Home-court advantage

The FABRICATOR April 2006
April 11, 2006
By: Amanda Carlson

A company bid and won a contract from a company who was previously sending its work to Mexico. The company bought a computer-controlled pipe cutting machine to automate the process and cut lead times.

Turquoise and tequila aren't the only things coming back from Mexico; some fabricating jobs are working their way back as well. While many companies are asking themselves how they can compete with companies in Mexico that have faster throughput and lower labor costs, one U.S. manufacturer figured it out. Lindsay Mfg. Co., Omaha, Neb., did it by adding one piece of equipment and a little extra floor space.

Lindsay, in business since 1955, provides water and plant nutrient management systems and specializes in center-pivot irrigation products for the agriculture industry. One of its manufacturing divisions custom-fabricates equipment for a variety of customers.

Lindsay bid and won a contract from a company looking to bring its work back to the U.S. after a few years of sending it to Mexico. The customer needed someone to cut 1-1/2-in. through 10-in. Sch. 40 aluminum pipe for tubular sign, signal, and truss-arm structures to be installed at rail crossings and switchyards, with finished parts varying in size from 1 to 40 ft.

Lindsay Mfg. found a way to remain competitive with fabrication shops in Mexico without purchasing elaborate equipment.

No Pipe Dream

While Lindsay was elated about receiving the bid, investigating new technology to handle its new customer's demands became its new priority. Jim Belzer, Lindsay's manufacturing engineer, said in the early stages the company machined all the copes and angles into pieces of pipe, but quickly decided that process would not work in the long run because it took approximately one week. The company purchased the CL-124 CNC pipe cutting machine with a 40-ft. bed from Watts Specialties to help with the job.

The CL-124 handles 1.9- to 24-in.-OD pipe and has a 6,000-lb. capacity. Operators can perform all logout functions on software developed by Watts. The software links together up to 50 cuts and can save up to 2,500 files, with 50 cuts in each file.

The system's drive head, a floating mechanism, floats and tracks the end of the pipe as it rotates. The gripper has four axis of motion to track the end of the pipe as it rotates so there is no stress due to crooked or bowed pipe. The unit also utilizes a tracking head for the torch that follows the contour of the pipe laterally and vertically to ensure the torch stays centered on the pipe at all times.

Lindsay purchased the pipe cutting machine with a 40-ft. bed. Bed lengths available range from 20 to 50 ft.

Cuts Pipe and Lead-Time

To accommodate the machine and the new business, Lindsay dedicated three months for installation and setup and set aside 12,000 sq. ft. at its facility specifically for the product line. As soon as production was under way, Belzer said he saw immediate results. While the company did not statistically track throughput times before and after installing the pipe cutter, Belzer said that it cut lead-times by at least a week.

"A majority of the parts that go through this are between 1-1/2- and 4-inch aluminum pipe. The structures take, on average, up to 40 or more of these trusses in different sizes and configurations."

Three Lindsay employees are trained to use the machine. The company currently runs the pipe cutter on two shifts, with one employee operating it at a time and responsible for everything from programming to material handling.

Belzer liked that the equipment is in the welding and assembly area because parts come off the pipe cutter and are ready to be joined to another component or to be included in the final assembly. "The operator can make one or two parts out of a piece of pipe. Out of that same piece of pipe he can make one or two different styles and make them right as the assembly area needs them," Belzer said.

Doing what it takes to be competitive may also be part of the solution to bring back work from international markets and holding on to the work that is already at home. And in some cases, one purchase is all it takes.

Lindsay Mfg. Co., 214 E. 2nd St., Lindsay, NE 68644, 402-428-2131, fax 402-428-7258, www.lindsaymanufacturing.com

Watts Specialties, Inc., 800 Fife Way, Milton, WA 98354, 253-922-1414, fax 253-922-6808, www.watts-specialties.com

Amanda Carlson

Amanda Carlson

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8260

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The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.

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