Many nesting software suppliers offer custom development with a manufacturer's ERP system, says Eric St. James, whose company, Paramount Machinery, represents AlmaCam software. GE: Paramount Machinery/AlmaCamClick image to enlargeby Noelle Stapinsky

 How nesting software is keeping pace with industry needs 

Manufacturers have had their sights set on automation for sometime now, but in the past few years the concept of Industry 4.0 or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have become the new reality for improving efficiencies and controlling process flow.

For metal fabricators, who are too often squeezed with tight due dates, streamlining the entire process–from front-office to shop floor production–having a detailed view and control of production are all essential to remaining competitive. 

Of course, software plays a vital role in programming automated processes. And like any software or operating system, CAD/CAM packages with nesting programs are constantly evolving with updates, tweaks, patches and new versions–all driven by customer needs and feedback–which consequently boosts not only production, labour efficiencies and material utilization, but also reduces cost. 

But what is top of mind for many fabricators is to have a fully integrated system that connects programming software to their ERP/MRP systems, and it needs to be flexible and user-friendly.

Amada's AP100US CAD/CAM package. Seen here is an example of dynamic nesting. John Parenzan, Amada's software group product manager, says the biggest request Amada gets from customers is CAD/CAM software intergration with ERP/MRP systems. Click image to enlarge“The biggest request we see is for ERP/MRP integration,” says John Parenzan, Amada’s software group product manager. “And a software that’s flexible as far as editing.”

Software providers and OEMs are answering this call. While there is OEM nesting software that is strictly designed for certain machines, there are more universal, flexible options on the market. Besides, fabricators with ERP/MRP systems often have an assortment of technologies on the shop floor. 

ERP systems plan all of the production for the day, week, etc. “but at some point, all of that information needs to be converted and translated to a machine program on the production floor,” explains Eric St. James, managing director, Paramount Machinery Inc. “What many vendors are doing now is offering custom development with a client’s ERP system.”

From an ERP, Paramount’s AlmaCam software can take an Excel spreadsheet containing part specification, including part type, quantity, and material thickness and type. “The CAM software imports the ERP production data in the form of a spreadsheet file and generates the machine code as required. Nesting programs are automatically separated by machine and material type,” says St. James. “So you’re going straight from the ERP to production, and you’ve taken a lot of the fact checking and areas that are prone to error, and eliminating all of that in one fell swoop with a fully automated process. There’s no longer human intervention between what the ERP produces and what actually ends up at the machine.”

Timing is everything
Using the information supplied by the ERP/MRP system, nesting software can organize what programs are fed to the shop floor based on part numbers, quantities, material type, thickness variations and due dates. Bystronic’s Bysoft 7 Plant Manager allows users to organize laser cutting and bending programs and define which programs and materials are sent to certain machines. “It enables companies to make use of different programs and orders coming in that might be from the same material type for a better utilization of the [bending or cutting] cell,” says Frank Arteaga, head of product marketing, Bystronic

Bystronic's BySoft 7 Plant Manager shows jobs automatically released to machines after nesting.Click image to enlargeThe recently developed Bystronic MES solution works similarly and features Bysoft 7 as an embedded engine, but takes the visibility and control of shop floor processes a bit further, according to Arteaga. “Due dates are really the big thing with the MES. For example, a part may have an effective due date and delivery date, but there are other estimated due dates in between as it’s processed. You can start to monitor jobs as they’re processed from one machine to the next and monitor how each machine affects the projected completion date in real-time. This allows adjustments to be made in real-time to ensure on-time deliveries.”

This sort of visibility also helps fabricators proactively reroute jobs if a sudden breakdown occurs or a machine requires maintenance. 

Arteaga notes that files don’t necessarily need to come from a high level ERP, Bystronic’s Plant Manager can process files from an Excel file, shop management software, etc; provided that the file is in the required XML format. And the Bysoft 7 software has the ability to post processes for competitive equipment or legacy machines. “With this, we have the flexibility to not only program our equipment in the process chain, but you can also program other machines that are not Bystronic.”

Even workstations such as welding or painting can be linked into the system through an application that feeds those stations with information on what needs to be processed, in what order and any special instructions. There’s also a timer function to monitor how long the process took. 

Amada’s AP100US CAD/CAM package, which has been around for many years, also works with competitor’s machines. “It’s not uncommon to have software for specific machines, but most customers do strive to just have one application,” says Parenzan. “And Amada is working on integration with ERP systems.”

The AP100US software is geometry based and creates G-code for lasers, turrets and combination machines. 

Nesting efficiency
“As laser [cutting systems] became more prevalent and customers started doing more dynamic nesting, they were using nesting modules. We had IntelliNest,” says Parenzan. “But five or six years ago we started including the SheetWizard & Job Wizard nesting modules in the AP100US.” 

The SheetWizard/Job Wizard module allows fabricators to do dynamic nesting and mix and match different material types and thicknesses. “For example, we can load five parts that are aluminum 125, five parts that are 14 gauge stainless steel and five that are 16 gauge cold rolled steel,” says Parenzan. “You put those parts into the Job Wizard and using nesting algorithms, it creates nests for those various thicknesses and types.”

The Job Wizard also contains settings for a common line cut function, a nesting algorithm that significantly boosts efficiency by reducing waste and cycle time.

Next to ERP integration, St. James says that common line cutting is a big focus for fabricators. “When you have multiple parts per sheet, rather than cutting parts individually, you arrange them so that they share a common edge. By doing that, you can cut the length of a cut by half because you’re effectively cutting two parts with one pass of the laser.”

Whether it’s dynamic or static nesting applications, the software on the market today is robust and in a constant state of development to suit the ever-changing demands of the fabrication industry. And with more automation being built into shop floor machines, having the right software has never been more imperative. 

When it comes to choosing the right software, St. James advises fabricators to truly evaluate the options available and base the decision on what’s going to improve productivity. “You can have a great machine, but if it’s programmed poorly, it’s like any other computer application–garbage in, garbage out,” he says. 

“I see this all the time. [Manufacturers] have $3 million worth of machinery on the floor, but won’t spend $15K to $20K for software that will rationalize their operation and improve productivity while reducing material waste.”

“Software is driving everything and manufacturers are very rapidly realizing that,” says St. James. “As far as nesting software is concerned, it’s the kernel, if you will, of a productive facility. It will drive your efficiency and productivity by maximizing material utilization and leveraging your machine to its fullest capability. That’s what a good software should do and that’s what people should be focusing on.”

It is true that the focus has shifted from making parts faster and cheaper on the production side, to an overall integrated system that includes improving the front-office workflow. It is this goal that is edging manufacturers even closer to the concept of Industry 4.0 and the IIoT. 

“At Amada, we sell a lot of automation with almost all of our equipment,” says Parenzan. “I think the industry is going more towards automation because of the fact that it’s becoming harder to find the skilled people to do the job.”

He continues, “if we can get more skilled people using the software and working in a virtual environment, we will also be able to identify issues and errors before they get to the shop floor. One thing about automation is that it never takes a break.” SMT

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