Smart ironworking

By Nick Wright

A job shop produces parts with a powerful punch, backed by supplier’s attentive service

September 2012 - Located halfway between two capitals, Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Va., job shop Carico Inc. is a soup-to-nuts fabricator for projects big and small. As a job shop, the Fredericksburg, Va.-based Carico takes a shotgun approach to its work, fabricating everything from walk-in orders for miscellaneous widgets to three-story structural steel work.

“We do it all,” says Carey Leitch, president of Carico.

To accommodate the variety of parts it processes, Carico added a Sunrise model IW-180SD ironworker with CNC programming from metal fabrication machinery distributor Trilogy Machinery Inc., Belcamp, Md., about one year ago. It’s a versatile dual-cylinder ironworker driven by 180 tons of punching pressure—the most powerful model in the Sunrise dual-cylinder line. With two independent cylinders, one operator can punch plate while another notches angle. One of Carico’s biggest gains was an electric backgauge positioner.


“I’d been looking for an x-y backgauge for punching on an ironworker for about 15 years and I had seen a few of them on the market briefly, but then taken off,” Leitch says. “I knew there were better ways. We have CNC backgauges on our shears, press brakes and every other kind of equipment we own. No one addressed that in punching.”

Carico’s existing ironworkers required operators to know G-code CNC language for programming. Leitch felt the shop floor wasn’t the best place for manual programming.

“It can be hot, dirty, nasty work,” he says. “After working all day, sometimes your head isn’t going to be where it needs to be to program holes and punches.”

During a visit to Trilogy to get parts for one of its angle rolls, vice president Beej Flamholz introduced Leitch to the Sunrise ironworker, which has a Windows-based programming system.

“My guys love it, it’s incredibly simple and easy to operate,” he says. “It operates the way you think. Something that could take 15 minutes to lay out one piece is done in a minute.”

Capability flyover

Ironworkers are complex machines to build. But there aren’t many manufacturers that can couple a hydraulic ironworker with CNC capabilities, says Flamholz. The Taiwan-made Sunrise allows Carico to punch plate, as well as shear, angle shear and notch channel, I-beams and angles quickly.

Carico fabricates items such as handrails, stairs and platforms on the Sunrise. On a larger scale, it delivers structural steel for buildings, railroad ballast cars, storage tanks and some military work. The company primarily works with carbon steel, stainless steel and aluminum.

Leitch says he does a fair amount of processing for service centers involving punching angles or pieces of flat bar. Often the punches are odd, asymmetrical patterns to which the machine lends its features.

“It’s very good for that, because we can program in the hole pattern and we don’t have to use rulers and squares,” he says. “We just enter dimensions, it moves the gauge into position and you put metal up against the backgauge and hit the pedal.”

Contained within a 15,000-sq.-ft. shop, Carico has an individual turret punch press and angle line that overlap abilities with the Sunrise. However the Sunrise’s larger capacities make it a go-to machine. It can shear 8 in. by 8 in. by 3⁄4 in. angle (based on 65,000 psi tensile strength), much of which ends up in precast concrete products.

“Customers know we have the machine, so we use it a lot for the larger angle,” Leitch says. “We have a CNC turret punch for lighter material up to 1⁄4 in. thick, but if it’s 5⁄16 in. up to an inch or so thick, we run it on the ironworker. That’s why we got the larger machine.”

The versatility imparts a flexible work flow. The Sunrise is just one of Carico’s operations. Depending on the job, parts will get sheared, then have holes punched on the Sunrise. Next, the part will go to a press brake for bending or folding, then be welded, finished and powder coated.“It’s just one tool in our bag of tricks,” he says.

A key feature is Sunrise’s interchangeable die block. It’s especially crucial on CNC machines to keep from removing the entire worktable and changing the control elements, says Flamholz.

“It was crucial to Carey that he’s not down for hours like other manufacturers changing out a whole table,” he says. Other ironworker manufacturers make 4-in. die blocks but often require purchasing reducers, spacers, fittings, sleeves to get down to the standard punch size. Carico can slide out its standard die block that accommodates up to 13⁄16 in. punch on one side and 2 in. on the other, and replace it with a separate die block up to 4 in. punch capacity for its CNC ironworker.

“So in minutes, he’s slid out his die block, put in his new one, repositioned it, calibrated the machine and he’s done,” Flamholz adds.

Smart engineering

Trilogy has confidence in carrying Sunrise’s products because of the attention to detail, ergonomics and quality in the IW-180SD’s engineering. The controller is pendant-mounted, making it eye-level with the operator. By not having the controller mounted on the floor, the risk of falling parts or mill scale getting into the machine is eliminated. Plus, it opens up vital floor space for stacking parts or layout.

“It makes it easy to see parts you’re processing and the coordinates of the holes,” Flamholz says. “This makes programming easy. The operator isn’t hunched over looking at his screen. They’re able to see that and work effectively without getting the controller dirty or messy.”

As a mechanical engineer by training, Leitch appreciates the smart construction of the ironworker, he says. It uses common hoses, limit switches and other electrical components readily available nearby.

“There’s not much manufacturing base here in Fredericksburg, so it’s difficult to get parts,” he says. With standard parts, Carico can service its own equipment without waiting weeks for parts from overseas.

The ironworker’s dual cylinders reduce wear and tear on the machine, and its oversized hydraulic tank gives Carico low operating costs and minimizes downtime because of a proprietary return line filter, says Flamholz.

The entire machine is oversized, as well, but to Carico’s benefit. Compared to competitive lines, the Sunrise is several hundred pounds heavier because of its steel base. Another example: one side of the machine is about 50 percent thicker than the other to relieve stress in the frame’s connecting hardware when processing a wide variety of punch sizes in plate.

Instant answers

Such a powerful machine is only as good as the service relationship with its supplier. Carico has worked with Trilogy’s employees for about 25 years on other equipment purchases and service. Trilogy’s deep rapport with Carico allowed them to foster the continued relationship as attentive supplier and customer.

“He understands that we provide immediate tech support, parts and service. Which is getting harder and harder to find nowadays,” Flamholz says. He notes that customers tell him other suppliers take a long time to get answers because domestic reps often lack technical knowledge. If a machine is down, reps will need to ask factories that are often overseas, prolonging the process.

“A lot of companies importing machines from all over the world aren’t able to provide quick, knowledgeable tech support,” he says. “That’s important, especially if you have a job that’s time critical in this economy.” Waiting a few days for time-sensitive answers can jeopardize bids and deliveries.

Trilogy not only knows the answers to questions about the products it supports, but makes sure its customers understand them. During installation, Flamholz spent a day with Carico’s crew, teaching them how to program and maintain the ironworker. With three other ironworkers already in service, maintenance is second nature, Leitch says. With the machine in top shape, Trilogy enables Carico to deliver with its in-house services.

“I like vertical integration,” Leitch says. “Every time I’ve depended on outside suppliers when time is critical, I’ve been disappointed. When I need to use the ironworker, it’s there to do the job.” FFJ

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