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Pipe maker automates coding system

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MAJOR steel pipe manufacturer Orrcon has replaced its old manual process for applying codes to pipes with a new automated system that is integrated into its own software system.

Orrcon, with manufacturing sites at Brisbane, Adelaide and Wollongong (NSW), specialises in precision, structural and oil and gas-line steel tubing. It makes steel pipes that range from 150mm square up to 457mm OD. “Big, 18-inch pipes, in the old language,” said reliability and maintenance engineer, Peter Robson.

Orrcon was looking to replace its manual process of applying codes to each and every pipe with a hand-made stencil — a long and arduous task. It also wanted a system that would integrate into its own software systems, was easy to use, reliable, versatile enough to be moved around the mill, and print a clear, legible, indelible code on a harsh steel surface.

“The technology needed to be strong in its overall design and construction because of the way the system mounting raises and lowers the print-head to allow for various pipe diameters,” Robson said.

After evaluating equipment from several suppliers, Orrcon chose the DOD 2002 inkjet printer from Matthews Intelligent Identification. It uses two printers, one prints traceability codes, while the second does final marking, pre-despatch, which may include length, weight, customer name, Orrcon’s name and other job-specific information.

As well as needing equipment that would work well in the harsh environment, Orrcon needed to use a white pigmented ink, with trials showing this gave the best contrast on steel pipe. Matthews also purpose-built and supplied an ink-management system, Flowjet, designed to manage the inherent challenges of pigmented ink. Flowjet ensures that opacity remains consistent and pigment doesn’t dry up in the print-head.

At the start of the manufacturing process, each pipe is coded with a unique number, which includes the current coil number. Every pipe is also identified with a sequential number. Robson says these codes are vital for both internal and external traceability.

Orrcon’s system generates each number. To code onto the appropriate pipe, Matthews wrote software to integrate the 2002 DOD’s control unit into Orrcon’s system. The two communicate via RS232.

The impact on the business in automating this process, removing human intervention, is untold, says Robson.

“It saves an enormous amount of time and energy, plus the operators don’t have to remember the count. So, along with reducing any OH&S implications, the system removes the potential for error,” Robson said.

Matthews Intelligent Identification 1800 333 074.

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