Plasma cutting: Building tall

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by Kip Hanson

The Problem: Using outdated machinery to meet increased business needs

The Solution: Plate processing equipment to increase output and cut costs


Edmonton steel fabricator expands its reach with plate processing equipment

Look around: the Shaw Conference Centre Expansion, IKEA Edmonton, Cross Iron Mills, West Edmonton Mall Theatre Expansion. These are just a few of the structures throughout Edmonton and Calgary that wouldn’t exist without the help of Collins Industries Ltd. (CIL), an Edmonton-based structural steel fabrication firm. “We are involved and assist in the entire process from planning and design, processing the raw material, welding and final installation” says Rick Collins, supply chain manager at CIL. “The core of our business is in the commercial market, but we also do a fair amount of industrial and institutional work.

Collins is well equipped for it. With 4, 732 sq m (51,000 sq ft) of production space and 65 employees working two shifts, CIL can process more than 1000 tons of steel per month. With 30-years of experience in this business, there’s little the shop can’t handle in terms of structural work.

When CIL began to consider its equipment selection strategy for the future, its decision was influenced by a visit to FABTECH in November 2013 and a trip to the Voortman Steel Group’s manufacturing facility in the Netherlands. CIL representatives were able to see the fully automated Voortman equipment manufacturing plant and the same equipment being used at Voortman Staalbouw across the street.

With business on the increase and several large orders in the works, CIL took the decision to replace aging equipment with a new plate processing system. The request for proposal was quickly narrowed down from three competitors to one, and in July 2013, CIL took delivery of its first Voortman machine, a V330C Plate Processing System. Says Collins, “I think what finally won us over to Voortman was the job their people did at analyzing what we needed rather than what they could sell. They took the time to consider our facility and product mix, and offered a solution that best suited our requirements.”

Bob Gregory was one of the team who worked with CIL. As owner of All Fabrication Machinery, the Western Canada agent for Voortman equipment, Gregory played a big part in the sales cycle. “Plate processing machines can save fabricators a great deal of time, cost and eliminate problems associated with quality and processing errors. That’s because modern equipment means you only have to handle the material once and the Voortman measuring system can compensate for mill plate edge and surface condition that competitors have yet to solve”.

He says the V330C is equipped with high-tech featurs. Among them is a oxy-fuel torch, a Hypertherm high-definition plasma head, a high speed carbide drilling/tapping spindle with 10-tool changer, automated material handling capabilities, layout marking via milling cutter or plasma etch, remnant recall and tracking software of previously cut plate, and an onboard laser to align plate stock prior to processing. “You basically load up raw material and come back to weld-ready product.”

Rick Collins says CIL “learned a lot of lessons back in the late 90s, and this purchase was the result of that learning curve.” And just in time: among other projects, Collins recently partnered with Ledcor Design Build Inc. to supply components for the new Royal Alberta Museum, slated for a 2015 opening in the Edmonton Arts District.

With the successful conclusion of this machine-buying journey, everyone was ready to get the machine up and running. We were very happy with
how things went.”

CIL took the new machine’s arrival as an opportunity to reorganize the plant layout. Staff from the office and shop worked together to decide the best place for the machine,” explains Collins. “Our shop is sort of L-shaped, and most of our plate processing has always been done on the heel of the L, then transferred to the production area up front. After some analysis, it was deemed that moving the plate work to the area immediately before production would cut down on handling. The results have been good and it’s definitely changed the way things are operating.”

Someone with first hand experience in this area is Troy Maclean. As the primary machine operator for the V330C, MacLean has good things to say about the new machine. “We are monitoring the Voortman machine’s performance and the signs are the operating costs will continue to come down as we get better at running the new machine compared to the old system.”

MacLean says CIL has been cutting a lot of 10-13 mm thick 44W and A72 material recently, and that drilling and cutting speeds have definitely improved. He also likes the Sigmanest software on the Voortman. “It used to take four to eight minutes to apply tool information on the old machine; the new one is virtually instantaneous.” Maclean says he also now has time to do other associated activities around the machine. He adds that Voortman and All Fabrication Machinery have been responsive to questions and service requests.

Going forward, Rick Collins says this will probably not be the last piece of Voortman equipment at CIL. “We’re pretty interested in the painting equipment. That area has always been a bit of a bottleneck in our shop, it would be great to just push our steel through an automated system instead of having a whole area dedicated to priming. Aside from the painting equipment, we might also be looking at replacing our beam line.” SMT

Kip Hanson is a contributing editor. [email protected]

Collins Industries Ltd.

All Fabrication Machinery


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