Punching a hole, shearing a bar, and cutting a length of angle are tasks perennially assigned to ironworkers. But in many of today’s fabrication shops, the role of these workhorses is expanding. Instead of replacing manual ironworkers with expensive automated punching and shearing machines, consider DIY add-on automation. Attaching an automated stop gauge to the punch or shear station of your ironworker creates a fully automatic ironworker system with a price tag you can actually stomach.
Measuring and Marking Takes Precious Time … And Money
Ironworkers are being integrated into fabrication cells to easily punch a series of holes and cut to length steel for a vast array of projects. Repeatable accuracy, while always an important factor, is becoming far more of a necessity when processing multiple features. Manually measuring and marking parts to ensure accuracy is far more laborious when workloads are multiplied, and typically requires experienced operators.
Even with experience on your side, human error is commonplace. “Statistically speaking, 7 out of 100 manually marked parts are incorrect,” says Scott Brode, central regional sales manager at TigerStop. “And it’s not uncommon for an ironworker operator to spend three to five minutes marking five holes on a 20-foot piece of material.”
Let’s take a second to consider the statistics. On average, a 20-foot stick of 2 x 2 x 1/4″ steel angle stock costs $50. If you factor in that a small- to medium-sized shop can process between 20 and 60 20-foot sticks of angle per day and a large shop can process 120 to 150 sticks of angle daily, the cost of accuracy errors can skyrocket.
The labor costs alone of manually measuring and marking holes are tremendous—a small to medium shop could spend anywhere from one to five hours daily just marking holes. A large shop could spend between 6 and 12.5 hours. And we’re only talking about the angle stock here.
If your ironworker operator is paid $20 an hour, small- to medium-sized shops are spending $20 to $100 on labor costs daily, simply measuring parts. Large shops are doling out $120 to $250 per day. Think about the labor costs of manually marking holes per year. Ouch.
But What If You Automate the Ironworker System?
According to Marlin Farr, account manager at MegaFab, parent company of the leading Piranha brand ironworker, “We had some basic automation available for our ironworkers, but wanted to offer fabricators additional options to provide them with more efficiency. The goal was to add a level of automation to turn parts made on an ironworker into high-precision parts, so customers could achieve measurements that could be accurately repeated for multiple parts.”
And thus, the perfect collaboration between TigerStop automated positioners and MegaFab ironworkers began. The end result? An assortment of semi-automatic and fully-automatic packages that can integrate a brand-new or decades-old Piranha ironworker systems with accurate positioning technology.
Tale of Two Companies
Tim Krase, MegaFab technical sales adviser, explains what prompted the company to reach out to TigerStop for the joint effort: “Simply stated, we wanted to partner with a company that would provide a robust system to go with robust ironworkers. It had to have good customer support and after-sale service. We also wanted to work with a system that included a fairly simple-to-operate control that could interface with our system. TigerStop was at the top of our list.”
TigerStop’s Scott Brode explains, “It is exciting working with MegaFab. They know what their market needs on the punching side and shearing side. We have a very good sense of what the market needs on the positioning side. Working together, we have been able to create kits that not only integrate onto new machines, but that can be retrofitted to existing machines.”
As with all R&D, some areas were more difficult to resolve than others. “Some of the biggest challenges were in setting up a positioner without blocking the other processes with a table and large machine,” said Brode. “Another challenge was developing a holder, a material guide, for punching angle iron. But we developed the capability with our engineers working in conjunction with MegaFab’s engineers. Fabricators can load a piece of angle with the length facing down and move the material without a pinch point and without having to walk away from the guide.”
Levels of Automation
When a SawGear is integrated with an ironworker, the operator enters a length into the controller, the stop moves to the correct position, and the operator places material against the stop and presses start. An angled pusher arm can be adjusted for the bar shear, angle shear, and round bar workstations.
The fully automated TigerStop option can push, pull, or position the material, giving the ironworker the capabilities of a fully automated shearing and punching machine. The automated positioner package includes the stop, back fence, table, and an Advanced Interconnect Kit (AIK2). An upgrade includes cut list downloading capabilities, Dynamic Optimization software for increased material yield, and TigerTouch touch screen software.
“It’s tough for an operator to move steel all day. It’s fatiguing, and fatigue makes it easier for mistakes to happen,” said Brode. “Mismarked, mispunched, or incorrect material positioning can occur. Errors like that are typically not caught until later on in the manufacturing process.”
TigerStop’s upgrade package allows the positions and/or quantity of punches to be entered on the controller at the ironworker or downloaded from a PC software package. The operator places the material, initiates the program, and then the automation moves the material, performs the process, and repeats the steps until the part is completed. The automation packages are available for most ironworkers that handle material from 70 to 3,000 pounds.
The collaboration between the two companies is working for fabricators who still use ironworkers as stand-alone units and those who are integrating them into cells. The ironworker system automation can take the majority of the prep and set-up work out of the job.
“The ironworker automation has taken the set-up time to almost zero. We’ve seen productivity gains between 7% and 20%. Tolerance has also gone up significantly,” says Brode.
Adapted from Sue Roberts’s article in Canadian Metalworking.
Learn more about building your own automatic ironworker system.