Efficient automation

By Stephanie Andrews

Saw slices downtime with lights-off manufacturing

July/August 2013 - Gone are the days of washboards and telegraphs. Now, washing machines gyrate and spin, making clothes sparkle in a few short hours. Cellphones and cyberspace provide instant access to friends and family both near and far. While those older items harken back to simpler times, it’s easy to admit some technological advances have made life easier. With the growing skills gap, industry too is turning to automation to solve its skilled labor shortage woes. For Houston-based Triofab Inc., a 40-year-old, family-owned fabrication company, the purchase of a new Cosen saw allowed it to flip the switch on automation. 

“We are a small, family-owned business, so I try to focus on employing quality people instead of quantity,” says Jerry Hernandez, Jr., owner of Triofab. “Right now I have four guys plus myself and if there is anything we can do automated, I’ll invest the money because it’s less hassle and more profitable.” Any business-savvy company is focused on saving time and money while running as efficiently as possible. And sometimes it’s necessary to employ automation to do this. “A machine isn’t going to call in sick,” says Hernandez.


As customer demand grew in recent years, Triofab knew it would need a faster, more efficient saw to provide quick turnaround for its customers. Hernandez knew he would need to do his homework to find the ideal saw for his shop. “Anytime I buy something, I do my research,” says Hernandez. “I did research for about six weeks.” With that squared away, Hernandez decided on the C-650MNC, an automatic swivel head band saw distributed by Cosen Saws USA, Charlotte, N.C. The price, coupled with the machine’s durability and larger blade, moved it to the top of the list. Because Triofab itself builds and customizes equipment from the ground up, Hernandez immediately knew the machine was well made. “I build machinery, so I know when it’s built right,” says Hernandez. “I’ve seen other saws, I did my homework and the price and the quality of the saw just beat them hands down.”

Custom fabricator

As an OEM, custom equipment fabrication is the heart and soul of Triofab. “Customers come to me and say, ‘Can you make this automated? Can you make this more efficient for us?’” says Hernandez. Triofab prides itself on the ability to customize equipment that allows customers to cut down operations from 20 workers to just two.

Triofab caters to an array of industries, but its location makes it prized among the oil and gas industries. “In Texas we have a lot of deals with drill pipe manufacturers,” says Hernandez. “One of my biggest customers is a drill pipe manufacturer.” From heat-treat conveyor systems to upsetter pipe handling lines, Triofab probably has made it. 

But Triofab isn’t the only company that customizes its equipment. Cosen offers an array of standard saw models, but can customize its saws to accommodate any company’s needs. 

“We want to know what the customer is trying to do, what he starts out with and what he wants to end up with,” says Michael Finklea, sales manager for Cosen. “We have over 125 different standard models and then we do specials, so we can build a one-of-a-kind machine for somebody if that’s what they really want. If they want something that’s completely different than anybody else would want or need, we can consider doing that, too.” This includes producing saws that comply with international standards, as well. “As an example, Canada has its own special electrical code, which is called CSA,” says Finklea. “So when we send machines into Canada they actually have to be certified after they get into Canada. So we build to that standard and then the Canadian government has an inspector come in and inspect the machine. From an international standpoint, there are so many different requirements for safety and electrical compliance that, because we are a worldwide company, we can build pretty much to any standard.”

Manufacturing’s dark horse

Triofab cuts structural steel, square tubing, angles and beams from 10-in.-thick solids to 20-in.-deep structural shapes. Before the purchase of the C-650MNC, some of Triofab’s orders took two weeks to cut. But the C-650MNC chopped the cutting time by about 70 percent. “We actually cut it down to two days,” says Hernandez. “We’ll stick a whole bundle of tubing in there and it will cut straight. It’s a perfect cut and it’s fast.” The machine already has paid for itself in time and money. “I think I got my money back in less than six months,” says Hernandez. 

FFJ-0708-swing-image2And because the C-650MNC is fully automatic, an operator has only to program the desired lengths and let the machine do the rest. “The material is indexed up for the next cut once the previous cut has been completed,” says Yu-Hsien Ho, marketing and sales coordinator for Cosen. “Once the programmed number of cuts is reached, the saw automatically stops cutting. The faster a company can complete a job, the more jobs they can take on. So to have a machine that can work 24/7 is ideal. The saws are sturdy and designed for production workload.”

Hernandez says his operators are “tickled to death” with the new saw. “While they set that saw up and they start cutting with it, they can go and start drilling holes or work on the ironworker or work on different equipment,” says Hernandez. “I don’t have to have a guy there. The saw pretty much works itself. I’ve actually had that saw doing lights-out manufacturing.”

The ability to program machinery and run it unsupervised is an appealing option for small businesses and those having issues finding skilled labor. “We’ve seen the sales of our programmable band saws rise over the past few years,” says Ho. “Even through our conversations with customers, they’re always asking about automated options in order to streamline their current process even more. It’s all about keeping the process lean as all of us in the manufacturing industry weathered through the recession. Automation is a very effective way to cut costs and increase efficiency.” 

“Companies have to look at ways of multiplying their employees,” says Finklea. “When you buy an automatic saw, you are pretty much buying an employee that will show up every day, who will work, who doesn’t complain and will just keep churning along for 10, 15, 20 years.”

Life expectancy

The C-650MNC’s Save-a-Blade feature promises customers prolonged blade life. Without this feature, the saw blade makes a cut but grinds against the material even after the cut is complete; however, with this feature, “the shuttle vise will automatically retract the material slightly after cutoff, so a blade can avoid the undesirable abrasion with the material, thus improving blade life,” says Ho. 

With other saws, Triofab dealt with accumulated waste. “We had material that would get cut crooked or the blade would lock on us. So we had to put more material in there and scrap the other material and cut it for other stuff when we got lucky,” says Hernandez. But with the Save-a-Blade option on the C-650MNC, Triofab employees don’t have to worry about wasting time, money or material. “We’re getting about 20 percent more blade life due to that,” says Hernandez. “Usually on the normal saws, it will cut down, the saw blade will go up, but the material stays at the same place. So you  can hear the material scraping against that blade and you’re just beating up your blade. There’s just no need for it. What’s really cool with this saw is the material backs up about 1⁄16 inch, so the blade goes freely up and it isn’t scraping against the material. You get more life out of the blade.” Hernandez says they now get about 200 hours of blade life before it needs replacing—something they never had with their other saws. 

With the skills gap a daily reminder, it’s nice to know there are some comforts companies can rely on. For Triofab, it’s Cosen’s customer service that seals the deal. “I can get hold of the sales rep, and if he doesn’t answer the phone, he will call me within a couple of minutes. They always help me out,” says Hernandez. But the true value behind the fully automated C-650MNC is its ability to do the job right through the wee hours of the morning to keep small businesses, like Triofab, thriving. “I actually have a customer that has other saws, and after he saw this one, he’s probably going to buy four Cosens because he’ll be able to do 24/7 cutting.” FFJ

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