Upgraded nesting software combined with new plate processing equipment has helped Ocean Steel & Construction improve cutting efficiencies.Click image to enlargeby Kip Hanson

The Problem: Remaining competitive in a challenging manufacturing environment

The Solution: Upgrade machine technology and software

Modern plate processing equipment, nesting software, improves shop efficiency

Turning a profit as a fabricator means controlling waste. This is especially true on burn tables and plate processing equipment, where efficient part nesting can make the difference between a winner job and one you'd just as soon forget. Whether your plate remnants look like fine spider webs or chunky blocks of Swiss cheese depends on good nesting technology and no small amount of expertise at the keyboard.

Nesting software works by taking pre-defined part shapes and fitting them onto a steel sheet in the most efficient manner possible. Imagine you're designing a super-rugged steel toy box for your kid's playroom. You'd draw out the ends, the back, front, top and bottom, import them into the nesting software and click the process icon. The chances for a well-nested sheet in this case are high—all the parts are similar in size, and have simple geometries.

Add some internal supports to that toy box, however—a few corner braces, support girders and a reinforced back plate—then nest again. If your software's not up to snuff, that once neat jigsaw of parts is now a construct of inefficient leftovers and stranded islands of material. Build a toy box the size of a cargo container and you might end up wasting some serious cash on material remnants.

Good nesting is important, but making a buck at steel fabrication also requires top-notch plate processing equipment. Automated handling and efficient cutting processes are two ways to improve the bottom line on this important manufacturing step.
These are some of the reasons why Ocean Steel & Construction Ltd.,
Saint John, NB, recently expanded its cutting capabilities with the purchase of an HSFDB 2500 CNC plate processing machine Peddinghaus Corp., Bradley, IL.

The HSFDB handles plate stock to 76 mm (3 in.) thick, in sizes 2400 mm (96 in.) wide x 6000 mm (240 in.) long. Ocean Steel's inventory control supervisor Deb Flewelling said the machine is fully automated, and cuts with either plasma or oxy-fuel. When the HSFDB isn't burning, its 48-hp milling spindle equipped with an eight-tool changer can drill, scribe, countersink, mill or tap.

The machine has a big job. In business since 1955, the OSCO Construction Group, of which Ocean Steel is but a part, operates two manufacturing plants in New Brunswick—Saint John and Fredericton—and one in Conklin, NY. The company produces more than 40,000 tons annually of structural steel and plate work, and serves a broad spectrum of industrial customers, including mining, oil and gas, as well as commercial markets throughout Canada and the US.

This isn't Ocean Steel's first Peddinghaus machine—far from it. The green and orange of Peddinghaus is scattered throughout the shop, including an Anglemaster 643Q, a BDL-1250 9D drill line, a 1250-510 band saw and ABCM1250 coping machine. Despite this brand loyalty, the company did its due diligence during the buying process and looked at four other competing equipment brands, but in the end the pendulum swung back to the Peddinghaus. Says Flewelling, "we have a long history with Peddinghaus. They have a strong machine and were the obvious choice when looking for ways to increase productivity."

One of the deciding factors was nesting capability. Peddinghaus Corp. has partnered with Garland, TX, software provider Shop Data Systems Inc. Vice resident of customer operations at Shop Data Mark Szczepanski explains that programming and nesting on the HSFDB is a very different animal than with traditional burn tables, where the plate remains stationary and the burn head traverses across it in the X and Y axes.

By comparison, a plate processor feeds the material in the X axis, and tends to do so in a single direction, one user-definable work zone at a time. The cutting head and milling spindle traverse in the Y axis, machining the nest or workpiece in each zone until the parts are finally cut away to drop onto a conveyor. The zone is then trimmed and the process repeated until the entire sheet has been consumed. "We've been running Peddinghaus machines for 20 years, and have developed the best processes for this type of equipment," says Szczepanski.

That experience manifests itself in the Peddi-Nest software, which offers a number of standard nesting features as well as numerous functions integral to plate processing. These include chain cutting, edge starts and common line cutting, intelligent drilling and punching order, one-way feeding and automatic nesting within the shear zone, specialized processes that Szczepanski says are very successful. "We also offer messages within the software when the programmer deviates from what we deem the correct methodology, intended to provide hints or tips about how to change the process for the best result."

The Peddinghaus plate processing machine in Ocean Steel & Construction's shop handles plate stock up to 76 mm (3 in.) thick in sizes 2400 mm (96 in.) wide by 6000 mm (240 in.) long.Click image to enlargeOne of the changes Ocean Steel has implemented as a result of the new machine and its nesting software has been to move the programming from the shop floor to the office. As Flewelling explains, this change in methodology allows the CNC programmers to work directly with the production control clerk responsible for creating the nests. "This gives us a huge advantage in that we now have a team approach for production scheduling, and are able to achieve much better utilization of the machine."

Flewelling admits the new machine isn't as easy to run as some others in the shop. "Because it offers such a vast array of features and processes, it requires a higher than average amount of technical skill to learn how the machine operates, and understand the settings within the software and the machine's Siemens controller." Fortunately, the training Flewelling and her team received from Shop Data Systems and Peddinghaus made the transition an easy one, making her a believer in the capabilities of both suppliers. " I would not hesitate to recommend this product to anyone."

Troy Hawkes, plant manager of the Saint John facility, agrees. While the company hasn't yet done a complete financial benefit analysis on the machine, Hawkes is certain the investment was a good one. "One measure that we use is our output: we're now supplying parts for two shops instead of one. Before the Peddinghaus HSFDB, I was running a shift and a half on the burning table, and two men operating a shear and duplicator, so overall I had three people working full-time on plate processing for just this location. I've since been able to reduce that number to less than three people and supply twice as much manufactured plate."

Hawkes says the feedback from the sister plant has been positive, even if scheduling has become a bit more challenging. "It takes a greater degree of communications now to produce our production plan. We gather work from both plants and place it in a batch containing perhaps 50 to 100 drawings. This in turn is nested and processed by the HSFDB and other equipment if necessary."

Flewelling adds to this, saying the machine allows her crew to load a nested sheet of plate, process all operations required on the parts, then unload the completed products with virtually zero handling. "The addition of this machine has allowed us to process all plate parts for both of our Canadian plants, saving shop man hours and improving our efficiency by nesting jobs for both locations. Looking back at the machine acquisition, there's little we would change—the Peddinghaus machine together with the Shop Data Systems nesting software has provided us with an overall improvement to the flow of work through the shop." SMT

Kip Hanson is a contributing editor. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

OSCO Construction Goup


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