Sheet metal and structural steel manufacture is a niche activity and requires specialist tools and software. In many instances, it can be very competitive, so any advantage that can be gained through increased productivity will enable companies to increase profit margins and offer customers a better quality product in a shorter lead time.
In Lantek South Korea, we have firsthand experience of the advantages advanced software solutions can bring. Two of our customers, Kunhwa Industry and TAEGWANG NANOTEC Co., Ltd are prime examples. Kunhwa processes 130,000 tons of steel each year making excavators, forklifts, cranes and other heavy equipment for customers in Korea and internationally. TAEGWANG NANOTEC Co., Ltd specialize in the manufacture of massive structures, manufacturing ship components such as customized invar plates for LNG ships, parts for construction equipment, and eco-friendly and innovative HVAC systems. Its commitment to its customers is demonstrated by its guiding principles '3C-Change, Challenge, Creation’ which it uses to ensure that it offers the best possible service. Equipment includes ASME U, U2, PP and S stamping machines enabling it to provide competitive costs and continued product and manufacturing methodology innovation.
The common factors between these two companies and other successful businesses is their commitment to quality, service, innovation and competitive costs, and the way in which everyone within the company from top management downwards shares these same objectives.
There are many companies which can offer CAD/CAM systems for sheet metal applications, but few have the ability to automate the process and even fewer have the capability to integrate with or can offer dedicated management systems. When managing large volumes of components, the CAD/CAM software needs to have the ability to integrate with third party manufacturing systems. Schedules are frequently very fluid, changing hourly so the ability to respond effectively to this dynamic situation will make manufacturing highly efficient. Typical complications include managing shortages, rejects and utilizing offcut material. On a practical level, especially when processing high value or large volumes of material companies can achieve very significant savings in material by working dynamically and producing nests of parts to suit the ever changing requirements. To achieve a satisfactory dynamic nest, the software needs to consider a range of factors including thickness, material type, grain and surface finish. For simplicity, some manufacturers stick to a static nest which has been prepared in advance. The disadvantage is that if the schedule changes, unnecessary parts will be cut, leading to wasted material and high levels of stock parts, which have to be stored until they are next required. In short, to achieve dynamic nesting the CAD/CAM software needs to be able to integrate with the company’s manufacturing schedule and nest both quickly and efficiently - systems with parallel processing algorithms will have a distinct advantage.
Once parts are produced, especially from a dynamic nest they need to be easily identifiable for subsequent assembly operations. Component marking needs to be part of the cutting process. That way, operators can quickly pick out the parts they need to assemble and match them with the manufacturing schedule. A similar process is needed for the management of offcuts. A good CAD/CAM system will store information about offcuts so that they can be selected and used for the manufacture of small batches, optimizing material utilization.
Ease of use is one of the most important factors for a large proportion of companies when choosing software. There are some sound reasons for this. Complex software will necessarily have a long learning curve, so not only will it require highly skilled engineers to operate it, but it is also likely to remain underused or even fall into disuse. Conversely, easy to use and automatic software is quick to learn, can be used by many more people, increasing its flexibility and, saves programming time enabling engineers to move onto other more productive tasks. For automated systems the advantages are even greater as the expert knowledge of the best engineers can be built into the system. The result is a consistently high standard of programming all achieved with one mouse click.
Good CAD/CAM software will make use of all the features on your cutting machine whether it is a punch press, laser, water jet, plasma or combination machine. The software should take account of the different techniques required in each application, including multiple torches, heat dissipation, repositioning, and corner smoothing, and should also include extra capabilities. Depending on the application, features like micro jointing and common line cutting can further add to efficiency levels. Micro jointing keeps parts within the sheet after cutting has finished. This makes it much easier to handle the finished sheet, allowing the operator to shake parts out while the next sheet is being cut. Common line cutting saves material, enabling more parts to fit into a sheet, and also reduces wasted movement on the cutting machine, shortening processing times.
As well as increasing efficiency during the cutting process, specialist sheet metal management software can have a big impact on many aspects of a business including transparency and accurate costing. Historic information about cutting times and material costs make it easy and quick to arrive at accurate costs for each job. For the company, it ensures that it is always offering its best price, which can result in more orders, and ensures that every job is going to be profitable. By going a stage further, companies can monitor production in real-time. The advantage is that loading on each resource can be monitored, delivery times and progress checked and any likely delays resolved before they become a serious problem. Furthermore, estimated costs can be compared with what actually happened so that processes can be modified to ensure that the same errors are not continually repeated. By choosing ERP and management software designed specifically for sheet metal applications manufacturing methods and details specific to the industry will have been built into the system, ensuring it matches your organization with the minimum of customization. A well matched management system encourages take up of the software by users, cutting administrative effort and greatly increasing the accuracy and timeliness of business data. Having this type of information available allows managers to make decisions based on facts, which will make a positive outcome far more likely
Finally, to enable companies to make the most of their investment, CAD/CAM and management systems need to be well supported by knowledgeable engineers and have a history of, and a clear plan for, software enhancements year on year. Engineering is a global industry, so software suppliers need to be global too.
More and more companies are considering how systems integrate and how looking at their businesses as a whole can make a big difference. For sheet metal companies the advantage is clear. Not only is it possible to improve productivity on the cutting machine and increase material utilization, but even greater economies can be made by having accurate and dynamic management information at your fingertips.
About Mr Song
Mr Song has been working in the sheet metal industry for over 20 years and has been involved in a government development project for the automated cutting of ship components. He has also been part of a team developing PC based CNC controllers and further projects involving ERP for Hyundai. He has been working with Lantek Systems since 1998 and is now Managing Director of Lantek Korea. For further information visit: www.lanteksms.com