In a world of ever-increasing competition, companies are partnering to cross-promote their products and services. The goal of these partnerships is to gain exposure to new customers that a company may not be able to reach on its own. The new-found exposure can come through simple referrals, but can also be realized through joint advertising campaigns and shared marketing initiatives.
As an example of this trend, Cincinnati Inc., a U.S.-based machine tool manufacturer, recently launched its Gold Partner Program. The program fosters collaboration between Cincinnati’s metal fabrication equipment and third-party software that is tested and proven to optimize manufacturing performance.
The program, however, is unlike most other partnership programs. Instead of just sealing the deal with a simple handshake, Cincinnati requires that its partners go through a rigorous certification process.
Making the grade
To achieve certification, Cincinnati provides partner companies with an exhaustive list of features for the various machines that Cincinnati offers – primarily laser and press brake equipment. A potential partner must then confirm that its software addresses those features or in cases where a feature hasn’t been addressed, will work with a Cincinnati machine specialist to upgrade or modify the software to comply.
Metamation, a leading producer of sheet-metal CAD/CAM software, was one of the first companies that was able to adhere to Cincinnati’s strict and thorough requirements. The certification process took more than nine months to complete.
“To make sure that we could configure our software to the list of features provided, we went to Cincinnati’s testing center,” says Kartik Iyer, president and CEO at Metamation. “We worked together making parts on Cincinnati’s machines and checking the quality of those parts before we finally got to the point where they were satisfied with the overall performance of the software for the end goal of certification.”
During the process, Iyer was impressed with the amount of internal data that Cincinnati was willing to share with Metamation engineers. This level of intelligence transfer gave him the confidence to continue on with the months-long commitment to earn the Gold Partner certification.
“Collaboration is the name of the game as we enter the new era of direct digital manufacturing,” said Mark Watson, senior product specialist at Cincinnati in a recent press release. “Gone are the days of closely guarded, proprietary tech solutions – requiring fabricators to lock into one supplier of equipment and its proprietary software. Customers now demand the latest tech solutions to drive all of their CNC equipment – not only their latest purchase.”
Iyer says that working with Cincinnati in such a close-knit way makes perfect sense for his company considering the two organizations share a customer base. It’s logical for Metamation to work with the manufacturers that are producing the metal fabricating equipment its customers use. That way, Cincinnati and Metamation are able to provide their shared customers a unified solution.
Cincinnati product manager Todd Kirchoff hands the Gold Partner certificate to Metamation president and CEO, Kartik Iyer.
Software in sync
When coding is in sync between a software solution and a machine, the benefits to customers are significant. It can mean the difference of producing good parts the first time and playing phone tag with the equipment and software manufacturers.
In some cases, third-party software producers haven’t coded their products according to how every equipment manufacturer’s machines work. Watson says this can be problematic. In these instances, a new customer might have to put in multiple calls to discover why their parts aren’t as they should be.
“After some analysis, the equipment manufacturer might realize that the software developers took a different approach to a certain type or thickness of material,” Watson says. “As an example, a Cincinnati laser might take an angled lead-in for a specific part whereas the software might try to direct the laser to take a straight lead-in.”
In these situations, the software isn’t allowing the operator to run the machine in the most optimal fashion. When software isn’t developed with specific machine functionality in mind, incorrect lead-ins are just one issue that could arise. As an additional example, Iyer notes that if the software doesn’t account for the proper working distance for the laser head, back splash can occur, which could result in damage to the lens.
Customers reap the benefits of the relationship between Cincinnati and Metamation through optimal edge-cut quality.
By taking into account the optimal processing parameters of a certain type of machine, software developers are able to bring standardization to the shop floor.
“The customer doesn’t have to think too hard when he’s processing a part because he literally has the software that is well tested and ready to go with just a few mouse clicks,” Iyer says. “He can take a part and run it on the laser right away rather than having to do a lot of analytics, which are time consuming and susceptible to errors. This makes everyone more efficient.”
These scenarios prove that the more intelligence the equipment manufacturer can relay to the software developer and vice versa, the more accurate parts can be. Likewise, the more partnerships that emerge like those forged between Cincinnati and Metamation, the more ahead of the curve the entire fabrication industry can be.
Get an overview of MetaCAM Enterprise, an automated database-driven system that incorporates key functionality for linking to ERP, MRP and MES systems for order input, batch tooling, nesting and shop floor operator screens.
The connected world
Another benefit of close collaborations like those forged between Cincinnati and Metamation is the greater ability to control an entire shop floor of machines with one system. Metamation’s data management and automation solution is a good example of how software can streamline a company’s overall operations.
MetaCAM Enterprise from Metamation is a database-driven system that integrates different departments from engineering to programming to front-of-house order entry. Users leverage it to create new geometries, track part revisions, and choose 2-D and 3-D files for batch programming. MetaCAM also analyzes files for possible errors and increases productivity through its integration with ERP, MRP and MES production schedules. It manages operations on the shop floor, all the while improving nesting capabilities – no matter the brand of laser or press brake equipment.
When coding is in sync between the software and the machine, customers experience the difference of producing good parts the first time and playing phone tag with the equipment and software manufacturers.
“Not everyone has a shop full of only one color of machines,” Watson says. “The Gold Partner Program gives the customer the chance to program from one platform instead of going to the machine OEM and then the software developer every time. We wanted to come up with a program that allows folks to collaborate.”
This type of synergy helped Metamation improve its products, like its MetaCAM Enterprise solution, which is essential in the more connected world that the fabrication industry is heading toward. After all, consumers are spoiled with a host of intuitive products. Why not bring that same intuitiveness to the shop floor with features like data monitoring for mobile devices?
“Everything is connected today,” Iyer says. “You have an iPhone where you can book a flight, order a cab or have food delivered. The better systems talk to each other, the more beneficial it is for the end user. We test our software to manufacturers’ specifications or the suggested usage of their equipment rather than trying to do something independently.”
In the same way that machines are being challenged to work faster and more accurately, software is also being challenged to be easy to work with and reliable. New technologies must have shorter learning curves, be intuitive and have greater abilities. Relationships like the one Cincinnati and Metamation have serve as the drivers behind those trends.
“People don’t want lengthy training manuals and help files to figure out how to use their software,” Iyer says. “After all, I didn’t receive one with my iPhone, that’s for sure.”