May 10, 2016 / best practices, Cost Management, cost per cut, KPIs, lean manufacturing, operations metrics, optimization, predictive management, productivity, ROI, workflow process
As fabricators continue to seek new ways to optimize their operations, many are turning to software. Whether using it to connect the plant floor to the front office, or to measure key performance indicators (KPIs), data shows that more and more fabricators view software as a smart—and necessary—manufacturing tool.
For example, according the “2016 Capital Spending Forecast” from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International, more than 94 percent of survey respondents said their software spending this year would either remain the same or increase. This is significant, especially as more and more reports show that many companies are pulling back on spending this year.
A separate benchmarking survey from Modern Machine Shop shows that leading shops are more likely to utilize advanced software programs in their operations. Specifically, the survey found that top-performing machine shops (referred to as “top shops”) are more apt to utilize software solutions like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and toolpath simulation software in comparison to other shops.
While there are many reasons software is becoming a valuable tool for manufacturers, for fabricators, a lot of it has to do with evolving customer demands. “As more custom fabricators are taking on more design work—beyond just design for manufacturability—engineering and estimating functions become more complex, especially as that work focuses on more subassemblies and full assemblies that call for multilevel bills of material and a multitude of sourced parts,” states a report from thefabricator.com. This, the article continues, is causing shops to invest in better methods of communication, as well as software tools like CAD/CAM, nesting systems, and ERP.
The good news is that as more manufacturers embrace software, the more tools are being developed—both by software designers and supply chain partners. Like consumers, industrial manufacturers are finding that where there is a need or challenge, there is indeed “an app for that.”
In metal cutting, specifically, there are several tools fabricators can use to help optimize their operations—many of which are free of charge. Below are two in particular that fabricators may find helpful:
- Bandsawing. SawCalc, a web-based software program from LENOX, is a free online tool that helps plant managers and operators solve band-sawing challenges encountered in the field by providing cutting recommendations for maximum blade performance. Users have free access to the program, which determines the proper cutting parameters based on material composition, size and shape, as well as the machine model. The program’s library of materials is regularly updated, providing accurate cutting recommendations for 54 country standards, and more than 35,000 materials and 9,000 band saw machines. Because the program is web-based, managers and operators can access the service right from the shop floor. Aerodye Alloys, a service center featured here in a case study, says that using the online tool has helped increase efficiency at one of its facilities by about 15 to 20 percent.
- Circular Sawing. For fabricators using circular saws, Tsune America has developed Sawculator, a free web-based software tool to assist fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting companies with pre-planning their sawing requirements. The downloadable program allows users to perform automatic US and Metric Dimensional Conversions on the fly, makes automatic suggestions for proper blade selection and chip load, provides more than twenty cutting job outlines, and calculates everything from estimated blade life and bar utilization to trim cut and net cutting time. Users can report prospective cutting jobs to their computer screen, as well as send it to concerned participants on the job via a local printer, email or Smart phone outputs. You can view a video of how the program works here.
Enhance Your Toolbox
Having the right tool for the job has always been a critical part of any metal-cutting operation, but fabricators are finding that it pays to have more than just hardware in their strategic toolbox. While it will never replace the important work machinery and other hardware tools perform on the shop floor, software tools can further optimize cutting operations by measuring important metrics, analyzing job trends, automating certain functions, and educating operators on proper cutting parameters. Although some software programs can be costly in terms of both money and training time, there are plenty of free tools available that can help even the smallest fabrication shop improve their operations.
What software tools are helping your shop optimize operations?