New life can be breathed into existing equipment with a nominal investment in CAM and nesting software
by Martin Bailey
In today's extremely hard business climate companies have to fight for the scraps of available business. Once the business is won they then have the task of manufacturing the product in the most cost-effective way available.
While laser offers many advantages over other cutting technologies, these benefits can only be realized if they are programmed efficiently. New life can be breathed into existing equipment with a nominal investment in CAM and nesting software, which can often pay for itself in months or even weeks. There are three key areas that any company can target when looking for additional efficiencies; reducing programming time through automation and integration to other data systems, reduced machine runtime through optimized sequencing, and improved material utilization.
One implementation example is Hearth & Home Technologies, based in Lakeville, Minnesota. They are the world's leading producer and installer of hearth products. The company uses a combination of ten laser machines and four punch presses across several brands; however their previous CAM system did not generate efficient nests, was slow to operate, and was unreliable.
Dustin Rassier, manufacturing engineer, explains, “We wanted a system that would integrate into our MRP and Pro-E CAD systems. Also, many of our parts are not rectangular, so we were looking to optimize material efficiency. We decided to look at alternative systems because of the problem. We evaluated six systems in total, finally selecting one that generated up to 10% more efficient nests with the benchmarks we set up than other systems, including our previous one. The system could also be configured to work well with our existing data systems, thereby eliminating waste of dual data entry.”
The new system was installed in 2008, along with a nesting interface, which provided databases for materials and orders that could be populated automatically by their existing MRP system. An interface from their Pro-E CAD system was also purchased. The licenses were installed on a server rather than on specific PCs, enabling users to concurrently log on from different locations to access the software, giving greater flexibility on the shop floor. The integration between MRP, CAD, and CAM is crucial as it drastically reduces human input, duplication of effort, and the possibility for errors.
Once the system was live there was an immediate reduction in programming time, as all orders were automatically transferred from the MRP system into the CAM system, ready for nesting. Furthermore, the Pro-E interface also allowed for finished CAD designs to be exported from CAD to CAM with a single mouse click. This saved approximately two hours a day, also reducing the possibility of errors.
Machine cycle time also noticeably improved due to features such as common line cutting and intelligent lead-ins (on the laser machines) along with optimized sequencing routines that find the quickest cutting/punching path and control head movement, all of which allowed for greater overall throughput.
Creating complex free-form nests can often take time, especially if there are no restrictions on the angles at which a part can be nested. Rassier notes that the new system took considerably less time to create nests that were up to 10% more efficient.
Since installation in early 2008 Hearth & Home Technologies have already seen a return on their investment. The company has plans to expand their range of machines, which will be driven by the same system. Rassier concludes, “The savings we made on material alone paid for the software within ten months, not including labor or machine runtime savings.”
Martin Bailey is the marketing manager for JETCAM International (Monaco; www.jetcam.com), and is also the author of several marketing and technical books. JETCAM International develops and distributes JETCAM Expert range of CADCAM software. The software supports virtually every CNC punching, laser, plasma, routing, water jet, and flatbed cutting machine available today, allowing users to program any combination of CNC machines with a single CAM system.