Ramping UP

A Quality Iron project was mentioned in the latest addition of Modern Steel Construction Magazine.

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Ramping UP

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Rocket Science

By Lauren Duensing

Rocket Science
Above: The Voortman V320C, installed at Quality Iron Fabricators, is designed to manage both plate drilling and plate cutting.

An integrated fabrication system speeds connectivity of functions, propelling productivity

October 2015 – Located on the banks of the Pearl River in Mississippi, the John C. Stennis Space Center conducts and manages NASA’s propulsion test programs. All engines for the manned Apollo and space shuttle flights were tested at Stennis, and it is preparing to test next-generation engines that will power the core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System. According to NASA, the SLS is being developed to send humans on deep-space missions, to an asteroid and eventually to Mars.

Stennis’ B-2 Test Stand is being repositioned and extended in order to test the SLS core stage prior to its first mission flight. The existing framework, built in the late 1970s to support testing of the space shuttle, is 61 feet tall and contains about 1.2 million pounds of fabricated steel. When finished, the more robust stand will tower 161 feet above the ground and contain an additional 1 million pounds of structural steel.

Quality Iron Fabricators, Memphis, Tennessee, is providing the structural steel sections for the rocket test stand. “This stand is built to keep a rocket from taking off when you fire the engines,” says second-generation owner and President Brian Eason. “It’s a very large, very stout structure.”


Focusing on flow

The large, heavy parts needed for the B-2 test stand, as well as material for Quality Iron’s other industrial, commercial and federal projects, are processed on equipment from Voortman USA Corp., Monee, Illinois.

“We originally had one location in Memphis, Tenn., doing structural and miscellaneous steel,” Eason says, noting that after years of incremental increases in business activity in 2008, he wanted to “grow a little more exponentially” and expand the company’s geographic footprint.

As part of this expansion, Quality Iron investigated production equipment options. Eason sought an integrated system, and after looking into several companies, he believed Voortman offered “the best option for us.”

Quality Iron initially installed a Voortman V808 plasma coping/plasma cutting system, a V630 drill, a V505T angle line and a VB1250 band saw. “We’ve been very happy with the results,” Eason says. “As we’ve added machines, they’ve all been Voortman,” Eason says. One of the technological aspects he finds impressive is the way the vendor integrates all the equipment into a single processing line.

Voortman uses Multi System Integration, which includes an automated material handling system and VACAM control software, to connect machines to each other. One machine serves as the master, and products are distributed from the master to all others in the line. As the first batch is being processed, the next batch is being prepared.“Historically, machines have been a little more isolated, operating individually,” Eason says. “Voortman has taken that a step further. All the machines and the production line itself are an integrated unit.”

This is significant, Eason claims, because it increases speed and efficiency while reducing the need for manpower. “As we have it arranged right now, we have machines that don’t need an operator at all because they’re taking in the materials from the previous machine in the process.”

Because they’re linked, each component of the line “knows” which materials are scheduled to be processed next and where they are on the conveyor belt. “It doesn’t need anyone to sit there and watch it do its work,” Eason says. “It automatically draws it in, does what it needs to and sends it on to the next machine.”

Before installing the Voortman package, it was “hard for us to imagine a large expensive machine running without someone there taking care of it. So we started with an operator on the machine. All he did was watch it work, so we finally moved him to other operations,” recalls Eason.

Ten months after installing the saw, drill, coper and angle line, Eason approached Voortman again to purchase a plate processing machine. Customers often purchase a beam line and then “realize they can’t produce plates fast enough,” Voortman President Adrian Morrall says.

That machine, the Voortman V320C, is set up at Quality Iron’s Memphis location and, according to Eason, is able to handle anything the operators send its way. The V320C, with a 20-foot-long infeed capacity, manipulates plate up to 3 inches thick. It drills and burns holes using a Hypertherm HyDefinition plasma torch, automatically nests myriad shapes, and marks plates with part numbers and locations. It positions the plates with two rigid, servo-driven gripper trucks that allow the material to be cut all the way up to the edge, keeping yield high and the scrappage rate low.


Compared to a manual plate cutting operation, “it’s just night and day,” Morrall says. The stock material goes on and the finished part comes off. “It’s drilled, tapped, milled and has part marks and location information to indicate where you put the plate on the beam. And there are marks on the beam to let you know where the plate goes.”

Layout marks on the beams and plates indicate where the steel elements need to be welded together, simplifying assembly.

“It’s like IKEA now,” he says, referring to assembly of consumer furnishings. “It shows you where the part goes and on which piece. You don’t need a fitter welder anymore—you just need a welder.”

Continuous improvement

Quality Iron is now talking with Voortman “about revamping our production line to make it even more efficient,” Eason says. “We’re looking at rearranging the order of the machines. Right now, the saw is first; Then after [material] is sawed into individual pieces, it goes through the drill, which drills the holes on the individual pieces before they go to the coper. We’ve decided to reverse that order.”

In the new configuration, holes will be drilled before material is cut into smaller sub parts. For example, stock-length beams will run through the drill first, allowing it to process two or more pieces with a single run. Then they will go to the saw.

“So, if you have a 60-foot piece that had three beams in it, instead of running three beams through the drill, now you’re effectively running one and then cutting it into three beams,” Eason says. “In addition, if you have, for example, a piece of 40-foot material that is going to be cut into 3-foot sections, those small pieces either don’t go down the conveyor very well or, if they are too short, don’t go down the conveyor line at all.”

In addition to reconfiguring the line, Eason is adding a small part removal tool to the saw. “A lot of times you bring the material up and it does a trim cut-off at the end and “you have an operator standing there just to grab that little piece.”

Adding the part removal tool “is big,” Morrall says, “because nobody else does that. And that means everyone has a guy standing next to a saw all day, which you don’t really need anymore.”

Staying abreast of innovations is what keeps Quality Iron on top of its game. “We always strive to get better at everything we do, and this has been a key part to improving our process,” Eason says. “Not necessarily for the sake of getting bigger, but sometimes getting bigger comes along with getting better.” MM

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welderHOUSTON, Miss. (July 29, 2015) — Governor Phil Bryant and officials from structural and miscellaneous steel supplier Quality Iron Fabricators announce the company is expanding operations at its facility in Houston, Miss., in Chickasaw County.


The project represents a $4.9 million corporate investment and will create 50 jobs, bringing employment at the Houston location to 70.

For the expansion, the company will construct a 90,000-square-foot addition at its existing facility.

“I appreciate the team at Quality Iron Fabricators for placing its confidence in Mississippi’s business climate and for creating new job opportunities for the residents of Chickasaw County and the surrounding areas,” Gov. Phil Bryant said. “Our state is a great place to do business, and companies of all sizes recognize the advantages of a Mississippi location. I congratulate Quality Iron Fabricators on this expansion and wish the company many more years of success in Mississippi.”

“We at Quality Iron are very excited to be expanding our operations in Houston, Miss. Through the site selection process, we have been encouraged by the warm reception that our project has received from the state and local business development partners,” said Quality Iron Fabricators President Brian Eason. “We look forward to this and future expansions in this community.”

Mississippi Development Authority provided assistance in support of the project for site preparation and equipment relocation.

“The Mississippi Development Authority proudly supports our existing industries, such as Quality Iron Fabricators, as they grow, creating more and better career opportunities for Mississippians throughout our state,” said MDA Executive Director Glenn McCullough. “We thank our economic development partners at Three Rivers Planning and Development District, the Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors, the mayor of Houston and the Houston Board of Aldermen for their commitment to helping ensure Quality Iron Fabricators’ long-term growth and success in North Mississippi.”

Quality Iron Fabricators was founded in 1974 in Memphis, Tenn., as a miscellaneous fabricator serving the local market. Today, the company supplies the structural and miscellaneous steel needs of its customers locally and regionally.

Source: https://www.mississippi.org/general/quality-iron-fabricators-7-29-2015/

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Quality Iron to expand in Mississippi

2015 News Update:

Please click the link provided below to read the article in the Daily News concerning the expansion of our Houston, MS facility!


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EY Entrepreneur Of The Year®

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Bones of Steel

By Lynn Stanley
Above: Passengers can exit or board the Memphis Queen at the Beale Street landing using a steel corkscrew fabricated by Quality Iron.

Growing fabricator uses pass-through technology to bring plate processing in-house

October 2013 - Great bone structure slows aging by creating what dermatologists call the upside down triangle or face of youth. In construction, buildings also are said to have good bones when they exhibit features like a quality edifice and sound infrastructure. Buildings such as the Memphis International Airport Tower, Omni Hotel and the University of Memphis owe their good bones to the skeleton frames manufactured by Quality Iron Fabricators. The 35-year-old Memphis, Tenn., company supplies structural steel framework and miscellaneous steel to local and regional industrial and commercial markets. But Brian Eason, the company’s president and second-generation owner, is building more than just columns, connector plates and I-beams. Eason and his partners Craig Salabor and Jeremy Harrell have been aggressively growing the company and its crop of employees through expansion, modernization and the addition of equipment like Voortman Corp.’s V-320 C pass-through system for plate processing.

“During the last five years we’ve grown tremendously,” says Eason. From 2011 to 2012 Quality Iron enjoyed a growth rate of 100 percent. Eason explains that prior to this growth spurt, the company had peaked. “We had to ask ourselves if we wanted to stabilize and plateau or pursue even higher levels of growth,” he says. “We talked with our employees to see how they felt about taking on more risk. Everyone was in agreement but it meant making significant changes to corporate infrastructure, processes and markets.”

qiRoom to grow

In addition to its plant in Memphis, Quality Iron opened plants in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2011. While layoffs escalated at other companies, Quality Iron continued to hire. “We’re a diverse company and a quick responder,” says Eason. “Our work covers everything from hospitals, churches and prisons to schools, office buildings and industrial plants. This versatility allowed us to skip the slowdowns by shifting our focus from one market to another to maintain a good backlog of business. If you can get the work, a downturn is an excellent time to grow because it allows you to cherry pick skilled, talented people.”

Quality Iron’s growth strategy also meant looking at ways to improve workflow. “As a service-driven company we bring a complete package to the contractor,” says Eason. “There are a lot of different elements to consider with large projects. Once we bid on a job, we detail it using special software. Everything that is steel—support columns, connector plates, handicap ramps, staircases, handrails—is ours.”

The fabricator bought plate from suppliers to support project requirements but found quality control and on-time delivery challenging. Quality Iron took a look at what it was paying for plate versus the cost of bringing the process in-house. The cost analysis led the company to consider automation. “Until recently Voortman had enjoyed a larger presence in Europe than here in the U.S.,” Eason says. “We were not as familiar with them but our research led us to the conclusion that Voortman’s technology had taken a significant step forward. When we considered features and capabilities we found there was a big difference between Voortman and its competitors.”

The Manteno, Ill., company designs, develops and manufactures machinery for steel fabrication and plate processing for customers in North America. In November 2011, Voortman purchased a German company that primarily sold its plate processing equipment regionally. “We redesigned and remanufactured the equipment and changed the name to Voortman,” says Adrian Morrall, president of Voortman.

qiReturn on investment

Quality Iron installed a Voortman V-320 C pass-through system in 2011. The machine form-finishes plate for applications that include subparts for built-up members, base plates for columns and stiffener plates. It uses flat plate in A36 and A50 grade steel 6 feet wide by up to 20 feet long, 1⁄4 inch to 3 inches thick. “Initially we thought we might run the machine about 20 hours a week,” Eason says. “But once we got the

V-320 C pass-through system in place, we have not stopped using it. The machine feeds processed plate to all three of our facilities. We also take in projects from other fabricators and run their plate. When we first ran the numbers, we expected we would pay off the machine in roughly 11 months. The machine paid for itself inside a year. It’s very effective and efficient at moving plate out.”

Unlike other systems, the V-320 C is equipped with a measuring system that compensates for mill tolerances and material edge condition. Because the system holds plate from the end of the sheet, the metal can be processed all the way to the end. “In addition to offering superior accuracy, our system allows customers like Quality Iron to use the full plate,” says Morrall. “Scrap is minimized, and there is no skeleton to remove so material handling also is significantly reduced.”

The ability to move plate through the system without loss of material was a deciding factor for Quality Iron. “With other systems you do experience loss of plate at the end,” says Eason. “Even if you are running a 20-foot-long plate and just five percent of it is scrap, that adds up to a significant sum over a year’s time. We don’t have that problem with the Voortman pass-through system.”

Carbide tooling for high-speed processing, a 40-horsepower spindle and automatic 10-tool changer increase productivity and capability. The pass-through system can make drill bit changes in about four seconds. The machine also keeps track of how many inches of material have been drilled before a drill bit has to be sharpened or replaced. “The V-320 C literally schedules its own maintenance,” says Eason.

qiBigger makes better

A scribe feature allows Quality Iron operators to select automatic piece marking when needed. The pass-through system’s ability to respond to the fabricator’s work variables and use each of these elements interchangeably means operators don’t have to reset the machine or retool.

Once plate is processed, it’s either finished for a sub part that will be used in a larger assembly or sorted and palletized for shipment and integration into an assembly that is being built on site. “Accuracy is critical for us because these plates are associated with connection pieces,” says Eason. “We get accurate, superior finished edges with the V-320 C.”

Depending on material thickness, the pass-through system easily can be set for oxy-fuel or plasma cutting. Quality Iron tends to use plasma cutting for thinner plate, reserving oxy-fuel for thicker material up to 3 inches. The machine’s flexibility allows the fabricator to handle the wide range of variables that can accompany a project. “We may have a large, thick sheet that is being finished as a base plate and only receives four holes,” says Eason. “There is not a lot of processing for that type of part. We also use the 3-inch material for base plates for columns. These parts require holes for anchor bolts and have to be accurate. The V-320 C’s oxy-fuel cutting option works well for these parts. On the other hand, we may get a 1⁄4-inch-thick sheet that weighs less but requires a higher degree of processing because it’s being processed for an elaborate connection. As far as the system is concerned, handling these variables is effortless.”

If Quality Iron has to turn a job around quickly, the V-320 C’s seamless operation and responsiveness support the fabricator’s service-oriented goals. “If a customer has a problem at the job site and needs something in a hurry or if corrective work is needed, the pass-through system allows us the in-house capability to control these situations,” says Eason.

Since 2007, Quality Iron has increased its employee base from just 35 associates to a workforce of 350. In addition to this tenfold increase in jobs, Quality Iron has established a steel erection company and a second fabrication company. “We’ve always worked to become better,” says Eason, “not necessarily bigger.” “But the drive to become better has led to bigger most of the time and pretty much in that order. Voortman has been an important part of our evolution.” MM

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