AlmaCam's automatic nesting software is continually updated for "faster and smarter cutting."Click image to enlargeby Mary Scianna

Looking for nesting software to meet today’s demands? Keep these pointers in mind

If you want to improve your fabricating efficiencies nesting software is a good place to start. And while it may be an obvious statement to make, it’s important to note that not all nesting software is created equally. Most nesting software packages today offer the basic fundamental functions a fabricator would need, such as true shape nesting, but given the move to smarter data-driven digital fabricating operations and the ability of machines to cut faster and create more intricate parts, manufacturers need nesting software to keep up with such technological changes.

We’ve asked nesting software suppliers to provide some insight into the key elements of good nesting software. Here are the top three elements every good nesting software program should include.

1. Flexibility
Flexibility in nesting software is important on several levels. The first and most obvious is the ability of your nesting system to work with different brands of machines and with different cutting processes.

Increasingly, nesting software is now integrating with downstream fabricating processes that bend and cut parts, says SigmaTEK's Jandre Terreblanche. Image show examples of SigmaNest's unfolding function.Click image to enlarge“Make sure your nesting software is open architecture,” says Bill Edwards, president of Shop Data Systems. “Some nesting software programs use their own formats but they don’t give a user enough flexibility to work with different machines and other software associated with these different machines.”

Flexibility is also important in terms of the functions a software package offers. Does the software have the ability to nest individual parts and assemblies of parts with multiple components and multiple geometries? Does the software have the ability to unfold 3D parts and create a flat pattern ready for nesting? These are some of the questions to consider according to Marc Bissell, senior applications engineer and new business development manager with Geometric Americas.

Some suppliers are even moving into the 3D world with nesting software. Indeed, SigmaTEK’s latest SigmaNest nesting software package, called X1, includes the ability to work in a 3D environment. It not only allows fabricators to view the part in a 3D environment, but to generate a toolpath and perform cutting simulation on a 3D object.

True shape nesting example from Geometric Americas. Click image to enlarge“Traditionally nesting software has operated in a 2D environment but in our newest version of nesting software, X1, we include the ability to work in a 3D environment,” explains Jandre Terreblanche, vice president of sales and marketing at SigmaTEK Systems. “Industry is becoming more advanced with fabricators doing parametric surfacing, working in very high speeds, doing beveling work and other intricate things. With five axis waterjet or plasma, for example, it’s impressive what intricate parts can be cut out. So we saw the need to have nesting software in a 3D environment.”

Also consider the number of algorithms that a nesting software can run through to optimize the nest, advises Martin Bailey, general manager for JetCam International.

“Many free form nesting modules will run their single nesting algorithm once, producing not so spectacular results, whereas others will run through various nesting algorithms and can be set to run for a desired period of time from a few seconds to say overnight, to deliver the best possible material yield.”

Edwards says Shop Data System employs approximately 11 different algorithms in its nesting software.

“Computers can do exhaustive nesting in which it takes every part and every rotation and every combination and finds the perfect nest, but it still can take days or at least hours to do this. What we’ve done is figured out shortcuts to get the best results in a shorter period of time, so we’ve optimized the nesting.”

Bailey and other suppliers, such as Edwards of Shop Data Systems and Bissell of Geometric Americas, say fabricators should also consider whether the algorithms incorporate manual or interactive nesting where the user drags and drops parts to create the nest or whether the software offers automated nesting that allows users to implement different nesting strategies such as just-in-time nesting, kit nesting or batch nesting.

Shop Data System's combined EdgeStart and ShapeNest, illustrated here, save material and processing time, says president Bill Edwards.Click image to enlargeUser Friendliness
The skilled trades gap in the industry presents a twofold problem for fabricators. There are fewer skilled workers to run increasingly advanced machines and fewer still that are entering the industry. As a result, suppliers are creating equipment with advanced software on the back end with easier to use front end controls such as graphical interfaces and “one-button” push automation.

In nesting software specifically, the goal is to optimize the nest, which can be a challenge for unskilled workers, especially when working with multiple parts and complex geometries.

“Our software is being improved continually to increase performance, simplify tasks and add new features that make it easier for fabricators to improve efficiencies,” says Eric St. James, a principle and part owner of AlmaCAM USA and president of Paramount Machinery, a Canadian distributor and exclusive reseller of the AlmaCAM nesting software, known as act/cut. “An example is commonline cutting in which two parts share an edge. One cut is made instead of two to save processing time and material. And this feature is fully automatic and effective in cutting and punching applications.”

Indeed, suppliers concur that automation is a key factor that should be part of today’s nesting software. For instance, Bailey recommends nesting software that allows for “dynamic automatic nesting that allows for unique nests to be created as and when required, providing a Just in Time approach whilst retaining high material efficiency.”

Bissell adds that your nesting software should have the ability to automatically identify the type of material and thickness of parts and assemblies, as well as “automatic selection of the correct material based on type and thickness.”

He identifies two other features with automation that should be considered: automatic part-in-part nesting and automatic nesting based on grain direction.

“The ability to nest smaller parts in the void of large parts,” is important to optimize nesting efficiency and “automatic nesting based on grain direction” is key as such a function nests parts at a specific angle “with regards to the grain direction of the material for increased strength.”

Integration, like flexibility, is important on several fronts. You need nesting software that can integrate easily with ERP and MRP systems, have the ability to read and integrate different CAD formats into your CAM system, and perhaps most importantly, you need software that can integrate and manage data in the cloud.

The key to good nesting software is its ability to optimize nests, says JetCam International's Martin Bailey. Seen here is an example of JetCam's multi-sheet nesting capability.Click image to enlarge“There is going to be much more use of the cloud in file exchanges,” says Edwards. “We’ve seen it on the support side already and we’re able now to get online all over the world with computers of customers. We’re seeing people take more advantage of this and as long as people are using an open operating system that allows easy access, it opens doors for exchanging data more quickly.”

Some nesting software is taking integration to the next level and integrating data from downstream fabricating processes, such as press brakes.

“There is an increasingly integrated relationship between profile cutting and press brakes,” says Terreblanche, adding that SigmaTEK’s new SigmaNest X1 software does just that.

“You bring a 3D designed part that has to be cut and bent into the nesting software and the software then creates a process plan on how to cut and bend the part. This gives fabricators a lot of versatility to run their fabricating operations as they don’t have to go through engineering to get correct specs; the software creates it based on the parameters from the data.”

While it is important to identify key functions in nesting software and the associated CAM system, suppliers also advise to not get too caught up in feature details.

“Concentrate on the end goal–accurate and efficient CNC programs to drive your machine with the minimum amount of effort required to generate it,” says Bailey. SMT

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