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Wednesday | 12 October, 2016 | 9:43 am

Structural might

By Corinna Petry

Above: The Voortman V330 split plate cutting and drilling machine, installed in October 2015, processes two plates at once, doubling capacity at HME Inc.

Heavy fabricator finds the right combination in a multipurpose processing machine

October 2016 - You know the drill. You’ve got the best people, the correct attitude, the drive, but your existing equipment isn’t quite matching up to the demands for perfection that come with every new order. A Great Plains structural fabricator and erector brought this problem to one of its favorite vendors and soon bought a machine that can perform multiple processes on each beam or plate that lands on the table.

HME Inc., started up in 1996 by President Jon Haas in his garage, has grown into a 151,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Topeka, Kansas, that employs more than 200 people and offers pretty much everything a contractor wants start to finish. 

Capable of estimating, detailing, engineering and fabrication services, HME establishes accurate bids; uses CAD systems and 3D modeling software to aid its detailers in creating quality drawings; employs AWS-certified welders; and automates CNC equipment processes to ensure efficient, accurate structural materials certified to AISC standards; coats pieces to customer specifications; and delivers finished orders to job sites with its own trucks and drivers.

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HME really made a name for itself a couple years ago when it rebuilt the tornado-ravaged Joplin High School in Joplin, Missouri. “We erected the entire structure for the new school,” says Production Manager Rob Mohan. “That was part of the rebuilding of the city of Joplin.”

Other major projects include an aircraft hanger at McConnell Air Force Base just outside Wichita. Such high-profile contract wins have led the company to branch out with satellite offices in Kansas City and Denver, staffed by engineers, detailers, estimators and project managers, Mohan says.

The workload also means capital investment. When HME’s owners realized even more plate processing capacity would be necessary, it turned to a long-time partner, Voortman Steel Machinery, a U.S. company based in Monee, Illinois, owned by President Adrian Morrall and a Dutch manufacturer.

HME processes low-carbon, high-carbon and stainless steel alloys, and aluminum. It can work with plate up to 10 feet wide by 20 feet long and thicknesses of up to 6 inches, according to Mohan.

“Our primary product is structural steel. We have a shot blaster, a Voortman VSB 1500. We have two V630 drills and two V1250 saws (also from Voortman). On the drills, we have drill, layout and tapping capabilities. Then we have a Voortman V808 Robotic plasma and oxy-fuel cutting machine with a 400 amp plasma torch. It’s in a cabinet, and there is a conveyor in and a conveyor out. The beam rolls in and out,” Mohan says. 

“We stumbled across Voortman at a trade show [years ago]. We were happy with our prior equipment but planned to upgrade and thought it was wise to shop around. Once we looked at their equipment, we realized all the material handling is automated. Competing systems are run by joy stick and an operator. They are not automated,” he says. 

“The shot blaster was appealing because we could run our beams in the H position. Other systems must run in the I position so the shot doesn’t build up in the web. Voortman’s shot blaster has a built-in brush and blower system that blows shot out of the web. The advantage is all other machines require the beam to lie in the H position. That’s standard industry practice. But with the Voortman shot blaster, we no longer have to roll our beams over into the H position for the next operation,” Mohan explains. 

HME also found the V808 appealing. “A robotic coper adds the capability to cut all of our profiles and provides full penetration weld preps that can be done in an automated fashion,” he says.

The company installed a Voortman V330 split plate cutting and drilling machine in October 2015. “It drills, lays out, performs plasma and oxy-fuel cutting. It’s all programmable. You can do all these things on one piece of steel.”

For example, says Mohan, “we would drill and lay out, and then the next operation would be plasma cut or oxygen acetylene cut. We can also slot mill, we can tap and countersink.”

In the company’s fab shop, operators fit-up, weld and assemble contracted setups. 

Clean holes

With its previous plate processing lines, Mohan acknowledges, “We had problems with hole quality. Now we drill all of our holes. It’s a true clean hole that meets tight tolerances, much tighter than plasma or oxy-fuel.

“The other challenge with those other systems is when you burn a hole that is smaller in diameter than the thickness of the plate, you lose hole quality,” he continues. “So in a 1-inch plate, if you must create less than a 1-inch-deep hole, quality suffers. But by drilling, that’s not a factor.”

Factoring in the rest of the beam and plate equipment, including the new shot blaster versus the old method of manual blasting, HME has experienced “incredible time savings. The V808 coper—all those profile cuts were formerly done by hand. The accuracy and cleanliness of cuts are much better, and there is less cleanup time and less rework time.”

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HME Inc. uses a series of automated machinery from Voortman to process heavy structural sections as well as plate up to 6 inches thick.

Operator training

HME reconfigured its space in order to move the V330 in. “The building this machine resides in had a plasma table, a couple of fabrication stations and a break room. We had to demolish the break room, relocate the fab stations to another building. We ran some additional power in.”

Voortman provided a week of intensive operator training, then “the trainer stuck around another week while we ran production to make sure everything was good to go.”

As far as production capacity goes, says Mohan, “Each nesting is a little different. When you have the right combination for plasma, we are seeing up to 50 percent gain in productivity, compared with single gantry machine.”

Dual gantry

A typical plate processor features a gantry with a drill head and plasma head, he says. “First you drill, then you plasma cut. The V330 has a dual gantry so what’s happening is it drills plate on first table, transfers that plate to a second table, scans holes and starts plasma cutting. Meanwhile, the drill gantry is working on a second plate. So the machine is processing two plates at the same time.”

Because of such capabilities, “We are able to go out and bid plate processing, drilling and plasma cutting at a cheaper rate, because one machine does it all and faster,” Mohan says.

Yet, it’s not difficult to run. “Our operators enjoy how simple it is to use,” he continues. “Once the program is output to the machine, the operator just lays the plate down and starts the program.” They also like the automatic tool changer and the automated transfer of plates from the drill table to the plasma/oxyfuel table, which is safer than manual material handling. 

Customers have provided positive feedback about the finished material coming off the V330, says Mohan. “Hole quality is a big thing and these drill holes are the best quality you can produce.” You might even say they are perfect. MM

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