December 2010 - "Some customers prefer stretcher leveled material, and other customers prefer temper passed, and we can offer both," says David Bernstein, an officer with State Steel Supply, Sioux City, Iowa. The company recently installed a Red Bud Industries, Red Bud, Ill., precision blanking line with stretcher leveling technology at its 180,000-square-foot Omaha, Neb., facility. This investment gave the company the flexibility it needed to produce high-quality material in a range of thicknesses.
In the last ten years, customer standards for flat material have become more rigid. Material cannot simply look flat, it has to stay flat throughout high-heat processing.
"Because of the increased use of lasers, flat material has become a necessity," says Dean Linders, vice president of sales and marketing for Red Bud Industries. "We’ve been in this business over 50 years, and we’ve been selling heavily to service centers the last 20 to 25 years. Up until the late 1990s and early 2000s, traditionally, we sold roller levelers. They always did a good job and provided the quality that the marketplace needed."
However, as more service centers and fabricators started to add laser cutting to their list of capabilities, springback of the material became a major problem. If material "pops back" once it’s been cut, Linders says, "parts are out of spec and the end user can’t use them. So anybody using a laser is trying to find ways to make sure that material is not only flat but stays flat during subsequent processing."
The quest for flat material resulted in a jump in sales for "big stretchers, 1/4-inch and thicker, starting in 2003," Linders says. "All of a sudden in the early 2000s, people were looking for ways to reduce stress in the material."
Stretcher levelers and temper mills
State Steel is unique because the company uses both its stretcher leveler and temper mill to process material, Linders says. "Usually, companies are either firmly in the stretcher leveler camp or the temper mill camp. There are only two companies in the country that have both stretcher levelers and temper mills, and State Steel is one of them."
The company has a temper mill cut-to-length line at its headquarters but was investigating new technologies when it purchased its stretcher leveler. "They wanted to improve their capabilities and thought they should look at stretcher leveling technology because customers were asking for it by name," Linders says.
"We’re located in six cities, and we can run a full range of coils right now," says Bernstein."We wanted to add capacity in Omaha, which is one of our newer facilities, and we felt the 1/4-inch, 72-inch-wide stretcher was a great complement to our other coil lines."
Bernstein points out many State Steel customers request material to be "either cold reduced, temper passed or stretched, but even for the customers that don’t request it, it is an exceptional product and, we feel, a higher-quality product than traditional decoiled material that’s not stretched or temper passed."
Offering both technologies allows the company to select the best process for the material. "What we’ve learned is that there are things that temper mills do well, but they also have limitations," Linders says. "And State Steel has found there are some things they couldn’t do well on the temper mill that the stretcher does very well."
"Traditionally, we run heavier material on the temper mill, but as that range gets lighter, we transition to the stretcher leveler," Bernstein says. "We can now offer top-quality decoiled product, either stretcher leveled or temper passed, down to a much lighter gauge range than we could before.
"There are items that we run on the temper line or other lines we have in Sioux City that we send down to the stretcher leveling line if we can’t get them leveled and perfect and vice versa," he continues. "There are some items on the stretcher line down in Omaha that we have to run back up to Sioux City to take care of shape and other issues on the temper mill. We’re happy to be in a position where we can move coils around to resolve any shape or quality issues that we have--instead of rejecting the material."
State Steel’s 1/4-inch precision blanking line with stretcher leveling features a nonmarking clamp system and adjustable clamp centers to prevent double stretching. This gives the equipment the ability to produce flat, stable material.
The line can process coils up to 72 inches wide with a maximum weight of 60,000 pounds. It features a heavy-gauge grip feed system, coil stage and load system, uncoiler with water-cooled brake, heavy-gauge peeler breaker, crop shear, corrective leveler, adjustable stretcher leveler, heavy-gauge grip feed, variable rake shear, drop stacker with part diverter and end discharge rollouts.
"The way the line came configured, as recommended by Red Bud, seems to be a perfect match for us," Bernstein says. "We are very happy with the equipment. Both Red Bud and the line we bought have delivered on all our expectations. The quality that comes off the line is exceptional."
Everyone came together to get all the equipment installed under a tight timeline. "The procurement and installation process was very streamlined and efficient, especially with us scrambling to get it all in so we could make cuts on it before the end of the year," Bernstein says. "We had some space and geometry constraints, and we also had the compressed installation schedule because we wanted the line installed by the end of 2009."
Ready for the upturn
Although the market was posting dismal numbers when State Steel ordered the new line, "that didn’t change our philosophy of wanting to add that capacity to our Omaha facility, so we went ahead and did it," Bernstein says. "That afforded us some opportunities. First of all, the lower level of activity in the plant certainly made it easier to install a coil line. It also provides some enthusiasm for our employees. They see us investing in the business even in a down time. Our bet, no matter how you slice it, is on steel, and we have to make the bet that the steel industry is going to recover. We’d like to build our business even in the down times so that we’re ready for the up times."
Many companies "are taking this opportunity to expand their market and look for an advantage," Linders says. "We’re finding that people are trying to add value to get a bigger piece of the pie. State Steel is a great example. The company invested in that machine last year when we were in the middle of the worst economy in 40 or 50 years. They went out and bought a fairly expensive, big machine because they knew the economy was going to come back in the future, and they wanted to position themselves to go out and get business." MM