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A Better Way to Remove Slag: Copper Plant Uses Brokk Remote-Controlled Demolition Machine to Improve Safety and Boost Production

High heat and heavy handheld tools constantly threatened injury at a North Carolina copper plant. Wieland Copper Products in Pine Hall, North Carolina, manufactures copper tubes for a variety of applications, including air conditioning units and plumbing. The plant melts the copper with furnaces as hot as 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Until recently, workers regularly used 90-pound handheld breakers to remove slag from inside the 15-ton furnaces. The process exposed them to high heat and the risk of back injury from the heavy pneumatic tools. In addition, laborers felt the strain from the tools’ strong vibrations.

Beyond safety issues, downtime was extensive. Crews needed to clean the furnaces three times a week during mold change-outs. The cleaning required shutting down a furnace before two laborers on the melt deck took turns using a jackhammer to remove slag from the furnace. A third crew member operated a crane to support the heavy breaker. Slag removal took eight to 10 of the 17 hours necessary to complete cleaning and the mold change-out. The cleaning portion resulted in as much as 30 hours of downtime a week. The inefficiency prompted casting manager Tom Kufel to search for a safer and more efficient method.

“We could produce 150 to 300 copper tubes in those 30 hours,” Kufel said. “The lengthy process cost us productivity and profits as well as presented a constant risk of injury to our crew.”

Plant management researched other options and discovered Brokk remote-controlled demolition machines. After learning about the increased productivity and safety benefits the equipment provides, they asked the company for a demonstration. Brokk brought a machine to Pine Hill and used it to clean a furnace. Kufel said it was clear they needed one after the demonstration of how much faster and more efficiently the equipment removes slag.

Wieland Copper Products purchased the compact Brokk 60 in December 2015. The unit resulted in more uptime, increased production and higher-quality products. The machine reduced the labor needed to complete cleaning by 66 percent. One worker now uses the machine to skim impurities off the copper and keep the furnaces clean at all times while they’re running. The operator stands at a safe distance while using the machine’s remote control to direct its three-part arm and attached breaker with precise control to remove the unwanted material. Laborers still need to shut down the furnaces to change molds three times a week, but without cleaning the process takes as little as six to seven hours — about a third of the time it previously took.

The improved efficiency allows the other two workers to complete different tasks, such as changing molds and starting the caster. The constant cleaning also helps extend the furnaces’ lifespans.

“We’re saving as much as $50,000 a month by not having to wait to clean every other day,” Kufel said. “We rely on the Brokk heavily. Our crew loves it because they’re able to use it to clean the furnaces from a safe distance, plus they’re able to do it faster.”

Kufel said Brokk technicians trained his crew extensively on how to operate and maintain the Brokk, though he said it hasn’t given them any downtime yet. He said the improved productivity, reduced exposure to heat for his workers, and lower risk of injury as a result of the machine make it essential to Wieland Copper Products.


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