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Coil Processing
Tuesday | 15 January, 2019 | 10:33 am

Industrial Fabricators Inc. becomes a wizard at multiple processes, high quality, tight tolerances with Braner lines

Written by By Corinna Petry

Janaury 2019 - Investing in capital equipment can pay off rather quickly if it brings new business or more work from existing customers. At Industrial Fabricators Inc. (iFab), 2018 capped a long run of growth achieved through a handful of proven strategies.

These include figuring out what customers want, bringing them the best quality at the most competitive all-in price, being able to deliver material on time and without flaws and making it easier for customers to compete in their own markets.

iFab, located in Gastonia, North Carolina, is sort of a hybrid—it is both a fabricator that handles small jobs to large production runs and a flat-rolled coil processor.

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Among the metal procesing systems at Industrial Fabricators Inc. is a 1⁄2-inch-thick by 72-inch-wide stretch leveling cut-to-length line.

Owner Roger Bingham recalls starting up iFab in 1994 “as just a three-man operation, and we’ve grown to 500 employees and 900,000 square feet of shop space.”

Over those years, iFab’s team has gained “a lot of experience on what customers demand, and we tried to grow the business around our customers’ needs and by learning how to make things. We pretty much do everything complete from receiving a mill coil, to laser cutting, stamping—we have stamping presses up to 2,000 tons—and we can powder coat, electrocoat, machine and finish the part out,” says Bingham.

In the past couple years, the company invested in the coil processing side, buying a slitting line, slit coil packaging line, and cut-to-length line  with a stretcher leveler from Braner/Loopco. The cut-to-length line, installed at Gastonia, processes 72-inch-wide coils up to 1⁄2 inch thick. The slitting line handles coils 60 inches wide by 3⁄8 inch thick. iFab also owns a light-gauge cut-to-length line that handles material from 0.2-inch to 1⁄8 inch thick, says Mike Case, vice president of operations.

“We process 3,200 tons a month in carbon steel, 200 tons a month in aluminum and about 110 tons a month in stainless steel,” Case says.

“Right now, 90 percent of what iFab does consists of in-house business, with 10 percent toll processing for others. Our goal [for the coil processing] is 50 percent toll work and 50 percent in house processing,” he says.

The quality iFab sees from the Braner/Loopco lines cannot be overstated. “We started to do some toll slitting for one particular customer after the lines went in. As of three months ago, they shut their own slitter down because they cannot produce the quality that we do,” Case says. “They had probably a 30 percent rejection rate on aluminum and we have a zero rejection rate. Rejection rates are a huge problem for downstream applications.”

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The Gastonia, North Carolina, facilties house a 0.375-inch-thick by 60-inch-wide single-loop slitting line.

Another win is with the TorqueMaster cassette leveler and stretcher on the cut-to-length line. “One of the things we notice when we laser cut parts is that there is only a 0.01-inch deviation in flatness,” according to Case. iFab previously used a secondary process to flatten cut-to-length sheets before it could start producing parts. “So we eliminated all the downtime for all of our lasers by not having to flatten it again.”

Wizardry

“The biggest thing we did was with the 3⁄8-inch slitter. No one else can run 0.02 [inch-thick material] with a line like that.” Most competitors would have to buy a light-gauge slitter to run light-gauge material. But iFab “bought a heavy-gauge slitter and [slits] aluminum on that. That’s why we dominate the market on slitting in this area,” says Case. “There is technique involved. When we ran 0.020 aluminum on there,” he adds, many people “couldn’t believe we were running something that thin on that huge of a line.”

Ken Shoop, sales manager for Braner/Loopco, confirms the assertion, saying iFab “uses the slitting and CTL lines like they were Swiss army knives. We designed both machines to be extra versatile, but their operational know-how is really extraordinary.”

Regarding Braner, “we hit a home run” with them, says Case. “Most people will only buy a roller leveler [on a cut-to-length line]. We spent the extra money on a stretcher. That thing is phenomenal. We have had zero downtime.”

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A worker at Industrial Fabricators Inc. sets up tooling on a slitter head.

Diverse base

The plant runs two full shifts and a skeleton crew on the third shift, says Bingham. “We have robotic and manual welding, laser processing, coating, tool and die fabrication, contract machining and assembly.

“We do office equipment, we do a lot of work in the trailer industries, trucks and buses, and agricultural equipment. We are pretty diversified. We are strong even in slow times with certain markets. We ship all across America, Canada, Mexico and Europe. Our customers have plants in all these countries, and they schedule the shipments to their operations,” says Bingham.

Material strategy

Although it is a significant buyer of carbon steel, Case says it did have some difficulties in the past meeting all its material needs in a timely fashion. It sometimes had to buy more than was strictly necessary, and sometimes had to turn work down because it didn’t have everything it needed at once.

Meanwhile, however, iFab has become a contract buyer with a major steel supplier, purchasing tons on the CRU pricing index, and has hired an expert in forecasting. It also buys from major service center chains and uses their forecasting.

Since making those moves, “so far it has been very rare that we didn’t have metal,” says Case. When tariffs were implemented and material became tight, Case says, “We had other processors call us for metal because they couldn’t get it.”

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Fabricated truck and school bus parts, ready for shipment to the vehicle assembly plants.

Vertical integration

iFab offers a range of vertically integrated services including stamping, tube bending, tool and die, welding, heavy-gauge processing including waterjet cutting, slitting, leveling and cut to length, laser cutting, machining, painting and powder coating, forming, fabrication, kitting and assembly.

“We are a one-stop shop, so our traceability is flawless” says Case. “We see every bit of the production process. The detailed fabrication we can do is unlimited. We can do any project. I am hiring people now because we are seeing more opportunity.”

One example of the variety of end-market solutions iFab has helped deliver is specially coated fuel tanks for military vehicles so that when a bullet entered the tank, the coating would self-seal over the hole.

According to Bingham, a company in Oregon developed the technology but did not have the capacity to produce enough MRAPs, so “they came to us looking for help with coating the fuel tanks. We were already making the fuel tanks and were able to put in [coating] equipment and meet production within three months.” MM

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