Sweet Manufacturing of Springfield, Ohio is a leader in outdoor bulk material handling equipment used for grain storage and industrial applications. Founded in 1955, Sweet’s continuous innovation and reputation for quality have earned worldwide recognition, with its products found in 55 countries on 6 continents.
Sweet’s large grain bucket elevators can rise up over 100 feet from the ground, and include all components – buckets, motors, belts, controls, structure and casing – all of which is assembled in the field. “Tolerances have to be very tight,” explains Pat McClintock, Sweet’s Plant Manager. “If something is out of spec or alignment at the bottom of the tower, the problem can get magnified as you build up skyward.”
In fact, that very problem was starting to occur when McClintock joined Sweet Manufacturing. In seeking solutions, he turned to Benjamin Steel for help. Benjamin supplies structural angle for the frames of Sweet’s large grain elevator towers. With its extensive fabrication capability, Sweet then fabricates the angle in-house. But somewhere between Benjamin Steel’s shipping dock and the field assembly site, a particular ‘picture frame’ fabrication made from the angle (see image below) was turning up out-of-spec and resulting in quality issues.
“Even though Benjamin didn’t fabricate the frame for us, they are excellent problem solvers, so I brought them into our root cause analysis and correction efforts,” McClintock states. “We were sawing the angle and drilling bolt holes, then sending the parts to an outside shop to be welded into the picture frame. The welding fit-up wasn’t being done consistently. That turned out to be the culprit.”
“Pat and his team brainstormed ideas with us,” recalls Dana Davis, Benjamin Steel’s Processing Technician. “We suggested adding notches and tabs to the individual parts so they could be interlocked when welding to keep the fit-up right. We made a series of prototype parts for Sweet to use and evaluate. We also recommended that they bring the welding in-house to own the quality control.”
McClintock agreed: “We built on Benjamin’s ideas. We ended up not adding the notches and tabs because the individual part counts are so small it would be pretty costly. But we built some custom workholding fixtures to give us that same repeatability and brought the welding in-house. And we now add the bolt holes after the frame is welded. Happy ending – the field issues related to this fabrication are a distant memory.”
What did Benjamin Steel get out of the experience? “They got my eternal gratitude. That and $4 will get you a latte these days!” laughs McClintock. “But seriously, they weren’t looking to get anything out of it, other than to help a customer solve a problem. That’s why Benjamin Steel is such a valuable resource to us. They don’t just supply steel, they supply ideas. They have people on staff who work with a lot of manufacturers and see a lot of novel processes that they can apply to other situations. It’s hard to put a price tag on that kind of help, but I know I cannot get it from just any steel supplier. It’s part of the Benjamin Steel package, and it’s a big reason we’ve worked with them from the beginning.”