by Mary Scianna
Nesting software can generate big productivity gains, but how do you know if you have the right software for your shop?
Nesting software is often overlooked in the productivity equation. Fabricators focus on the machine, forgetting the nesting process and associated software can be a big contributor to productivity gains.
“Manual nesting can slow production down to a crawl. By automating the process, fabricators can achieve significant and sustained productivity gains and cost savings,” says James Lindsey, product manager for SigmaTEK Systems LLC, Cincinnati, OH. “Improved parts nesting impacts optimization-this alone can reduce waste by five per cent or more.”
Beyond the obvious cost savings from metal scrap reduction, users can also achieve better machine utilization, adds John Del Vecchio, vice president of sales and marketing for Shop Data Systems Inc., Garland, TX.
“A user may combine advanced toolpath techniques with nesting to achieve better material utilization and better machine utilization. In some cases, users can also achieve better consumable life.”
The biggest productivity gain Kyle Plass, applications engineer at Prima Power, Arlington Heights, IL, likes to highlight to customers is “your programmer will have additional time to focus on improving other processes for the factory,” because of reduced programming time required on the company’s software.
And for a shop that runs multiple cutting processes–plasma, laser, waterjet, oxyfuel–you have a single programming solution which allows you to “output NC job files to another machine easily when a breakdown occurs or maintenance is needed,” says Derek Weston, marketing product manager, Hypertherm CAM Solutions, Hanover, NH.
Choosing the right nesting software
Whether your nesting software is machine tool supplier specific or comes from a nesting software company, fabricators should consider several factors to determine the effectiveness of a nesting software product.
“It’s important to consider the machine itself,” advises Steffen Kutz, software manager for TRUMPF’s TruTops software. “If you have a machine with two laser heads, for example, the cutting heads will be at a certain distance from each other so to make efficient use of that machine you want to nest in a way that makes sense for the specific machine you are using.”
Another example he gives is for punching machines. “Consider the clamp area. Can the clamps be adjusted to accommodate nesting needs or do you have to take their fixed position into account?”
Software flexibility is an important factor, says Weston. You want a software program that “incorporates built-in process parameters for various machine technologies–plasma, laser, waterjet, oxyfuel–and machine brands.”
If your fabricating shop incorporates automation, you need to consider how the nesting software will operate in this environment, advise Steve Aleshin, applications manager and application engineer for laser nesting software, and Phil Patrick, application engineer for punch/shear nesting software for Salvagnini America Inc., Hamilton, OH. “Much of our machinery is tied in with automation and there are a lot of features in nesting that are used for automation, such as tip and hole avoidance and taking a skeleton to use for parts where the software creates additional files for this,” explains Aleshin.
Salvagnini’s nesting software, MetalNest, which is exclusive to its machines and created in Italy at the company’s main manufacturing facility, is a “fluid” software designed to minimize operator input by running multiple part programs from a production list (PL).
“When the nesting is finished, in addition to the nest programs, a production list is created,” explains Patrick. “This file has information for the order in which the nested programs are produced and the number of times each pattern needs to be run.” The nested programs and the PL file are sent to the machine where the operator selects and loads the PL for a specific order and the machine produces the nests. “As a result, the flow of work across the work centre is paced by the software, not the operator starting each individual program. The result is improved uptime.”
One advantage of nesting software from the machine tool supplier according to Prima Power’s Kyle Plass is that fabricators don’t have to purchase additional options, such as ERP connectivity and teach functions.
“Our software is designed for our products; functions built into the software are tailored to how the machine will process. Third party software doesn’t always have this luxury because such software would run into many different styles of machines. One general set with many different parameters is what you typically get from a third party.”
Nesting software providers, however, suggest otherwise.
“Most software that comes bundled with a machine is focused mainly on machine motion; it will run, but not the most efficiently,” says SigmaTEK’s James Lindsey. “Machine software is generally a ‘lit’ nesting package with basic capabilities. On the other hand, sophisticated nesting software has the ability to drive virtually any or all cutting, punch and bending machine regardless of type or brand. Fabricators should research and choose software that fits their short and longer-term needs.” SMT