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Coil Processing
Thursday | 09 March, 2017 | 3:40 pm

Test of time

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Flexco fabricates over 30,000 parts for applications ranging from cargo trailers to farm machinery, manufactured housing to medical equipment and more.

Antiquated machine proves more valuable upgraded than replaced

March 2017 - What’s old is now new at Flexco Products Inc. After more than two decades of nonstop operating, the company’s corrective leveling line was kaput. Investing in a completely new line would cost millions, but then CEO Tom Jellison noticed the bones of his line were still intact. 

Forty years ago, Tom Jellison bought a building he intended primarily as commercial rental property to let. Instead he took over the building and started distributing coil products. “Now we’re sitting in a complex with some 20 odd buildings,” Jellison says. Located in Elkhart, Indiana, Flexco fabricates products from raw coil using laser, turret, robotic and hand welding, press brakes and stamping machines, and progressive dies. “We use all kinds of equipment for any job brought to us.”

Flexco fabricates 30,000 configurations of parts for multiple industrial applications ranging from the RV and cargo trailers to buses, agriculture machinery, manufactured housing, structural steel buildings, seating products for the medical industry, and others. “We can do anything to a piece of steel or aluminum, whether it’s hot-rolled, hot-rolled pickled, cold-rolled steel, aluminum, etc., in sheet, plate, tread plate, tubing or structurals, from 0.01 inch to 1 inch thick,” Jellison says. 

FFJ 0317 coil image1

Bradbury Co. rebuilt and upgraded the machine from the physical components and software to repainting.

The sheer daily volume of work Flexco performs means that if the line goes down, “we’re in deep trouble,” Jellison says. “We buy our coils from the mills and we have a tight timeframe to process that coil.” Flexco levels and cuts coil to length, reshears it to blank sizes, then completes various fabrication tasks such as hole punching, welding, running it through the CNC turret presses, laser cutting, and processing material for use in robotic weld cells. “You name it, we do it.”

After examining the aging leveler, Jellison called out to a few vendors to get some quotes. “It would cost us about $4.5 million to replace the entire line so I looked at the [individual] pieces we needed to replace and called Bradbury Co.” Jellison had purchased pieces of used roll-forming equipment in the past and was impressed with the company’s work. 

“Bradbury sent out a few people and they looked at what needed replacing, what did not, etc.,” recalls Jellison. Structurally, the only thing that was beyond repair was the uncoiler. “Otherwise, we needed new PLCs, and new programming on the shear, which they had to take apart and rebuild.

“The corrective leveler in the line wasn’t leveling right so that was completely rebuilt,” he continues. Antiquated software was removed and replaced.

The cost came out to about $1.5 million, a far cry from the cost of an entirely new line, and it resulted in a 30 to 40 percent increase in efficiency. “It was a tough project and they managed to pull it off in two weeks,” Jellison adds. Flexco’s corrective leveling line will level mild steel from 16-gauge to 1⁄4 inch, up to 72 inches wide and 20 feet long. 

Behind the scenes

Using the existing line’s heavy-duty frame, the upgrade turned out to be cost-effective. “It was a very efficient way in a short amount of time to provide the modernization Flexco needed,” says Jim Sugars, industry sales leader, Group Processing Lines, at Bradbury Co. Within the tight schedule, the machine was rebuilt and upgraded, from the physical equipment and software upgrades to repainting. 

Bradbury completely disassembled the leveler. “We took it apart, turned the head upside down so we could replace the upper backup bearings, work rolls, hydraulic cylinders and valves, and other necessary components,” explains Sugars. 

At the core of the upgrade was improving the leveling capability by installing Bradbury’s patented eDrive technology that focuses tension on the strip while it is in the plastic state, equalizing stresses through the neutral zone.

FFJ 0317 coil image2

Bradbury replaced all the electronics, and installed a new HMI and PLC for the leveler and line control.

Bradbury installed a new twin-opposing uncoiler and added a new automatic coil centering laser unit to the line. Bradbury’s eDrive leveler upgrade used the shell of the existing machine and added a new gearbox, motors, drives, work rolls, bearings and driveshafts. “We replaced all the electronics, and put in a new HMI and PLC for leveler and line control,” Sugars says. “Changing the hydraulics, plumbing, transducers, and painting the entire line all on site—it was like taking an old car and replacing everything beneath the hood [and adding] a new paint job.”

The new controls have a library of settings the operator can choose from, so the machine automatically goes into position once material is loaded. “It reduces setup time significantly,” says Sugars. The controls upgrade resulted in easier calibration. The operator inserts blocks and pushes a button to calibrate the machine instead of having to get down and physically move transducers. Bradbury can also log into the machine remotely to help troubleshoot any problems.

Bradbury completed the upgrade using the original machine blueprints. “We had all the drawings and electrical schematics of the original machine, which helped us plan properly and quickly,” Sugars says. “We did an engineering trip to confirm wire runs were the same so, when we did shut the machine down, there would be nothing to delay us.”

Operators can now achieve flatter material in both heavier and lighter gauges than previously. “We also upgraded the line with some current safety features,” adds Sugars. “Finally, we were able to improve the stacker by refining the tamping, height indexing, and end stop positioning. A new safety light curtain was installed to allow the operator safe access into the stacker to place dunnage.”

Automating the process allows Flexco to switch off easily between jobs. Downtime decreased and, as a result, saved considerable funds that were devoted to astronomical maintenance costs, according to Jellison. “We churn out anywhere from 300,000 to 400,000 pounds of wear and tear, day in and day out,” he adds. 

“Previously, we had problems maintaining [production] schedules,” Jellison says. “Before, the line couldn’t keep up or jobs weren’t consistent so we weren’t consistent with on-time deliveries.” MM

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