Cutting big steel

By Russ Olexa

March 2011 - Bandsaws are more than commodity items. If they don’t perform precision cuts, they could force a company to lose funds by scrapping material or lose time by adding secondary processes to get a perfect edge.

Bandsaws are more than commodity items. If they don’t perform precision cuts, they could force a company to lose funds by scrapping material or lose time by adding secondary processes to get a perfect edge.

Finding a saw that offers precision cutting was very important to Dave Sailing, manager of operations at Zalk Josephs Fabricators, Stoughton, Wis. He needed a saw to replace a large, circular cold-cutting saw that restricted the structural-steel sizes Zalk Josephs produced.

"We are a structural-steel fabricator with our primary market area being Chicago," he says. "Many of the buildings that we fabricate structural steel for are high-rise office buildings and hospitals. We are working with heavy and large structures that have a very complicated construction."

Expanding for the future
To meet customer demands, Sailing examined the company’s manufacturing processes and looked at how products moved through the business. The company made the decision to bring I-beam sawing in-house, because previously, it subcontracted it out. Doing so would allow Zalk Josephs to improve its turnaround time by reducing the shipping and handling of beams and also achieve higher production rates and improve quality control by eliminating vendor errors.

But bringing I-beam sawing in-house meant investing in a saw and cutting some of the largest and heaviest structural shapes in the world.

"If we wanted to take on larger fabricated steel jobs and not sub out the work to other companies that have bigger equipment, we would have to purchase new equipment," says Sailing. "We also needed a larger infrastructure that included heavier and larger cranes to lift these steel beams along with CNC drill lines that would put holes in these components."

To find the right equipment that would let the company expand, Sailing began researching machines that would do the jobs they were getting currently and meet future production needs.

The company fabricates large column sections called W-14/730 super-jumbo structural-steel sections. This designation means the beam is 14 in. wide and weighs 730 lbs. per lineal foot. Flanges on the beam are 5 in. thick, and the webs are 3 in. thick. Other structural steel the company cuts includes 40-in.-tall beams that are 593 lbs. per lineal foot and 44-in.-tall ones that are 355 lbs. per lineal foot. Steel grades used for these columns are A572 grade 50, A992 grade 50 and A992 grade 65.

Fabricating these types of beams means Sailing needed to purchase a heavy-duty bandsaw that could withstand the weight of the beam and still offer a precision cut. If a cut is not accurate, the company might be forced to scrap out the beam, and beams cost thousands of dollars each, says Sailing.

A better saw
Sailing educated himself on what saws were available. "I ended up calling friends in the industry that had different types of equipment, and then we analyzed specifications available at each manufacturer’s website. Behringer Saws Inc., Morgantown, Pa., was the company I went with because of the way their equipment is built compared to others. They offered a much more rugged saw. When we’re cutting structural beams that cost thousands upon thousands of dollars each, we have to be able to cut it true and straight."

Sailing purchased a Behringer HBP 800/1204 automatic horizontal bandsaw about five years ago. Now, he’s able to cut large I-beams efficiently and accurately.

"With the stability from the Behringer saw’s strong cast-iron-frame construction and heavy-duty automatic blade tensioning, we were guaranteed low vibration through the cut," he says. "Even when pushing the saw hard, we eliminated errors and the need for secondary milling operations, saving us countless man hours and shipping costs. These immediate savings helped justify the cost of the saw and allowed us to be more competitive on future jobs. Over time, the longevity of the saw’s design and production capacity delivered thousands of cuts squarely and smoothly."

Sailing noted there are saws that cut fast, but it’s not all about speed; it’s about how square the cut ends up being. "Think about this, if you’re doing a high-rise building and stacking column upon column as it goes vertically, all the structural steel has to be true, flat and square. Otherwise, the erectors could have a lot of problems. So you need a piece of equipment that can do this, and that’s what drove us to the Behringer saws," he says.

"This case was an excellent example of our commitment to working with a customer to find a sawing solution to a particular challenge or problem," says Richard Klipp, Behringer president. "The fact that we helped Zalk Josephs save a significant amount of time and money on large projects was very rewarding to us."

With the capabilities of the Behringer saw, the company is able to cut two 14/730 beams at one time side by side. For these large beams, cut tolerances are roughly between 1/16 in. to 1/32 in. "We are cutting steel that weighs 1,460 lbs. per lineal foot because we had them married together on the saw bed," says Sailing. "It was something that we and Behringer had never done before."

Zalk Josephs primarily gains jobs through construction-management companies. Once the company gets the drawings from the contractor, workers review the specifications, detail them and then purchase the beams needed for each piece. The company cuts them to length and produces the metal connections so the beams can be welded or bolted together in the field. "Our job primarily is to shape the beams, form and paint them as needed," says Sailings.

Using the Behringer saw along with CNC hole-drilling equipment has allowed the company to produce extremely precise fabricated beams. With this equipment, buildings today are much more accurately built than they were years ago, Sailing says. "This is one of the things that our company prides itself on, that our buildings fit together properly at the job site," he says.

Even though the Behringer saw was more expensive than some others Sailing reviewed, "there was a reason for this because of the way they are built. This allows us to hold tolerances better than some of the other saw manufacturers’ equipment. In this case, it was a great decision for us, and to this day, the equipment runs marvelously. It’s a wonderful saw."

Zalk Josephs used the Behringer saw to help build a skyscraper in downtown Chicago. The saw accurately cut each beam end to specifications and held closer tolerances than required to ready the pieces for end-to-end welding. However, there was one unexpected surprise.

The initial cuts proved smooth enough to eliminate secondary milling operations, done either internally or subcontracted out. This performance went beyond the company’s goals for improving production and delivery times, because the beam no longer had to be shipped to a vendor for finishing.

The company saved both time and money, and Zalk Josephs saw an immediate return on investment for its saw purchase with its first in-house, large-beam-cutting project. "We couldn’t be more pleased than to have exceeded our customer’s expectations on this challenging application," says Klipp. FFJ

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  • Behringer Saws Inc.
    Morgantown, Pa.
    phone: 610/286-9777
    fax: 610/286-9699

  • Zalk Josephs Fabricators
    Stoughton, Wis.
    phone: 608/873-6646


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