Tube & Pipe

Battling bottlenecks

By Gretchen Salois

Overtime and inconsistency factor into well-timed capital investment

December 2016 - Working extra hours to keep up with demand meant stepping back to reevaluate the current manufacturing process for one Wisconsin-based fabricator. New equipment, coupled with intuitive software, allowed for an increase in capacity as well as clean-cut parts without excessive handling.

Serving a wide range of industrial markets, including gas, oil and refining and chemical industries, Enerpipe Inc. in New London, Wisconsin, fabricates carbon and stainless steels, and most nickel and alloy piping ranging from 1⁄2-in. to 36 in. diameters with varying wall thicknesses. 

“We recognized that the cutting stage of our process was a bottleneck,” says President Greg DeValk. “The equipment we had in place was outdated, and could no longer support the number of men fitting and welding, forcing us to work overtime to support the shop.” 

Cut quality also required Enerpipe’s workers to perform additional grinding and deburring of pipe by hand. “The poor quality of the weld bevels made it more difficult to tie in root passes, increasing the amount of time it took to weld,” DeValk says. “Our old machine just couldn’t provide the quality and capacity needed to keep us productive.”

After looking at available options, Enerpipe selected Watts Specialties in Puyallup, Washington. The ability Watts Specialties’ machines provides “to chuck the pipe was one of the selling points we appreciated. This feature ensured that the pipe could not ‘walk’ on us, providing a more accurate and precise cut.” DeValk says. “After comparing it to other machines out there, the Watts proved to be the best value and solution to our problems.”

Watts Specialties visited Enerpipe’s site, as it does with all its customers, to review current workflow problems along with  short- and long-term pipe processing goals. From there, Watts worked with Enerpipe to define a machine configuration that makes sense for their exact needs—“not a canned solution,” says Sales and Marketing Director Dave Carr.

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After cutting, the Watts machine can offload onto a neighboring rack automatically. Previously, workers had to offload pipe manually, handling individual sections with slings and a crane.

Easy transition

Enerpipe has experienced a minimum of 60 to 70 percent savings in cut and end-prep time using the Watts W-364, DeValk says. “Quality improved dramatically and pipe end clean-up time has been dramatically reduced. We don’t spend much time grinding anymore, which lowered consumable costs and reduced the possibility of injuries on the job.”

Streamlining this operation also meant that overtime was no longer necessary to keep up with business activity. “[There are] fewer late nights and weekends to keep ahead of orders,” DeValk says. “Now we have capacity not only to support our current fabrication crew levels, but additional manpower as well.”

Watts Specialties’ rotating clamp ensures continuous, smooth and load-free 360-degree pipe rotation. “Pipe is seldom perfectly straight,” Carr emphasizes, “and while our chucks lock the pipe in place so it cannot walk or creep, they still pivot with the minor bends in the pipe to avoid inducing tremendous deflection forces between pipe and machine. The result,” he continues, “is long-lasting machines and more accurate cuts because the machine is not trying to flop the pipe around.” 

The torch head also accounts for bent pipe by floating over the centerline of the pipe, which pierces holes dead on the centerline and makes end-cuts perfectly square. This added accuracy minimizes costly grinding, filling, re-measuring and forcing fits. Parts fit and are welded with better welding deposition. Assemblies match up and are completed on time, and the end product is higher in quality, with fewer repairs. 

“After cutting accuracy, material flow is the most common customer concern,” Carr says, “With our material storage racks and integrated conveyor systems, employees spend less time moving pipe around and the customer’s overhead cranes and forklift trucks are free to serve welding stations and other needs,” he adds. 

“Instead of having to manually move pipe onto racks, the Watts machine is able to offload onto a neighboring rack automatically,” DeValk says. “Previously, workers had to offload pipe manually, slinging individual pieces of pipe with slings and a crane. All that time spent tying up an overhead a crane to move pipe to the staging racks is now freed up. That is a big deal and has saved us a significant amount of production time as well as improving [worker] safety.” 

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The Watts Specialties machine, coupled with PypeServer software, eliminates mistakes when operators must do take-offs from spool sheets, and adds features such as nesting parts on drops.

Problem-solving software

Kelly Dillon, the chief architect of the Watts programming PypeServer software, has worked closely with Enerpipe before and after the sale to maximize their productivity. “Operators design parts in minutes with intuitive CAD-style tools, and then nest them on pipes in seconds,” Dillon says. “They don’t have to dry run their program because they can view the nesting’s cut paths in a 3D CAD view, and they can trust what they see. This saves hours of labor per day.”

Fabricators can make minor changes like adding a rootgap or changing a bevel. When fabrication needs specific parts immediately, operators can easily change nestings to suit changing priorities.

“Operators can further save money by nesting on drops, shifting parts to miss a dent in the pipe, lock part seams to match the pipe seam, and more,” Dillon says.

Enerpipe has three remote designers who import parts from CAD and plan jobs. “Enerpipe employees can import parts into PypeServer, eliminating the time and mistakes incurred by operators having to do take-offs from spool sheets,” Dillon says. 

Planners use PypeServer’s Excel-like tables to see pipe requirements and cut times. Data can also be pulled into Excel or enterprise resource planning tools for building reports, schedules, and conducting pre- and post-job analyses.

This added productivity has allowed Enerpipe to take on more work. “Straight cuts, specialty shapes, nozzle shapes, branch connection openings are done with ease,” explains DeValk. “Typically, we had to perform those holes and shapes manually. Now with the Watts automated cutting, efficiencies for these unique operations have improved by as much as 90 percent.”

After purchasing the line in late November 2015, Enerpipe had the Watts equipment up and running the following February. “The manufacturer’s training of our operators with our actual piece of equipment prior to shipment greatly minimized our learning curve, allowing us to begin making cutting parts for production far sooner than expected.” DeValk says. FFJ



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