“stock material on, part off” concept revolutionized plate production, especially in structural steel
shops. Along with downloading data from CAD, this
concept allowed structural fabricators to produce
standard parts. This reduced plate inventory and
allowed designers to work with certain design parameters to create standard connections. All this
boosted fabrication efficiency.
During the 1990s the industry began to notice the
obvious constraints of material handling. They included the labor cost associated with moving steel
through processing to fabrication and ultimately
getting the correct detail parts (that is, those parts
to be connected to beams) to the weld stations.
Many different material handling methods were
used. Workers sometimes pushed beams on simple
trolleys from station to station. Sometimes they operated a motorized system capable of positioning
multiple beams at one time for each station.
It was estimated a fabricator touched a beam up
to 15 times at an approximate cost of $25 per lift. For
this reason, material handling became a huge focus
for the fabricator to reduce labor-hours and cost.
By 1998 the industry witnessed early automated
Enter the MSI
material handling technology that loaded and un-
loaded a simple drill-saw tandem system. Fabrica-
tors in North America began to see hydraulically
driven rollers and transfer systems. These hydraulic
systems required an operator at each processing
position, so they had high labor costs. The hydrau-
lic system is still widely used today, but is being
Today’s automated systems—known as multisystem integration, or MSI— position workpieces using
electric motors, inverters, and encoders. Monitoring
the position of each piece, the MSI combines multiple machines into one production line. Once the
production requirement is created and material is
loaded, an MSI operates without manual input.
For example, material moves from a shotblasting
machine to a drill machine, a layout marking machine, a sawing machine, and finally a plasma and
oxyfuel robotic structural cutting system. All machines are mechanically connected to each other by
roller conveyors and cross transports.
The production process starts at the detailing office where the project is created in a 3-D CAD system. Each product is broken down into a DSTV file
that is then imported into the machine’s software.
After this step, nested files are generated in a DSTV+
Robotic welding and
Today the operator simply selects the loaded
profiles on the control panel and starts the process.
Data then is updated automatically at the produc-
tion office and at every machine. The material han-
dling system has built-in buffers so the production
line knows the order in which the beams go through
and which processes are required on each piece.
thermal cutting are not new
to structural fabricators,
but automated welding is—
that is, welding with no