February 28, 2014
So much of metal fabricating activity today is focused on the elimination of waste, and one of the bigger steps a company can take is integrating its CAD/CAM software with its job shop management software.
It wasn’t too long ago that the shop floor drove the metal fabricating company. Workers started a job when it made sense to them—unless otherwise instructed—and the completed job shipped, sometimes unknown to the front office. The shop also followed a schedule that made sense from only its perspective, which typically resulted in large amounts of work-in-process sitting around and excess material being ordered for products being fabricated but not yet ordered.
Even in the shops with the best communication between management and production, waste was seemingly inevitable. That is no longer the case today.
Shop management systems allow for strict materials resource planning, inventory control, job costing, quoting, and scheduling. CAD/CAM and nesting software systems deliver detailed information on production requirements for a job and simulations to prove them out, resulting in more accurate job quotes, better material utilization, and more precise inventory counting.
True automation of information flow between the front office and the shop floor is still elusive. The problem is that these modern software tools often are not integrated. Information from a shop management system is not automatically generating nests and schedules without some sort of manual intervention, and the shop floor production results don’t necessarily flow back to the enterprise-level software used to run the company. A chasm exists between the two software systems.
More metal fabricators are seeing the light, however, of what can be accomplished when the shop management software is more closely integrated with CAD/CAM packages. The results speak for themselves.
A winning job quote can become a losing one if a shop is not making money on the job. Luckily, fully integrated software tools can help deliver a good outcome.
Once a job, such as a laser cutting operation, has been successfully completed, the information from the fabricating activity can be fed back into the job tracking and costing modules of the shop management software. An estimator processing a repeat of that same job or something similar can find out real process times instead of relying on averages that likely haven’t been updated in several months.
This is especially helpful in more intricate jobs, such as a laser-cut disk with plenty of grooves. It’s difficult for even experienced estimators to deliver an accurate job quote just with a guesstimate. The estimator has to take into account piercing and speed adjustments as the laser cutting head moves around the many curves. An archived reference would help to deliver a sound quote while speeding up the quoting process.
Automated information flow to formulate quotes also helps to process additional quotes. In today’s marketplace where quotes sometimes are awarded on a “first-in-to-win” basis, timely responses to request for quotes can be very important.
Plenty of shops have a work flow that calls for a programmer to create nests manually in the front office or that involves shop floor workers creating the nests at the machine. This gives the shop ultimate control of the nest, but loses out on the time efficiencies associated with automated nesting.
With integration of nesting and shop management software, a programmer no longer gets a folder with 50 different jobs on it and instructions to nest them and get them out the door as quickly as possible. Instead, the shop management software pushes jobs to the nesting software, and those nests are created automatically according to a project due date. Realistically, a shop that previously required a full day to nest parts for several hundred orders now can accomplish the same task in less than an hour.
The integration allows for more flexibility as well. For example, if a shop is organized according to manufacturing cells or value streams in which only certain types of products are fabricated, the shop management software can organize nests according to material type. Now the front office can schedule nests for a certain group of machines, rather than just schedule them according to delivery date.
Inventory is a tricky aspect of shop operations. A business doesn’t want too much raw material inventory because it doesn’t want to pay for something that isn’t going to be used right away and is just going to take up floor space. That cash can be applied to something more productive. However, the same business doesn’t want to be short of inventory that may be needed to cover a rush job.
Anyone involved in manual inventory counts knows the inaccuracies that can occur and the time needed to pull that together. Even getting a machine operator to log inventory information, such as what material was used and if any remnant was left, into the shop management software is rife with potential errors simply because it’s a manual task.
With integration, once a cutting job is done, the material information is fed back automatically to the front office. Management knows exactly what material is available and what has been used. It makes ordering more precise and keeps cash from being tied up in excess inventory that may otherwise simply languish in a rack for an extended period of time.
Perhaps the greatest benefit for having CAD/CAM and shop management software more closely aligned is the access to real-time production information. Management simply can call up a report or add a key performance metric to a dashboard to find out the status of any job in the shop, the performance of a certain machine tool, or any other item of interest. The front office isn’t dependent on getting that information directly from shop floor personnel or relying on those same individuals to input information into the system.
Visibility can be expanded depending on the relationship between CAD/CAM and shop management software packages. For instance, if the shop management system is allowed deep access to the cutting and nesting engine, anyone with a license to the enterprise software can gain greater access to shop floor activities. That license holder can see what a part looks like, where it resides on a nest, where it is in the production schedule, and how long it took or will take to process. This is all information that at one time was accessible only to the machine tool operator or possibly the part programmer.
Imagine a daily production meeting that now includes reports that not only show job status updates and shipping details for the day, but also pictures attached to the individual job orders listed on the report. This gives management a visual clue to the work going on in the shop, and it’s a complete picture, both literally and figuratively.
The automation of information flow between the shop floor and the front office is the next great step in eliminating waste and improving decision-making in metal fabrication operations. The only way that this can occur, however, is with efficient software integration. Without it, metal fabricators are not making the most of their engineering and production capabilities.
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. Print subscriptions are free to qualified persons in North America involved in metal forming and fabricating.