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Monday | 27 July, 2009 | 3:40 am

Signs of the times

By Abbe Miller

July 2009 - Looking back at the past can often produce a good chuckle. Compared with the modern world, much of what was once commonplace can seem absurd today. Take tractor-feed printers, for example. Tediously tearing off the strips of holes on each side of perforated computer paper is a task best left to nostalgia.

In fact, there’s an entire Web site devoted to outdated chores. The site, www.obsoleteskills.com, has produced a laundry list of antiquated ways of doing things. Dialing a rotary phone, adding water to a car battery and getting off the couch to change the television channel are just the tip of the iceberg.

Marco Bellisario, vice president at Concord Steel Centre Ltd., Woodbridge, Ontario, could easily add a few of his own entries to the Web site’s old-school collection. The ferrous, flat-rolled steel service center supplies its customers with coil, sheet and blanks and has been in business for more than 30 years. A lot has changed since the beginning, including the company’s method for testing material thickness.

"We used to use a good, old-fashioned hand micrometer," Bellisario explains. "It pales in comparison to what we have now because, No. 1, you had to stop the process to check the micrometer. And No. 2, you didn’t really have knowledge of what happened from the first mic reading to the second mic reading to the third or to the fifth."

Bellisario is comparing the company’s old measurement device with the AGT400 non-contact thickness gauge from Advanced Gauging Technologies LLC, Plain City, Ohio.

According to Dan Marchio, Advanced Gauging’s production manager, the AGT400, which can continuously measure a coil, was the first gauge to introduce a diagnostics page and be network compatible. And, unlike other gauges on the market, it never becomes obsolete.

"An AGT400 from the early years can easily be upgraded to the latest operating system with all the new networking capabilities just by replacing its computer instead of a costly complete electronics replacement," he says.

Lost and found
One of the first noticeable improvements in productivity at Concord came in the form of data storage and retrieval. With the company’s older-style gauge, the data was delivered as a hard copy from the device’s dot matrix printer. The documentation was then filed and hopefully found again later without much hassle.

"I couldn’t believe that we were spewing out that amount of paper every single day," Bellisario says. "And it wasn’t only that, but more so the fact that you had to keep all of that paper on file. And if you wanted to find a coil, where would you even start? It was mind-boggling."

Thumbing through weeks’ and months’ worth of thickness reports might not necessarily be a laughing matter when reminiscing about how things were handled prior to the AGT400. Whoever was once stuck with that task could give a big sigh of relief today. With the new gauge, Concord automatically stores data on the gauging unit itself, as well as on the company’s server. Reports can then be located by an internal serial number given to the coil or by the date in which it was processed at Concord.

Bellisario says every coil at Concord is analyzed by the AGT400. The reports that are generated from the gauge include results for the material being tested, as well as diagnostic reports outlining the functionality of the AGT400.

"I can retrieve the data from my desktop and e-mail it to a customer within seconds," says Bellisario.

The ins and outs
The sophistication achieved by the AGT400 isn’t something to be intimidated by. Bellisario says even the most computer-shy employee can use the gauge with ease--right off the bat.

"Training is practically instantaneous," he says. "Within four hours, 90 percent of the retention that’s needed to run the gauge is gained. We had an older guy who wouldn’t touch a computer, but now every time I walk by, he has a smile on his face because when he starts up the gauge, it’s on the screen that he needs to work with. There aren’t a bunch of buttons, either. When it’s time to exit the screen, they hit the button that says, ‘Exit,’ and away they go."

And installation was about that simple. For Concord, the process took less than three days. The equipment was shipped to the company for three of its slitters and for one tension leveler line. Following their arrival, Concord placed all of the units in their desired locations and ran the wiring. Once complete, Advanced Gauging showed up to do the fine-tuning.

"The diagram is so easy that it doesn’t take long for the electrician to run the wires," says Bellisario. "Basically, you pull it out of a box, put a few parts together and you’re ready to go."

Advanced Gauging doesn’t limit itself to its own devices. In addition to superior responsiveness, Bellisario is also impressed with the staff’s willingness to troubleshoot and work with measurement devices other than its own.

"We have the ability to service every brand of isotope thickness gauge on the market," says Marchio. "We carry nearly every hard-to-find, obsolete part for almost all gauges, some of which are 30 years old."

"If they were to do a retrofit on another unit, they buy back the other unit’s parts just to have them in stock for future needs," explains Bellisario. "The guys are true, genuine human beings and are really pleasant to deal with. When they’re walking through our plants, it’s like they’re just one of the guys."

Through thick and thin
When Bellisario takes a true assessment of the productivity gained from the AGT400s, he can’t fathom ever working without them. But the drastic improvement in efficiency doesn’t stand alone in his eyes. The relationship that has been established between Concord and Advanced Gauging is just as much as a selling point as the gauge’s features.

"We like to feed off the strengths of companies like Advanced Gauging, where we partner with our customers to find solutions," says Bellisario. "Since having the gauges, there have been so many cases where we’ve developed alternative products that might even be cheaper for our customers and that have made such a difference in their workplace. Ultimately, people care about people. All of that other stuff is important, but it’s such a great perk to deal with a company like AGT." MM

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