Ficep Middle East is one of the 16 branches located all over the world that are part of Ficep Group

FICEP’s girder gantry drill revolutionizes the bridge fabrication process

The traditional method to fabricate bridge girders can be described as follows:

  • Manual layout of the holes.
  • Use magnetic drills to generate holes at one end of the girder.
  • Bolt up the connection plates.
  • Bring the next girder in the line and manually position it to the girder that now has the connection holes drilled and connection plate bolted into position.
  • Once the two girders are properly aligned, manually drill the connection holes at the one end of the second girder.
  • Once the connection holes are made in the one end of girder #2, remove girder #1.
  • Move girder #2 to the previous position of girder #1.
  • Proceed to manually layout the second end of girder #2.
  • After drilling the second end of girder #2 and bolting on the connection plates, manually position girder #3.
  • Continue the process described above for the remainder of the girders in the bridge.

As one can imagine, the above process commits tremendous shop space and up to 50+ man-hours for each connection. This traditional method of bridge girder fabrication has historically represented the universal practice in bridge shops around the world.

No machine tool builder had even considered to attack this process with a more productive solution until FICEP accepted the challenge in 2009. This challenge to implement new technology is indicative of FICEP’s commitment to drive innovation. Currently, FICEP offers the only solution to automate this process and eliminate the manual labor associated with girder fabrication.

How did FICEP do it?

FICEP pulled from existing developments and integrated this with leading edge technology to address the challenges and created NEW processes as follows:

  • As part of the task was to reduce the shop space required and girders can extend up to 50meters (150+ ft.), they engineered a gantry solution. As the girder remains stationary and the drill moves, this approach reduced the total length of the CNC system to essentially the length of the maximum girder to be processed.
  • Girders are engineered typically with extensive camber and sweep plus they are not always dimensioned as drawn.
  • The FICEP girder gantry drill does not have a machine datum so it is not necessary to try to manually position a 50 meter (150 ft.) long girder up to some mechanical zero points.
  • Once the CNC process is initiated, laser technology is used to probe the physical locations of the entire girder so the software can establish the required zero points. As there is a tolerance associated with the girder after welding the zero points that are established are unique to each specific girder that is to be processed.
  • After the laser scanning cycle is completed, the three-spindle gantry drill starts to drill the required holes based upon the physical locations of the established zero points of the specific girder that is being processed.
  • More often than not, holes in the flanges and the web do not share the same length coordinates as the web holes are generally skewed, for example, so each web hole has a different length coordinate. Even if holes share the same length coordinate in two of the surfaces, the girder is probably not positioned parallel to the travel of the gantry.

In order to increase the productivity of the Endeavor girder gantry drill, FICEP’s unique solution was for each spindle to have its own sub axis. This design permits the gantry drill to generate holes in all three faces of the girder even if the holes are not aligned.

The web spindle of the FICEP girder gantry can also rotate up to 90° in each direction to be able to perform end milling.

Since the girder is stationary and the spindles have their own independent sub axis, they can also perform the milling of weld preparation at aggressive rates as each spindle is driven by a 31 KW (41 HP) “Direct Drive” so the full motors power is what is being delivered to the tool. There is no loss of power as this is “Direct Drive” and it does not require a gearbox that diminishes the power delivered to the tool.

The extremely large processing envelop, in conjunction with not having a fixed datum, permits large unique weldments to be laser probed and processed.

The Endeavor Girder Gantry drill represents another innovative FICEP first to assist our business partners compete with alternative materials such as concrete.

FICEP “Intelligent Steel Fabrication”

In 1988 FICEP invented end installed the first integrated structural steel fabrication line with a fully automated material handling system. That was just the beginning as FICEP is the clear leader in automatic systems with hundreds of installations worldwide! During the past 30 years FICEP has drastically expanded the productivity of this automated comprehensive technology. This is the result of FICEP’s continuous devotion to industry leading developments in both software and hardware.

The challenge
Since FICEP invented the first automated multi-spindle drilling line in 1965 there have been significant enhancements in drilling feed rates and positioning speeds of both the material being processed and the drill spindle axis performance. The process to increase the drill lines efficiency and eliminate non-productive cycles has perhaps plateaued for the moment with the sub-axis spindle positioning to enhance the “chip to chip” time.

FICEP drill saw system with sub-axis spindle positioning
FICEP’s focus, since it’s first fully automated material handling system in 1988, has been to enhance the efficiency of the material flow through the line.

The challenge was to increase the percentage of time that the work centers (sawing, drilling, scribing, coping, milling, thermal cutting and shot blasting) are actively engaged in processing and not waiting to start the next section.

How is the optimum layout determined?
There are no two structural steel fabrications firm’s facilities that are identical. The combination of a plant’s layout, product mix, required processes and the needed throughput makes the challenge of designing the optimum layout unique. Actual past jobs of different types are downloaded to generate a specific productivity report based upon the type of contract.

Until FICEP developed “System Simulation” the engineering of a plant layout was typically based upon an interview process with the client. The goal was to try to achieve a layout that was the result of some educated guesses and assumptions. Today, FICEP uses proprietary software to evaluate how different job types and plant layouts can be simulated for a detailed productivity analysis.

Split work cells versus tandem systems, transfer tables capabilities/features and the material buffer zones sizes are just some of the variables that require evaluation.

“System Simulation” is a process where potential layouts are evaluated based upon the manpower requirements, capabilities, throughput and bottlenecks. Actual jobs and or sequences are imported into the PLM software that starts with material nesting and uses powerful algorithms to sequence the production in the most efficient fashion. Once the optimized workload is downloaded, the “System Simulator” shows the processing of the mults and finished parts in a 3D video mode to reflect the actual process times required to fabricate this production release. The “System Simulator” shows where bottlenecks develop and identifies work centers that can be underutilized waiting for material to fabricate. This innovative process enables different layout designs to be compared and further modified to determine which design achieves the maximum flexibility and productivity.

How Does “System Simulation” Enhance Your Daily Productivity?
Once the preliminary shop loading for the structural steel fabricating line is determined, the software’s algorithms develop the optimum sequences of the selected production release. Prior to starting the actual production, the “System Simulation” can identify possible bottlenecks and any under utilized work centers. Once determined this innovative software can show how the systems total productivity can be increased by modifying or adding to the pending production release.

How Does Intelligent Steel Fabrication Function?
As the multed sections are loaded onto the line the material handler scans into the system the corresponding bar code from the cut list.

The sections are automatically positioned without an operator or attendant through the system. The path through the line or routing to the appropriate work cells is based upon the required processes and the optimum utilization of the systems capabilities. As a mult or cut part enters each work cell the stock length is verified and the appropriate CNC program is automatically selected to process the required objectives.

The benefits of “Intelligent Steel Fabrication” are numerous and cost effective. Most of the systems sold and installed by FICEP today feature “Intelligent Steel Fabrication” capability, as the benefits are extensive and easily justifiable as this automation cost represents a minimal investment as a percentage of the total systems cost.

Benefits summary
System sequences

  • Sections are automatically nested to maximize material utilization.

  • Data entry in conjunction with material loading is implemented with bar coding to eliminate possible mistakes.

  • There is no need for an operator to select the proper program to process the part loaded into the in feed conveyor.

  • The stock length is automatically verified.

  • Material routing is performed in the most efficient manner and without any human involvement.

  • Loss of time for an operator to organize and move material through the system is eliminated.

  • All material functions occur in masked time while the work centers are performing the required processes.

  • Efficiency and productivity is paramount with the system. For example, multiple parts are automatically loaded onto the in feed conveyor of the blaster with the proper spacing between sections to take full advantage of the shot blast pattern.

  • Multiple operators that are required to drive a manual material handling system’s productivity are eliminated and replaced with a single attendant. Typically the attendant has time to perform the loading and unloading on and off of the system.

  • As the process proceeds, Intelligent Steel Fabrication has 4-D capability to upload the production process back to the 3-D model to graphically show the real time status of the individual sections in the model.

  • Production data can also be viewed on a Smart Phone in real time.

Direct Drive Spindle Technology

The drilling of structural steel traditionally incorporated a drill spindle gearbox to reduce the spindle’s RPM’s and increase the torque for the specified requirement. With some hydraulic spindle designs, it was also employed to develop a different RPM range for each spindle of a three-spindle configuration.

The three-spindle configuration is still offered by some manufacturers today to be able to offer up to three different diameters. Unfortunately, the speed range in each spindle is not capable of covering from the minimum to the maximum range. The end result is that some tools cannot be operated at the desired RPM range as stated by the tooling manufacturer because of this spindle RPM range limitation.

Today’s current tooling can require up to 5,000 RPM to achieve the designed performance. Spindles with a gearbox to achieve high spindle RPM’s traditionally require some type of internal cooling system to dissipate the heat generated at this level of rotation.

As the capabilities of spindle drives were expanded, FICEP was able to use a single spindle design, with an automatic tool changer to process different hole sizes. This spindle design could perform the complete RPM range to accommodate diverse tooling specifications.

In 1998 FICEP introduced in their forging products division a direct drive, fully programmable motor. In 2009 this same direct drive spindle technology was incorporated into the drilling product lines at FICEP.

This industry first by FICEP translated into many unique advantages for the fabricator:

  1. Since the gearbox was eliminated, RPM’s of up to 5,000 could be achieved without concern for spindle heat generation and the requirement for a water-cooled spindle.
  2. The elimination of multiple gears, bearing and seals virtually eliminates typical maintenance.
  3. Greater efficiency. One hundred percent (100%) of the horsepower of the motor is what is delivered to the cutting edges of the tool. It is not like a car where a mechanical transmission greatly reduces the power delivered to the wheels, for example.

Offering to the industry the first “Direct Drive” drill spindle is just another example of FICEP’s innovative engineering team’s commitment to our clients!

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