There was a time – 10, 20 years ago – when only very large manufacturers like Caterpillar or Siemens could afford advanced nesting technology.
Conventional wisdom had it that because these manufacturers were large and had deep pockets only they could benefit from the advantages of automatic part programming and automatic nesting. Further, the thinking has been that the “big guys” could use this technology to support lean manufacturing, demand-pull, and other revolutionary, cost-cutting initiatives. Therefore, only they could benefit from tools that afforded less programming time, less material waste, better order cohesion, improved throughput and all of the gains gotten from advanced nesting.
Fast Forward to the 21st Century
Now, this isn’t the case. The best kept secret about advanced nesting software in the 21st Century is that it is not only viable for the small shops, but affordable. As with most technologies as innovation increases costs decline, and a product that may have seemed out of reach before is now very much accessible by all. We can point to a few changes in manufacturing, which have laid the foundation for the democratization of advanced nesting software.
CAD Programs Ubiquitous
Today, virtually every shop has its own design software. There is a pretty robust, full-featured CAD package in most manufacturing operations – regardless of the size of operation. As a result, several benefits to the manufacturer open up. 1) This common denominator among shops enables them to have digital part designs to export into a nesting program. 2) This development allows for standardization among part design conventions to make a nesting program function properly – importing many parts at one time, reading processes and manufacturing specifications (grain, rotation, etc.) automatically. 3) The use of a full-featured CAD program enables small manufacturers to separate the purchase of a CAD package from a nesting package and purchase the product that best suits their needs independently. 4) There is no need to buy a bundled CAD/CAM package simply to have the CAD utility or the CAM functionality. In fact, when using a CAD/CAM bundled package, the user inevitably runs into the problem of duplicate “golden” drawings. It’s very easy to inadvertently create two copies of a CAD file that differ in the course of a busy day. All that has to happen is the engineer outputs manufacture-ready artwork from his CAD package and sends it to engineering. Then the machine operator learns of a last minute change needed or finds the artwork can’t be cut as is. The operator makes the change on the floor in the CAD/CAM package and cuts the part. You now have two “golden” parts. Which one gets produced the next time?
Computing Power Ramping Up
Ten or more years ago, the thought of a small manufacturer having a computer powerful enough to run an advanced nesting program was unheard of. Only large, enterprise-sized companies could afford the Unix or Vax, room-filling computers that had the horsepower to drive a nesting program. We certainly don’t have to look far to see evidence of the world having changed – dramatically. When our Smart Phones have more computing power than the first astronauts had at their disposal, we know we’ve seen a revolution in technology in our lifetime. Today, an everyday, off-the-shelf PC – even without the latest capabilities in speed and computing power – can easily handle the nesting algorithms in advanced nesting software. And at today’s prices, most manufacturers have at least a few PCs in engineering and on the shop floor. Thus we have eliminated one more barrier to entry for nesting software for small shops.
CNC Machines Prevalent
It has been a generation (30 years) coming, but the conversion from NC to CNC among the fabrication equipment population is complete. Even the population of used equipment still in the marketplace, is driven by computer numeric controls. And where there is this almost universal demand for NC code to drive the equipment, there is a similar need to provide it through advanced part programming. Because manufacturers in small shops have to provide code, they have the golden opportunity to optimize that program through advanced nesting software. By taking one more step with scalable nesting software, the path to greater savings in material and programming is made clear.
Why Advanced Nesting Software?
Based on these arguments, it seems reasonable that there isn’t a technology-based, or budget-based reason to prevent a small manufacturing shop to consider advanced nesting software. The next, and seemingly obvious question, would be “why?” Is advanced nesting software applicable in a small shop environment?
There are several reasons to consider this option.
1. Tame the Chaos
We hear from manufacturers all the time that everyday is an “adventure.” The schedule is changing every 15 or 30 minutes. What was “hot” this morning is not as important as what is “hot” at noon. Priority customers, rework, keeping orders together, downstream priorities, and managing the every day flow of work creates a lot of chaos. Stress. Advanced nesting software can tame the chaos by managing the priorities and reworking the flow of parts and nests for the engineers when something happens to upset the schedule. Depending on the unique circumstances there are a number of advanced nesting tools that can be leveraged here including Batch and JIT Nesting to name just two. Imagine being able to respond to changes in production demand the very next machine cycle.
2. Control Order Priorities
Often deciding which parts are cut first can be a very subjective process. The machine operator may do the “easy” jobs first regardless of what’s needed first. The customer who screams the loudest may get his job pushed in front of others – that may have a very legitimate claim to first priority. Orders may be segregated by job, product, customer or order just to keep the machine off-loading manageable with no attention paid to priority or nesting efficiency. Then there are those shops that just to keep it simple they handle orders on the first-in-first-out basis. Though very democratic, it may not reflect the true priorities of the orders. Wouldn’t it be great of the nesting software could look at all of the orders and all of the priorities and due dates, and manage the creation and flow of nests accordingly? It can. Advanced nesting software can act as the order priority arbitrator and deliver the optimal result.
3. Reduce Programming Time
Unlike enterprise-sized manufacturers, small shops typically have finite manpower. More often than not, each person wears multiple hats. We’ve talked to CEOs that do the programming for example. The solution to stretching the manpower comes in a number of forms. It can mean long hours, and/or the use of nesting and programming short cuts. The programmer may create one nest for a set of parts, save it, and run it over and over. This saves time but sacrifices flexibility and possibly material efficiency. The programmer may program one part at a time and run it. This keeps the machine cutting, but at the cost of a lot of programming time and possibly material efficiency. These work-arounds work, but at what cost?
In those uniquely, resource-pressed small shop environments, advanced nesting and programming software can make a huge difference with tools that cut programming time by up to 90% and maintain or improve material efficiency and throughput.
4. Improve Material Efficiency
Small shops with no nesting software or a nesting-aiding interactive software probably have pretty good material efficiency. Why? Because a programmer if time is available can spend the time to drag and drop, twist and turn, move and shift each of the parts to create a nest. And with enough time, he is able to create a pretty efficient nest.
The challenge arises when there are more than a few parts to consider, and he has to look at keeping orders either separate or try to mix them intelligently. Then he needs to look at the sheet sizes and determine which would be best. Or should he use a remnant? But what about the “hot” order that showed up? Should he scrap the nests he just built to insert the new part, run it by itself, or add it to the next nest? None of which are great options. Even the most talented programmer would be stressed by all of the variables in place. Most solve the problem with work-arounds as mentioned above.
The alternative would be to put all of those variables – the parts, the due dates, the hot orders, the sheet size options, and more – into a “hopper” called advanced nesting software. Let it absorb the decision making “stress”, and the programmer can relax. Believe it or not, it, too, will do a pretty good job – maybe even better – at material efficiency.
What have we discovered here today? We’ve learned that the barriers to obtaining advanced nesting software that were common a decade ago, simply are not the case today. Indeed, the equipment market is pulling small shops in the direction of using optimizing programs to drive their computer-literate equipment. Further, we have recounted four specific ways that small shops specifically and uniquely can benefit from advanced nesting software.
If you are a small shop and would like to discuss your circumstances and see if there is a fit with your needs, give us a call. We’d be glad to chat.