Punch through lead time

By Nick Wright

Above: Sunrise’s CNC positioning capability keeps operators at Atlantic Constructors Inc. from having to handle parts more than necessary.

With one dual-cylinder ironworker, an East Coast fabricator cuts down steps and time for punching, shearing and bending

February 2016 - There are infinite ways to manipulate steel. Having separate machines to bend, fold or join metal is the status quo in many fabrication shops. But few are the machines that combine processes as dutifully as the modern CNC ironworker. Last year, Atlantic Constructors Inc. (ACI), a major fabrication outfit based in Richmond, Virginia, brought on a hydraulic ironworker that does the work of multiple machines in one package. 

Since ACI bought a Sunrise IW-110SD XY CNC Ironworker from Trilogy Machinery Inc., Belcamp, Maryland, the company has saved time and freed up fabricators for other work. ACI names big companies among its clients, including Honeywell, Philip Morris and DuPont. While the projects are largely industrial in application, ACI fabrications also go to healthcare, chemical and laboratory settings.

ACI’s fabricators were accustomed to Geka ironworkers, but they were looking to upgrade to a new machine. Just a few hours north along Interstate 95, Trilogy hosted ACI to see if the Sunrise would be a good fit. Trilogy eventually brought a sample trailer to Richmond to demo its equipment, which sealed the deal.

“Their prices were good, and so far, service has been good. We loved the product and price,” says Kay Whitley, fleet, facilities and tool room manager at ACI. The company’s facility is 150,000 sq. ft., and employs about 500, of which, six employees represent the steel fabrication department.

FFJ 0216 punching image1

Operators no longer need to lay out parts before punching

The Sunrise ironworker is involved in the majority of the steel that ACI installs. That includes structural steel and base plates (or knife plates) that tie columns of steel together. The plate is usually 1 in. thick or less. General Foreman Jeff Elliott notes that the Sunrise’s CNC positioning capability keeps operators from having to handle parts more than needed.

Once a part is sheared on one side of the ironworker, an operator brings it to the positioning table. Elliott says once the punching job is programmed into the CNC pendant controller, operators don’t need to square-off plate or lay it out. The punch does the rest. The 10-ft. CNC feeding system automatically processes the plate as it passes through the punch. The operator simply positions the plate against the CNC-controlled X and Y stops and, with the push of a button, begins the punch sequence. The semi-automatic CNC positioning tables from Sunrise handle plate and angle, too.

Punch above its class

ACI’s ironworker is a dual-cylinder hydraulic machine that slices through metal with 110 tons of force. The two cylinders allow operators to use two different processes on the ironworker at the same time. That “makes it more convenient,” says Elliott.

He describes a job that ACI recently did for a major data center customer that required 400 parts each of which had 24 holes punched. Operators had to shear, bend and punch each of those parts. “The process was made so easy,” Elliott says, and consequently, freed up other employees to accomplish other work. That project was for a computer server support modifications.

ACI routinely fabricates lots of metal braces that require holes on each end of the angle. The Sunrise ironworker’s multiprocess functionality simplifies what would’ve been a cumbersome job in terms of transferring and maneuvering parts to other machines. “Before, you had to punch three holes, spin it around, lay the holes out, punch holes on other end, turn angles around,” and repeat, he says. “We can do so many of them now. We had to lay everything out before, transferring parts in and out. This removes the layout step.”

The faster ACI can churn out jobs with its ironworker, the better it can serve its customers. The fabrication department is located at ACI’s headquarters in Richmond, but it also has locations in Newport News, Chespeake and Roanoke, as well as Greenville, North Carolina. Philip Morris, for example, is one of ACI’s largest industrial clients. They’ve worked together for more than 20 years in Virginia and North Carolina. ACI keeps a staff of ironworkers, technicians and other workers on-site, which service all of Philip Morris’ facilities. Projects for the company include structural and miscellaneous steel, tobacco conveyors, process equipment, piping and ductwork.

FFJ 0216 punching image2

One worker can shear and punch material using the Sunrise, whereas before one person sheared, another laid it out, and a third worker punched.

Top clients

According to Trilogy, the Sunrise ironworker can punch a 2 in. diameter hole in 9⁄16 in. material. On the occasion ACI needs to process stainless, they’ll back off the thickness by half or so. Its throat depth is 20 in. and it can shear a 6 in. by 6 in. by 1⁄2 in. angle. Most of the steel base plates ACI processes are 3⁄4 in. thick, but sometimes 1 in. 

For companies like Honeywell, ACI processes parts on the ironworker for pipe supports. These include beams, plate and brackets to hold pipe. For DuPont, ACI fabricates stainless pans and containers to collect chemicals. Other clients include Newport News Shipbuilding, Dominion Power, Anheuser-Busch and DSM-Dyneema. Whitley says ACI’s revenue exceeds $100 million annually.

And it’s well earned for a company that has received awards from Associated Builders and Contractors, Associated General Contractors and McGraw Hill/Mid-Atlantic Construction. Getting jobs done quickly counts. Elliott emphasizes the lead time the Sunrise ironworker is already slashing. 

“We had a job of 80-some plates to punch. Within an hour, we did it. Before, that job would have taken six hours. It cuts the time well in half. And one guy does it all, he shears it, brings it around and punches it. Before, one person sheared it, another laid it out, and another punched it.”

One handy way that Elliott and his crew use the ironworker is if a part needs to be drilled or tapped. The controller has an option to not punch, but rather, imprint a dimple on the metal so it’s easier to drill later on. “You wouldn’t believe how easy it makes the job,” he adds. Luckily, for ACI, that imprint extends beyond pieces of steel. It leaves its mark on the bottom line. FFJ



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