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Coil Processing
Thursday | 12 January, 2017 | 2:36 pm

Tough stuff

By Lauren Duensing

Steel and Pipe Supply’s heavy-duty Braner line handles high-strength material

January 2017 - High-strength, heavy-gauge materials are challenging to process. They are so tough that it’s difficult for levelers to remove material crossbow and correct shape problems. However, just like thin materials, it’s important for thick, high-strength metals to come off the leveler dead flat—not just visually flat. If the internal trapped stresses aren’t completely removed from the processed sheets, the material will spring back, potentially damaging equipment and causing parts to be relegated to the scrap bin.

Companies must have the right equipment to run these strong materials, says Chuck Damore, president of Braner USA Inc., Schiller Park, Illinois. “All our customers are demanding not only equipment that can do more but can also do it more quickly. They need equipment that can process advanced high-strength materials as well as the aluminum [grades] we’re seeing in the automotive industry. From our perspective, the industrial sectors are trending toward the use of these higher-strength materials, and we’ve developed equipment that can handle them effectively on one machine.”

Wanted: A beefed-up line

Steel and Pipe Supply, Manhattan, Kansas, is a distribution and processing company that provides services to a wide range of industries, including commercial construction, manufacturing and agriculture. SPS has both service center divisions and flat-rolled divisions that include a coil processing facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Because of its location, that facility had an opportunity to expand into the growing high-strength material processing business in the area, says Rick Hargrove, vice president of operations, Flat Rolled Division. 

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An automatic stacker efficiently assembles sheets into straight-sided packs.

The Tulsa facility already had a large cut-to-length line, but the equipment was aging and having difficulty processing high-strength materials. It was unable to achieve the flatness the company required and it broke down frequently from the excess strain. “We needed something that could level grade 80 material,” Hargrove says.

SPS turned to Braner with its list of requirements. In addition to the ability to level 1⁄2-inch-thick A656 grade 80 steel, Hargrove says, the company needed a line that could easily deal with long lengths and quick change-outs. The equipment Braner developed is capable of processing material up to 130,000 psi tensile strength by 96 inches wide by 1⁄2 inch through 0.105 inches thick and mild steel up to 3⁄4 inches thick. The line was installed and commissioned in late 2014. 

“We wanted it built to handle 3⁄4-inch-thick material, even though we don’t have the [leveling] cassette to go that heavy,” says Hargrove. “We beefed it up to make sure it could handle everything we wanted to do in the 1⁄2 [inch-thick] 96 [inch-wide] market and below.”

“Braner has been very keen on developing equipment to process the high-strength materials in the industry today,” Damore says. “We supplied SPS with our hydraulic leveler technology that incorporates a specially engineered TorqueMaster drivetrain.” He notes that Braner uses hydraulic leveler technology instead of mechanical leveling because it “provides more work roll plunging to remove crossbow and strip shape defects so material coming off the machine is dead flat without internal trapped stresses.” 

The TorqueMaster technology provides the machine with additional power. “SPS’s older machine and most conventional levelers use a variable speed motor coupled to a distribution gearbox with multiple output shafts to drive the leveler,” Damore says. In these systems, because one common motor drives the gearbox, all rolls are forced to run at the same speed. “As strip travels within a leveler from roll to roll, it runs at slightly different speeds within the leveler from the entry to exit end of the machine,” he adds. 

Because the rolls are forced to run at the same speed in a conventional geartrain, the stress on the drivetrain can cause bearings, gears and leveler drive shafts to fail. The TorqueMaster drivetrain “uses an individual motor and gearbox to power each roll separately, eliminating wind-up stresses and overloading. Driving each roll individually allows for rolls in the leveler to be plunged deeper into the material, working the material even more to remove crossbow and springback memory conditions without equipment overloads.” In addition, the TorqueMaster system displays torque vectored to each leveler roll in a bar graph on the computer screen, allowing an operator to see and monitor the torque each roll is consuming and make the necessary adjustments to level strip and avoid overloading.

Braner also supplied a high-speed hydraulic shear for cutting material to length. “Blade clearances are automatically adjustable once the operator enters the material thickness and strength. The blade rake angle is automatically adjusted, increasing cycle times based on the material thickness and strength,” Damore says. These features work together to ensure a clean edge with minimal burr, and a shear counter keeps track of the number of cuts to help maintenance personnel know when blades should be changed. 

After cutting, the blanks exit the line and are fed into a 60-foot-long automatic stacker that can assemble 0.105-inch through 3⁄4-inch-thick by 96-inch-wide sheet and plate into straight-sided packs for discharge and shipping.

Quick change

In addition to its leveling ability, one crucial feature of the line is the double cassettes, one of which incorporates a 6.5-inch work roll for heavy-gauge product, and the other has a 4-inch work roll for lighter-gauge materials. “We can do a quick change in 20 minutes or less and go from light-gauge material all the way through to 1⁄2-inch-thick, 96-inch-wide, grade 80,” Hargrove says. “We may put a coil up and cut one or two pieces off, back it off and put another coil up. The line gave us the flexibility to make those changes and do them as quickly as possible.”

These interchangeable leveler cassettes allow Braner customers to run a wide thickness range and strength range on a single line, Damore says. “In addition, because the cassettes pull out of the machine, doing a roll change is infinitely more convenient because once the cassette is out of the machine, maintenance personnel can lift the top of the rolls off the bottom, flip it over and do a work roll, backup bearing and bushing change—while they are running the other cassette. The line’s not down. Not to mention, it’s a lot easier to do maintenance and roll changes when the machine is offline. With a traditional leveler, you might be down for a week to change out rolls. Because these roll cassettes pull out, they can be changed in a day, while the machine is still running.”

Hargrove says SPS has been “extremely pleased not only with the quality of the line” but also with Braner’s customer service. “They’ve been a great company to work with and continue to support our operation.” Because the line can handle thicker material than SPS is currently running, it is “no longer pushing the envelope in regard to our capabilities. We’re not afraid of trying things now, where before the line was limited to what we thought we could do with it. 

“Now we know we can run material and get it flat because the frame is designed for 3⁄4-inch material. We know we can put as much pressure as we need to get it flat. We currently don’t have any plans to run 3⁄4-inch-thick steel on the line, but we have the capability, and also the confidence to produce excellent quality on our current product mix.”

Having equipment that exceeds current capabilities provides peace of mind but it also helps set the stage for future plans, Damore says. “These materials are changing so quickly. The mills are producing stronger and stronger materials, so everybody is looking ahead to the future.” MM

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