Ironworkers can do many things, but they can do even more with some equipment enhancements
February 9, 2010
Metal fabricators need to meet the challenges that new customers present, but they may not be in the position to invest in new equipment. With a small investment in accessories, however, that ironworker in the corner of the shop may be the answer to their production predicament.
Adding accessories to an ironworker can increase the productivity of metal fabricating activities, while eliminating the need to move parts to larger fabricating machines or possibly purchase a much more expensive piece of equipment. Photo courtesy of Peddinghaus Corp.
What is the biggest challenge that fabricators face today? They need to generate new, profitable business. The uncertain economy has challenged many firms, and though many state they are investing in new technologies, they are hesitant to invest heavily in capital equipment at this time.
So what is the answer? How can you become more profitable and efficient with a minimal investment?
Walk into your shop and take a look around. The answer could be that universal ironworker that has been sitting in your shop for the past five years—quietly punching, shearing, and notching your daily production requirements. The same machine that you use for making prototypes or templates could be the key to your future profitability.
In today's computer-driven, software-enhanced electronic world, some forms of capital equipment tend to get overlooked because they are manually operated. But you should take note of the word universal in universal ironworker. The ironworker is indeed the one machine that can do it all—punching, shearing, notching, and sometimes even bending.
Nowadays the ironworker can do even more. Engineers have taken the universal ironworker's same basic mechanical design and enhanced it with modern electronics. It is similar to putting a turbocharger on your 20-year-old subcompact: The machine has a new lease on life.
Most important, that new lease gives you a chance to increase shop floor efficiency. That newfound productivity in many cases can be translated into savings that fall directly to the bottom line.
Many manufacturers of ironworkers and CNC tools have created new accessories specifically designed to improve how ironworkers function and operate. The basic goal is to deliver accurate and efficient CNC technology to the affordable and flexible traditional ironworker. The new additions to the ironworker add to the speed, precision, and adaptability of the existing unit. These new CNC and mechanical accessories can include automatic length measurement tools; material positioning aids; and multifunction attachments, which eliminate tool changes.
Following are some of the recent innovations that can make your lowly universal ironworker a key player in your quest for additional profitability.
Semiautomatic CNC Gauging Tables. This servo-driven, zero-stop mechanism, which attaches conveniently to your existing ironworker, allows for programmable, semiautomatic, CNC operation that is much faster than manual operation (see Figure 1). You can either load a commonly used DSTV file, created with the machine-supplied software, or use a touchscreen control panel on the machine to program it directly.
The CNC gauging table automates positioning of parts to be punched. The triple-tool punching attachment (inset photo) enables the ironworker to punch three different hole diameters independently.
The gauging table then positions the material zero stop to the required location via an X and a Y axis. You move the material against this zero stop, and the ironworker accurately punches the hole with no need for measuring. The table proceeds to position for the next hole in the pattern instantaneously and automatically. The table arranges both punches and markings optimally.
All programs can be saved and stored for future use with the CNC table. These types of gauging tables are capable of processing flat sheet and plate up to 16 by 40 inches (406 by 1,016 mm), but customized designs are possible for accommodating even larger raw material sections.
Punching Attachments. Consider the time you could save if changing punching tools weren't necessary. New punching attachments with multiple tools make that possible.
For instance, one new triple-tool punching attachment (pictured in the Figure 1 inset) is a suitable add-on to a machine that commonly punches multiple hole shapes or sizes. When you are done punching with one size, you simply designate which tool you need next, eliminating the need to unscrew a coupling nut, remove the punch, insert the next desired size, and lock it into place. When used in conjunction with the CNC table, the CNC program understands which punch is needed for a desired hole in a program and switches tooling automatically.
A simple bending attachment is an inexpensive way to create angle iron from flat stock.
Pipe Notchers and Bending Attachments. Many ironworker manufacturers offer pipe notchers and bending attachments (see Figure 2) that can be fitted onto either the punching end or shearing end to further increase the capabilities of the machines.
CNC Length Stop Systems. You can further eliminate the task of manually measuring components using a CNC length stop (see Figure 3).
This automated, CNC length stop accurately shears I-beams, channel or angle iron, flat stock, and round or square barstock.
Material Support and Handling Options. Material support options for ironworkers include tables with detachable fronts, gauging tables with adjustable indexing cams, worktables with side and depth gauge stops, large-capacity tables, and linear gauge table rails.
The semiautomatic length stop positions itself to the correct length of a part, and you simply feed material through and engage the shear once the material comes into contact with the positioning system. The positioning system automatically activates the shear when the material suppresses a switch on the end of the length stop. The simple NC is ideal for manually programming length and can keep track of how many parts were run of a certain length.
Height-adjustable conveyors facilitate loading large pieces of material and help to reduce common safety concerns associated with repetitive material loading (see Figure 4). With the ability to change height, one set of conveyors can be used for every shearing application on a universal ironworker.
Adding a length gauging table (left) and a height-adjustable conveyor (right and pictured in the inset) reduces the labor involved in material handling.
Machines are not always a one-size-fits-all item. Fabricators often approach ironworker manufacturers with several custom applications that their customers require. Some examples of these custom changes are special small-channel die blocks, die presses, and I-beam shear blades.
Custom or not, these types of equipment enhancements hold the promise of quick payback periods because common processes are made much more efficient. By making simple modifications to the measurement, handling, and processing of material, fabricators are certain to see an improvement in the quality and efficiency of their processes.