By Corinna Petry, Modern Metals Magazine
Memory-free steel has become a standard requirement for metal processors that burn or laser cut material into perfectly flat parts, which has caused service centers and toll processors alike to reevaluate the capabilities of their existing equipment. Coil Steel Processing (CSP) is one example. Founded in 2014, CSP processes up to 100,000 tons of steel a year at its Toledo facility. President Kevin Friedman, who had previous service center experience, started CSP by purchasing two older Herr-Voss cut-to-length lines that relied on roller leveling technology. Both CTL lines could process material up to 72 inches wide; one was for material up to 1/4 inch thick, the other for material up to 1/2 inch thick.
To give customers what they wanted, Friedman understood that a stretcher leveling upgrade was necessary. Developed over the past 25 years, the technology “delivers sheets that are completely memory free, so they remain perfectly flat as parts are cut out on burning tables,” Friedman says. “Memory-free sheet has become the standard requirement for certain premium product applications and end markets, and stretcher-leveling technology is becoming the standard in our industry. Many fabrication facilities are now specifying stretcher-leveled sheets.”
After seeing stretch cycle times improve and machine designs evolve, Friedman determined “it was time to make a move.” CSP processes coils into sheets, focusing on a range between 16 gauge and 5/8 inch thick. The material includes hot-rolled, hot-rolled pickled and oiled, cold-rolled, coated and floor plate. End customers include industrial manufacturing, such as fabrication, metal building products, racking and conveyor systems; construction, such as tanks and trench boxes, shielding equipment, observatories and greenhouses; and transportation, including truck, trailer and recreational vehicle parts, among others.
CSP needed to get the crossbow out of the strip before stretching.
“We spent the majority of 2018 interviewing customers, mills, manufacturers, installation companies and visiting other service centers with stretchers,” says Friedman. We initially considered retrofitting one of our existing lines. We also looked into moving to a new facility to accommodate an entire new stretcher line.
“We worked hard to identify what we could do to align our services with the new requirements of our customers. It wasn’t until we had an on-site brainstorming session with Red Bud Industries that the light bulb went off,” he says. The vendor helped Friedman and his team to see “our facility from a different perspective, and we flipped the script.” The company stayed within its existing building footprint but “reworked the entire flow” based on Red Bud’s input. Red Bud created a diagram for a new building layout “with little trucks and mini people that helped to bring the vision to life.”
In early 2019, CSP signed the contract with Red Bud, whose stretcher-leveler technology “is the gold standard,” Friedman says. Although the sales process took some time, he credits Red Bud Industries with patiently helping him and his team to “evolve our thinking along the way. I felt like we had a partner in the design process. We leveraged our experience operating cut-to-length lines, and Red Bud shared its experience in building state-of-the-art lines.” CSP revised the line specifications many times before finalizing, Friedman says, adding, “I had financing pressures that forced us to make slight modifications to the line but still needed to make sure the line would accommodate the wide range of material, gauge and length requirements.”
As the toll processor continued to weigh its options, “one focal point became a straightener versus a roller leveler. During our discovery phase, we learned how important it was to get the crossbow out of the strip before stretching. We decided to forgo the roller leveler and opted to go with Red Bud’s pop-top straightener instead,” says Friedman.
“The unit has been fantastic. It certainly gets the crossbow out and makes maintenance a breeze.” With a push of a button, the straightener top pivots open to 90 degrees so CSP’s operators can easily inspect and clean the bearings and work rolls. “Our current lines are just not accessible in that way, and cleaning becomes a big project with significant downtime,” Friedman says.
He also cites the speed of the new line. “I’ve only worked with start/stop CTL lines. It’s hard to describe the feeling when I watch a coil run across a Red Bud line in looping mode. It’s so much faster. The looping pit allows the material to accumulate while the material is being stretched and/or being sheared. The line’s roll feed can instantaneously accelerate the material to over 600 feet per minute before stopping to shear a sheet within a few thousandths of an inch. Even heavy-gauge coils run faster in start/stop mode than what we see with our other lines.”
The startup and maintenance training were exhaustive, but operating the line is relatively simple.
On site and available
This was Friedman’s first new line installation “and it was a big one,” he relates. “I am sure others can draw from past experiences, but I had none. I can’t imagine doing another project without Red Bud Industries and Lee Industrial Contracting,” the installation specialist that CSP hired.
“With the line of this size, we had our issues. But the determination and commitment from everyone involved to press on and get us online was unbelievable,” says Friedman. As the Red Bud teams arrived to finish installing the straightener, stretcher and commission the line, one thing was constant: “The technicians never stopped working long hours, day after day.
“Juggling resources with other projects, on-site customer visits and COVID-related safety procedures all presented challenges. But Red Bud did a fantastic job of having the right guys available and on site to keep our project rolling,” Friedman says.
The startup and maintenance training were exhaustive, he adds, but operating the new line is relatively simple. “It wasn’t but a couple days before we were running meaningful tons. Now I liken it to a NASCAR pit crew. We can prep coils and remove their bands while the line is running. And when a coil tails out, the next one is automatically loaded onto the uncoiler. This really helps us to chase the tail of the prior coil.”
CSP processed material so efficiently that the packaging area quickly became the bottleneck. “In the next few months,” adds Friedman, “we plan to add new banding tools and additional conveyors to help take pressure off the cranes.” Working with Red Bud and Lee Industrial Contracting for the installation, CSP aimed to fully commission the new line last summer. However, the timetable was modified due to COVID-19.
It’s been several months since the line was commissioned. CSP has run thousands of tons through it. From time to time, the company still contacts Red Bud Industries’ technical support. “It’s comforting knowing there is always someone answering the phone. When my operators can call and immediately work through an issue, it’s a huge help minimizing downtime,” Friedman says.
Red Bud connects to the machine remotely and can navigate the screens with CSP operators, getting the line back up and running quickly. Given its new processing capabilities, CSP is actively expanding its customer base and increasing productivity while improving overall quality, says Friedman. “Despite the impact from COVID-19, our processing volume is increasing as the new line has created new market opportunities, adding to our existing business.” MM