Automating structural steel fabrication

ART releases the Metaltek XB1200 10-axis structural steel fabrication cutting system – slashing production times, material handling and manual labour

As budgets are getting tighter, customers of structural steel fabrication shops are getting more cost-conscious and it is unlikely they will pay more for work. As a result, shops are looking for ways to reduce costs by leveraging the latest technology and lean manufacturing concepts to gain an advantage. Reduced cost of labour and material handling through automation combined with increased output will take fabrication shops’ productivity to higher levels.

Advanced Robotic Technology (ART) has created the Metaltek XB series 10-axis structural steel fabrication system. “We developed the Metaltek XB series to answer the need for fully automated structural steel processing in one machine,” company Director David White explains. “To eliminate as much manual labour as possible we included full material handling and all functions are automated and simple to operate. The whole machine is designed to reduce labour and double handling while increasing productivity and profits.”

XB1200 structural steel coping machine

4-sided plasma processing
With a footprint of 3750 x 3600 mm, Metaltek XB offers full 4-sided plasma processing for the steel fabrication industry, advanced CNC robotics, high-definition plasma cutting and in-house developed user-friendly software and control interface. Moreover, 3-axis material handling conveyor systems and cross-transfer conveyors for load and unloading eliminates a large percentage of lifting, flipping and moving of steel members between machines.

The machine is suitable for hot and cold rolled structural steel profiles, including RHS, SHS, UB, UC, PFC, TFC, EA and UA, with maximum beam cross sections of 1260 x 600 mm. All copes, mitres, square cuts, slots and holes can be cut automatically. Full bevel weld preps can be applied to all surfaces including underneath. Plasma etch marking is also a standard feature for part numbers, welding instructions, alignment marks etc. Moreover, ART’s ProfileShop V4 touchscreen controller combines ease of use with advanced features to automate all cutting settings, resulting in optimum cut quality. The advanced CNC reads industry standard DSTV and DXF drawing files, supporting software packages such as Tekla, StruCad, AutoCad and many more.

Laser-like cuts at high speeds
Advancements in high-definition plasma cutting have long enabled structural steel fabricators to use the technology in their shops. ART uses HyPerformance technology by Hypertherm, which, combined with ART’s machine motion control systems and software, takes plasma cutting to a whole new level.

Specifically, Hypertherm’s True Hole™ technology uses a specific combination of cutting parameters optimised for steel applications. The end result shows an up to 50% improvement in the shape of the hole.  At the same time, taper and dings are virtually eliminated on holes with an equal diameter to thickness ratio. “Hypertherm’s True Hole™ cutting technology produces significantly better hole quality than what could previously be achieved using plasma, narrowing the gap with laser,” says David White. “This is delivered automatically without operator intervention, to produce unmatched plasma hole quality that can now rival high dollar laser systems.”

The Metaltek XB1200 features a Hypertherm HPR260XD plasma power system, which gives precision at unprecedented speed.

The Metaltek XB1200 features a Hypertherm HPR260XD plasma power system, which gives precision at unprecedented speed, yet extends consumable life beyond competing plasma systems. Automatic surface tracking along with the ART 3D motion controller ensure accurate pierce and cut heights. The bevel torch head can achieve up to +/-50° on all faces, while ART recommends a maximum cutting bevel of 45°.

Automation saves time and money
Moving long, heavy structural members around is difficult and costly and adds no value to the product. As a result, transfer and handling have to be kept to a minimum, and structural steel fabricators now realise that it doesn’t make sense to pay people for non-value-added activity of handling beams. ART’s Metaltek XB features a CNC-controlled 3-axis in-feed and out-feed roller conveyor system, an integrated automatic hitch-feed mechanism, as well as CNC cross-transfer drag conveyors for loading and unloading.

The drawbridge is able to extend 2.5 metres into the cutting envelope to support the material, clamp and draw for hitch feeding, and roll out the finished part. The drawbridge feed and synchronised rollers are both servo controlled to ensure highly-precise material feeding. The CNC controller can also automatically feed the next piece of material from the cross-feeds onto the in-feed roller conveyor for automatic cutting.

Inside the cell work area, the machine automatically senses material dimensions, and an extra-articulated robotic arm performs the desired cuts, even underneath the beam. In conjunction with the gantry system, the arm achieves unparalleled reach.

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