Adding value in all the right places: Niche steel industry capabilities and focus allows company to be the hybrid between steel supplier and value-adding producers.
Value-added processing was not the focus of Specials Steels when it was established 20 years ago. The main emphasis of the company at the time was to be a specialist cut-to-length company of imported bar and tube company.
All of Special Steels’ product has always been imported from international mills. There are specifically two areas of the business. One is for more competitively priced product that comes in from China and Eastern Europe and the other is for product that is of a higher quality and specification. These products are imported from Europe, Japan and the Ukraine. But all product is supplied to DIN standards.
However, with the company’s philosophy to transcend the essential ‘buy-cut-sell’ process, offered by many, they decided to rather explore the possibility of offering value-added services and minimising downtime to its clients, over and above the required cut-to-size requirements. These services include machining preparation work to be done on the steel that reduce machine setup times, minimising material wastage and offering consistent dimensional tolerances for high-volume production. These processes would ultimately free up valuable time on the company’s clients’ high-end machinery and allow them to perform the more complex machining operations that would add value to their manufacturing capabilities.
Byron Ferguson has been MD of Special Steels since 2007. The company was established in 2002 by his late father William
But the company has never forgotten where it came from and has continued to offer the cut-to-length services of round tubing, pipe and solid and hollow bar-stock to those that only require this service. This outlook allows the company to focus on what it is good at and continue to make capital expenditures to stay competitive.
Cut-to-length of solid and hollow bar and tube
Many factors are involved in choosing a particular method or technology for cutting tube or pipe. The basic factors that affect the cut are the tube or pipe material, wall thickness, squareness of ends, end-conditioning requirements, and secondary process requirements. Other factors that play a role include production volume, cutting efficiency, overhead costs, and special requirements of the tube or pipe material.
The company has never forgotten where it came from and has continued to offer the cut-to-length services of round tubing, pipe and solid and hollow bar-stock to those that only require this service
The method or technology include abrasive cutting, bandsaw cutting, cold sawing, laser cutting, lathe cutting and shearing. Special Steels chose the techniques of bandsaw cutting and cold sawing.
Bandsaw cutting is a fully automatic process and the most common method for cutting rod, bar, pipe, and tubing. This process is excellent for large-volume cutting. Some bandsaws can handle large product bundles.
The blade is a continuous band of metal, available in various tooth configurations, that rotates on two wheels. Depending on the model’s design, the blade’s approach to the metal may be horizontal or vertical. Each configuration has advantages for particular products or applications.
“However, with our philosophy to transcend the essential ‘buy-cut-sell’ process, offered by many, we decided to rather explore the possibility of offering value-added services and minimising downtime over and above the required cut-to-size requirements. These benefits include machining preparation work to be done on the steel, reducing machine setup times, minimising material wastage and offering consistent dimensional tolerances for high-volume production. These processes would ultimately free up valuable time on our clients’ high-end machinery and allow them to perform the more complex machining operations that would add value to their manufacturing capabilities.”
Bandsaw cutting is a viable method for cutting a variety of shapes, such as squares, rectangles, channels, I beams, and extrusions. A bandsaw’s capabilities vary depending on the model. Most are automated, and some feature CNCs. Shuttles make it possible to cut any material length.
Circular cold sawing
High-precision circular cold sawing is suitable for cutting smaller-diameter or thin-walled material that requires tight tolerances. A circular cold saw uses a wheel blade and cutting fluid, which usually is applied with a mist lubricator.
Generally, the maximum diameter for circular cold saws is between 130mm and 160mm. They are most effective at cutting product with a maximum OD of 45mm. Beyond that, the decision from both a capabilities and cost perspective falls clearly into the bandsaw camp.
A cold saw’s steel blade is fixed and does not walk or wander. Cold sawing produces square or perpendicular cuts and minimal or no burrs. This automated cutting method can bundle-cut material with tight tolerances.
Special Steels’ Messer plasma (high definition) machine has a cutting capability of 20mm to 45mm thickness and the oxyfuel cutting machine has a capability of cutting 20mm to 300mm thickness
Because it is a cold cutting process, cold sawing does not produce a heat affected zone, which can be a benefit for product that requires subsequent finishing.
The choice between the two technologies
Long considered the shop floor’s workhorse, bandsaws have advanced in many areas. Bundle-cutting capabilities, more accurate feed units via servo drives, gear motor speed and horsepower options, programmable workstations for repeat jobs, carbide-tipped saw blades and the ability to achieve smooth cuts in tough materials represent just some of the features and benefits found in today’s bandsaws.
Circular cold saws offer high-speed cutting and high-quality finishes. The most basic manual units perform simple, low-volume cuts across a wide spectrum of materials, while automated, enclosed machines work well for production runs and repetitive projects.
A few years back the choice between a circular cold saw and bandsaw was a bit simpler. A high-volume, high-production application likely would require a circular cold saw. If tolerance and finish were not critical, a less expensive bandsaw probably would have sufficed. But today, because of technical advancements, the answer is less clear-cut.
Special Steels continues to invest in equipment
Special Steels’ sawing line is constantly being added to with new equipment and in 2021 two new machines were installed and for 2022 a further three machines are being added to this department.
One of the most time-consuming operations in a machining or fabrication shop is material preparation. The most recent machine that Special Steels have acquired is a Hirscheider V9-400 CNC end machining lathe. They can now do facing, centring and chuck preparation of round bar from 20mm to 375mm diameter
“With a growing order book, we identified the need to increase capacity, to cut quickly and shorten lead-times. This has always been the company’s philosophy. Time and service are an important aspect of the manufacturing industry and contribute to the profits of our customers,” said Byron Ferguson, MD of Special Steels.
“We already have bandsaws of various sizes and capabilities in the sawing department. They include Amada, Behringer and Everising brands of bandsaws. But we knew we had to make further investments.”
The first capital equipment investment the company made in 2021 was to purchase a Behringer HBE261A horizontal automatic bandsaw that has a cutting capacity for round solid or hollow bar of 260mm.
The second investment was to purchase an Everising H 560 HA-NC horizontal bandsaw from First Cut, which was installed mid-year. The machine has a capacity for round and hollow bar of 560mm and square bar of 615mm by 560mm. The company already has the exact same Everising bandsaw.
Arriving early in 2022 are three more machines from Everising. Ordered from First Cut are an Everising S250 HB-NC horizontal bandsaw with a capacity for round and hollow bar of 250mm and square bar of 300mm by 250mm, an Everising H-260 HB-NC horizontal bandsaw with a capacity for round and hollow bar of 260mm and square bar of 310mm by 260mm and an Everising P150 ILA billet saw with a capacity of 70mm to 150mm.
Focus on growth in 20 years
Special Steels has grown substantially since its establishment in 2002. The growth has come since 2007 when the company decided to develop and invest in tailor-made solutions and this has now resulted in Special Steels offering CNC machining services such as normal and deep-hole drilling, facing and centring, normal and robotic welding, tapping and bevelling as well as hardness testing, ultrasonic testing, heat treatment, lab services and logistics.
The second investment made last year by Special Steels was to purchase an Everising H 560 HA-NC horizontal bandsaw from First Cut. Arriving early in 2022 are three more machines from Everising. Ordered from First Cut are an Everising S250 HB-NC horizontal bandsaw with a capacity for round and hollow bar of 250mm and square bar of 300mm by 250mm, an Everising H-260 HB-NC horizontal bandsaw with a capacity for round and hollow bar of 260mm and square bar of 310mm by 260mm and an Everising P150 ILA billet saw with a capacity of 70mm to 150mm
“It’s been a strategic, focused approach to growth. All of this growth has come with the sole purpose to improve our quality and be able to do more for our customers while making sure we do not compete with them,” said Ferguson.
Digging deeper into value-added
The company is committed to further developing value-added processing, which the company believes is an opportunity to control the product, since it’s done in-house. Therefore, Special Steels can ensure that it meets stringent customer requirements.
“We’re a forward-thinking company. By no means do we want to say that cut-to-length is not important. It is still our bread and butter, and frankly, our value-added starts with a great cut-to-length product,” said Ferguson.
For further details contact Special Steels on TEL: 011 865 4939 or visit www.specialsteels.co.za