Forward Thinking
Fagor Arrasate’s Peter Swenson discusses the evolution of coil processing equipment to incorporate automation and accommodate high-strength material
What are some of the changes that you have observed in slitting?
A: In a word—automation. I first observed automation of coil processing lines in Europe perhaps 20 years ago. The goal had been, and continues to be, to take people off lines and to make lines safer and more productive. From entry to exit, automation is making it easier and more efficient to operate lines. For example, there are now affordable coil automatic de-banding and band removal systems. For many years in Europe, they have had robotic setup of the slitter heads and separator tooling. These are both critical points in slitting lines, and long thought only to be able to be set up by a human. Not true! Robots routinely set up slitter heads with correct horizontal clearances every time. They come to work every day and don’t make costly setup mistakes. They can wash the tooling after use, which extends tooling life, and they don’t damage the tooling during routine handling. And they can even inspect the edge condition after each use to determine if a tool is suitably sharp. We are now placing this equipment in forward-thinking U.S. companies.

Another area of automating is at the exit end of the line. We are seeing more lines being equipped with automatic strip thickness and strip width measuring systems. Operators no longer need to manually gather this information and enter it in to quality control documents. Everything is being done with the thought of increased line uptime and productivity.

Automation is making it easier and more efficient to operate lines.
How are the newer HSS and AHSS materials affecting the coil processing industry?
A: According to the World Steel Association, over 75 percent of the steel grades in use today did not exist 20 years ago. Equipment that was produced in the 1970s and 1980s was largely designed at tensile strengths of between 40,000 and 50,000 ksi. This equipment was never intended for the much higher strengths that the market demands today. While it may be able to handle some of the higher strengths for the short term, a steady diet of high-strength material may produce inferior finished product or damage the machine. Worse yet, if something breaks on the line, the safety of the operator could be compromised. While some lines can be upgraded to handle higher strengths, frequently the best option is to bite the bullet and purchase new equipment better suited to newer grades.
How does new control technology enhance coil processing lines?
A: Equipment users now have much greater insight into how their lines are performing. Diagnostics are continuing to improve, and machines include help messaging for operators to better guide the operator and resolve issues faster. Should there be a problem with the line, the controls rapidly pinpoint the problem area, allowing the equipment to more quickly return to production. The controls keep track of temperatures of bearings, motors, amps pulled, and can monitor vibrations.
What changes have occurred in cut-to-length-lines?
A: Like coil slitting, automation and diagnostics have improved line productivity. The new corrective levelers with multiple cassette capabilities allow for bridging a larger thickness range in a single machine. Cassettes can be quickly changed from one roll diameter to another in just a few minutes. Additionally, flying or rotary shears help to increase productivity and eliminate looping pits. Stacker technology also has been a huge game changer. Multiple place stackers allow for continuous line operation without the need to stop the line and exit completed bundles. For surface-sensitive materials, there is an entirely new generation of combination magnetic and vacuum to allow ferrous and nonferrous materials to be processed on a single line.
What changes have occurred in coil line guarding?
A: Equipment manufacturers today are doing a much more comprehensive job of providing a higher level of operator safety and line guarding. Automatic line threading keeps the operator from manually manipulating the strip. Having a complete perimeter guard or barrier keeps people out of harm’s way without being an impediment to line operation. In fact, a well-designed guarding system not only protects the operator but also enhances productivity.
Peter Swenson has worked in the coiled metal processing industry for nearly 40 years. He is experienced as both a user and from observing best practices of coil slitting and cut-to-length lines globally. He is sales manager of the Metals Division at Fagor Arrasate USA, fagorarrasate.com.