Wednesday | 11 October, 2017 | 10:43 am

Wow factor

Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: An operator removes machined steel plates from the Peddinghaus HSFDB in the Charlotte, North Carolina, shop.

Busy fabricator finds it can do a lot more with less if its linchpin piece of equipment is a tool-loaded multitasker

October 2017 - Fans of the latest consumer digital technology love to be able to use a device to watch videos, play games, email colleagues, take pictures, post Instagrams, schedule meetings, listen to music and more.

The leadership of SteelFab Inc.—which started out in 1955 as a small ornamental handrail production shop in Charlotte, North Carolina, and today is arguably one of the largest structural steel fabricators east of the Mississippi—also likes one system to perform numerous tasks in the smartest, most efficient way possible.

In 1983, SteelFab fabricated and erected its first high-rise, a 21-story condominium in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It began rapidly expanding with shops and sales offices all over the South and Mid-Atlantic regions. By 1994, it won the contract to fabricate and erect steel sections for a 2.1 million-square-foot bank project. The construction projects continued to get bigger and bigger, such as the 42-story Hearst Tower in downtown Charlotte. By the early 2000s, SteelFab also started winning contracts for federal government facilities and continues to do so.

MM 1017 plate image1

Using Peddinghaus CNC plate processing machines, SteelFab Inc. can cut, drill and tap up to 1,000 tons of steel per week.

The first year in which the company fabricated more than 100,000 annual tons of steel was in 2008. SteelFab performs fabrication, detailing, project management, subcontract erection, Building Information Modeling (BIM, the digital description of every aspect of the built asset) and connection design.

The company continually invests in new CNC equipment that performs high-speed drilling, automated tool changing and advanced part layout marking. This equipment is capable of sawing, drilling, punching, shearing and burning every type of structural steel, including heavy plate and flat bar. Using these automated machines, SteelFab is capable of machining up to 1,000 tons of material each week.

Typical plates pass through machines capable of cutting using plasma and/or oxy-fuel torches. The machines also punch slots and drill holes using high-speed carbide drills. Simpler shapes can be cut using 10-foot-wide shears and then bent on a press brake.

Heavy duty

“We make machinery purchases based on dependability and service,” says Russell Barngrover, executive vice president and plant manager for SteelFab, Charlotte. “We purchased our first [Peddinghaus Corp.] line in 1985. That started the relationship.

“When you deal with Peddinghaus, you want to partner with them. Over the years, as we grew, we would install this equipment in our plants. We never had an issue about being supported in both sales and service.”

At the Charlotte plant, says Barngrover, “We have one HSFDB 2500 plate processor. We have one at every one of our [seven] facilities. We process 100,000 tons of structural steel per year.

“We build banks, hospitals, stadiums. We even do artwork. We made a sculpture that is installed near the Charlotte airport.”

Regarding the Peddinghaus HFSDB 2500 machining center, Barngrover says it can “drill, tap, plasma cut, oxy-fuel cut, and mill. We use it to mill out holes, drill and tap base plates. We use it to work on every single part we have.”

MM 1017 plate image2

SteelFab was a subcontractor tasked to fabricate structural sections for the W. G. Hefner Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Operator involvement

Each time SteelFab installs a new Peddinghaus, the Bradley, Illinois-based machinery builder “has a person come in and conduct the training, and each operator gets a plaque to recognize the training he or she received. It’s little things like that which makes operators feel like they are part of the team. We involve them with input,” Barngrover says.

As far as working with the line, he says, “Our operators like anything that makes their job easier and improves the final product.” When SteelFab decides to upgrade or add capacity, the operators “always want the Peddinghaus because they can do the job better than with any other piece of equipment,” Barngrover says.

The HSFDB-2500 can manage plate from 1⁄4-inch to 4 inches thick, and from 6 inches to 96 inches wide but 72-inch-wide and 120-inch widths can also be custom built, according to Peddinghaus. In addition to what SteelFab typically has the machining center do, the HSFDB can also countersink, bevel cut, scribe and stamp plate. The rotary tool change can hold up to 12 tools at once. Tools are automatically selected based on programming.

Barngrover says the HFSDB system is highly productive. Asked about a job that might require the drilling, tapping and beveling of 48 identical 2-foot-square plates, he says all the operator must do is download the job program, load the plate “and have them done in a six- to eight-hour shift.”

The speed is impressive, Barngrover adds. “When we have customers walk through and view the fabrication process, we always stop at the plate machine to have them watch it drill holes. We ask the visitors how long they think it will take to drill the hole. The plates are usually 2 to 3 inches thick and we’re drilling a 11⁄6-inch hole. They all say a minute or more, and when it drills through in 10 to 20 seconds, they are amazed.”

The HSFDB machine has a system “that tells you when to change out tooling. You can drill quite a few holes with each carbide-tipped insert,” before they wear out. The frequency of tool changes varies widely because the shop is drilling different grades with different diameters, he says.

MM 1017 plate image3

A U.S. Census Bureau building in Suitland, Maryland, required 10,000 tons of structural steel fabricated by SteelFab Inc.

External feed

“One of the nice features is there is no rack system. When you set up your machine, you can feed material from outdoors onto a conveyor; you put multiple plates on it and feed the machine continually,” says Barngrover. Peddinghaus created this feature for customers that wanted to save shop space. “This machine placement means you can load with a forklift rather than a crane. With a measuring rack, you can only load one plate at a time.”

After machining, SteelFab employees transfer crucial dimensions from the drawings to actual steel and build heavier assemblies that can weigh up to 130,000 pounds.

Some of SteelFab’s shops are large enough to assemble large frames and trusses. By doing that, it can ensure customers that the truss will fit properly when erecting the assembly in the field.

Lastly, SteelFab employs AWS certified welders and uses robotic-controlled Submerged Arc Welding machines, depending on the job. All welds are inspected, documented and approved by an AWS certified welding inspector.

Peddinghaus has a long list of software features for its plate machines: automatic batch nesting, end milling and face milling support, remnant inventory management and remnant nesting, automatic pilot hole creation, integrated tool and drill management, integrated material database, production tracking and progress reporting, time estimating, scrap estimating, cost estimating and more.

Pretty soon, like the tech addicts seen on the L train every day, an operator might fancy being able to use the HSFDB to order lunch from GrubHub! MM


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