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Tech Spot
Monday | 06 May, 2013 | 10:23 am

Self-explanatory software

By Gretchen Salois

Easy-to-understand cutting optimization software allows one fabricator to download without skipping a beat

May 2013 - A job shop takes on a number of project sizes requiring different tolerances and turnaround times. Keeping track of materials in stock to meet these demands can be difficult and often is costly if not done right. Rather than invest time and effort manually calculating which stock lengths to buy and cut out of each stock piece, one company uses an affordable and practical nesting software.

“I tried the trial version [of software] from R & R Drummond, and it was what I needed, so I bought it,” says Mark O’Malley, iron specialist at O’Malley Welding and Fabricating Service Inc., Yorkville, Ill. The Itemizer from Herminie, Pa.-based R & R Drummond Inc., provides accurate scale drawings that are numbered, dimensioned and labeled, eliminating cutting errors. 

For O’Malley, the ability to easily input stock lengths from suppliers and calculate needed item lengths was important. “The software calculates the best case scenario for what length of stock to buy and what pieces I should cut out of each stock piece,” he says. 

The company cuts miscellaneous bar, structural shapes, tube, pipe and angles on its saws. “Our saws handle shapes 18 inches; we torch cut beyond that,” he says. “We shear sheet and plate up to 10 feet wide and thicknesses ranging from 18 gauge to 1/2-inch-thick, primarily steel and aluminum.”

O’Malley Welding fabricates many complicated orders for customers. The shop runs a lot of custom, one-off jobs that vary in length and size. “By using the software on the front end of a job, I am forced to find out the available lengths of stock my suppliers have in stock or offer,” O’Malley says. “Once the software optimizes what lengths of stock to buy and what pieces get cut out of what lengths, it eliminates wasted drops.”

O’Malley Welding primarily works with miscellaneous and ornamental iron and specializes in stairs and railings. “Our end customers range from general contractors, homeowners, municipalities to park districts,” O’Malley says. “When working as a job shop, our end users are a variety of OEM manufacturers.”

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Removes guesswork

R & R Drummond’s customers use the software because of its efficient cutting plans for panel, roll and linear stock. “These are mostly cabinet makers, steel and plastic fabricators,” says Roger Drummond, president. “We extensively test our software before release for sale. That said, the customers are the final testers, and they let us know if something is amiss. Bugs that may cause financial loss are fixed as soon as possible and issued free of charge.”

The Itemizer computer software develops cutting plans and allows operators to rearrange, move and relocate pieces. Pieces can be moved in multiple directions between layouts, and adjustments to cutting plans are easily made to alter the plans after they are generated automatically. Operators can view layout plans and the program calculates costs, prints custom labels, selects optimum sheet size and works in English or metric units. The software exports DXF files and coordinates files for CAD and CNC.

O’Malley says the software helps when placing orders. “It is often easy to get in your comfort zone and order the same size stock that you always order,” he says. “Say, because we have a 10-foot shear, we would buy mainly 10-foot sheets and plates. And usually we would find a use for common drops. By inputting in the software the different stock sizes—for us 48-inch, 60-inch and 72-inch wide by 96-inch, 120-inch and 144-inches long when buying for a specific job—waste and drops are minimized.” O’Malley adds that racks are cleaner because they do not have all the bad drops that “you hope to use on the next job.”

Likable learning curve

There’s not enough time in the day to learn new software features while trying to maneuver through multiple layouts. Fortunately, R & R Drummond’s software is intuitive. “The software was very easy to learn once downloaded, and it was pretty much self-explanatory and was working in minutes,” O’Malley says. 

R & R Drummond now provides “Quick Releases” to customers so they can receive the latest features much faster. “When we have a number of major options or improvements ready, we issue a QR at one-third price for previous users,” Drummond says. “The plan is to have two QR’s between major releases.” 

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Cutting optimization can be applied for panel, roll and linear stock. According to Drummond, each has distinct differences for the optimization process:

• Panel optimization is used for typical 4 feet by 8 feet or other stock panels where various size parts are needed. Panels are filled with part arrangements, keeping pieces of the same size together to reduce setups while maintaining efficiency. Ripping, cross-cutting and two-phase plans along with the ability to fix grain direction or permit the program to rotate pieces is allowed. Kerf must be included in the calculations for all types of optimization.

• Roll optimization is used for cutting parts from rolls of material such as sheet metal or cloth. During this process, pieces are packed by various optimal lengths cut from a roll. The starting length for the optimization process is the maximum that can be accommodated by the shop.

• Linear optimization is employed where a single crosscut finishes the part. Door styles with rails, boards, pipe and extrusions are in this category. 

Drummond says the best way to determine if the software is a good fit is to, “try before you buy. All optimizers are not equal.”

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