How to Shop for Nesting Software

Sheet Metal Software Shopping Tools & Techniques

Sheet Metal Software Shopping Tools & Techniques

Whether you’re in the market now or think buying sheet metal software may be a project in the future, it’s helpful to have tools and techniques to make the process easier, more efficient and a productive use of your time.

Assuming you’re not a professional buyer or in the corporate product acquisition department, you may not be used to identifying, evaluating, requisitioning, budgeting, and purchasing sheet metal software.  It can be a daunting task for the uninitiated or the already busy.

Indeed, most manufacturing engineers, programmers, or even manufacturing management doesn’t concern themselves with the software acquisition process on a day-to-day basis.  Their focus is all about producing parts and products.  And suffice to say, there isn’t a lot of overlap in the steps and processes involved in purchasing software and producing a product.  So there is often a fairly large, on-the-job learning curve to be had for anyone endeavoring to research and purchase sheet metal software.

The goal with today’s discussion is to outline a few guideposts that will help facilitate the process and identify any potential challenges – before they become a problem.

What is Sheet Metal Software?

First a quick definition to make sure we’re all on the same page.  Sheet metal software is CAM or nesting software for 2D part fabrication.  The software we’re discussing automatically creates part programs, nests them on a flat stock material – most often sheet metal – finally, creates a tool path optimized for the equipment (punch, laser, router, Waterjet, plasma) that cuts the material.

What Makes Buying Nesting Software Different?

Sheet metal software is a unique purchase – different than other manufacturing software packages, i.e. ERP, MRP, CAD – in that it can and will drive down overall manufacturing costs directly.  Its value is more than a simple utility that enables a cutting process.  The purchase can and is often justified based on a return on investment financially, and its capability technically to perform and optimize the required tasks.

How to Buy Nesting Software

Because buying sheet metal software is a “different kind of purchase,” with two trains of justification – technical and financial, we need to take the purchasing process down two different roads simultaneously.

Nesting Software | Technical Justification

Often engineers and/or programmers are the first to see the ground level need for sheet metal software.  They are looking for a tool that will save time, reduce errors, increase productivity, and all in all reduce their stress.  Or there is a need to bring a new piece of equipment online, and sheet metal software is called for to drive the equipment.

Automatic sheet metal software typically meets these needs through automation of the CAD input, order management, CNC nesting, and tool path creation and output.  All of these tools address the needs above.  Additionally, there may be an interest in employing sheet metal nesting strategies – batch nesting, JIT nesting, Kit management and kit nesting.  Again these strategies help create the basis for a technical justification.

Technical Justification | Shopping Tools Sheet Metal Software

As a project manager, you’ll want to gain some assurances as to what degree the sheet metal software you’re evaluating meets your needs.  Here are a couple tools.

Demonstration or Trial Disks

Interesting thing about demo/trial CDs or executables, they do an excellent job of showing how the interface works.  They give you a clear idea of what buttons to push, where to drag & drop, how to manipulate a nest, and what your day will be like interacting with the software – all day, every day.  What they don’t tell you is how effective the sheet metal software is at the things you’re most interested in – saving time, reducing errors, increasing productivity, etc.  A demo disk is like a simulator – it validates your personal experience, not your results.

Live Demonstrations

A live demonstration – typically done over the Internet or in person – offers the opportunity to see and understand how effective the sheet metal software will be with your unique challenges.  If your goal is batch nesting, you can see it operate in batch nesting mode, and clearly gauge the impact it will have on the programmer’s time.  If your goal is cutting the time it takes to bring parts from CAD to CAM, then you can see it operate in automatic mode – and clearly compare it to your present circumstances.

Benchmarks

Benchmarks – a “test run” of sheet metal software using your parts, quantities, materials, guidelines – are a perfect opportunity to try before you buy.  This is a tool, where you can get “proof of concept.”  That’s a fancy term for seeing if the sheet metal software will do what you want it to do. Will it accommodate your needs – your unique parts, orders, timelines?  You want to know, “Will it perform as I want and need it to perform with my parts, my machines, my due dates?”  A benchmark will do that.  Benchmarks are typically done for free, and repeatedly using in different manufacturing scenarios as needed.  For example, you may want to know if this sheet metal software can do common cutting, and how it will impact your duty cycle, material efficiency, programming time, or even if common cutting is an option.  A benchmark run with differing parameters can give you those comparative results.

Real World Experiences | Talking with Customers

Whether you are looking to meet the technical or financial justification needs in your research, there isn’t a better tool than talking with real customers of the prospective sheet metal software company.  They use the software, and they have no vested interest in whether you purchase or not.  They are the best, authentic, independent and qualified review you’ll get prior to purchase.  Ask the sheet metal software company if they have customers either in your industry (which may pose a conflict of interest – company secrets), or better yet, someone running the same machines you’re running or doing the operations, i.e. common cutting, they way you want.

Here’s an easy list of questions to have at hand when you pick up the phone or make that trip on site.

  1. What’s the support like?  (A demo and benchmark can’t answer that for you.  Only a customer can.)
  2. What was the training like?  How long did it take to learn it? (Again, only a customer knows this and can give you the answers objectively.)
  3. What’s your return on investment?  How long did it take to pay for the software in savings?
  4. What’s been the impact on the production floor?  Productivity? Throughput? Material Savings? Programming?
  5. What were the challenges they were trying to overcome?  How did it work out?
  6. How does this compare to their previous process/software?

And there you have it, the straight scoop on best practices for researching, evaluating, and purchasing sheet metal software.  This type of manufacturing tool is – and should be – an investment that pays dividends in time and materials regularly.  A wise choice can make all the difference in what the future looks like for the sheet metal department.  These tools are intended to enable a wise and clear choice.

Are you shopping now?  How’s the process going?  Do you have any tips or suggestions from your experiences?  Comment back, and share your ideas with the rest of the community.

For help and professional assistance in the purchasing process for sheet metal software, contact Optimation.

 

Notice: This work is licensed under a BY-NC-SA. Permalink: How to Shop for Nesting Software

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