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Automation Partners

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A mid-western steel processing company operates by purchasing rolls of steel on a secondary market, taking leftover material without regard to the type of steel, the thickness or width of the cheaper material. The company reprocesses the steel to meet the requirements of a customer. This re-processing step may involve a chemical, heat treatment, or other similar processes. It is evident that the company has a large and constantly changing inventory of steel coils, including a wide variety of types of steel in coils of differing thickness and width. It then is critically important that the precise location of a coil or group of coils in the warehouse is readily and reliably identified. The company recognized the need to automate the storage and retrieval processes to minimize lost time in locating specific coils and avoid the selection of the wrong steel coil. Therefore, the company planned to undertake such a project in conjunction with the scheduled relocation of their facilities.

Trutegra was hired to add automation features to replace the previous manual system and incorporate the validation steps required to ensure the selection and removal of the correct coil. Due to the relocation, this involved the installation of new, automation-ready cranes. However, the presence of automated tools in the facility complicated this phase of the project. These tools track the location of the coils in the warehouse, allowing a crane to be directed to a coil or group of coils. This was made possible by linking the coils, as they are unloaded, to the ERP system in the facility using the barcodes on the product. Trutegra worked with the developer of the company’s ERP to establish an interface back to their PLC and automation system, to ensure that the two systems were communicating. It was also necessary to create a wireless network to communicate with the cranes. Trutegra’s engineers provided guidelines for this task, working with operators and ground people to create a user-friendly interface, which was readily accepted by the operators. 

A challenge to the successful completion of this project was that the system would be “the first of its’ kind” that this facility had been exposed to. It proved to be an excellent learning curve for everyone involved. Another challenging aspect of the project is that the coils are stacked on top of each other. This demanded careful planning with respect to the distribution of the coils, together with the development of software to design the stacks, taking into account the differing heights and widths of the coils and the requirement that like materials are placed in close proximity. This was another “first of its’ kind” problem to confront Trutegra but it was successfully solved.

The company is thrilled with the results. In fact, they are sharing their early successes with some of their friendly competitors in the area, which could potentially lead to more business for Trutegra.

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