Contributed by the experts at Red Bud Industries
In a never-ending search for ways to cut costs, many service centers are turning to automation. When the topic of automation comes up, one typically thinks of the machines used to process products, such as slitters, cut-tolength lines, and/or lasers. Today, this thought process is being significantly expanded to encompass material handling, both incoming and outgoing, as well as the building itself.
In addition to reducing personnel requirements and consequently direct labor costs, material handling that can be automated can also significantly reduce the footprint of the building as well. While the upfront price of automation will add cost, the reduction in the size of the facility often offsets much of this expense. Over time, the reduction in direct labor costs will more than pay for the investment many times over. Automation can also reduce errors, as well as provide a safer working environment. It also frees up your personnel so they can be more productive in other areas.
While automatic coil storage and retrieval systems have been around for some time, they are just now gaining popularity among service centers. These systems can pack coils much more densely, which in turn allows the same amount of weight to be stored in a much smaller area. In many instances, floor space requirements can be reduced by 50 percent or more. In addition, automatic cranes operate within a confined designated area, so they offer a degree of safety not found with traditional cranes.
These cranes can also be run in manual mode where they function the same as a traditional crane. A crane operator must still manually remove coils from a truck or railcar and place them in a staging area; however, from that point forward, the coils can be automatically stored, retrieved, and in some cases, automatically loaded onto the processing line without any operator intervention.
Packaging the finished product has its own unique challenges. While slit coil pack lines have been around for many years, even these systems are becoming more automated. Fully automated ID banders are common. In addition, systems that can automatically band the ODs of slit coils are available as well. Today, you can buy a fully automatic slit coil packaging line that requires no operator intervention. Once the coils are loaded onto the exit turnstile, the material is not touched again until after it has been stacked and packaged and ready to be removed from the line.
Automated Slit Coil and Sheet/Blank Storage
One of the more innovative material handling solutions is the Slit Coil/Sheet Storage System. This system takes advantage of the vertical space in your building. Although rack systems have been around for quite some time, they typically require the material to be loaded into them manually. Consequently, while they do take better advantage of the space in your building, there is no savings in regard to direct labor costs. In addition, material can be easily damaged with these systems as well.
These fully automated systems do not require an operator. They include a dedicated, self-contained, computer-controlled crane that moves the material within the system. As in the case with the automated coil cranes, the systems operate as an independent unit. There are also several options available to load finished goods into the system. This includes being able to feed the system directly from a cut-to-length line or slitter. Once loaded into the system, the computer tracks the slit coil/stacks automatically until they are removed from the system.
When the product is ready to ship, it is automatically retrieved and delivered to a pre-designated location. Once in this position, an overhead crane or fork truck is typically used to transport the material and load outbound trucks. These systems will also interface with ERP Systems, and information can be shared interchangeably between systems. In the past, these systems had to be purchased individually from multiple companies. Consequently, integration between them was difficult, at best, if not impossible. Today, Red Bud Industries can provide you with one or all of the above options as a complete package.Red Bud Industries, Red Bud, Ill., is a manufacturer of coil processing and coil handling solutions. For more information, call 618-282-3801 or visit www.redbudindustries.com.