Typically, a second machine tool is added to plants in an attempt to increase production and/or diversify. However, we are also seeing it as a phenomenon aimed at resolving the issue with small series. This occurs when there’s a machine with a large automated production capacity which is expensive to interrupt in order to manufacture small series. To cover this gap and avoid interrupting serial production, many factories use an additional, cheaper machine, without automation but with greater availability.
However, sheet metal cutting companies (oxycut, plasma, laser, waterjet) are reluctant to introduce new machinery for cutting or punching into their plants and, even more so, if this change implies bringing in a new brand. This reluctance is generally backed by arguments surrounding the maintenance of the software, the duplication of parts or the reprogramming of one part for another machine. Not to mention spare parts and staff training.
The truth is that there are advanced solutions aimed at overcoming these barriers and making the factory more efficient and productive. Let’s take a closer look at the challenges that often arise from the coexistence of different sheet metal cutting machines in the same plant and the software required to turn the use of secondary machine tools into an opportunity.
Four challenges associated with the coexistence of several machine tools
The brand is different, implying problems with maintenance and spare parts.
The CAD/CAM software for the new machine is not the same as the other machines.
Having machines with different technologies (punching machine, laser, oxycut, plasma, waterjet), poses the challenge of how to maintain production quality with technologies that provide different finishes.
For instance, we could find up to three different software programmes at the same plant if we already had a waterjet machine, a punching machine and, now, we want to introduce a laser cutting machine. What’s more, the biggest challenge arises when multiple machine tools are combined to programme the cutting of parts due to the workload of different machines.
Unique and global solution
In view of these challenges, at Lantek, we’ve been working to provide a solution and minimise their impact. To do this, we’ve integrated a solution for any sheet metal cutting and punching machine into one software programme. With Lantek Expert, the CAD/CAM nesting software for automating the CNC programming of sheet metal machines, changing, for example, a programme made for oxycut to one made for waterjet is possible with just a click.
There are many advantages to this software that integrates the coexistence of different machines:
They are managed by one single programme.
Savings in training.
Maintenance required for one single programme.
Using one parts database avoids duplication errors.
Quick change of parts from one machine to another.
Post-processors developed specifically for a non-generic machine and model.
The machine’s full potential is maximised.
Intermediate files are avoided.
With these advantages, for example, with a set of parts, one application calls upon the unfolding algorithms and saves the parts in its database. This way, when the operator carries out a modification in 3D, this change is reflected automatically in the 2D system and there is no need to update the parts.
These solutions are certainly not generic, such as the creation of a DXF file, and they have to be developed for a specific system.
But this solution is not an entity isolated from the rest of the factory but one that is global and integrated with other automated manufacturing management (Lantek MES Manager), resource planning (Lantek Integra - ERP) and advanced analysis (Lantek Analytics) solutions. This gives us a thorough overall view of the plant, optimally planning production and finding out the requirements of each department in real time.
Depending on the size of the company and its organisational structure, there have always been, broadly speaking, some departments that are airtight: administration, technical office and production. This separation may seem advantageous in terms of staff specialisation and abstraction from other external tasks, however, it has many disadvantages:
Errors in transcription.
Delays in the transmission of information.
Duplication of tasks.
Data inaccuracy due to duplications in the different departments.
Lack of knowledge of the real manufacturing status.
With standard systems, the information is dispersed and we can only find out the status of an order by carrying out several actions with different departments and/or programmes.
It’s therefore difficult for the sales department to quickly find out whether an order has already entered the manufacturing process, how many orders are before it, if it has been designed or if the numerical control file is ready. In addition to this, it is also complicated for production to find out whether an order can wait, if there are more orders pending acceptance, common thicknesses and materials, etc.; or for management to find out the workloads of each of the machines or what is planned. And, to make matters worse, the stock management department operates on the sidelines.
Working like this in the digital ecosystem is incompatible with the current requirements of record delivery times, customised orders, the urgency to inform a client of the manufacturing status of a product or preventing any possible delays. By working with one single software programme that is also integrated with others, information flows in a streamlined way and in real time, overcoming all departmental barriers and possible manual errors. All of this results in efficiency, productivity and profitability, all elements a factory needs to compete in the Industry 4.0 era.
We are quite often faced with a recurring question from our clients, companies that have made the complicated decision to buy a laser cutting machine but have no clear criterion or contrast data to help them find out which is the right machine for them.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of making decisions that are based on objective and accurate data. The reliability and quality of said data is fundamental and we must know exactly which data to use in order to justify decisions and add value. But we can’t just use any old data.