straight, even weld.
“We integrated the capability to allow the operator to adjust for camber during production,” says Cox. “Coil camber and the torque that naturally occurs causes the pipe to twist, which creates weld problems downstream. Our technology minimizes welding misalignment and reduces scrap while maintaining product consistency. We add stability to their process and that’s a big payback.”
Since starting up, the Bradbury system has already met the requirements used to justify American’s capital investment. “Our mill is more tolerant of steel shape issues,” says Petrus. “The equipment has allowed us to expand our list of approved steel suppliers. And the training Bradbury provided helped our employees to hit the ground running.”
“American has skilled operators that were able to pick up the controls and other line features quickly,” observes Cox. “Our goal with training is to equip employees with practical application knowledge and build confidence so they know they can rely on the equipment to process a high-quality product.”
American is able to produce 350,000 tons of pipe annually and ships globally. “Designing a system for round pipe was a first for us,” says Cox, “so the chance to work with a company that has a rich history and similar business practices gave us the opportunity we were looking for to enter the tube and pipe market. The project has proved very successful for both companies.” MM