Nesting software integration leads to improved performance
Advanced multitechnology cutting support and interoperability between software systems lead to design, operation improvements
Advancements in nesting software development have made a real impact in terms of increased material utilization and machine uptime, but for a fabricator to get the most out of the nesting software, it needs to be fully integrated with the design and shop management software systems.
The evolution of nesting software continues, transforming a product that originated as a tool for basic automatic nesting and converting CAD to numeric code (NC) into something much more significant to today’s fabricators.
Yes, modern nesting software still can optimize material usage and streamline programming time (see Figure 1), but its connectivity with third-party design and business software holds great potential.
These developments have allowed fabricators to produce more parts with better cut quality and with less experienced equipment operators in the same amount of time it would take experienced shop floor workers.
Design Software Integration
Nesting software acts as a conduit. It accepts design files, organizes them into a nest, and then converts that nest into NC files for cutting on the machine. For many years, 2-D CAD and industry-specific formats, such as DXF and DWG, have been the most common formats for design files. More recently, a growing number of businesses have implemented 3-D CAD programs, including SolidWorks® and Inventor®, to streamline the design process. The transition has demanded that nesting software work directly with 3-D file formats, automatically processing the 3-D model to unfold and flatten sheet metal parts and assemblies so that they’re ready for nesting.
This automation eliminates the manual step of converting 3-D to intermediate 2-D files, which traditionally is time-consuming and prone to mistakes. For instance, often when revisions are made to 3-D models, the subsequent update is not made to the 2-D file, and scrapped parts are the result.
When purchasing nesting software, it is a good idea to make sure that the product is able to import and process 2-D, 3-D, and industry-specific design file formats. The software vendor also should supply the latest design file libraries in routine software updates, allowing seamless file import from the very latest design software versions.
Business System Integration
As nesting software capabilities expanded over time, numerous enhancements have driven significant productivity gains. Traditional features such as common-line cutting and chain cutting continue to deliver results for fabricators, and future improvements in nesting performance certainly will come. However, integration of nesting software with the broader business systems, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing resource planning (MRP) software, currently pre-sents one of the biggest potential opportunities for helping to eliminate waste for those fabricators operating in a lean manufacturing environment.
Setting up the initial connection between nesting software and business software now can be accomplished relatively quickly, allowing seamless round-trip electronic data exchange between the systems. Gone are the days when lengthy consulting projects were required to get the independent software products to communicate with one another. With some data mapping information in hand, fabricators now can perform the integration work via a brief online meeting session. This not only simplifies the process, but also avoids vendor travel and ongoing project costs.
With work order information synchronized with the nesting software, part requirements are imported, grouped, and filtered (by location, work center, machine, material, and due date range) for nesting, without any manual intervention. Machine programmers don’t need to sort through job traveler paperwork, attempting to find the perfect combination of parts from different jobs to fill the next plate. The software handles it automatically.
Work orders can be linked directly to CAD files or to parts in the nesting software’s part library. Updated work orders can be scheduled, accommodating for changes in job quantities, with nest revisions made with ease. Part status is updated continuously in the nesting software interface, allowing programmers to readily view active, canceled, and closed jobs.
New levels of productivity are possible as well. This results from:
- Increased material utilization. Combining together parts from different orders enables better nests and minimizes scrap.
- Reduced programming time. Combining orders results in less time spent setting up individual jobs and produces longer continuous runs.
- Tighter turnaround times. Working directly with current MRP/ERP data reduces delays created by re-entry errors or missed opportunities for combining orders.
Additionally, synchronizing material inventory between the nesting and MRP/ERP software is valuable and easy to accomplish, even for fabrication facilities with multiple nesting software programmers pulling material from the same source. The nesting software can reserve sheet metal or plate and send input back to the material replenishment (order) process.
When purchasing nesting or MRP/ERP software, fabricators should be sure that each product delivers the best-in-class features required for the specific business scenario. Connecting optimal software products from different vendors can give buyers the flexibility needed to create the perfect solution.
Nesting software that caters to all of the fabricator’s equipment needs also may deliver productivity gains. Using a single nesting software product to program for multiple cutting processes (laser, plasma, waterjet, and oxyfuel) and machines is one example. In this approach, programmers have to become familiar with and use only one type of nesting software; as they gain more knowledge about the software, they can explore all of its functionality and work more efficiently. Additional benefits include reduced software upgrade costs and streamlined training efforts because only one software program is used.
Fabricating operations that rely on one nesting program also can expect increased flexibility. Because more than one employee is familiar with the same software, a single programmer’s absence does not need to be the reason for a production hold-up. Someone else is available.
In addition to worker productivity, fabricators are focused equally on how well machines are running and how effectively they are producing parts. After all, machines represent a significant investment, and using them efficiently is a key component in the success of a cutting operation.
This is where having the right software for the job is critical.
Some considerations are:
- Advanced multiprocess support. Many nesting software products work with different fabricating processes, but to ensure optimized performance, advanced machine setups on each piece of equipment are required. Part quality, productivity, and operating costs are linked directly to this. Therefore, using tested and proven machine setups is highly advisable. The fabricator also needs to ensure that the NC file is optimized for the machine setup in use; if not, a company owner or operations manager should speak with a trusted adviser to confirm that each setup is delivering the goods.
- Advanced applications support. Nesting software not only needs to accommodate multiple cutting processes, it needs to be flexible enough to address different applications within each of the processes. For example, fabricators historically have had to spend several minutes adjusting equipment to cut a new bevel angle when plasma cutting (see Figure 2), and equipment operators often have experienced difficulty maintaining consistent performance over time. Advancements in process technology and product stability have changed this, with tested and proven machine setups applied to the nesting software making a major contribution.
- Integrated system technology. Nesting software and machine hardware advancements, such as those found in controller, torch height control, and power source technology, have delivered incremental benefits when used independently, but when used together as a system, they can lead to major improvements in part quality, productivity, and operating costs. Benefits in plasma cutting include bolt-quality holes (see Figure 3) and cut-to-cut cycle time reduction. Other outcomes include automated job setup on the machine, more consistent part quality, and fewer errors.
Trusted as a core business tool and integrated at the heart of the manufacturing operation, nesting software is helping fabricators run their machines and businesses more effectively and profitably than ever before.
The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.