Supersized heavy-gauge cut-to-length line features technological advancements—from safety features to unique recoiler

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            Above: Despite its size, the line’s advanced automation allows it to be run with as few as two or three people

May 2023- Supersized heavy-gauge cut-to-length line features technological advancements—from safety features to unique recoiler

Red Bud Industries built its first experimental, in-house stretcher in 1986 and sold the first one for commercial use in 1988. “Today, to see how the technology has evolved and advanced so much to be able to create these huge beasts, it’s incredible. We’re up to 70 stretchers now, installed worldwide,” says Dean Linders, vice president of marketing and sales.

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      Red Bud’s Pop Top Straightener design can “pop” the entire top frame open 90 degrees, using no tools.

One of those stretcher levelers—a 3,000- ton brute featuring Red Bud’s Quick Draw technology—is installed on a massive cutto- length line at Friedman Industries’ Sinton, Texas, facility, located on the campus of Steel Dynamics Inc. (SDI). “This line is one of the biggest in the world,” Linders says of the machine, which handles coils up to 106,000 pounds—ones that “can’t even be legally hauled on a truck on the highway because they’re too heavy.” Friedman’s location on the SDI property allows the company to move and process these large coils. Not only can this line handle 1-inch-thick by 96-inch-wide coil but also has an almost unheard-of gauge range, according to Linders, “going all the way down to 16 gauge, which is really thin.” The CTL system also features Suregrip metallic grippers that prevent slipping when running high-strength or oily material.

DEMAND RESPONSE

Friedman Industries was founded in 1965 and currently has two product divisions— flat roll and tubular. The flat-roll division has four operating locations in addition to Sinton: East Chicago, Indiana; Granite City, Illinois; Decatur, Alabama; and Hickman, Arkansas. Jonathan Holcomb, vice president of purchasing and sales, flat-rolled division, says that Friedman’s primary driver for purchasing this one-of-a-kind line “was to match the product range of the SDI mill. When considering the new line, we wanted the ability to serve not only our current customer base but also open our market to new customers who were in search of a wider range of thickness, grades and widths. The result was a line that can accommodate virtually all our customers’ demand, be it in sheet form or coil.”

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      Friedman Industries needed the ability to shape correct master coils before recoiling them.

QUICKLY

Naturally, a line this big has a lot of big features, including a mechanical drop stacker that will support up to 60-foot-long parts, an edge trimmer and choppers, and a T Series stretch leveler with a 50-foot-long stretch bed and Red Bud’s Quick Draw technology. “On a cut-to-length line, stretcher leveling is generally the slowest part,” Linders says, “because it’s incremental.” As a result, it’s crucial to make the stretch cycle time “as quick as you possibly can.” Red Bud has proprietary technology that ensures the entire cycle— from the time the material stops moving, is clamped, stretched and begins moving again is less than 10 seconds. “We are very intentional in the customers we serve, and we have a diverse customer base,” adds Holcomb. “Some of our customers require edge-trimmed sheet and coil, and we wanted to make sure we would be able to provide this type of product in the safest and most efficient manner. By installing in-line edge trimming, we are also eliminating one more potential move [of material], either within the building or to another facility, reducing costs as well as reducing the carbon footprint.”

Linders adds that it’s the only cut-to-length line in North America that can divert the coil after it’s stretcher leveled to a recoiler, giving Friedman “substantial capabilities that are quite unique for this type of machine” and allow the company to provide customers with the shape-corrected coil they need. “We have decades of experience with shape correcting master coil,” says Holcomb. “We have processed thousands of tons on our coilto- coil temper mill in Hickman, Arkansas, so this is not a new market for us. Because mill technology continues to improve and the quality of mill bands improves, customers are simply requiring a more perfect coil for many applications.”

MAINTENANCE AND SAFETY

Despite its size, the line’s advanced automation and easy-to-use features allow it to be run with as few as two or three people. It moves the strip through automatically using optical sensors to help eliminate operator error and even has “puffers” that blow air periodically onto the sensors to eliminate the buildup of dust and ensure everything’s always working properly.

Red Bud’s Pop Top Straightener design also is well-suited to controlling the buildup of dust and debris inherent in the processing of hot-rolled material. “It takes no tools, and the entire top frame will pivot open 90 degrees,” Linders says. “It takes about 12 minutes to open [and close], and provides access to all the work rolls for maintenance and cleaning, taking a job that was very time consuming, tedious and difficult and making it really easy.”

Holcomb says the cleaning of Friedman’s new leveler “requires significantly less downtime than a standard leveler and provides a safer environment for our employees” when maintenance is required.

He says that both Red Bud and Friedman “recognize that the most valuable asset for either company is employees,” which is why the line is not only one of the largest in the world but also one of the safest. “From the initial conversation to when the final screw was turned, we discussed employee safety at length with Red Bud.”

Safety features include a dedicated safety PLC with active locks, as passive locks are too easy to bypass and kill the line, Linders says. “Active locks don’t allow operators in when the line is running. They have to communicate with the computer to open a gate. When the lights change color and the lock clicks, then they can unlock the line and go in.

“The line has designated safety zones,” he continues. “If operators enter the coil prep area through the designated gate while the line is running, the computer will see them there. However, if they walk through the light curtains and painted lines on the next designated work zone into a restricted area, it will kill the line.

“We design the safety systems concurrently with the mechanics of the line so it is both safe and productive. If the metal isn’t moving, you’re not making any money,” Linders says.

Red Bud’s safety team committee completes risk assessments on every machine, he says, working with the customer’s personnel to develop an initial safety plan, which is eventually custom tailored to address specific floor space or processing needs.

Linders also talks with operators, marrying his own background as an operator decades ago with the comments he receives to help spur new ideas and innovations. “I tell an operator, ‘We’re trying to see what we can develop on a new machine to help you do your job easier, better and safer.’” Oft en, the brand-new technology that comes out of these discussions becomes part of Red Bud’s standard product line.

Friedman Industries, 903/758-3431, http://friedmanindustries.com/

Red Bud Industries, 800/851-4612, http://redbudindustries.com/