Tuesday, January 27, 2009

nesting software

As a manufacturer of trailers for agricultural, scrap, and general industrial applications, Maurer Manufacturing was in the midst of a very busy time in the company's history. In fact, the company replaced its older plasma cutting machine with a new one from Alltra Corp. in November 2006 in an effort to keep up with increased production orders. The table, which came with a 168- by 192-inch cutting table and a Hypertherm HPR260 power supply, was able to keep tolerances of at least 0.030 in. The new plasma cutter was a nice complement to the company's Cincinnati Incorporated CL-707 laser cutting machine, which had a dual-pallet setup, both 72 in. by 144 in. in size, and could reach speeds of up to 8,500 inches per minute.

The cutting tolerances that the new plasma table could achieve actually allowed some family of parts to be cut on either table. Unfortunately, the company's newfound flexibility in cutting plate—mostly 16-gauge up to 5⁄8 in. thick—was plagued by the reality of having to carry two nesting systems, the one that came with the Cincinnati laser cutting machine and the one for the Alltra plasma cutter.
Nesting Software
"The Cincinnati software that we had before was good because it was designed specifically for Cincinnati," said John Tatman, Maurer's production manager. "But we wanted one single software. We were changing over people at the same time, and it was just so much easier to have someone come in and learn one software. And our engineering department could learn one software, instead of having to learn two packages."

For a company that didn't have a lot of time to waste in keeping up with production needs over its two 10-hour-shift, six-day workweek, Maurer Manufacturing didn't see a lot of value in having people sit through additional software training if they didn't need to.

What You See …
All nesting is done offline at Maurer Manufacturing. Because the shop floor works off a weekly production schedule, nests are prepared the week before the jobs are scheduled to hit the shop floor. Tatman estimated that about 25 percent of the nests are standard for popular trailer offerings, while the other 75 percent are unique nests that rely on the software's dynamic nesting capabilities to position the parts efficiently.

So the ability to create master programs for standard nests was an important requirement for new nesting software, as well as the ability to work with more than one brand of metal cutting machine. Maurer managers thought they had both of those requirements covered after witnessing their first demonstration from an independent software vendor.

Three months later, however, they discovered that wasn't the case. What Tatman and his team witnessed in the demonstration couldn't be duplicated at the factory.

The software that was demonstrated did provide basic plasma cutting functionality, but did not provide advanced features, such as feed rate reduction to achieve small holes with reduced taper, autoheight control lockout, and control of the auto gas console. The software also experienced some difficulty producing NC code for the laser.

Meanwhile time once again was an issue. Maurer Manufacturing was watching the clock as its software license for the laser cutting machine was due to run out.

"Our Cincinnati license was going to run out, and we didn't want to have to re-up the license," Tatman said.

A call went out for some assistance, and Alltra Corp. recommended a nesting software vendor it routinely works with. As a result, Maurer Manufacturing got the immediate help it needed

This Is What You Get
MTC Software Inc. responded to the company's need for assistance. The software company installed its advanced nesting system, ProNest®, as part of a no-obligation-to-buy trial run.

"Companies will often call me wanting a demo," said Jason Michalski, MTC Software's northwest regional sales manager. "I typically ask them, 'Would you like me to give a demo, or would you prefer me to set you up with a fully working trial where you can nest and then make NC code and cut parts, because it's pretty much going to take me the same amount of time?'"

Within a few hours of implementation of ProNest, the trailer manufacturer was nesting for the plasma table and then plasma-cutting parts. Soon thereafter it was doing the same for the laser cutting machine.

Michalski said MTC Software's programmers also were able to enhance the software's postprocessor to allow for creation of master nesting programs. (Postprocessors translate nesting data into computerized numeric code that guides the metal cutting machine as it cuts parts according to the nesting layout.) More specifically, the Cincinnati laser cutting machine now was able to accept master programs containing unique nesting layouts for unlimited quantities of individual sheets, while simultaneously swapping out pallets in between jobs.

"We weren't doing that at that time. We had a bunch of Cincinnati laser customers using our software, but they had never asked us to do that. So we made a custom change to our postprocessor to be able to support that for them," Michalski said.

MTC Software offers unlimited online training for its maintenance program subscribers. Usually, Michalski said, it begins with an introductory session for new users, and additional sessions are scheduled as needed. After the initial online program setup and overview, Maurer Manufacturing didn't need any sessions

"Our people actually didn't use the online training," Tatman said. "They caught on fairly well so they didn't use it."

Maurer Manufacturing purchased one full-time license for its operator in charge of building nests and a floating network license, which allows any member of the engineering staff to have access to the software package at any one time on the network.

Now Tatman and his team need only concern themselves about training people on one software package for its two metal cutting machines. Additionally, one software package means keeping track of fees for version upgrades and maintenance for only one nesting program.

"It gets to be a real expensive endeavor, especially if you lose an employee, and you have to train the new person on, say, five different software programs," Michalski said.

A year since the implementation of the new software package, Tatman said things are running smoothly. The company even has seen a 5 percent increase in sheet utilization as a result of the new nesting software. That's just one more positive that came out of what was initially a very trying experience.

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Plasma Cutters said...

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