Advances in automated layout, systems and software are accelerating the process and eliminating many potential errors.
The decision of whether or not to select a concrete or steel core or framing system for a modern high-rise is not a safety issue. Rather, the determining factors remain the architectural and structural design requirements, construction costs and scheduling, and the preferences of the specific contractor and designer. Steel framing is the preferred construction material and some say that three steel-framed buildings are built for every one concrete building. History shows steel offers unmatched cost, schedule and environmental benefits.
The reality is that steel-framed buildings are the most robust buildings on the market today. In the USA, where terrorism and 9/11 are on the front pages every day and engineers, contractors and designers have to take into account these awful incidents when designing a new building, reports state that all concrete-framed buildings need special design requirements to make them blast resistant whereas in contrast, an equivalent steel-framed building would not collapse at all, even without any special treatment in design. The report shows that steel is more robust and analysis demonstrates it takes a foot of concrete to equal the blast resistance of an inch of steel, and it still would not perform to the same level as the steel wall because the surface concrete always becomes flying debris in a blast, which could potentially injure any people nearby.
With dozens of specifications applicable to steel building design and construction, whether it be for an office building, a residential tower, a school or a factory, it can be a challenge to keep the standard designations used in current contracts. Then there is the demand from owners and designers to make their project ‘stand out’ while at the same time keeping costs to a minimum. Given the developments in computational hardware, structural analysis software and new design aids that are available today, early cooperation between the owner, designer and contractors will help them to optimise the construction and steel design. The benefits of employing modern tools and methods will permit practicing engineers to take full advantage of such capabilities, while also taking into account industry standards, building codes and other important guidelines and, for example, sound isolation and noise control issues such as speech privacy, footfall noise, background noise criteria and airborne sound isolation.
But what about the structural steel fabricators?
“These days engineers, designers and draughtsmen believe that at the push of a button we can fabricate material to their specification and design,” is a common complaint amongst fabricators. This is true in many instances but only because the OEM process machine builders are keeping up with the trends in the industry and providing fabricators with equipment that will meet the demands of design, while at the same time offering efficiency and productivity with minimum human interference, thus reducing costs.
One such company is Voortman Steel Machinery, a company that is part of the Voortman Steel Group, with its headquarters in Rijssen, the Netherlands. The Group is headed up by CEO Mark Voortman (45) and Voortman Steel Machinery has designed, developed and manufactured machinery for steel fabrication and the plate processing related industries for more than 45 years.
Inside the Voortman Experience Center
Voortman Steel Machinery launched The Fabricator at EuroBLECH 2014 and the system forms part of the new thinking at Voortman
The Group can trace its origins back to 1968 when Mark’s father Gerrit was working in the family business – a concrete factory that operated in a barn on a farm in Middeldijk in Rijssen. At the time, Gerrit was responsible for the maintenance and repairs of the equipment that the company used. In the early seventies, Gerrit Voortman started his own company that had maintenance and repairs of construction equipment as its main activity. The company soon began manufacturing equipment for the steel construction industry, and subsequently began a second company that had steel fabricating as its focus that is still one of the companies within the Group.
Voortman Steel Machinery has now developed into a company that offers a packaged service, including planning, machinery, implementation and after-sales service. The product range of equipment that Voortman Steel Machinery designs, manufactures and markets to the structural steel processing industry includes:
• Beam processing – drilling, sawing, marking, coping, cambering
• Plate processing – cutting, drilling, drilling and cutting (combined), drilling and cutting (split)
• Flat and angle processing – punching and shearing, numbering and storage
• Surface treatment – shot blasting and painting
Since 1995 Voortman Steel Machinery has had CNC and automation of the machines that it manufactures as its core focus, while at the same time incorporating automated layout for material handling to attain the maximum efficiencies for material flow. This includes conveyors, gripper carriages, roller feeds, measurement devices, sensors, buffers and others.
“Voortman continually develops its equipment range to stay at the forefront of technology and in step with any new development in the market,” says Henk Maassen van den Brink, Sales Manager of Voortman Steel Machinery.
“We are now amongst the top five machine manufacturers servicing the steel processing industry, and sell in the region of 250 machines and systems worldwide each year. 95% of our production is exported.”
The Fabricator is an automated beam and plate cutting and welding system. The Fabricator has three welding robots and one plate handling robot. There is no human interference from the time the beam starts off in the initial drilling stage to the finished product fully welded
Lawrence Bartlett, Rodney Moonsammy, Kevin Redpath and Bert Jan Ligtenberg getting to know a Voortman plate processing machine
Today, the company has sales and service subsidiaries in the USA, Russia, Germany, France, the UK and India and equipment manufacturing facilities in the Netherlands, and one in Germany that manufactures handling systems for the steel processing industry. Additionally, it has 50 dealers in more than 90 countries.
“Voortman has developed machinery to cover all aspects in processing structural steel. The extensive range of equipment guarantees the right solution for every application. All the machines can be combined and configured to suit the end user. The final layout depends on several factors, such as the available space, the production output required and the type of project undertaken. Voortman guarantees you a solution.”
“Beam processing machines of open structural sections such as H, I, angle and channel are all designed to have minimal human interface, to eliminate waste, reduce the labour hours per ton, get materials out faster and have better quality control in the modern structural steel facility. Automated coping, cutting, drilling and marking machines, all connected with automated material handling systems to limit the need for forklift trucks and overhead cranes, prepare structural steel members just as the CAD programmes dictate. This structural steel processing technology can even lay out and mark the position of other items that need to be welded to the main beam. Voortman now has a machine that satisfies all these requirements.”
“For plate processing entities with the need to manufacture base plates, end plates, gusset plates, stiffeners or brackets and industries with different kinds of requirements in plate drilling and cutting, Voortman is able to offer a wide range of CNC plate processing machines. Our machines have been designed with one goal: To integrate all the functions that are required in plate processing.”
The automation of the structural steel industry
Structural steel fabricators now realise what their sheet metal counterparts have known for several years. It doesn’t make sense to pay people for the non-value-added activity of handling beams. Fabricators are looking to minimise labour costs while simultaneously attempting to address the impending retirement of valuable veteran workers.
Alex Lutzeler, Steve Van Wyk of First Cut, Rayvin Jacobs and Henk Maassen van den Brink, Sales Manager of Voortman Steel Machinery
Voortman Steel Machinery packaged and ready for delivery to steel processors
During the course of the last decade the sheet metal world warmed up to the idea of automated material handling as a way to address those two major concerns. Many sheet metal service centres no longer pay machine operators to load blanks and unload parts – a mundane chore. Pallet systems now continually whisk new blanks onto cutting tables and sophisticated tower systems store a variety of blanks.
But what about the structural steel shops? The simple truth is that shops have to process beams more efficiently if they want to be more competitive. Automated material handling technology and modern, fast multi-faceted processing machines are helping shops to solve this dilemma. These structural steel fabricators are increasing the tonnage of metal processed through the shop, without adding resources.
Today steel processing machines can deliver more than one operation. Coping and plasma cutting on beams for example or, plasma and oxy-fuel cutting on a plate machine or, plate drilling and cutting combined. But it is generally accepted that, in the case of beam processing, these operations are kept separate. However, the versatility that these individual machines offer for the various operations needed in beam processing has advanced tremendously. Marking by plasma can be done on the same plasma cutting machine and a drilling unit can now cater to use HSS drills, carbide tipped drills, solid carbide drills and be used for thread tapping, countersinking and center point marking.
A Voortman machine in the assembly area
For years Voortman Steel Machinery have had the cutting robot in their portfolio and this is demonstrated in the Voortman V808, a machine that processes the front and back end of a raw material length with only one measuring unit. The Voortman V808 has two completely free processing areas and can process on all four sides of the material with a plasma coping / plasma cutting system with an eight axis robot
But it is all in the planning that will determine a fabricators’ efficiency. Placing of the equipment, whether it is for drilling, cutting or marking, and then the placing of the conveyors and cross transfers where needed, and the placing of the material handling equipment is vitally important. Does drilling come before marking or vice versa are strategic decisions that have to be undertaken at the planning stage.
For example, a drill operates much faster than a band saw. To keep the drill operating at an acceptable rate, a fabricator might want to have a buffer of cut-to-length structural parts between the band saw and the drill. This allows the drill to churn out parts, and the band saw to keep operating at an optimal speed that doesn’t jeopardise the quality of the cuts.
All the operations have to be considered carefully and a solution found for the individual processor.
As much as shop management may want to dictate how much steel exits the door, the machines on the shop floor determine the pacing of parts flowing through it. Planning is essential not only for current needs, but also for future plans. Good decisions made today will make changes in the future easier to implement.
Voortman delivers a total integrated solution called “Multi System Integration” (MSI). Each Voortman machine is equipped with its own state-of-the-art VACAM control software. By interconnecting the handling systems and the VACAM Software on the machines, virtually one integrated production system is created that increases the productivity while man-hours are being saved.
The Multi System Integration creates a great deal of interest as a complete beam line including a beam layout marking machine, and is able to be operated by one person for example.
Plate being cut on a Voortman plate processing machine
Inside a Voortman beam drilling machine
“As long as you put the correct beam on there, the machine will know because it’s in the file and it will perform the required operations. If you put the incorrect beam on there, it’ll tell the operator. It’s called rolling into the right place at the right time,” said Henk Maassen van den Brink.
Voortman Rijssen, the Netherlands
For many years, Voortman Steel Machinery and Voortman Staalbouw have operated autonomously alongside each other in the industrial area of Plaagslagen, Rijssen. The demand for processed material and processing machines has seen both companies grow.
In 2013 the Voortman Steel Group was formed with a corporate identity being spread across both companies. In March this year Voortman Staalbouw and another one of the Group companies, Voortman Dak en Wand, which specialises in supplying and installing roof and wall cladding, merged to form Voortman Steel Construction.
Voortman Steel Machinery, operating from its own facility, is essentially an assembly plant – and a state-of-the-art one. Most of the components are outsourced as it does not make economical sense for the company to have a machine shop or sheet metal fabricating shop because the volumes do not meet production levels. However, all assembly is strictly controlled and tested.
The facility also has its R&D section where the company is continually developing and testing.
“Our focus is on IP and design. We are able to offer you a total package. Our products are of high quality and are offered at a competitive price. This is made possible because of innovative applications and smart techniques allowing us to work even more efficiently,” says Maassen van den Brink.
Voortman Experience Center
In March 2014 Voortman Steel Machinery opened the Voortman Experience Center – a showroom and training facility in Rijssen. All of Voortman’s latest beam, plate, flat and angle processing machines are available for live demonstrations in the Experience Center that operates under showroom conditions. Voortman manufactures machines to cover all aspects in processing structural steel including drilling, sawing, cutting, coping, assembling, welding, marking, cambering, punching, shearing, shot blasting and painting.
A Voortman 1250 bandsaw
A Voortman 630 beam drilling machine and a Voortman 1250 bandsaw strategically positioned within a beam processing line
“Even though we have a great example in Voortman Steel Construction across the road from us where we can take clients to see our machines operating in a working environment, it is not always possible to show them the latest equipment and process developments that we are regularly launching,” says Frank Scherphof, Managing Director of Voortman Steel Machinery.
“The Experience Center allows us to do that. For example we have just introduced the very compact Voortman V302 plate cutting machine, and this machine is on the floor for clients to see live demonstrations.”
“We also have The Fabricator, an automated beam and plate cutting and welding system, set up to operate in a live environment. We launched The Fabricator at EuroBLECH 2014 and the system forms part of our new thinking at Voortman.”
“In order to remain innovative and distinctive, robotics is becoming increasingly more important. For years we have had the cutting robot in our portfolio and this is demonstrated in our Voortman V808, a machine that processes the front and back end of a raw material length with only one measuring unit. The Voortman V808 has two completely free processing areas and can process on all four sides of the material with a plasma coping / plasma cutting system with an eight axis robot. The extreme flexibility of the robot in combination with the machine structure enables the machine to cut every 3D shape possible and mark all four sides of your material.”
“All our machines either process beam profiles or plate and the components are married together in the welding department. For some time now, we have been working on the development of using welding robots and manipulators to bring the flow of the components of the two processes together and end up with a final product. The result is The Fabricator, an automated beam and plate cutting and welding system. In it, plate and beam cutting, as well as welding, are entirely automated. It’s a done-in-one concept expanded to the shop floor.”
Inside the Voortman Steel Construction facility
The trip included visits to Voortman Steel Machinery’s clients
The Fabricator has three welding robots and one plate handling robot. There is no human interference from the time the beam starts off in the initial drilling stage to the finished product fully welded. By connecting The Fabricator integrated solution to other Voortman beam and plate processing machinery, they are able to offer a solution that has never been done before – fully automatic structural steel fabrication.
The Voortman Experience Center also offers an opportunity for operators to be trained. Previously Voortman would install a machine or system at the client’s location, as well as train the operators there. Now the operators are asked to undertake the necessary training at the Experience Center where they are able to gain experience on the machine they will be operating, as well as the others that Voortman manufactures. Added advantages are that the training takes place in a classroom environment with trainees exposed to more than one trainer, they get to experience the company behind the machine and get to know the helpdesk first hand. With about 95% of Voortman’s machines going abroad, this is a much more viable and rewarding experience.
Voortman SteelTECH events
Voortman Steel Machinery also organises Voortman SteelTECH events, which I was part of when visiting the company in June 2016. Voortman SteelTECH three-day events allow dealers and their clients to be introduced to the newest developments in steel processing machines and systems that Voortman has to offer. Participants are also able to experience the working environment of Voortman Steel Construction as well as visit Voortman Steel Machinery clients using the company’s equipment.
I would like very much to thank the Voortman Steel Machinery personnel that were so hospitable during my visit, and Steve van Wyk of First Cut for inviting me and organising my trip.