by Mary Scianna
An Alberta fabricator is revolutionizing the metals processing business
How does a steel processing facility operate 365 days a year in Alberta without any interruption from ice and snow from cold winter mornings and 70 km winds?
By building the world’s first fully automated high speed drive-through steel processing facility.
Here’s how it works.
Steel enters one of two enclosed and insulated 120 x 120 ft (37 x 37 m) yards of Triumph Processing, a 36,000 sq ft (11,000 sq m) facility in Nisku, Alberta, which contains the largest span indoor crane in the province, 118 ft (36 m). The steel is unloaded in minutes and set on a conveyor and transfer system. The automated system takes over and while the steel is being processed (automatically marked, cut, drilled and coped), the truck driver drives his trailer to the other side of the facility into another enclosed yard. Within 30 minutes, steel is being loaded onto the same trailer and on its way to the customer’s facility for final finishing and welding.
All of this is done with only six workers on a one-shift, 50-hour work-week. Indeed, the six workers are capable of producing anywhere from 600 to 800 tons of steel per week on that one shift. By comparison, the largest metal fabricators in Alberta employ more than 350 people working on two shifts to produce 430 to 500 tons of material a week, estimates Mick Auty, vice president of Triumph Processing.
“This concept doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. We’re processing mass tonnage in small spaces with few faces,” says Auty, who came up with the steel processing drive-through concept with business partner Chris Albert, president.
Why invest in such a costly project?
“We have the perfect storm in Alberta. We have demand for work in what is still a booming oil and gas industry, and we have a declining skill set among our skilled trades. The only way to move forward is through automation,” explains Albert.
Auty and Albert expect a ROI
in year one in their multi-million dollar investment.
“The [structural steel for the oil and gas industry] is a billion dollar industry supporting a trillion dollar industry. Many steel fabricators are charging in excess of $3 on the pound. We can process a whole job for less than a dollar a pound and no one is able to do this. For fabricators who associate with Triumph, projects can be completed for $2 on the pound” .
And it’s not just because of the fully automated process, adds Auty. “If a company comes to us to process metal, that 350-employee company can reduce its workforce by 50 people, which gives it an approximate saving of $6.5 million. We also tell our customers to purchase their own steel and right away you’re giving them an additional 15 per cent profit margin on top of the $6.5 million before you even do any work for them.”
And the impact of reducing your workforce has other benefits as well explains Auty. “Those 50 people can be added back into the labour pool to fill the existing 114,000 estimated labour shortfall currently existing in Alberta. Now apply that 50 people ratio to every large company and we could solve the labour shortage in-house.”
The “crazy” factor
When Auty and Albert took the idea to industry, they faced a lot of skepticism.
“People thought we were crazy when we told them we were going to build a 36,000 sq ft facility, employ six people and process hundreds of tons of steel weekly,” recalls Auty. Indeed, Auty says even Peddinghaus, who supplied the automated saw, drill and cope machines, told Auty and Albert the in-line automated concept for the company’s machines would not work.
The secret to Triumph Processing’s success, according to Auty, is re-engineering. Every machine has been re-engineered. Nothing comes into the facility, be it equipment or nesting software, that doesn’t get re-engineered by Triumph’s team.
“The development and creation of this building came from Mick and I,” explains Albert. “The layout and installation of the equipment comes from the brain of Mick Auty and although the equipment is through Peddinghaus, we have re-engineered every piece of equipment and we have done things to the equipment the manufacturer said could not be done.”
Indeed, Peddinghaus was so impressed with what Auty and his team were able to achieve with the machines that Triumph and Peddinghaus have forged a strong business relationship, says Auty.
Turning innovation on its head
Triumph Processing isn’t just about processing metal faster than any other operation in the province. It’s about providing value to customers.
“A lot of products may not work with automation and if they don’t it’s because you either have the wrong automation or the wrong product,” explains Albert. “You can make products work with automation and we’ve designed a facility around the equipment and re-engineered everything so it fits into the automation model and that goes for customers’ products too. The second floor of our facility is dedicated to R&D, drafting and engineering and we’ll take a customer’s product and change it in a way that allows the product to be processed in an automated system, and more importantly, we can cut the time it takes to process that product in half and in some instances we can reduce the intrinsic weight of a product by 25 per cent, all while maintaining the integrity of all codes and legislations, and that is a huge return for our customers.”
One of the keys to re-engineering lies with the nesting software Triumph uses at the facility. The company uses a combination of nesting software from Shop Data System, Garland, TX, “SDS is a great nesting program for our plate processing,” says Auty, along with software it developed in-house. The nesting software allows Triumph to be creative and more innovative with its material and reduce waste through smart material management.SMT