Industrial roll handling is a complex science, requiring equipment designers and installers to not only understand how best to wind or unwind and transport rolls of material, but also how the material itself will behave in the process and how to integrate roll handling equipment with existing systems.
While it may be tempting to design roll handling equipment in-house or have a machine shop or material handling vendor take on the project, this is often a risky idea. Suppliers without extensive roll handling experience will often get in over their heads, eventually coming back to their customers for more money, technical support and time.
“There is definitely an art to roll handling,” says Terry Benton, general sales manager for S2F Engineering in Blissfield, MI. “That is why many general material handling companies attempt one roll handling project and never attempt another. They spend so much money trying to make the final system work that it just isn’t worth their efforts.”
S2F Engineering is a systems’ integrator and a single-source supplier of roll handling systems, material handling equipment and specialized machines. S2F has designed, engineered and implemented roll handling projects for clients ranging from start-ups to industrial giants, in a wide variety of industries.
According to Benton, selecting a company with past experience in roll handling equipment design, manufacture and installation is extremely important because of the number of variables involved. The average material handling vendor — let alone machine shop — will not have adequate experience when starting a project.
Jeff Holt agrees. A mechanical engineer at Konica Minolta Mfg. USA in Whitsett, NC, Holt is responsible for roll handling equipment, as well as other production line material handling in the plant that produces silver-based photographic paper used by photo labs to make prints.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of vendors, including material handling and machine shops,” Holt says. “Many of them will give you a low-ball price to get the contract. You find out later on that they have cut corners to save some money, and you suffer from that later, possibly for a long period.”
Considering the high stakes involved, here are some rules of the road to consider when undertaking your next roll handling project.
Bypass low-ball bidders
As with any other bid business, roll handling vendors may low-ball the price to win a project, or may unintentionally underestimate the complexities of the processes involved. Even ethical vendors who inadvertently underbid roll handling projects due to inexperience will run out of money. The question is: will they run out on the job, leaving their client high and dry? Or, will they go back to the customer — who is already on the hook — and require more money to complete the job?
Under-qualified suppliers don’t have the experience or resources to do many of these projects,” Benton says. “We run into this situation all the time — we get beat on a bid because a company selects a vendor strictly on price. Then the vendor runs out of money and walks away from the project, so the customer has to complete the work or hire another contractor with specific technical expertise. When it’s all said and done, the customer goes over budget and may have to bear expensive production delays as well.”
“Machine shops have their place,” says Mike Wainer, senior project manager at Battenfeld Gloucester Engineering in Gloucester, MA, a global leader in the production of plastic extrusion systems used by customers worldwide in making film used in packaging applications. “But in roll handling applications, where we are continually evolving our systems to meet our customer’s changing requirements, equipment fabrication and price are not the driving factors. Our customer’s roll handling equipment is going to be running for years, so it’s critical that we work with a supplier with hands-on experience and the engineering capabilities to work together with us in meeting those evolving application requirements.”
Meeting engineering requirements
Some companies may tend to use their own engineering staff to design roll handling equipment. Senior management may quickly agree with that idea, hoping to save money. Or, there may be the tendency to use existing material handling vendors or machine shops.
“I might design some of our equipment myself and just have it built by a machine shop, and they will deliver it,” says Holt. “But then I’m responsible for integrating it with other equipment and commissioning it. S2F is flexible enough to work with us that way, if you just want them to provide the equipment. But for more complex projects such as roll handling, I want them to be responsible for everything from submitting designs to installing and integrating the system, and then starting up the equipment.”
According to Wainer, having a roll handling equipment supplier with engineering capabilities is vital to Battenfeld’s success. “These are vital material handling subsystems of our production systems. We outsource roll handling equipment from experts such as S2F because we are going to get involvement in system development and engineering. There is always pressure within our industry to come up with more efficient solutions, and the synergy we get with S2F helps us achieve that.”
With clients around the world, the strength of S2F Engineering derives from its expertise in engineering services, particularly roll handling systems. The firm gives special attention to specialty machine design. These are created in Parametric 3D solids using SolidWorks software, while the team of mechanical and electrical engineers work together to integrate the mechanical functions with the electrical components using advanced IED (Intelligent Electronic Device), communications and other technologies.
Integrating with other systems
Roll handling equipment must often interface with existing equipment, sometimes involving systems the roll handling contractor did not install. At Konica Minolta Manufacturing, new equipment had to deliver rolls to a slitter. The slitter had to “know” when the roll was delivered, then chuck up that roll for rewinding onto other rolls with different core sizes. So it was vital the two systems interfaced correctly.
With customers around the world producing film products on customized, high-speed equipment provided by Battenfeld Gloucester, effective system integration requires individualized attention. “These systems are typically very fast and very complicated, involving advanced automation technologies,” Wainer says. “So we depend on a roll handling supplier being able to provide — and develop, if necessary — highly efficient systems that will integrate with ours.”
Specialists such as S2F Engineering provide extensive capabilities in that sort of system integration. On every project, they assign a project engineer whose role is to become the primary source of communication with the customer. This allows the team to quickly and accurately process information internally for services including mechanical and electrical design, equipment assembly and testing, documentation, installation and commissioning.
“System integration is where we started,” says S2F’s Terry Benton. “We have a lot of experience in putting together the pieces of an entire plant floor and then connecting those pieces to make the entire system work automatically.”
Deal with vendors who know your materials
“Rolls present their own unique set of problems with transportation, and lifting or conveying them — whatever is needed to handle them internally and/or package and ship them,” Benton says. “These requirements are completely different than what is encountered with other types of material handling.”
According to Benton, the material itself can pose any number of problems, including rolling or transportation difficulties. Soft material, for example, will often wind on a roll loosely and when set down, may compress and create a flat spot on the bottom. Such rolls will not roll very easily on the production line. Other products, such as silicon release paper, are slick and therefore present winding problems. Lifting such a roll with a core gripper, for instance, could cause the core to telescope right out of the roll. Rolls from a cast film line may appear hard and uniform like paper rolls, yet the profile of film is not as flat as paper, so there are usually irregularities in the diameter of the roll. When rolled down a ramp, they tend to skew toward the side or become locked together.
“Those who have in-depth experience in roll handling evaluate all of these different factors before they propose a system,” Benton says. “This requires them to be experts in a number of areas, such as mill roll handling and transport, roll handling for converters, wrapping and preparation for storage or shipment.”
On-board talent is critical
With a wide variety of companies in the business of designing and fabricating custom equipment today, it is important to know you are doing business with a roll handling specialist who has the necessary talent pool on hand. This includes mechanical and electrical engineers, systems integrators, fabricators, maintenance experts and sales personnel. In some instances a roll handling company may have built a strong reputation over the years, but the people who built that reputation may have moved on to other companies or retired.
The founders of S2F, Steve and Finn Dotson, were careful to assemble a talent pool that thoroughly understand the many facets of roll handling, yet also offer specific expertise that may be missing from most vendor staff, such as controls and systems integration.
Interestingly, one of the main lessons learned from all the experience of this team is that when it comes to the best roll handling solutions, there are no pat answers. “It’s surprising how many of our customers ask us to show them a system or piece of equipment in the field that is just like the one they would like to buy,” says Brian Steenrod, regional sales manager. “We have to assure them that our solutions are custom, and therefore it is seldom possible to show them a system that is exactly like the solution they’ve conceptualized. What we can show them is that we have the personnel with the experience and background required to design a system that will meet their specific needs.”
Beyond the design and installation of roll handling equipment, there is also the matter of start-up. Not surprisingly, many smaller shops will beg off this responsibility, leaving the customer to handle any problems if the system doesn’t work properly. A full-fledged design, engineering and installation firm with roll handling experience, however, is willing to handle the commissioning of the equipment and any equipment they’ve subcontracted.
“I’ve had complex projects where there are multiple pieces of complicated equipment,” says Konica Minolta’s Holt. “In those cases I choose to have one vendor be responsible for providing all of the equipment, rather than buying from five different vendors and then having me put it together. I’ll have the main vendor, such as S2F, buy everything and make certain that it all works together. You pay a little bit more that way, but you are assured that an expert is responsible.”
In Mike Wainer’s view, vendor support through all the necessary stages is essential to Battenfeld Gloucester’s success as a systems provider. “S2F will test the roll handling systems on their floor, then send it to our plant where it’s tested again, often involving their personnel,” says Wainer. “On most jobs, we contract with S2F engineers to participate in the mechanical and electrical installation in the field, as well as commissioning. It’s very valuable to go through these processes together.”
|Rolls present their own unique set of problems with transportation, and lifting or conveying them.