CASE HISTORY: MATERIAL HANDLING

Cerro Copper of Canada Benefits from Increased Capabilities

Material handling system overhaul uses less energy and needs less maintenance, while giving this round-the-clock manufacturer more finishing capacity.

An exclusive Online Feature from the editors of mro-esource.com

© 2000 Machinery & Equipment MRO (1,115 words)

A new chain-driven accumulation conveyor system, used to move items weighing several tons, has reduced maintenance and energy use, and created a cleaner work environment for a major copper products manufacturer.

Though copper pipe has been used to carry water since the days of the Egyptians, it was not until the late 1920s that practical and economical thin-walled copper plumbing tube was developed to compete with iron pipe. Once discovered, it did not take long for copper - an easily worked, corrosion-resistant product - to replace threaded iron pipe as the standard for many residential and industrial uses.

It was this market that Cerro Copper Products Co., a member of The Marmon Group of companies of Sauget, IL, USA, decided to enter. Cerro Copper entered the Canadian market in 1989 as Cerro Copper of Canada, a division of Cerro Copper Products Co. Cerro Copper Products has become the largest and most productive copper tube mill in the world - a position it holds to this day.

The former copper scrap dealership was just a few years into production of its copper tubes when World War II ended. Following the war, the company was well equipped to meet the demands of the greatest building boom in the nation's history. Copper plumbing tube was now the standard for most home construction, putting Cerro Copper at a significant advantage.

Cerro Copper of Canada, located in Etobicoke, Ont., was established as a result of increased demand from Canadian customers who needed a "dependable and ongoing" source of supply beyond the one existing domestic producer. Cerro's entrance into the Canadian marketplace gave customers - plumbing and HVACR distributors - a much needed local source of supply for copper tubing.  

To maintain its leading position in the copper industry, the company, which employs 800 people in Sauget and Etobicoke, has had to update its material handling operations along the way. Beginning in 1997, Jim Hintz, director of engineering for Cerro Copper, began the first of a two phase manufacturing and material handling system overhaul to the company's 250,000 sq ft manufacturing facility in Sauget. The result: increased manufacturing capabilities for the copper giant. An integral part of the new system, completed last year, involved the installation of 750 square feet of chain-driven live-roller accumulation conveyor from Mathews Conveyor of Port Hope, Ont. and Danville, KY, USA. Mathews Conveyor is a material handling total systems provider with 94 years of experience.

Along with new conveying systems, Cerro Copper's updated system also involved the purchase of a third spinner block, a new straighten and cut-off machine, and new transfer lifts and turn tables. The new system created a total of six lines, each capable of storing seven coil-handling baskets each. All of the six lines feed off their own machines, including four straighten and cut-off machines and two tandem coilers. Previously three lines fed five different machines, resulting in severe bottlenecks.  

The new system gives the company more finishing capacity and results in a larger number of products that can be put into inventory. Because Cerro Copper ships from numerous storage warehouses, stocked inventories are needed to meet constantly changing customer demands.

How copper tubing is made

Production of copper water tubing at Cerro Copper begins when copper cathode and/or high grade copper scrap is received and unloaded. The copper is melted, purified and cast into logs which are cut to make billets. The billets are reheated and extruded under water to make hollow shells. The shells are cold drawn on bull blocks and coiled. Next, the coiled copper, roughly 9 ft in diameter, is lifted by crane and placed into a heavy duty metal "basket" weighing 1,100 lb. Baskets are 10 ft in diameter and two feet deep and are the core of Cerro Copper's coil handling system.

During finishing, the coiled tubing exits the baskets and is fed into spinner block machines that reduce the wall thickness and diameter of the tubes to user-specified sizes, usually 1/2" to 3/4" in diameter. Lastly, the tubing feeds into straighten and cut-off machines that cut the tubes to finished lengths. The copper tubes, or pipes, are then distributed to plumbing distributors for use in building and home construction.

Old chain system needed improvement

Prior to the installation of Cerro's new material handling system, the coil handling baskets were transported using dual-strand chains about 3" in width. The chain system was less than ideal for several reasons, according to Hintz.

"With the old system, the baskets accumulated by bumping against each other, which was a problem in itself," said Hintz. "As a group, the baskets weighed several tons and put a lot of strain on the continuous running chain. The chains also required a lot of lubrication, creating an overall dirty environment."

Unlike the previous system, the new conveying system from Mathews Conveyor uses chain-driven live-roller accumulation conveyors that require little or no lubrication. In addition, the conveyors use a proximity sensor that allows baskets to accumulate in zones without line pressure build-up. When the proximity sensor sees a basket in a particular zone, the adjacent zone is stopped and a safe 4"to 5" gap is left between baskets.

"The new system also uses less energy because the conveyors only run when transporting baskets," Hintz said. "This translates into lower production costs for Cerro Copper."

The new conveyors mean lower maintenance for Cerro Copper as well. With the old conveying system, entire stretches of conveyor had to be removed and replaced when problems were detected - not a welcome activity for a company that runs around the clock. With the new conveyors, sections of conveyor can be easily replaced if necessary.

"We purchased replacement parts during the initial installation that we haven't had to touch," Hintz said early in 1999. "The conveyors are performing as we anticipated, and that makes us very happy."

For now, however, with its manufacturing and material handling system fully overhauled, Cerro Copper will continue to manufacture its copper pipes for plumbing distributors throughout Canada and the U.S., just as it has done for much of the past 75 years.

This report was prepared for mro-esource.com Online Features by Charlene Cloney. Placed online June 1, 2000. For further information, visit Mathews Conveyor at www.mathewsconveyor.com, or contact Cerro Copper of Canada in Etobicoke, Ont., at (416) 745-7300, or visit www.cerrocopperproducts.com. © mro-esource.com and Machinery & Equipment MRO magazine, Toronto, Canada. Not reproducible in any form without written permission of the publisher. Contact: broebuck@businessinformationgroup.ca.

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