PipeandTube Memphis 2022 brings tech, foresight, competitive resolve to the table

2022-05-21 02:36:59 By : Ms. Maggie Wang

With about 180 attendees, Pipe & Tube Memphis 2022 offered multifaceted industry forecasts, expert ideas on tube mill optimization, tips on hiring young workers, and even tours of nearby steel mills.

How can tube and pipe mills improve their operations? How has the U.S. tube and pipe industry stomached the cocktail of COVID-19 lockdowns, inflation, and supply uncertainty? How do you respond to the values of a new generation of workers? How do you maintain repeatability and increase uptime on a tube mill?

This year’s Pipe & Tube Memphis tabletop conference offered about 180 guests answers to those questions and more with presentations, expert panel discussions, and personal networking time—plus the choice of two different Nucor Steel plant tours. Following are just a few highlights from the speeches and technical presentations given at the conference.

Dr. Chris Kuehl, chief economist for the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Intl. (FMA) and a regular contributor to The FABRICATOR who once trained to be a Russia expert for the U.S. government, provided perspective on an array of topics during his keynote address, including the effects of the war between Russia and Ukraine on commodity prices (namely oil, wheat, and steel), the likelihood of a nationwide recession, and how people should view the Federal Reserve’s role in the economy.

Ukraine-Russia Conflict. “Russia is kind of a one-trick pony, and that is part of what’s made them so vulnerable. There’s just not a whole lot they can do to inflict damage on the rest of the world outside of oil and gas, which is ultimately replaceable.

“The big pressure beyond oil and gas … will come when it gets to food. The Russians and the Ukrainians together produce about 25% of the world’s wheat. Replacing oil and gas output isn’t going to be easy, but it’s doable. The U.S. is the world’s biggest oil producer. There are alternatives to the Russian supply of oil and gas—not immediate, it’s probably going to take eight months to a year—but it’s relatively quick. Food is different. You can’t just say, ‘Hey, we need a lot more wheat, let’s go get some.’ It’s got to be planted, and it’s going to take a while.

“There is still an expectation that it [the war] has to come to an end relatively soon. Russia cannot withstand this kind of pressure indefinitely.”

What Economists Are Really Saying. “We [economists] are basically saying, ‘If you keep going in this direction, you’re going to hit a wall. It’s basically a call to action. It’s like, ‘We don’t know if there’s going to be a recession in 2030 or whatever, but we do know that if you keep spending this way, and if you don’t control inflation, and if you don’t’ deal with the debt, and if you don’t deal with the labor shortage, and if you don’t deal with the supply chain, that’s very likely what’s going to occur. It’s important to remember that these are early warnings more than they are predictions.”

What the Fed Is Doing (and Can’t Do). “When they [the Federal Reserve] look at current inflation [8.3% as of this writing], they say, ‘Look, a good 70 percent of this is due to one factor, and that’s commodities.’ So, the Fed is looking at what’s going on right now, saying, ‘Look, we don’t really have any effect on commodity prices. We can’t control oil. We can’t control gas. That’s not our job. We can’t control wages. We can’t control anything like that. All we can do is control money supply.’

“So, if you look at what the Fed thinks as far as recession, it’s still very low. The expectation is [that there’s] less than a 6 percent chance of a recession.”Employment and Hiring Practices Panel

Led by Tube and Pipe Advisory Board and FMA Board Member Lisa Wertzbaugher of Wertzbaugher Services, this panel discussion about employment challenges and strategies included Christopher Smith, manager global CoC/fuel & brake, industrial engineering for Cooper Standard, New Lexington, Ohio; Joe Kiger, plant manager for Atkore, Harvey, Ill.; and Michael Strand, president of T&H Lemont, Countryside, Ill.

Flexible Work Schedules. Smith: “In the plant that I’m working most … attendance is a problem. And that set 7 o’clock to 3 o’clock, we struggle with that. So, they’ve kind of opened it up. If they get somebody to cover for them … they work out the details. It’s a union plant, [and] that was taboo years ago. But … we’ve got to be creative. We’ve got to change. We leave it up to the employees to work it out, but they’ve got to clear it through their boss. That way everybody’s on the same page.”

Formtek’s Paul Williams emceed a mock Jeopardy! game focused on tube, pipe, and roll forming.

Kiger: “We’re a large union facility. We’re at a disadvantage there—7 to 3, 3 to 11, 11 to 7. It’s in the contract. We do have a problem with attendance and people showing up. We don’t have enough people for them to cover each other, because they’re already working 12-hour shifts. So, one of the things we are looking at right now is going to alternative scheduling. We’re talking to our union about renegotiating that.”

Strand: “I have an older work crew like everybody here has. And a lot of my guys over the years have pushed their starting times from 7 to 6, sometimes to 5 o’clock. That’s very hard on the younger generation. That particular age [person] doesn’t want to get up early. So, it’s just trying to change the culture. Some of the other guys get really upset, and it creates conflict. So, we’re working to create a more inviting atmosphere for the younger generation.”

Wertzbaugher: “My parents had a tube fabricating business for 30 years, and I did work in their business for a while. They always had two shifts. Then by the time we were selling the business, we had multiple shifts. We had some people who wanted to start at 5. Some people want to start at 7, some people did 8 to 6. We had a lot of different options going on, but it was easier for us to manage that than people quitting and leaving the business. We are still getting 40 hours of work out of everybody.”

Training. Smith: “We have a hard time hiring people. And then the people we bring in, they’re not very well-trained. About the time they start learning enough, somebody else leaves. So now we have lower people training new hires and mistakes are made. That’s the biggest challenge.”

Kiger: “We have about 40 temporary employees in the plant right now being trained. So now it’s switched from getting them into the door to development—having the right people train them, putting them with someone so they’re not just standing around.”

Strand: “I absolutely agree. The one thing that we struggle with, and I think everybody struggles with, is the employees who come in who have never worked or ever even thought about coming into a manufacturing environment. You have to make sure you provide them with the tools to indoctrinate them, to make them feel welcome, to have a plan for them. And if you show them, so they can succeed, ultimately the company will succeed.”

Rick Olson, president of Roll Machining Technologies & Solutions (RMTS) Inc., Romeoville, Ill., spoke about the many issues he’s seen in tube mills recently and over the years and how mills can use technology to better set up their roll tooling so that they increase repeatability and profitability.

Material Woes. “One of the popular issues that we run into all the time is inconsistent material. Sometimes it’s a 40,000-yield coil and the next coil that comes through is 80,000- or 90,000-yield. I went to a customer one day, and he was running painted material. The strip was already painted in the coil, but he was running it [on a tube mill] on the inside. I looked at it and I’m like, ‘What’s going on here?’ He said, ‘That’s the only strip I could get.’ So, he needed to make tube so bad—and he couldn’t get material anywhere—that he bought painted strip and ran [the painted side] on the inside just to have a regular tube. That’s how crazy things are.”

Employee Shortages. “There’s just not enough people. So, the person that … you have running your tube mill was maybe stacking lumber at Home Depot yesterday. These guys do not know. We spend a lot of time training these guys. We did two last week where we just walked in a said, ‘Here’s a roll, here’s the OD, here’s the root, here’s the rim, here’s what undersized means.’ Things like that. Just basic Roll Tooling 101 for people that had never been there before.”

Eliminating Errors en Route to Repeatability. “One plus one is two, but on a tube mill, we always say one plus one is three. There’s that variable that you just never know what it is. So, when something goes wrong … people always blame the tooling. Most of the time, it’s not the tooling. It’s a shaft that went bad. It’s a bearing that went bad. It’s a bad setup. So, we want to help customers understand where to go when something happens. It goes into training the operators—this is why you’re getting buckles. And this is what you can do to help that out.

Attendees took some time to catch up and collaborate during a dinner and social at Memphis’s Rum Boogie Cafe.

“Our goal these days, especially as the roll tooling supplier, is to eliminate roll tooling as the problem. Everybody wants it so you press a button and it runs, right? We have people issues. We don’t have enough people on the mill, [and] the people that are on the mill don’t know what they’re doing. So, can we make it run the product without any issues? We can get closer. And that’s what we’re trying to do. I’m trying to remove one of the 600 variables on a tube mill that can go wrong.”

Using Finite Deformation Technology (FDT). “When I worked at another roll company … we had six designers. There would be six different designs to get to the same thing. When I had the opportunity to start RMTS, the first thing I did was say, ‘Let’s standardize this.’

“We had the ability of using FEA, which you know is finite element analysis. We were able to take the properties of the steel and find out what we can do, when it works the best. When are we damaging it?

“FDT is kind of FEA combined with our design system. FEA is a very high-intensive, long program where you set it and run it for three days and [it would] tell you, ‘This is bad, this is bad, this is bad.’ Then you would have to make the changes and go back and redo it. Now it can go so far, see something, tweak it, and then keep going. It doesn’t have to go all the way back to the beginning. So, it allows us to be much more efficient in doing it.

FDT will take your original tooling design and allow the roll designer to see where the stresses and strains are present in the existing tooling designs that allow for modification. So that means if you had an existing design, we can put that design into the computer and tweak it. Sometimes we can make it a little better. Sometimes we say, ‘You know what? You’re good.’”

The Tube & Pipe Journal

See More by Lincoln Brunner

Lincoln Brunner is editor of The Tube & Pipe Journal. This is his second stint at TPJ, where he served as an editor for two years before helping launch TheFabricator.com as FMA's first web content manager. After that very rewarding experience, he worked for 17 years as an international journalist and communications director in the nonprofit sector. He is a published author and has written extensively about all facets of the metal fabrication industry.

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