What Works: Fiber-optic cabling keeps steel fabrication flowing

In this edition of "What Works," fiber-optic cabling keeps steel fabrication flowing.

New Millennium, a wholly owned subsidiary of conglomerate Steel Dynamics Inc., Fort Wayne, Ind. (www.steeldynamics.com), manufactures steel joists, girders and decking for non-residential construction projects. In 2006, New Millennium purchased joist-maker John H. Hancock, Salem, Va. The company decided to renovate and expand the newly acquired operation to improve customer service and reduce costs, plus expand product and geographic coverage. Five manufacturing plants now share resources and coordinate efforts to be the most customer-oriented joist company serving North America.

“Our expansion program involved not only construction and renovation, but also system upgrades,” explains Ricky Gillenwater, IT director at the Salem facility. “We recognized early on that this would depend on advanced capabilities in data communications, which, in turn, would require the right communications infrastructure: fiber-optic cabling throughout the structures in our complex.”

To accomplish this, Gillenwater’s team contracted with Professional Network Services Inc. (PNS, www.pnsinc.net), a Roanoke, Va.-based full-service voice and data integration provider. PNS is a specialist in physical-layer copper and fiber-optic cabling, LANs and WANs, including wireless networking, PBX and other communications systems.

“As part of the renovation project, New Millennium wanted to upgrade its voice and data network,” explains Don Daniel, PNS area sales manager and executive project manager. “That included laying fiber-optic cable on their campus to connect five manufacturing buildings with the main office facility, where the IT resources were based.”

However, the expansion of manufacturing facilities absorbed the existing office building, so a new one had to be built on an adjacent property. In the meantime, office facilities had to be housed in temporary modular structures. That meant installing fiber-optic cabling between those buildings and the manufacturing plants.

 

Fiber-optic connections among buildings set the stage for high-speed information transfer to and from production machines
Fiber-optic connections among buildings set the stage for high-speed information transfer to and from production machines.

“That expedited the installation of our networks within the manufacturing sites,” Gillenwater says. “We were able to get our fiber backbones in and connect them with the copper connections to our Total Logistic Control (TLC)-based computers and other devices. That way we hit the ground running.”

Daniel saw no problem with the temporary fiber installation. His firm is a reseller of Optical Cable Corp. (OCC, www.occfiber.com), which manufactures a broad line of cables and accessories. By using OCC ruggedized fiber-optic cable, PNS could provide for both indoor and outdoor runs. Because of its superior ruggedness, the OCC cable could easily to handle installation stresses, as well as environmental and mechanical stresses over time.

The temporary fiber cable installation was easy to relocate to New Millennium’s Salem headquarters building after construction was completed. Now fiber cable runs from the main office to each plant and the satellite office. Each fiber-optic branch acts like a main distribution hub in each of the manufacturing facilities. In the main production facility, copper wires branch off the hub into separate areas where they are connected to workstations and PCs supporting TLC programs.

“Running the fiber out there has given us the ability to report our production in real time,” Gillenwater explains. “We also create bundle tags — bar code labels that are generated from the data that is pushed down to those machines from the main office. The network enables us to stay current with our inventory on-hand and just gives us a better handle, from the office, on what's going on in the plant.”

Gillenwater adds that production is now scheduled out in the plant, and everything flows in line from there. Actual production data are reported back to the office.

“We are also pushing data down to the machines,” he says. “We are in the process of sending information to the machines so that they can actually function off that data rather than having to key in the data.”

Gillenwater says that the new fiber-based approach to data communications is having a dramatic effect on business capabilities. He says that not only is production capacity improved, but so is turnaround. And that means a higher level of customer satisfaction — the essence of New Millennium’s competitive advantage.

“I needed a company to provide a complete turnkey solution for this project,” Gillenwater says. “I knew that I could trust PNS as a partner to accomplish our objective. The quality and professionalism that they demonstrated on this project are what I've come to expect from PNS. I now feel that I have some of the best technology in the valley. Our motto at New Millennium Building Systems is ‘Flexible to the Finish.’ It's nice to be on the receiving end of that motto.”

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