In the old-fashioned world of fabrication, new technology is more relevant than ever.

Partnership

4/1/2020 / USA
Six months. That’s how fast cutting edge-technology is replaced by new ideas and prototypes. Thankfully, most of us don’t live on that bleeding edge. Fewer still would relate that level of tech to the metal fabrication industry. Iron and steel are the foundation of modern life; a solid part of history. But in reality, the technology that drives innovation in this industry moves almost as quickly as the rest of the world.
IMCAR Vertical System for Stainless Steel Applications
Vertical System for Stainless Steel Applications

Keeping up with current fabrication technology is both a passion and career for Jeremiah Weekley, president of Fabrication Solutions and Technologies (FST). Understanding the dynamic nature of the industry is a core principle of his business. The turnkey solutions they offer give clients technology-forward options for tank and vessel manufacturing in industries such as food and beverage, dairy, pharmaceutical, and aerospace.

Breaking Tradition

In the United States, tanks are traditionally produced on massive horizontal machines that use a mix of automated and manual welding. Knowing there was a better way, Weekley and his team examined the process and took it sideways. Manufacturers in Europe use vertically engineered solutions to create better tanks, more efficiently, and in less space. By offering this smarter option, FST customers could use their current floor space more efficiently. Vertical tank production works along with natural laws–such as gravity–instead of against them, eliminating problematic egg-shaping and barrel effect that can produce out of shape vessels. Manual welding and post-weld work, such as grinding and polishing, are vastly reduced with the vertical option, making the whole process more efficient.

Even with automated solutions, every welding project is different. From arc length and travel speed to types of metals used, there are many variables to consider when creating a solid weld. Add in the options of welding manufacturers and consumable providers and those variables increase exponentially. To provide a high level of customized solutions, the FST team had to minimize the variables. They knew from the beginning they had to solve this challenge to be successful in the niche they’d chosen.

“It all hinges on the welding. In our world 80% of the project is our equipment, but if the 20% that includes the welding doesn’t go well, that’s all that matters.”

With almost twenty years of experience in collaborating with the global marketplace, deciding “how” wasn’t difficult for Weekley. The answer lay in partnering with the right welding company. “We knew that if we didn't choose a welding partner with the expertise, technology, support, and training that our clients needed, it would be disastrous,” Weekley stated. “In fact, what we do has been tried previously in the market to a certain degree. And every time, almost without fail, it’s the source of contention and problems. We set out to solve that problem, and we did, through a collaboration with Fronius.”

Known as a technological leader in welding, Fronius shares similar ideals with FST regarding innovation. With adaptive welding processes, easy-to-use interfaces, and specialized synergic welding programs, Fronius offers the same level of premier product that FST provides its customers. For both companies, the collaboration was a natural fit. Now the challenge was to get customers on board.

“In the United States, there are a few names that seem to dominate the welding market,” said Weekley. “Everyone in Europe knows Fronius, but no one in the US seemed to. Since Europe is more advanced in steel fabrication techniques, there’s a lack of confusion regarding brands. Here, we’re so inundated with marketing and promotions, we lose sight of the features that truly matter in some cases.”

Knowing the features and support he wanted to provide was the easier part. Getting FST systems into the marketplace with the best marriage between welding and fabrication would involve changing people’s minds. Not an easy task. But trying to beat the marketing strategies—and budgets—of other companies could be even harder. Marketing alone doesn't allow for control over the customer experience, and a bad experience hurts more than it helps. With this in mind, Weekley and his team created a strategy to meet each customer one-on-one to show the quality and benefits of their turnkey system.

By choosing to partner exclusively with Fronius for welding, the FST team gets occasional resistance from those companies unfamiliar with the brand. A lot of the welding industry is beholden to name recognition, and it’s natural to be skeptical of unknown products. When asked how they hurdle that obstacle, Weekley replied, “We're able to reduce that reluctance fairly quickly with demonstrations. Seeing the Fronius technology at work quickly alleviates those concerns.”

Fabrication Solutions and Technologies is known in the industry for providing a premier product, customized to fit client needs. Some might suggest that ‘premier’ is just a way to drive up the price of what the company offers, but in reality the goal is to minimize customer costs over the long term. A specialized system may be a higher front-side investment, but overall it will be a more effective, cost-saving solution according to Weekley and the data they've collected.

Production Increases

Based on averages reported by FST’s customers, the gains over horizontal production are significant. Customers using horizontal tank fabrication (pre-FST) expected a range of 0.41 - 1.01 inches per minute of vessel production, depending on the method used. After installing the vertical FST system, the rate of production jumped to a range of 3.8 - 4.01inches per minute. Some clients have reported production capacity gains of over eight times their pre-installation capacity.

These huge increases are even more impressive when considering the difference in required square footage. A vertical system requires a minimum of 70 square feet for small vessel production and up to 1,000 square feet for larger tanks. Traditional horizontal methods require anywhere from 2,500 to 4,500 square feet of floor space, more than four times the maximum space.

Over time, the differences in production, ease of use, increased quality, and space required will more than pay for any increased up-front investment.

By partnering with hand-picked companies and working with expert consultants across the industry, the small team at FST can offer solutions that customers may not even be aware of. This is core to where Weekley says they're steering the company.

“The future of FST is more client centric and ensures we are staying on the cutting edge of technology. We have a few opportunities now to work with some clients to experiment with new methods and technologies of fully automating their facilities. We’re excited about this direction. I believe this will be a future focus for FST teams because the technology is evolving so rapidly.” 

He summed up this philosophy by stating, “If you don’t constantly think ahead for both yourself and the client, one day you’ll find yourself too far behind to ever catch up, let alone lead."

By Rhonda Zatezalo, http://rhondazatezalo.com/

Visit Fabrication Solution and Technologies' website: https://fststeelfab.com/