Rob Powell, sales director at the manufacturing software company Lantek UK
, says there are many reasons why companies operate different makes of cutting and punching machines and have a combination of technologies such as laser, plasma and water-jet.
“These choices provide a lot of flexibility for manufacturers enabling them to have the best mix of technologies and capabilities to suit their customers’ demands, meet production, delivery and cost targets as well as keeping capital expenditure within budget.
“The complications are that CNC programming is different for each machine, operating methods, maintenance and spare parts are all specific to each of the machines and users will require extra training to get the best efficiencies.
“For many years, Lantek has been providing solutions to companies that use multiple machine vendors, overcoming the need for multiple programming systems, minimising the need for extra training, making it possible to easily switch between machines and cutting technologies.
“Now we have even more advanced solutions that not only overcome these difficulties but also deliver more efficiency and productivity by integrating the cutting processes with management and monitoring systems throughout the company, thereby making investment in different brands of machine tools and technology a success.” Four main challenges
Mr Powell says there are four main 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 for the other machines.; having machines with different technologies (such as punching, laser, ‘oxycut’, plasma and water-jet), poses the challenge of how to maintain production quality with technologies that provide different finishes; and staff training.
“We sometimes find up to three different software programming systems in the same plant where there are already water-jet and punching machines and the company wants to introduce a laser cutting machine. The problems become even more complicated when multiple machines are used in parallel to cut parts, duplicating programming effort and increasing the chance of error.
“At Lantek, we have been working to provide a solution to these challenges and to minimise their impact. To do this, we have integrated a solution for any sheet metal cutting and punching machine into one software programming system, Lantek Expert, — an automated CAD/CAM nesting and CNC programming software for sheet metal machinery. For example, changing a programme made for oxycut to one made for water-jet is possible with just a ‘click’.”
Mr Powell says there are many advantages to this software, which allows the coexistence and efficient running of different machines in a factory. For example: they are managed by one
single programme; there are savings in training; maintenance is required for only one single
programme; and using one parts database avoids duplication errors.
Furthermore, there can be a quick change of parts from one machine to another, post-processors can be developed specifically for each individual machine and model to maximise a machine’s full potential, and intermediate files between systems are avoided.
For a set of parts designed in 3-D, for example, one of Lantek’s applications calls the unfolding algorithm and saves the flat parts to its database ready for nesting and programming. When a modification is made to the 3-D model, the change is automatically reflected through to the 2-D system, making it unnecessary to update parts manually. These solutions are certainly not generic, like a DXF file is, and they have been developed for specific systems.”
Mr Powell goes on to say that simplifying and integrating the running of different machines and cutting technologies in one manufacturing facility is just part of the complex challenge faced when trying to achieve efficient and cost-effective manufacture. Lantek Expert is integrated with other Lantek software solutions: automated manufacturing management (Lantek MES Manager); resource planning (Lantek Integra — ERP); and advanced analysis (Lantek Analytics).
These systems give managers a thorough overall view of the plant, optimally planning production and finding out the requirements of each department in real time. Having the capability to add on these functions that have been specifically designed for sheet metal manufacturers, offers a path to overall plant efficiency and the tools necessary to be competitive in the Industry 4.0 era.
By rationalising the control and programming of all the different machines and cutting technologies in their plant into one software system, manufacturers can have the flexibility of the machine make and technology that suits them best and take the first step to factory-wide digitalisation.