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New Wave In Steel Fabrication

Jun 25, 2008
Structural steel fabrication has gone through many changes since the Industrial Revolution. Metalworking has continued to evolve as new technology has become available to meet the growing demand of an industrialized society.

The band saw is a key example of the continued refinement of fabrication techniques. The first band saw was patented in 1846 by Anne Pauline Crepin of Paris, yet continues to be used in steel fabrication today.

The band saw consists of a long, narrow, flexible band of toothed metal that rides on two wheels in the same vertical plane with a space between them. Owing to the technology available at the time, band saws have been powered by wind, water, and steam, electrical motor or animal power.

Although the band saw is particularly good at cutting out irregular shapes, it also suffers from some minor limitations. The radius of a curve that can be cut by a certain saw is dependent on the width of the band.

This means that different band saws must be used or modified for different cuts. When used to cut metal, coolant is often applied to the band saw's blade to help preserve its integrity.

Although automatic band saws have been created for factory applications, newer forms of cutting technology, in the form of integrated fabricating systems, are threatening their position in the workplace.

Improving technology has lead to a host of new features that seem to herald the evolution of steel fabrication. High performance plasma torches do not suffer from the physical strain of metal-on-metal friction, and feature a narrow kerf width to allow for a more precise cut.

Some machines feature 6-axis robotic arm functionality that allows it to adapt to specific cutting jobs; that there is no need to flip, turn or angle a work piece.

Combined with the robotic arm, practically any shape a detailer can make be cut by a plasma torch with minimal effort. All of this points to significant increases in production speed.

Certain fabrication systems can already cut through a W24x100 Beam four to six times faster than a band saw. Steel fabrication machines also minimize of human error due to the implementation of computerized control systems.

Machines using these systems upload all cuts and features from a software file. The plasma torch then works from the digital drawing's reference point, probes and measures the work piece and calculates standoff parameters.

Simply put, band saws are a fabrication tool; today's sophisticated, autonomous systems are a fabrication solution.

There is no doubt that the steel fabrication industry will continue to refine itself well into the 21st century.

And while the band saw has proven itself to be a valuable fabrication tool over the past one hundred and fifty years, computerized steel fabrication systems have shown themselves as the next wave of steel fabrication solutions.
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