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Before You Nest

Integrate CAD/CAM nesting software with an ERP system for improved efficiency

Nesting software when integrated with a shop’s process management system automates the production cycle. As a result, high-quality laser cut parts can be produced more efficiently with better material utilization and higher productivity.

Before optimizing how parts are nested on a plate comes the process of transferring part data to the CAD/CAM programming system. For many manufacturers, this transfer of information is handled manually and often includes a separate order administration management system to prepare a quote calculation, capture work order details and order intake; an engineering programming component to import the part geometry or drawing and create the NC file and part nest; and finally a production planning tool. This manual information transfer across individual process systems is inefficient and carries with it a high risk of error.

Eliminating inefficiency

One of the best ways to maximize the potential of nesting software and save production lead time is by integrating CAD/CAM software with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. This is done with the addition of a database interface module. By adding a database interface it is possible to save up to 50 percent in production lead time simply by reducing the time wasted when information is manually transported. Further, by automating the interfaces between all the process steps used to produce a part, a highly automated production cycle is achieved.

This integration lets the manufacturer:
• Create accurate and timely “shop floor to top floor” intelligence
• Monitor manufacturing performance
• Link the business processes
• Enable the use of intelligence to make meaningful real-time decisions

Better part estimates

Integrating nesting software with an order administration system helps a manufacturer calculate the best part price for its customer by using true process and machine data to figure production time and material cost.

Case in point: A mid-sized custom fabrication shop that was laser-cutting stainless steel parts up to 1 in. thick was finding it difficult to set the right price for its work. Part estimates were too low, impacting the shop’s profitability, or too high, resulting in lost orders. Integrating its ERP system with its nesting software automated the estimating process.

In producing the part nest, the software calculates cutting times, material requirements, scrap and overhead costs. This part and nesting data is fed back to the ERP system and used to prepare estimates that are accurate and created in literally no time at all, depending on the speed of the network.

Integrating design to manufacturing processes means production data is transferred automatically instead of manually entered. This helps support higher workloads for nesting and cutting.

The right place, the right time

When the estimate becomes an order, the data is easily converted to a formal work order and moves from the EPR system to production with a minimum of lead time. Part data in the form of cutting files, printouts, nesting reports and part labels are automatically created and transported to the shop floor. Manual data input that could take 15 to 30 minutes per work order, depending on the number of parts, can be automatically performed in a matter of seconds. With less time spent chasing paperwork and files, productivity is improved and more focus can be placed on the laser cutting process itself.

For example, a leading trailer manufacturer in Germany is saving an average of 1 to 2 hours per day after eliminating the manual input of work order data. Workers’ time is more efficiently spent on other tasks. The automated process also prevents errors.

As another example, a large heavy plate fabrication shop with three production sites and six laser cutting machines has centralized its administration work so that part estimates are handled at one facility. When an estimate becomes an order, the pre-nested files are sent to the plant best equipped to handle the job and production is almost immediate. Standardized nesting lets programmers work across all machinery and plants. Part information is stored in the program and can be easily recalled for future use. The result is more cost-efficient manufacturing.

In the future, using more intelligent nesting and order processing algorithms, it may be possible to fully nest parts automatically as part orders come into the ERP system over the interface. Standard nests (made of common 2-D fabrication shapes) could be created in no time and with no effort as this work would be completed automatically in the background. Nesting software manufacturers are working toward this reality, which would make it possible to process standard shapes without any user intervention whatsoever. More complicated/custom parts would require the user to verify that automatically created nests are accurate, but standard parts could be processed fully automatically.

Using process and machine data, job costs can be accurately calculated, improving profitability.

All things considered

Achieving efficiency with the integration of an ERP system and nesting software requires a commitment to automation and the discipline to avoid taking manual shortcuts or overriding the automated process.

The fear of automation is one of the biggest hurdles to merging processes into an integrated process flow, especially for small shops. But moving to an integrated system does not involve much training or setup – all that is required is the setup of the interfaces and enabling the connection between the systems – nor does it eliminate the flexibility that a manufacturer is accustomed to having. In fact, automation enhances flexibility.

With design to manufacturing processes integrated, data such as cutting files, printouts, nesting reports, and part labels is automatically created and transported to the shop floor.

Most database interface modules are highly configurable to meet specific application requirements. The nesting software manufacturer can help configure the interface for specific needs.

When CAD/CAM nesting software is an integrated part of an overall manufacturing system, the single process flow makes higher efficiency possible by streamlining the parts production process and achieving predictable results that take the quality of parts to a new level. Beyond the efficiency of a nesting software that can optimize how parts are produced on a laser cutting machine, a more tightly integrated system can mean higher profitability for a shop, regardless of size, application or type of laser machine used.