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Fiber Tube Laser

Central Tube and Bar stokes growth with the power of customer relationships and BLM Group USA fiber tube laser technology

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Able to cut round, square and rectangular tubes, special sections and open profiles, the 3kW BLM LT7 tube laser can process cut tubing with up to 0.375-in. wall thickness.

December 2018 - If you ask Eric Chambers about the difficulties of transacting business in the tube and bar market, his answer might surprise you. “The challenge is to resist the impersonal nature of doing business today. I still believe you need to talk to people face to face,” says Central Tube and Bar’s director of business development.

Headquartered in Conway, Arkansas, the privately held supplier got its start in 1996 with a bandsaw and one customer. It has since grown exponentially year over year and added factories in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Waco, Texas. Each is ISO 9001:2015 certified. The processor sources raw material and turns it into high quality fabricated tube and bar products for OEMs and other fabricators throughout the Mid-South and across the nation.

“We can handle ½-in. up to 16-in.-diameter material in rectangular, round, square or open type applications,” Chambers says. “Our markets range from aerospace to heavy truck and bus, furniture, and fitness equipment. Our wheelhouse is any application that requires tubular components.”

FFJ 1218 ftl image1

Central Tube and Bar uses the LT7 to process carbon, aluminum and stainless products.

Despite steady growth, Central Tube and Bar continues to keep things personal with its customers, a practice that has helped it develop a broad network of relationships. “With 22 years in the market and our experience with tube laser processing, we are not confined to our facilities,” says Chambers. “Traditional service centers generally have a range of about 250 miles. We support a territory of large-volume contractual business far beyond that. And we do more than just supply product. Our value-engineering capability equips us to solve customers’ tough quality and manufacturability problems.”

In October 2018 the supplier leased another 72,000 sq. ft. of industrial space and furnished it with a new LT7 Tube Laser from BLM Group USA Corp. The Novi, Michigan machinery builder has designed and built systems to process tubes for more than 60 years.

“Growth put us in the market for more space and new technology,” Chambers said. “We have a long standing relationship with [BLM]. They keep us in the loop on the latest advances.” When Chambers learned about the LT7 model, he flew to Novi to check it out. “I saw it operate first hand and fell in love with it,” he says.

The LT7 can cut round, square and rectangular tubes, special sections and open profiles. With an infeed of 27 ft., 10 in. and an outfeed of 14 ft., 7 in., the 3kW fiber tube laser can process 15 lbs. per foot and cut tubing with up to ½-in. wall thickness. The LT7’s loader allows the operator to go from bar to bar 3 to 4 seconds faster than previous models. A fully automatic chuck system supports material ½ in. up to 6 in. squares or rounds.

“It allows us to better handle the spaghetti effect one can get when processing small tubes,” says Dave Cotton, Central States regional manager for BLM. “The LT7 automatically adjusts to support and contain small material. Its unload table with variable shaped supports has been designed to underpin both small and longer finished parts at full speed.

“In the past, the inability to properly contain materials could cause whip, requiring an operator to slow down the machine,” Cotton says. “With the LT7, you can run jobs at full speed.” The Active Speed feature manages cutting parameters to provide the same cut quality whether processing conditions are optimal or difficult. Active Tilt also aids faster throughput with flexible orientation movement of the cutting head.

The LT7’s new active scan feature helps the operator compensate for material inconsistencies. “There’s no such thing as a perfect tube,” Cotton notes. “The laser compensates for errors created by irregularly shaped or bowed tubes. It also prevents positioning errors of cut features when a tube is misshaped or not sufficiently rigid. Compensations needed to adjust the part program can be calculated in less than a second.”

Chambers concurs that the active scan feature has benefited cutting operations at Central Tube and Bar. “Conventional methods used a touch probe. The process was labor intensive. If you had material that was bowed or twisted, it tacked a lot of extra time on the operation. The ability to scan and make adjustments in real time is a huge advantage.”

“BLM really honed in on the items we were looking for to drive greater efficiency,” he continues. “The LT7 gives us a true 6-in. square and 6-in. round machine coupled with fiber technology and a higher weight capacity.”

 FFJ 1218 ftl image2

The LT7’s new active scan feature helps the operator compensate for material inconsistencies.

Central Tube and Bar uses the LT7 to process carbon, aluminum and stainless products in the full range of its size capability. In addition to tubing, “we can also cut channel and angle on the machine, which is an added bonus,” says Chambers.

“Today’s business mantra is faster, quicker, better,” he adds. “With the LT7 we’ve seen efficiencies on some parts improve dramatically.”

On-time deliveries are critical for Central Tube and Bar but the supplier also works closely with customers and vendors to source the right tube and bar stock for almost any application. The company carefully coordinates production and supply lead times to give customers the ability to practice lean manufacturing and just-in-time inventory management with same-day delivery from its three locations.

Central Tube and Bar has experienced considerable organic growth. “We’re seeing a surprising return on investment from social media,” Chambers says. “We get a lot of RFQs through our website and social media.”

Technology is one way the company has helped customers save money, particularly “in the face of an unprecedented increase in steel prices this year,” he observes. As a member of the North American Steel Alliance, a purchasing cooperative, the company is able to buy raw tube and bar meeting high quality standards at competitive prices.

“With our expanded capacity and buying power, we’re looking for ways to enlarge our service offerings and we’re willing to go above and beyond for our customers,” says Chambers. “Our strategy moving forward is to take market share. If the market next year is flat, we’re going to sell hard.” FFJ

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