Material Handling
Monday | 09 January, 2012 | 1:58 pm

Tailor made

Written by By Julie Sammarco

Designing conveyor systems specific to each company is the key to productivity

December 2011- Systems work best when each component performs a specific task. Clocks, for example, work efficiently because of an oscillator, which repeats the same motion over and over again. A controller device turns oscillations into pulses that keep the clock ticking. Take away one of the components and time stops.

Whether it is a smaller system like a clock or a larger system for handling metals, a cohesive series of parts is crucial for optimum results. Customized construction can help a company improve productivity.

Tube Supply Inc., a Houston-based service center, purchased 11 tailor-made, heavy-duty saw-handling systems for its 265,000-square-foot expansion. The systems were designed to help move material around the work space without interruption.

SteelStorage-140px-1Each system consists of powered in-feed and out-feed roller conveyors and staging and discharge tables from Steel Storage Systems, Commerce City, Colo. They are capable of handling solid steel alloy bars and large-diameter heavy-wall tubing to increase sawing output. They also were designed to fulfill the material and flow requirements of Tube Supply’s plant layout.

“It’s an easy A to B to C system,” says Paul Sorensen, president at Tube Supply.

An uninterrupted workflow and an automated system designed specifically for its work space means greater productivity, space savings and a safer work environment at Tube Supply. Not only is the company decreasing the likelihood of worker injury, it also is able to produce parts at a more efficient rate.

Because Tube Supply conducts all of its business in the oil industry, parts constantly are being cut at different lengths, widths and diameters. A system of automated conveyors retrieves the material from outdoor storage, moves and feeds it to an indoor conveyor, then moves it to a holding space without much physical handling.

“We work with OEMs of the oil tool world. Our products are machined into components to get oil out of the ground. Not many people buy this kind of tube at various lengths, so being able to cut continuously without slowing productivity is very important to us,” says Sorensen.

“Having the ability where your saw operator can retrieve material without interruption and having that ability on all 11 systems is key to sawing productivity,” he says.

Each conveyor works hand-in-hand with band saws and cranes to automate operations. Steel Storage Systems designs each system on a case-by-case basis depending on each customer’s application, requirements, layout and desired outcome.

The highlight of the installation at Tube Supply is two cross conveyors that provide staging and accumulation for four saw systems. Each cross conveyor serves two saw systems installed side-by-side. The cross conveyor features a series of five 35-foot-long arms spaced to handle a range of lengths from 5 feet to 40 feet.

Each arm is equipped with a powered transport cart that carries individual loads. The arms traverse the two in-feed roller conveyors for loading stock and unloading return remnants. They provide 20 feet of staging space for stock material waiting to be cut as well as a 10-foot accumulation area for remnant bars and tubes to be returned to storage. The combination of the parallel saws, the cross conveyor and out-feed discharge tables allows a single saw operator to run both systems without interruption for retrieving or removing material.

Another of Tube Supply’s systems features a staging/transfer conveyor meant to feed and accumulate material. The transfer conveyor’s four arms are linked to a common drive shaft and raise and lower to load and unload where they intersect the roller conveyor. They provide uninterrupted material flow for continuous operation of machinery.

Roller conveyors allow the saws to be preloaded and conveyed into the saw. After the material is cut, an out-feed conveyor allows material to exit. Then that material is transported to a discharge table.

“The saw has programming capability where you can enter into the control the length and width and number of pieces you want to cut,” says Sorensen. “The conveyor is interfaced to the saw so that when the saw feed is bringing the material, the roller conveyor is also engaged in the movement of that material. If the saw is programmed to cut 10 pieces at 10 inches, the conveyors will move 10 inches at a time until the number of parts is reached. The saw and the conveyor work together, which makes this a much more automated system.”

“Our predominant markets are steel service centers and fabricators, steel mills and anybody who needs to be moving large material for a large part of the day,” says Brian McCallin, president of Steel Storage Systems. “The predominant application for our conveyors is serving processing and equipment within the metals industry, where saws would be the No. 1 processing item. Basically, our conveyors provide a means to safely and efficiently feed and exit the material. The more elaborate the system, the better the productivity.”

Safety, efficiency, individuality
One of the most important features of the conveyor systems is their ability to remove workers from some of the dangers that come with material handling.

“These machines really are great,” says Sorensen. “We used to have machines that were very labor intensive for loading and off loading. These new machines are very simple and really only need one man. One man can handle the entire system without having to go out and move or handle any of the material. Our old system made us use our workers to put material onto each phase—in-feed, staging and out-feed.”

Having more automation and an uninterrupted workflow also allows the company to be more flexible with its sawing capabilities.

No two systems are the same, especially in Sorensen’s case. “All 11 systems are different. Some are similar but some are very sophisticated,” he says.

“We have conveyors and an overhead outdoor crane,” says Sorensen. The crane loads the conveyors to move material into the facility. “They have designed tables that allow us to set our pieces down on a table where they are conveyed inside the building. [Steel Storage Systems] designed this for us,” says Sorensen.

Because Tube Supply’s largest demand is in the less than 16-inch-diameter range, Steel Storage Systems built a saw table where Tube Supply can have two saws side by side with a staging area in between. “They also built a lift-and-carry device so if saw one finishes its cutting, it can discharge its material and start on saw two,” says Sorensen. “It can continually feed saws in either direction.”

In addition, the customization of this system has given Tube Supply more physical space, which has allowed the company to go from five saws to 11 saws and has given them the opportunity to do more work in-house instead of outsourcing.

Steel Storage is integrated fully with in-house sales, engineering, production and installation capabilities. Manufacturing includes all cutting, welding, machining and painting. It also builds system controls. 

“The customization aspect is what really separates these conveyors from others,” says McCallin. “We literally were given Tube Supply’s building drawings and an outline of all the systems. We collaborated on all the features they wanted and then we put the system together.” MM

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