Mills, fabricators and metal service centers are constantly challenged to ensure safe and productive operations. Fortunately, bandsaws and other cut-off machines come with guards and other safety devices to ensure operators don’t get injured on the job. Material handling, however, sometimes ends up being an overlooked area as far as safety is concerned, and that’s especially the case when it comes to effectively transporting cumbersome applications.
From tubes and pipes to sheets and steel coils, getting product from point A to point B can be a dangerous endeavor. After factoring in sensitive applications or finishes, solutions for ensuring proper load containment can vary significantly and rack up unnecessary costs if not handled correctly.
Amid the myriad options for tubes and pipes, there are two basic types of load security and containment solutions: stretch wrapping and steel (or plastic) strapping. From there, the solutions broaden, ranging from manual to fully automatic. The right choice will be based on a variety of factors, including current-use scenarios, expertise of on-site personnel, throughput requirements and the nature of the finish coat or a product’s sensitivity. Depending on the final product, additional protective products may also need to be added to ensure the fullest protection for transport.
To gain some insight, senior executives from Signode Industrial Group, a leading manufacturer of equipment and consumables in steel strapping since 1913, offered their insight. Over the past 100 years, the company has grown to include 88 manufacturing facilities across six continents, producing a range of products to ensure optimal protective packaging performance.
As mentioned earlier, there is more than one way to crack the proverbial nut, or in this case, secure a tube or pipe. For Signode, the solutions are just as varied, but the best place to start is identifying current practices and pitfalls. For example, if you are currently using steel straps to bundle product, then start there. If strapping is preferred and not causing any product damage, then simply look to see if it can be done more effectively.
Using straps or metal bands to secure loads, however, comes with its own risks. Not only is the process tedious, bands can destroy pallets and loads. Too much tension on the strap and the bands can pop back when cut and injure employees. Whether the need is for greater mobility, employee safety or simply to increase productivity, strapping equipment is constantly evolving to provide unique and cost-effective ways to improve operations and bottom lines.
As just one example, Signode introduced the GripPack SLB, which is designed without air hoses or compressors, therefore, creating more portability and producing less noise. The user can easily tension, seal and cut with a single button.
A seal-less joint eliminates the need for metal seals, and the entire tool is lightweight and durable. A quick-charge 18-V lithium ion battery provides ease of use and long-lasting battery life. Engineered with fewer moving parts, the tool provides more consistency and accuracy of strap applied tension levels.
Further enhancing the GripPack is the company’s GripPack mobile app, which utilizes Bluetooth technology to communicate with the tool and send proactive maintenance reminders to the user. The app also monitors wear parts and can access cycle count and battery life status.
It’s a Wrap
In contrast, for those using stretch wrap as a prefered method, paying close attention to film type and throughput is equally important. There is a common misconception that film cannot provide the same levels of stability as strapping, which is simply not true. However, knowing how to properly apply film for the application is inherent to success.
Applying it by hand is common in many fab shops with low demand. However, the primary challenge with hand wrap is that it can cause major back strain and injury to workers as rolls can weigh upwards of 50 lbs. each. In order to apply the stretch film, one or two workers pass the film roll up and over the tube or pipe bundle until the desired protection is achieved.
Depending on product length, additional workers may be stationed on either end. For this reason, it’s much more difficult to control the wrap consistency and, ultimately, the safety of the workers applying it. For example, workers may apply more tension and wraps early in the day but as their bodies tire, the wrap application becomes looser and could compromise the integrity or the load or lead to workers dropping rolls on themselves and causing further injury.
In some fab shops, stretch film is used more as a dust cover or to protect finishing. In these instances, hand wrap may be preferred since the film is not acting as the main containment option. Since not all hand wrap is created equal, shop around but don’t just focus on the cost-per-pound. Different manufacturers offer different film gauges and special features to improve their product.
As an example, Signode offers its GaleWrap Oriented Film, which features the company’s trademarked Post Wrap Contraction, allowing the material to keep contracting around the load even after it is wrapped. Because it is an oriented film, it further allows the product to be wrapped with fewer revolutions, reducing film consumption.
Conversely, when manual operations can no longer keep up with demand, it’s time to look at more automated solutions. For strapping, it may be as simple as investing in a hand tool that provides increased levels of safety and automation for users. The smallest adjustments can often yield the biggest results. For more demanding environments, users can consider steel strapping bundling machines that are fixed, conveyed in or positioned on top of a transfer car (for round and square products). As always, the decision will ultimately depend on budget and application.
In comparison, automated stretch film solutions can also vary. The popular Yellow Jacket orbital stretch wrapper solution is an example of one staple innovation for the fabricating and metalworking market. The horizontally positioned stretch wrap machine ring moves around and under a load while it remains on the forklift – optimally and consistently applying film in a fraction of the time it takes to manually achieve the same result.
Originally built by fabricators to solve the unique challenges of securing oddly shaped, heavy loads directly to the pallet, the Yellow Jacket machine secures complex fabrications, metal parts and loose assembly on a pallet while simultaneously minimizing the time and labor traditionally required to secure the load to a pallet. Those wrapping 15 to 20 pallets or bundles per day with two employees by hand can see a return on their investment in under six months.
Signode also recently introduced its H.Böhl BSB-450 VA spiral wrapping machine. Similar to the Yellow Jacket, the machine also dispenses the stretch film over and under the product, securing it tightly to each other or a tray. An intuitive design, high speeds, low material cost, maximum up-time, low noise operation, minimal setup times and the ability to link together with an automated production line make the Böhl a popular product load stabilizing solution.
Regardless of preference, finding the right solutions depends on many factors. The inherently cumbersome and dangerous nature of handling heavy steel tubes and pipes requires great consideration. When loads are not properly secured, the repercussions can be irreversible. Bundled pipes have fallen apart and slid off of trucks, shelving, forklifts and more. Injury and product damage can undoubtedly escalate in these scenarios.
Knowing the best way to keep your people and wallet safe, therefore, comes down to picking the right tool for the job. Some applications require strapping, some require stretch film and then there are the ones that require both – or maybe none at all. To avoid going down the wrong path, speak to your vendor about all the solutions available to you now and as your company evolves.