Comfortable control

By Gretchen Salois

Welders achieve better handling and safety when working on sizable beams

May 2012 - Maneuverability, control, precision and safety are what welders hope to achieve while on the job. Working with large metal beams, for example, often requires help from multiple workers to move, place and weld. This multistep process takes a significant amount of time and effort, and it’s not without risk.

Because of this, “we felt we needed to move to a more automated process and take the load off of our guys,” says Josh Inda, CEO of Indaco Metals, Shawnee, Okla.

Indaco manufactures metal buildings from 30 ft. by 40 ft. shops to spaces up to 100 ft. by 400 ft. or larger, Inda says. Indaco uses low-carbon steel for its buildings.

Workers use GMAW methods on the I-beams. “MIG is all we do because TIG welding is not cost effective for our industry,” Inda says. “Because we’re working with such large pieces, we needed a material-handling system that would manipulate the I-beam and be user friendly, allowing an operator to get in and properly position and weld the components.”

Using saw horses and cheater bars, workers flipped beams, which led to back injuries, Inda says. To automate processes, the company purchased a Rimco Rotator from Columbus, Ind.-based Structural Machinery Solutions Inc., Rimco Rotator’s U.S. distributor. SMS also services and sells industrial saws, structural fabricating equipment, ironworkers, press brakes, rolls and benders as well as parts from multiple manufacturers.

Often, welders are required to fit into tight spaces for a job. “Welders can now rotate a piece around 360 degrees without injuring their backs, allowing them to get into a more ergonomic position to do a penetrating weld,” Inda says. “Welders can take the I-beams and weld all the tabs and clips on them so everything will bolt together.”

The combination of the rotator with the company’s submerged arc press table and semi-automated ironworker has led Indaco to nearly double its output in a year.

According to Inda, most of the cutting is done on a plasma table and ironworker before going to the press table for I-beam weld up and then to the rotators for fit out. Indaco put the rotators, press table and semi-automatic ironworker into service at the beginning of 2011, he says.

“SMS gave us estimates of increased productivity we would see and we have far exceeded that,” Inda says. Using the rotator has proven to be an asset in harsh weather conditions, “especially this past summer where we had horrid hot weather that drastically affected our business and working conditions. But even with that, we more than doubled our business despite it being more than 100 degrees outside for 63 days straight. Our workers are out in the heat and cold. The rotator allows the operators and welders to manipulate the workpiece in the position they need,” he says.

Meeting potential
While there are multiple ways to manipulate beams or other structural sections, using a crane is a common tactic. Chains from the crane drape around the beams, wrapping around each end and hoisting them into the air, “much like pulling an engine out of a car in the garage,” says Dave McCorry, president of SMS.

With this method, the crane is in use throughout the welding procedure, preventing it from being used elsewhere. Also, it’s not entirely accurate for welding purposes.

The beam can slip, and it’s not easy to stop it at any one particular point, McCorry says. “The beam wants to lie in an horizontal position, but sometimes you need it standing straight up. Keeping it vertical can be difficult as the beam can slip in the chains,” he says.

The Rimco Rotator doesn’t need a crane to turn the beams, which are positioned and clamped securely when ready for welders. “The welders can comfortably rotate the beam to the exact position they want. It’s faster and less taxing on the welder. It’s safer as the beam is not going to tip over and hurt someone. It’s solidly held in place and cuts down expensive welding time,” McCorry says. “The crane can be used elsewhere, which is key because crane time is a premium in all structural manufacturing operations.”

Indaco frequently works with various beam shapes. “These beams are not squared. They are tapered, trapezoidal and oblong-shaped beams,” Inda says. Previously, welders were limited to four positions. With the rotator, welders can rotate the different-shaped beams at multiple angles.

“For example, a welder can turn a beam at a 45-degree angle,” Inda says. “So you’re no longer limited. Welders can rotate it to a position to get a piece in to fit long ways. The beams vary in size and can start off wide or thin and expand or contract further down the beam.”

Circumventing conflict
Safety is a major concern when working with large and cumbersome parts. “It’s very safe, which is critical because beams are so heavy and accidents occur while handling them,” McCorry says. “Many accidents happen with beams weighing many tons suspended in the air. And if something slips, it doesn’t take much to cause an injury.”

Rimco was first inspired when an industrial accident at its facility in Australia killed a worker about 10 years ago. The company knew it was imperative to develop a simple yet effective method to provide welders a safer environment to do their jobs.

The rotator integrates well into operations as its controls are similar to those of a standard crane. “There’s a bottle with buttons on it, allowing welders to rotate material and stop in any position, clockwise and counterclockwise,” McCorry says. “You can adjust the beam to the best angle for any weld.”

Having worked as a welder, McCorry appreciates the flexibility the rotator allows. “There’s nothing worse for a welder than having to weld overhead. It’s just a horrible part of the job. The Rimco Rotator is safe and allows you to weld properly, not just comfortably but with precision. While a good welder can weld anywhere, it helps to have equipment that makes precision easier and quicker,” he says.

Safety coupled with ease of use improved Indaco’s productivity and saves time. “It allows welders to put the beams in the manipulators, allowing for a correct layout before we weld up,” Inda says. “We’re a small manufacturer. We went from $1.5 million in sales to $3 million—that’s double the income where we worked absolutely no overtime.” FFJ

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  • Indaco Metals
    Shawnee, Okla.
    phone: 405/273-9200
    fax: 405/273-9206
  • Structural Machinery Solutions Inc.
    Columbus, Ind.
    phone: 812/342-4471
    fax: 812/342-2336

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