In structural steel, a standard cope need not be as particular as it must be with exposed wood, as structural steel connections are seldom visible in the finished structure. Nonetheless, the basic principle is similar to the wood metaphor. Coping of a beam's end ensures that the beam can be fitted to a column (or another beam) by removing any part that could be an interference. The volume of material taken out and if it is removed from the top or bottom of a beam will depend on the criteria of the connection drawing. Coping in structural steel generally entails cutting both a portion of the flange and the web.
In structural steel fabrication, coping is performed manually utilizing a cutting torch. It's a fairly difficult, error-prone process, usually performed by fabricators having practical experience at both layout and doing the actual torch cutting. The torch operator begins by transferring the size and contour of the cope from part drawings, onto the beam. The shape of the cope is outlined in chalk. Next, the beam coper employs an oxy-fuel cutting torch to cut along the chalk line he drew.
Any mistakes in this manual procedure can be pretty expensive. If the error results in a cut that is out of specification, the beam may have to be scrapped. What's more, the labor is repeated again.
In recent years, several machinery companies began exploring how to automate the process of coping. Taking a cue from the previously successful automation of beam drilling, machinery builders developed a means whereby the beam is positioned precisely in a 'cutting box'. There a 'robotic' oxy-fuel torch head probes the beam in order to determine its position in space. Next, the torch positions itself at the first cut. The torch is 'ignited' and the automated cope cutting begins.
This smooth, precise 'CNC' movement of the torchhead recalls that characteristic of the more familiar industrial laser for cutting sheet steel. These more common examples of industrial automation are wonders of cutting steel in two dimensions. However, the coping machine must also move in the 'Z' axis so as to cut both the web and flange sections.
Just how does a coping robot know what path to cut? In the first few years of coping automation, someone had to program coordinates and cutting order into the beam coping machine's logic console. So the process wasn't fully automated and the opportunity for error still left the coping operation vulnerable to mistakes. More recently, sophisticated software programs have been developed for these machines that can dowload information from programs like Tekla or Strucad. The software translates the cope layout information into machine movement instructions, thus determining the entire cutting path without human input. The chance for errors goes down significantly with this development.
More recently, a significant advancement was achieved when high-definition plasma cutting was combined with advanced industrial robot technology. The result is an truly versatile fabrication system that can perform all structural steel manufacturing operations.
Now, this system functions as much more than a beam coper. It is also a bandsaw, a beam drill line, a burning center, an angle line and an embossing unit - all in one. The advantages this level of automation brings are so numerous other makers of fabricating systems, for example Voortman, have chosen to follow this same path in their new equipment development efforts.