Automating saws

By Russ Olexa

Gaining productivity at a low cost

Often it’s the addition of a simple automation system that can give a sawing operation a tremendous boost in productivity.

For Wall-Ties & Forms Inc. it was the addition of just such a system that enabled the company to improve productivity and to accommodate an expanding product line and an increase in demand.

Producing forms for concrete basements and even entire houses, Wall-Ties is a leader in engineering and manufacturing durable aluminum forms for applications such as commercial buildings, houses and agricultural facilities. Currently the company ships products worldwide and has 165 employees working in a 96,000-sq.-ft. facility.

The product that kick-started the business, however, was the wall tie (hence the company’s name) that holds the concrete forms together. The wall ties come in many different styles and sizes and are usually stamped in large numbers from coil steel strip stock.

Over 30 years ago, Wall-Ties manufactured the ties in the thousands. Today the company produces and ships over 30 million each year and over 100,000 aluminum concrete forms.

Although a large majority of concrete forms are standard sizes ordered from the company’s catalog, Wall-Ties also customizes forms to build unique buildings and basements. It’s because of these unique products that the company needed automation to help solve its growing sawing needs.

With a sturdy foundation in the construction industry, Orval Engelken and Ross Worley founded the company in 1976. The two entrepreneurs left lucrative careers, one as a national sales manager, the other a product design and manufacturing expert, with the goal of manufacturing superior products like nothing their previous employers had ever achieved.

Richard Orrison, vice president of manufacturing, says in a normal year the company produces over 100,000 concrete forms of different sizes. "We now produce forms for basements, swimming pools, pool houses, ceilings, walls, multiple-layer apartment houses and even multiple-layer crypts for foreign countries that use this method of burial. We can make a form for just about anything in concrete."

Often these forms have a stamped brick-face impression used inside or outside of a building. These faces, which can be painted to look like actual brick, are stamped into 0.115-in.- to 0.125-in.-thick 5,000-series aluminum sheet. Wall-Ties uses an outside vendor for this operation, since its presses don’t have the needed tonnage capability. The tonnage required is dependent on the pattern and can be anywhere from 350 tons to 1,000 tons of pressure. A die stamps just a couple of rows of the brick fascia at a time.

Orrison says, "We use special 5,000- or 6,000-series aluminum sheets for the most part for our different products. Our basement and house forms are really like erector sets. We have a standard-size form for a normal basement that is 3 ft. wide by up to 10 ft. tall. So if the basement is 50 ft. long, we put 3-ft. sections together until we get to the last dimension, which is 48 ft. or whatever you want it to be. Then a filler panel would be added. So you’ll have a corner, then you’ll make up the difference by fillers, and that filler size comes from a 1/2-in.-wide by up to 120-in.-tall panel that goes in width increments of 1/2in. up to 35 in. in width, with the next size being a full-size panel."

A lot of the company’s parts are proprietary aluminum extrusions made by vendors. These are used to hold various areas of the forms together or are actually part of the form. They’re cut down to specific sizes depending on the form. Wall-Ties also uses many different types of aluminum tubes with varying wall thicknesses from about 1/2-in.-by-2-in. to 2-in.-by 2-in. square stock. Along with building the finished form, the company does a lot of riveting, punching, welding and assembly work to produce the form and ancillary parts for constructing walls.

Adding automation
Orrison mentions that with a huge growth in the company over the last four years, it needed to upgrade its equipment to get more productivity and help with the steady panel customizations.

"We were looking for something that could automate some of the sawing and assembly machines," he says. "We also wanted to transmit cut parameter program files to a machine, so it would do them automatically, because we were having so many variations and doing so much mass customization, such as different hole patterns for the standard forms."

Continually changing and setting stops on the sawing machine became a problem for Wall-Ties. The company needed an automation device that could be programmed with the right cut-length dimensions for automatic feeding--a device that could also save that information and cut the same part again later. With this in mind, Orrison turned to TigerStop.

Wall-Ties initially bought five systems: two for saws and three for assembly equipment and moving parts into a small punch press. "They’ve done a very good job for us," says Orrison.

TigerStop is both an automated pusher and a stop. It’s a replacement for manual stop systems on almost any machine that’s currently equipped with a manual positioning stop. It can also be incorporated where no stop system is present. Saws, drilling equipment, notchers, punch presses, shears, brakes and assembly equipment can use a TigerStop system to automate the positioning requirements. The ability to take over the function of a machine tool is built into TigerStop. It can control the machine and save programs.

Add-on software permits it to be programmed to control several tools in a linear application. For example, if a machine cuts to length, bores and notches the rails on a ladder, all three of these tools can be controlled by TigerStop. These operations are done all in a line using one TigerStop and a PC with the company’s special Multi-Tool program.

Although Orrison says the company looked at other manufacturers, he felt that the TigerStop equipment met the company’s needs better than any of the other producers.

He adds, "There are some other feed automation companies that fit our bill, but it just looked like TigerStop was the best fit for us. We had a local representative here that serviced and sold them. We had done business with them before, which was a plus."

Orrison mentions that there was a little bit of a learning curve on the equipment, because it’s different from what the company used before. But it wasn’t hard to learn. "It’s just entirely different with using a keypad for programming, but once you’re used to it, you just change the program and start a new cutting or punching cycle," he says. "We have TigerStop units set up on machines all over to punch holes, shear metal, set rivets and saw. They’re quite adaptable." FFJ


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