TKS Industrial is the North American division of Taikisha Ltd. of Japan. It’s the leading designer and builder of high performance painting systems used in automotive assembly plants throughout North America. These complex, automated systems can be huge, with a 60 foot long base coat paint booth, followed by a curing oven, followed by a primer coat booth, and so on, all the way through the final clear coat curing. TKS supplies turnkey systems, including painting robots, conveyors, air/emissions handling and all controls.
The booth structures and paint tanks are fabricated at TKS Industrial’s Columbus, Ohio facility. It’s a large steel fabrication shop with the equipment and skilled employees to build the variety of custom designs TKS customers require. It is also a voracious user of structural channel, angle, bar and tube. Randy Schiefer is the Purchasing Manager responsible for sourcing that steel and he buys much of it from the Frederick Steel Division of Benjamin Steel Company.
“We’ve been buying from Frederick for over 20 years because they meet our quality specs, they are price competitive and very responsive,” comments Schiefer. “If a last-minute design change or some other surprise entails material I don’t have, they pull out all the stops to get me what I need the next day. They make my job much easier.”
In 2016, Schiefer and his team needed a dose of ‘easier’ for a custom project they were preparing to build. This long paint line called for a part made from heavy square tube with large cut outs on one face for wall panel braces. The cut outs removed 55% of the material from that face and required very precise cutting. “We couldn’t cut square tube like that in-house,” recalls Schiefer. “Instead, we decided to take two pieces of bent plate, use our laser table to make the cut outs on one of them, then weld them together along their 10 foot lengths to make a square tube with the cut outs. We tried a couple prototypes. Our cut outs were fine, but all that welding distorted the finished piece. And the shop time to make them this way would be cost prohibitive.”
About that time, Ed Thompson, the TKS Account Manager at Frederick Steel, visited Schiefer to introduce a new processing technology that Frederick Steel was putting into production. When Schiefer shared his frustration about trying to make this challenging part, Thompson told him, “I think we can help you with that – it’s what this new machine is for! Send me the drawings, I want to give them to our shop and see what they say.”
That new machine was the PythonX Structural Steel Fabrication System by Lincoln Electric. PythonX is the first of a new generation of robotic plasma cutting systems that have revolutionized structural steel fabrication. It does the work of up to five separate traditional machines and eliminates manual measuring, drilling and torch cutting. Frederick Steel had just finished installing their new PythonX and was exploring all of its capabilities.
Thompson showed the drawing to Ben Hattemer, General Manager of Frederick Steel. “Yeah, I think we can make that no problem,” said Hattemer. “Let’s pull some 8” x 8” tube and give it a try.” The next morning, Hattemer called Thompson out to the shop to see the finished piece. Thompson took a photo of it (see below) and emailed the photo to Schiefer, who was intrigued, and scheduled a visit to Frederick Steel the next day to see just how the part was made.
“I was blown away,” says Schiefer. “The PythonX made those cut outs in 3/16” wall tube like a hot knife in butter, and they were perfect. I ordered 16 pieces for the first section of the paint line so we could make sure it all worked the way we wanted. It worked great. I ordered 160 more and we were rolling!”
“Having a supply partner like Frederick Steel makes all the difference. Others stock much of the structural we need, but Frederick stocks virtually all of it. Other suppliers can saw and drill – some even plasma cut – but no better or no more economical than we can. It’s Frederick Steel’s and Benjamin Steel’s willingness to invest in higher technology . . . game-changing technology, like PythonX . . . that makes them indispensable to a company like ours. That and the fact that they don’t just sell steel, they try to solve problems.”