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Entry Level Into CNC Controlled Machines: It’s not so Expensive

Voortman recently invited and paid for Spencer’s travel costs to visit their factory in Holland as well as a Dutch fabricator and a German fabricator. This is the second of a series of three articles to share my findings with our members. The SAISC’s grateful thanks go out to the Voortman team and their SA representative First Cut for making this eye-opening trip possible. In this article we look at entry level equipment on offer from Voortman.

It does sound a bit crazy to say and think that I was going to Holland to find out about the Voortman range of equipment and this would happen in only about one and a half days on site for the whole range. Just how could it be possible?

Even more so when I think back to 1979 when I first went to Germany to purchase Peddinghaus equipment. We planned on a four-day visit to see just their two models of drill line NC machines but this required visits to factories all around the western side of West Germany even venturing into Holland to Ulft and in passing see some of the punching equipment that Peddinghaus was synonymous with in those days.

So how could it be possible to see Voortmans’ vast range of equipment in such a short time? The answer is actually quite simple. Voortman has a strong marketing set-up geared to doing just this. At the heart of the programme is their Experience Centre in which all of their equipment is set up to show and explain their capabilities under one roof. One of the treats for me at their centre is this delightful staircase.


Add to this, they have their own structural steel fabrication shop on site which is a great proving ground for their equipment as well as their production and assembly lines for machines on order.  This department is the epitome of European discipline and organisation.  Their parts stock control is very sophisticated, computer controlled and items are all automatically withdrawn from their bins and placed into holding bins by order number.

And then finally within an hour and a bit from the centre, there are two very competent fabricators, one sporting a brand new works with an extensive range of Voortman equipment the other having equipment that has been in use for some time now. What more could one ask for to get to know their range of equipment quickly, efficiently and without fuss? Well done on that score to the Voortman team.  It is a few years since I visited the Kaltenbach bi-annual factory based exhibition or the North American Steel Construction Conference where many manufacturers show off their equipment, the modern facilities and whole Voortman approach is startlingly refreshing and clearly a winner.

Entry level equipment, Voortman’s approach to software

It is interesting to note that Voortman has developed a software system under the name of VACAM which is used to control the whole range of their machines and handling systems. Apart from the basic common sense that this approach makes, adding new machines or handling equipment to existing facilities becomes, relatively speaking, an easy exercise. Voortman has a team of 15 programmers who are experts at doing just that.

I guess for the small to small-medium fabricator the thought of increasing productivity by purchasing CNC equipment is a daunting concept (especially for those of you who have not done any ‘what if’ assessments of the equipment).  In the article published in Steel Construction No. 6 2014, Chasing profitability for the small to medium steel fabricator, Danny Steyn writes about just how important it is if you want to survive in these tight financial times (and even better – prosper), you must take the plunge and get on the ladder to the future by starting with some CNC equipment. And before going much further let’s throw some numbers at you.

Consider the following proposal:

Consider a fabricating company is doing say 100 tonnes per month for 11 months a year.  Sadly, due to competition laws, I really do not know what an hour costs in a workshop these days but I am sure that very few of you get away with less than R450.00 per hour. If you were to save just five hours per tonne this works out at a pot of money close to R2.5 million. So in two or three years, there is a good chance you will be able to pay off between one and two entry-level models. If you do everything manually i.e. sawing, cutting, marking, drilling and the like, saving five hours per tonne with a couple of machines is very realistic and probably quite conservative. Just consider how much overheads you can save by your 3D TEKLA package speaking directly to your NC machines.

Can you afford not to be going the route?

Of course, the definition of an hour is important here. In my estimating course I teach that the hour that you should be working on is the hours actually recorded to a job, so excluding labourers, grinders, despatch and the like whose costs would be added to the recorded hours. In addition, each hour attracts a portion of the company overheads.

If you do not know about these things maybe you should consider doing the SAISC estimating course.

Which machines are available at entry level from Voortman?

You will be pleasantly surprised just what can be found for realistic prices. Somehow everyone automatically seems to start by thinking about a beam drill line. Even before looking at the models available, learn from the experience of those who have already gone the route. On more than one occasion I have been told: “Had I known what I know now, I would have started with a plate processing machine before a beam drilling machine – of all my NC machines it is the plate processing that works two shifts to keep up with the demand”. Think about it!

Beam drilling

Right at the bottom in its simplest form is the V600. Having only one horizontal drill head it is necessary to turn the beam to enable drilling, slotting and marking to the flanges and the web. To ensure accuracy of holing on each of the three faces, each time the beam is turned by the machine zero is identified for the new face of the steel to be drilled using laser. The drill
head moves along the length of the steel.

As with all their drilling equipment, high-speed carbide drilling is available (which is dramatically faster than high-speed drill bits), as well as the automatic tool changer with five stations (including tapping up to 30mm diameter, centre point marking and counter-sinking) capable of up to 40mm diameter holes. Next step up is the V613/1000 (the 1000 indicating nominal maximum width of beam. The actual width maximum is 1050). Beam-sawing machines

Beam-sawing machines

Unless your business is based on cut-to-size ordering from service centres, one should not think in terms of standalone drilling machines but rather linking them into a sawing machine station.
Thinking along the lines as above, if buying cut-to-size is costing you between 5 and 10% of the basic steel price it does not take rocket science to calculate that to pay off a saw does not need too many tons per month, but do not forget to ask about the cost of replacing the band saw blades which can be quite often for heavily working saws.

The Voortman range of band saws all have the VB description followed by the nominal maximum width capability (VB750, 1050, 1250) All are mounted on rotating turntables for any angle of cut, have hydraulic blade tensioners and guides either side of the beam to be cut by width; to keep the cut square and have the options of length stop, roller feed or truck length measuring systems.
One of the items that was a first for me was their “short piece removal” clamping system (useful for short beams or scrap removal). It is also possible to program the machine to return longer length off-cuts back to the stock yard. This works very well for lightly loaded saws as it is quite time-consuming.

The great thing is that when you buy from Voortman they will work through your planning requirements and in the case of a saw/ beam drill combo it is possible to have just one operator for the two machines. Layout and movement are designed to minimise handling.

Plate processing machines

Voortman offers cutting alone, drilling alone, drilling and cutting combined machines in their range. The machine that caught my eye for entry level is the V320. Length of plate options come in 6.100, 9.100 and 12.100 and width options in 2000 and 3000 (nominal widths). The beam has one cutting and drilling support gantry with cutting being on the front face and drilling being on the back face of the gantry. Cutting options include plasma and oxy-fuel. High-speed carbide drilling and other drilling capabilities, tool changing etc. are as for their beam drilling. Marking both for assembly and identification purposes can be done either using plasma (a different gas permits the melting of the surface for marking when compared to cutting with plasma) or milling.

The simplicity of the design of their automatic discharge table and conveyor, as well as their scrap slugs, clearly shows one of the reasons why Voortman equipment is so successful. KISS Keep It Simple Stupid.

Quite often plate processing machines can be kept busy on one large plate for quite some time, allowing the operator to attend to other equipment. The screen will show how long the machine will be busy with this particular plate and it is also possible to build in an electronic communication warning system sending messages to the operator if something has or is going wrong whilst he is not at the screen. The wonders of modern wireless communication!

Voortman does offer standalone plate cutting machines and plate drilling machines depending on your production and throughput requirements.

Angle and flat bar punching and cutting machines

For the smaller steelwork fabricators who specialise in typical relatively light angle iron roof truss construction, they should be considering the basic model V505M which is a punching and shearing machine with a hydraulic numbering unit. The machine has 2 x 2 unit punching heads, one for each of the legs of the angles. The units come with automatic in-feed systems and roller feed measuring systems.

You have surely noticed that when you look at the details of the various models described above there does not seem to be a one-off machine ‘does it all’ solution available from Voortman.

That is not true with the advent of combining plasma and robotics. Watch out for next article in this series which not only explores the possibilities that robotics, when combined with plasma, open up to the industry but also looks at the more sophisticated models in the Voortman range. It is guaranteed to make for exciting reading.

For more details of the Voortman range visit their website or contact Steve Van Wyk at First Cut at +27 11 614 1112.