The CNC Beam Drill Line has been the symbol of automation in structural steel fabrication for years. The idea of steel beam drilling being done "human hands-off" by machines seemed so futuristic years ago when the beam drill line was first introduced!

Today, most structural fabrication shopshave a beam drill line . . . or several. They're familiar, reliable, easily operated and . . . a relic.  Why? Spending countless man hours moving tons of beams to a workstation just to have holes drilled doesn't make good use of labor, floorspace or working capital (the beams). The modern structural steel fab shop needs high throughput, quick turns on material and minimal labor content. Robotic plasma cutting is replacing the beam drill line because it performs all the needed operations - coping, notching, bevel cuts, cut-to-length and, of course, bolt hole drilling, all at the same station and all in one pass.

             structural steel beam bolt hole drilling by plasma cutting

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Tekla, StruCAD and SDS/2 Drive Fabrication Machinery

Detailing software used by structural engineers has come a long way. Stress analysis, BIM and connection details are much easier now. So is setting up structural steel fab machines using files from these programs.

Beam Coping Productivity
Coping steel I beams by hand is time-consuming, tricky and can even be dangerous. Is there another way? Fully automated robotic beam coping is here. It's fast, accurate and helps your fabrication shop 'get lean.'

Rethinking Structural Steel Fabricating Equipment

Look around a 'modern' steel fabrication shop: many unique machines for doing basically the same thing - cutting and drilling. That logic is be re-examined in light of 'torch cutting' technology of oxy-fuel, plasma and laser.

Structural Steel Beams
are the backbone of modern heavy load bearing structures. But they're not the only shape to be fabricated. Focusing the fab shop workflow on processing
beams might hurt productivity.

Structural Steel Fabrication
by Plasma Cutting

Sheet and plate steel fabricators have been using plasma cutting for years. Yes, but only in 2D.
'3D' use of plasma technology is now taking hold in structural fab.

robotic CNC beam drill line for structural steel fabrication  

Structural Steel Beam Drilling by Advanced Robotic Plasma Cutting Technology

Advanced plasma cutting technology, married to industrial robotics and sophisticated software, has reinvented structural steel beam drilling.

The PythonX 7-axis plasma cutting structural steel fabrication system makes AISC-approved bolt holes in steel I beams, H beams, channel, angle, HSS and plate with the precision you'd expect from the most advanced 3-spindle CNC beam drill line. But it does much more than that.  PythonX also drills slots, cuts notches and copes, makes weld-prep bevel cuts, miter cuts, cuts to length and even makes piece marks and layout marks. It's not just an improvement on the beam drill line; it's an entire structural steel fab shop in a single machine.

It's also the ultimate in simplicity. PythonX's proprietary software accepts .dstv files from Tekla, StruCAD, SDS/2 and several other steel detailing programs to automatically create the cutting path sequence – no operator programming needed. Once the workpiece is loaded on the infeed conveyor, PythonX takes over by conveying the beam into position, probing to establish exact dimensions and location, and then using high-definition Hypertherm plasma technology to cut and drill all required features. There's no layout work, no flipping the I beam or transferring it to the next machine. When it's done at PythonX, it goes to fitup/welding, painting or the delivery truck.

PythonX Does The
Work of These Machines
  • Beam Drill Line
  • Plate/Bar Line
  • Angle Line
  • Bandsaw
  • Marking Machine
  • Small Burning Table
  • Handheld Coping Torch

This Breakthrough Steel Fabrication System Does Far More Than Any Beam Drill Line

With its ability to perform virtually all the cutting and drilling operations you'll ever see on a detail drawing, PythonX brings 'lean manufacturing' principles to structural steel fabrication. All required cuts – copes, cut-offs, miters, slots, notches, weld-prep bevel cuts, piece marks and layout marks, and of course, AISC-approved bolt holes – are all made in one pass on one machine. This saves enormous amounts of floorspace compared to traditional fab shops that require 5 different machines to do all these tasks.

It also saves enormous amounts of time.  A steel I-beam needing 40 distinct features was estimated to need 82 minutes to process on a CNC drill line with bandsaw and a handheld coping torch. The same beam needed just 10 minutes of processing time on PythonX (watch the video). What's more, the 82 minutes for the "traditional" fabrication equipment doesn't even include the time it takes to move the beam between machines or any time spent "in queue" at  those different machines.  Such material transfer and waiting racks up significant "non-value added" time, not to mention labor costs. PythonX completely does away with such non-value added activities to make your shop "lean."

steel I-beam drilling with PythonX

Structural Steel Beam Drilling And The Importance Of Intelligent Material Flow

The profitability of a structural steel fabrication shop depends a lot on flow of material and inventory turns. How do traditional driven-spindle beam drill lines affect these? A traditional beam drill line drills holes fast, to be sure. Add CNC automation and it's even faster because much of the operator time (and potential error) is gone from the equation. So with traditional technology, a lot of holes can be made in a lot of beams pretty quickly.

But most of those beams require other operations to be performed. Cut offs, copes, piece marks are all done at different machines and stations, not the drill line. I beams that have their bolt holes drilled (or need to) are often queued up at these other stations. Transferring material among these other stations and the beam drill line impedes smooth material flow. The queue time hurts overall inventory turns, while the drill line, having already met its demand, probably sits idle.

PythonX is completely different. By performing all needed cuts and drilling at one station, material transfer is practically eliminated. With no need for the operator to read drawings, measure and draw cutting paths on the beam or program the cuts, wait time is eliminated. And the PythonX plasma cutting is very fast. With PythonX, beams are completely processed in a fraction of the time it takes with traditional equipment, therefore, there's no material queue time at other machines/stations.

With the PythonX plasma cutting system, structural steel fabrication material flow is as smooth and fast as it can get and inventory turns are maximized. It's truly intelligent fabrication.

To see PythonX in action, contact us for a free DVD or, better yet, schedule a visit to our demonstration center.

Burlington Automation Corporation –  63 Innovation Drive –  Hamilton, Ontario L9H 7L8 –  Canada
905-689-7771 –  905-689-7773 (fax) –