April 2011 - Time is money, especially for job shops and contract manufacturers. These companies strive for efficiency because they can pass cost savings on to customers and be more competitive when bidding for jobs.
Founded in 1976, CGI Automated Mfg., Romeoville, Ill., is a sheet metal fabrication company that serves a wide range of markets, including electronics, industrial equipment, display, law enforcement and lighting. The company is always looking for cost-cutting new technologies that can benefit its customers. As a result, CGI invested in two 4,000-watt Mitsubishi NX lasers, Ncell automation software and a River Navigation System, which gives the company a more efficient way to schedule jobs and retrieve material.
"We’re a job shop, so we run a lot of short jobs," says CGI’s co-owner Gary Gurzynski. "A typical job for us runs from a half hour to two or three hours. We have a lot of changeover."
Keep track of parts, material
For CGI’s daily jobs, the automation is the most important aspect of the system. The River System has 92 shelves, and each shelf can handle 4,400 pounds, says Jeff Hahn, national product manager for Mitsubishi Laser. "It’s also skid ready, which means you don’t have to remove material from the skid to get it on the shelf. So there’s minimal setup or transit time."
In addition, storing the material from the ground up "uses the shop space more efficiently," Hahn notes. "You can use the shop space up to the ceiling."
Jim Grasse, president of Advanced Fabricating Machinery, Schaumburg, Ill., a distributor of Mitsubishi equipment, points out this type of handling system is flexible. "Mitsubishi’s Engineering Group will come in and evaluate the customer’s needs and put together a concept drawing for that customer. From a one-bay system all the way up to a 32-bay system, Mitsubishi can customize any needs the customer may have."
Designing a concept that works for any space allows companies to get material off the floor and easily manage it. "They don’t have to take a fork truck and take an hour to unstack the skids to get to the one on the bottom," Hahn says. "Also, if you have to break in a job, that transition is much quicker with a system like this. So, if you have a hot job come in while cutting one of your normal runs, you can interrupt, put that on hold, go get the hot one, cut it and then go back."
A high-speed lifter that can go forward, backward, up and down handles material movement. "We can bring material down for the next job while we’re running the current job so that it’s available," Gurzynski says. "Then, all we need to do is adjust the lens and nozzle, depending on the material, download the program, and we’re ready to cut in a matter of minutes."
Easily accessible data
Ncell Automation Software can integrate multiple machines, engineering systems, nesting systems and ERP systems. As a result, company owners can schedule and manage operations. The system provides real-time inventory numbers for all material types, thicknesses and square feet. "We have inventory of what’s in the system and where it’s located through Ncell," says Janice Nieman, co-owner of CGI. "The engineers draw down from that when they’re doing their programming, and then it’s seamless from engineering to production."
The automation also provides unattended operation. "You can actually run the entire system through one line control, and then you can access the control and it can be monitored by anybody," Hahn says. "From the owner down to the operator, they can monitor what’s up in the line, what’s next and change that flow if they want."
"Mitsubishi and Ncell were also able to use the Global Shop Solutions ERP system that we have," Nieman says. As a result of the three companies’ partnership, "for each sheet that’s cut and each part on that sheet, we know exactly what material was used, we know the time that it took to cut as well as if there was any scrap on the sheet," she notes. "The program allocates that proportionally among the sheet. If there are multiple parts on the sheet, we’ll have that information for each part. It’s certainly a lot of detail, but it gives us very accurate information, so we feel that we’re getting the best kind of information for our costing purposes."
All of the available data allows companies to track their return on investment. "This is a very expensive system, so you want to make sure you’re costing appropriately and able to absorb the cost of the system," Nieman says. "Because of the Ncell software and the laser capabilities, we can cut multiple customer parts on the same sheet, and we feel confident that the costs are going to the appropriate customers."
"We get blanket orders from customers, and if the parts are small enough, we use them as filler parts," Gurzynski adds. "We keep a log of what’s open and the material utilization. Even if we don’t need the parts for a couple of months, we might go ahead and use the material and put the parts on the shelf. It’s certainly better than throwing the material away and charging it to the job."
Previously, customers for these type of systems have been large manufacturers "doing the same type of work over and over again," Grasse says. "But, with the Ncell line control and nesting software, today, job shops are the ones taking advantage of these systems.
"The main benefit a customer will see is the amount of throughput that a system like this can process," he continues. "In addition, you have labor and material savings, work-in-process savings and lead time dramatically decreased."
These type of savings get passed on to the customers, making CGI more competitive when bidding for jobs.
"When we had our old system, every month, Jan would pull her hair out, and we would spend hours and hours looking at tickets, trying to reconcile," Gurzynski says. "It’s just so much better to have everything automated. The equipment is reliable, the resonators are running efficiently and my operating costs are certainly a lot less than on my old laser system. Granted, I have a more expensive system, but I’m getting a lot more out of it. We plan on running it hard, so it needs to perform." MM