October 2010- Equipment tailored to fit a company’s needs can help it not only speed production and enhance quality but also take on a variety of projects with confidence—facts the teams at McNeilus Steel Inc., Dodge Center, Minn., know well.
The steel service center stocks more than 3,500 different steel and nonferrous metal products at its three facilities in the Midwest, including hot and cold roll; pipe, pipe tube and tube; sheets and plates; and stainless and aluminum. It fabricates and cuts to length metal stock for a variety of end users.
"It’s all over the board as far as what we cut," says Greg Head, general manager at McNeilus’ Fond du Lac, Wis., location. "It might be for building construction, and it might be for OEMs producing a product."
McNeilus completed the Fond du Lac facility in late 2009 and installed a TouchTech 60 vertical production band saw from Marvel Manufacturing Co. Inc., Oshkosh, Wis. The company chose to add the TouchTech saw at its new facility because of its success with Marvel saws at its Dodge Center and Fargo, N.D., facilities.
"We are using [the saw] for higher production-type sawing, whether that be tubes or flats or channels or angles or structural items of that nature," says Head. "It’s a wide variety of products that these will get cut into, and they will get cut really to any length. We might put in 60-foot lengths, and we might cut a bunch of 6-inch pieces," he says, noting the company usually cuts bundles that measure 20 inches by 25 inches.
McNeilus has six other Marvel saws between its two locations in Dodge Center and Fargo, so "it was a natural fit to put one of those in" at Fond du Lac, says Head.
The Fond du Lac saw is based specifically on a saw at the Fargo location. "We started with that and tweaked it a little bit from there as far as how our building was set up here and if there was anything else that we needed or didn’t need," he says.
The Fargo location, which opened in 1998, had purchased a 2150 CNC control with handling equipment, and as the facility’s business grew, the company wanted to add a second machine that used the same handling system, says Don Armstrong, national sales manager with Marvel. "We designed a machine and integrated it into the existing system, which worked well," he says.
When McNeilus built its Fond du Lac warehouse, the company "wanted to duplicate that system, but they weren’t ready to put in two machines right away," says Armstrong. "We were able to design the system in advance so it would be very easy to plug in that second machine down the road when they were ready to add it."
The TouchTech 60 has a servo drive bar feed and a 10 horsepower drive motor. The saw can perform 60-degree mitering on both the left and right, and it features a 3-degree forward-canted blade. Blade speed ranges from 30 feet per minute to 650 feet per minute, and feed force ranges from zero to 350 pounds. The machine is part of Marvel’s Series 2000 line of saws, which includes both 1.25-inch and 1.5-inch blade models.
Marvel’s familiarity with McNeilus’ operations and other facilities enabled it to deliver a tailored product that met the Fond du Lac facility’s needs, says Head. The aspects Marvel customized included the saw’s size capacity, the different miter cuts it can perform and the force feed.
"In this type of machine, there are so many options that you almost never see two that are exactly alike just for the different combinations of options," says Armstrong. Marvel builds both the machine and the material handling system, which is not the case among all saw manufacturers. "We are able to customize it, and it’s all done in-house by our engineers, so that the handling and the machine are interfaced and all the safety interlocks are in place," he says, noting the main customers for the machine include steel service centers and steel fabricators.
Versatility in automation
The saw’s strength is "that there’s a wide variety of product lengths and sizes that we’re able to produce to try and meet all our customer needs," says Head. "It gives us a variety of saw options that we can do as far as different miter cuts."
The team also can arrange the staging area to accommodate varied jobs in sequence. "We had the staging tables built with it, so we can put them right in order, program the saw and continue to cut and move material on and off the saw with relative ease," says Head. Having multiple jobs prepared to move helps speed project completion and enables the facility to tackle more projects overall.
"The staging area isn’t automated," says Head. "You have to bring the material into the saw, but once you have it in the saw, then it’s automated as far as pulling the material through the saw" and measuring how much material to cut.
The automation is beneficial because the company can achieve tighter tolerances and one person can manage the entire process, says Head.
Indeed, a company can have one operator run two or more machines easily, enabling it to save on employee costs, notes Armstrong. A company also can achieve much tighter tolerances if it is performing contract cutting because the machines use servo systems and magnetic-tape positioning, he notes. "Fabricators or service centers that are doing contract sawing for customers can program in a whole family of parts or batches of parts and have them processed automatically by the saw," says Armstrong. "The material is fed in, the column is tilted to the desired angle, the pieces [are] cut and the next length is fed in with possibly a different angle on the other end."
Older saw models would stop working when a problem arose, requiring operators to deduce which area needed attention, says Armstrong. The updated models won’t begin an automatic cycle if something is amiss, and they will indicate to the operator what the problem might be. "On these machines it will say, ‘clamp vice’ [if a vice is not clamped]. It really is kind of foolproof," he says.
Marvel staff helped train the main operator at the Fond du Lac facility, who learned to use the specific model and programming, says Head. "We received excellent support from Marvel and training from them to get us up to speed," he says.
The learning curve is not very steep, because the system is Windows-based, and many people are used to working with the interface, says Armstrong. "Some customers who were leery of new technology have found that it is actually a lot easier than some of the older systems because it is very intuitive," he says. Marvel typically visits a site for a minimum of two days to train operators and maintenance workers, and the company revisits for follow-up training two to three months after installation.
The saw, its capabilities and the quality it produces gives Head confidence that his facility can compete with anybody. "With a lot of the orders that come in on a day-to-day basis, we know that we have the ability to accept those orders and ultimately move product," he says. "If we didn’t have the saw, we basically would have no quote, and we wouldn’t move product. It does give us the ability to quote some things that we know we wouldn’t be able to do if we didn’t have the saw." MM