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Zekelman Industries has joined the unstoppable trend for automation and has relied on Fagor Arrasate to take its slitting lines one step further. The new equipment is operational as of December 2021 at its plant in Rochelle (Illinois), about 80 miles (130 km) west of Chicago. There Zekelman Industries processes 300,000 tons of pipe a year, operating 24 hours a day, six days a week.
The new line processes coils up to 40 tons, 72 in (1,800 mm) wide, in thicknesses from 0.031 to 0.25 in (0.78-6.35 mm) with outside diameters up to 78 in (2,000 mm).
The automation features include robotic coil ID/OD debanding; automatic threading; robotic setup and hydraulic lock-up of the slitter head, loop doubler to use when many narrow, light gauge strips are required; offline banding of the slit coil; and automatic OD banding.
According to Pete Swenson, sales Manager of the Steel Division of Fagor Arrasate USA, “Our advantage is that Zekelman wants automation”, a trend that is picking up steam in the U.S. market, but has long been commonplace in European mills and service centers. “High level automation is the future for coil equipment and slitting operations. Two people can run this line", he says.
“Safety is paramount,” says Zekelman project engineer Manjunath Nayak. With automation, “there is less touching the product. The fewer times we can do that, the better off everybody is,” states.
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“It has become increasingly difficult to attract talent to manufacturing careers, so how do you get around that? It’s really a two-pronged approach, the first step is to automate particular manufacturing steps that are highly repetitive and that may have safety concerns for the employees. And second, you must continually offer upskilling and training opportunities so that teammates can grow and take on increasingly technical or leadership positions,” says plant manager Ray Falk. “To meet productivity improvement goals, we also try to automate as much as possible,” he adds.
"Up front, we gave [Fagor] all of our specifications, engineering details, and what we needed in terms of electronic components, drives and controls, mechanical needs, and our standardization, which had been tested elsewhere,” Nayak explains.
“Automatic outer diameter banding, done offline, allows the operators to get the slitting line back up and running faster for the next coil. Changeovers of the slitter arbor with this system take about 10 minutes. Plus, it’s only 10 minutes from the tail end of one coil until the next coil is threaded and ready to run” explains Swenson.
Falk, for his part, stresses that this process is very fast, in part, because the settings are already programmed in advance, so that possible slack is reduced thanks to automation. He also stresses that “Fagor Arrasate’s commitment to have a presence with its service operation is very important to us. They can have someone here the next day and will stick with us until the problem is fixed.”
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