Metals distribution companies play a pivotal role in the supply and manufacturing chain from raw ore to finished goods. With labor shortages and an increasing variety of specialty metals in demand, this role is becoming more important every day.
A high-level look at the metals industry material flow might look something like this:
- Ore extraction and refining
- Smelting, casting, coiling and rolling
- Intermediate shaping and preparation for distribution
- Creating stock materials - metals distribution companies
- Milling, machining and fabricating
- Finished goods
The products leaving the third stage frequently need further refinement into standard shapes, sizes and forms. These are the feedstock material the milling, machining and fabricating companies turn into finished goods.
A Tight Labor Market Drives the Need for Near-Net Shapes
Compounding the impacts of evolving demands for specialty metals is a labor shortage at the milling, machining and fabricating stage. These companies are increasingly looking to their suppliers, the metal distribution companies, to provide near-net shapes. According to Wikipedia,
"Near net shape is an industrial manufacturing technique. The name implies that the initial production of the item is very close to the final (net) shape, reducing the need for surface finishing. Reducing traditional finishing such as machining or grinding eliminates more than two-thirds of the production costs in some industries."
Not only does the near-net shape process reduce in-house surface finishing, but it also reduces the need for personnel to perform the finishing steps. This labor-saving aspect is vitally important to companies that cannot find qualified workers.
Opportunities and challenges for metal distributors
Metals distribution companies have a unique opportunity in the near-net shape market. They also face the challenge of providing this new service with a growing variety of specialty metals. That's where water jet cutting comes into play.
Need For Agility - Cutting Specialty Materials
For a metals distribution company, the requests for specialty metals are constantly changing. Whether coiled, sheet, thin plate or thick plate, their customers are looking for those stock form factors in metals like stainless steel, aircraft-grade aluminum, Inconel, brass, titanium and more. Particularly challenging is meeting the demands of the aerospace industry.
Each metal responds differently to the cutting method these intermediaries use. Plasma and laser cutting can create heat-affected zones (HAZ) that change the material's properties and can create issues meeting size specifications. Mechanical cutting and sawing may reduce the HAZ issues. Still, they are limited to the type of metals they can handle. Finally, all these methods are restricted in the maximum thickness of cut.
Slow and Steady May Win the Race, But Set Up Agility Wins the Business
Customers of the metals distribution stage companies are ordering a larger variety of metals with widely different cutting requirements. While an inventory challenge, changing each metal's cutting tool setup is the more significant hurdle. The longer the set up time, the more it costs to fulfill the order. The HAZ and thickness issues by themselves can add time to set up and production.
Water jet cutting addresses all these needs and satisfies them with a single cutting technology. Since water jets can cut without creating a HAZ, the next metal type in the production queue requires fewer setup and programming adjustments. How does the technology accomplish this? The water jet controller contains the specifications and program cuts for each metal and customer, simplifying repeat cuts. Cutting tool adjustments involve nozzle and grit changes instead of changeouts of blades, saws, shearing and other cutting tools, a more laborious process.
Need for power - thick plate cutting
Any cutting tool used in metals distribution must have thick and heavy stock cutting capability. Plate cutting is an excellent example. Water jets can cut up to 5" thick plates depending on the metal. The source of this power is water pressure, up to 90,000 PSI. The final edge finish and metal determine which grit is appropriate.
There is another area of potential savings. Because of the power and precision of water jet cutting, it is possible to take raw stock material directly from the mills. You then size the stock to customer specifications, skipping a step in the supply chain. Skip a step, reduce your material costs and provide better pricing to your customer.
The water jet advantage
Water jets are exceptionally well suited for metals distribution companies' evolving needs and opportunities. Here's why:
- They can cut virtually any material, including the newest specialty alloys, especially those for aerospace needs.
- They are incredibly precise and capable of producing a finished edge, making them perfect for near-net and nesting orders.
- Lights-out cutting capability for 24-hour tool utilization.
- 3-Axis and 5-Axis options equip your company to meet the most demanding specifications.
- The ability to cut thick materials makes it ideal for fulfilling plate cutting orders up to 5".
- Simplified stock loading and positioning.
- Eliminates HAZ issues.
- Reduces scrap and stock waste through accuracy, cool cutting and operating efficiency.
Talk to Jet Edge
You may be considering a water jet system for your metals distribution business to take advantage of new opportunities. Or, you simply may have a need to improve your plate cutting capacity and output. Regardless of your business drivers, we'd like to talk to you today.
We have extensive experience applying water jet technology to metals distribution companies. Let us show you how we can meet your needs, reduce your costs and grow your business with a new, more efficient cutting technology, the water jet.
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