- Created: 2018-09-05
A metal fabrication company achieves great efficiency by embracing a new orbital wrapping technology
by Andy Brizek, vice president of sales and marketing, Tab Industries LLC
When Jim Huff, vice president of H&H Metals, first happened upon a new concept for packaging metal parts and products at Fabtech in 2012, he turned to his wife, Kathy Huff, who is also the company president, and said prophetically, “Someday, we’re going to need one of these.”
Founded in 1980 in a basement and with a bank account totaling $6.39, H&H Metals has since thrived, prospered and physically outgrown four different facilities over the years. The company eventually landed at its current headquarters, which is a 64,000-sq.-ft. facility in Thornton, Colo.
H&H Metals remains a family-owned and operated business and has a staff of 16 with several more positions to be filled. Over the years, it has become a $5 million per year business that offers custom sheet metal fabrication services and a diverse lineup of proprietary products, such as aluminum sunshades, spandrel building panels and the BrightShelf Light Shelf.
The company has received numerous awards for product innovation, worker safety, environmental stewardship and even one as the top metal fabrication company in America from a respected trade magazine. The company’s customers represent nearly every industry from countries all over the world.
“We make sure to work hard, tell the truth, pay our bills and do everything the right way,” says Huff of the company’s philosophy and mission.
When H&H Metals invested in its Tab Wrapper Tornado, difficult-to-wrap products were no longer a burden.
When Huff decided to produce massive quantities of J-J Hooks, which are the J-shaped metal components used to connect concrete highway safety barriers, he knew it had to be done the right way to be a profitable venture. As a high-volume, low-margin product, this meant running a highly efficient operation with as much automation as possible.
Huff invested approximately $250,000 in new equipment, including a robotic welder, press brakes, a laser cutter and a Tab Wrapper Tornado, from Tab Industries, LLC, fulfilling his prophecy about one day needing to own the machine he discovered at Fabtech in 2012.
“The manual way we were wrapping pallet loads for pickup and delivery wasn’t going to work for us anymore,” Huff says.
With a pallet load raised on the forks of a lift truck, two other workers would pass a roll of plastic film back and forth as they worked to wrap the material around the metal products and the pallet. This cumbersome process took 15 to 20 min. per pallet load and required pulling two trained sheet metal technicians away from production.
At approximately 20 pallet loads per day, packaging was intruding on efficient production. More concerning was the labor-intensive, three-person method, which never really achieved a tight wrap around the pallet, Huff says, even though workers frequently used excess film to help keep the parts and products from shifting in transit.
“With the Tab Wrapper, we get a tight wrap every time in less than a minute with only one person,” Huff says. “It has literally changed our lives.”
One of the main benefits of the Tab Wrapper Tornado is its ability to secure a load to a pallet regardless of the size or shape of the load.
The patent-pending Tab Wrapper Tornado sports a novel concept in orbital wrapping technology. The machine automatically wraps plastic stretch film 360 degrees around and under an entire pallet load to create a single, unitized, secure load ready for transport or storage.
Since featuring its semi-automatic, standard models at Fabtech in 2012, the company has introduced a series of optional accessories to speed up operations, such as wireless remote control and automated cut and wrap systems. New sensor-driven and fully automated models also are available. Huff purchased the 80-in. standard model with the wireless remote and automated cut and wrap system.
Operating the system is easy; the forklift driver raises the pallet load, centers it in the Tab Wrapper’s wrapping ring and presses start on the remote control. The machine automatically wraps multiple layers of plastic film around the pallet load and stops when the wrapping is complete.
Seconds later, the driver leaves with a tightly wrapped pallet load ready for loading onto a truck or setting on a rack in storage. Two of H&H Metals’ four lift trucks are fitted with the remote controls.
“The drivers just love it,” Huff says. “They don’t have to get in and out of the cab and it’s better for them ergonomically. We’re using it to wrap just about everything that goes out the door.”
This includes light-gauge aluminum and stainless steel flashing for windows in lengths up to 12 ft. on a 12-ft. pallet as well as an array of other products on standard 40-in. and 48-in. pallets. Theoretically, the orbital wrapper can wrap products of infinite lengths because the wrapping ring remains stationary while the product is fed through the wrapper.
The Tab Wrapper also handles oddly shaped products, like the J-J Hooks, with ease – despite their refusal to stack neatly and their tendency to slide off the pallet. In fact, once the hooks are wrapped with the machine, the pallet loads, each weighing 4,000 lbs., are stacked on top of each other to maximize space in storage and in transport.
“The pallet loads are that stable coming out of the Tab Wrapper,” Huff says.
In addition, the machine enables H&H Metals to automatically include a label inside the plastic wrapping to prevent mislabeling or errors in processing.
“I wanted it to be easy to see the product inside to ensure we ship everything correctly and to make it easy for our customers in receiving and storage,” Huff explains. “It also looks very professional, and a number of our customers have commented on how much they like the wrapping.”
For customers who pick up their orders by box truck or pickup truck, H&H Metals wraps them as a value-added bonus rather than simply tying them down as in the past.
“It’s so easy to wrap now that we just do it,” Huff says.
Huff hasn’t formally calculated total savings since installing the Tab Wrapper, but by cutting the wrapping process from 20 min. per pallet load to less than 1 min. and by managing the packaging process with one person instead of three, the two other workers have been able to focus full time on production activities. This allows the entire operation to move with far more speed and efficiency.
Using the Tab Wrapper, pallet loads do not shift in transit, freight damage does not occur, and worker safety and morale are high. Huff even recommended the machine to his powder coating vendor, who has experienced comparable results.
“The Tab Wrapper is a quality machine that has streamlined how we handle packaging and material handling,” Huff says. “I’d recommend it for every fab shop, especially the wireless remote. If you want to operate the right way, this is how.”