Laser Technology
Thursday | 13 July, 2017 | 12:55 pm

Traffic management

By Lynn Stanley

New plug-in appliance reduces complexity, eliminates downtime and makes server-heavy, conventional IT infrastructure moot

July 2017 - When it comes to lasers—fiber or CO2— the discussion tends to be on the mechanics: focusing on components, material types, cutting speeds and consumables. Manufacturers also understand they need nesting software to achieve production efficiencies with the equipment, but little attention is given to the IT side of the manufacturing process.

“We’re in the fourth era of data center evolution,” says John Leuzinger, director for SigmaTEK Services Group. The Cincinnati-based firm serves a variety of industries with CAD/CAM, nesting and automation software solutions, including its nesting software, SigmaNEST.

The term “data center evolution” describes the process of changing a data center to improve its functionality and performance as well as its capability to act as a conduit for remote access. This evolution is impacting hardware setups, software upgrades, users and business processes. Yet when it comes to IT and infrastructure, the manufacturing industry—and the laser market—has been slow to adapt.

“It used to be that customers built and ran their own data centers,” says Leuzinger. “During the second generation of this evolution, service providers ran customers’ data centers on site using networks, applications and storage specialists. With the third evolution, we’ve seen the introduction of cloud technology, which has reduced dependence on local data centers.”

Business Performance Innovation Network predicts that, as part of the fourth era of evolution, 73 percent of data will be in the cloud in 2017. Data center traffic is also expected to reach 7.7 zettabytes, which is equal to the entire world streaming music non-stop for 18 months.

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SigmaNEST 365 makes software products accessible on any device anywhere in the world. A study predicted that 73 percent of data will be in the cloud by the close of this year.

Cloud migration

Despite some obvious advantages such as accessibility, usability and cost savings, these changes also come with some troublesome challenges for manufacturers. Problems include the time and difficulty involved with installing and upgrading mission-critical software on multiple workstations with different operating systems. Performance is unpredictable when it comes to wide area network (WAN) installations.

“Some customers have as many as 250,000 different parts they have to cut,” Leuzinger says. “Trying to run workspace files from a centralized location can quickly bog down the user due to slow network shares. Companies depend on 100 percent uptime and availability of critical software components.”

But manufacturers aren’t the only ones trying to navigate what, for many, is a bumpy ride. IT specialists face difficulties as well. “You’ve got a mix of application architectures, both physical and virtual server environments, aging hardware, security considerations, and the sheer volume of storage and retention policies, to name a few,” Leuzinger explains.

SigmaTEK supports a diverse group of customers from mom-and-pop companies with a single laser cutting machine to large enterprises with multiple factories. “Software is the life blood that makes these companies run,” notes Leuzinger. “Yet they don’t want to have worry about this aspect of the process; they want to be able to focus on parts production, which impacts their bottom line. The competitive atmosphere these days also means fabricators can’t tolerate downtime or endure dreaded software upgrade cycles.”

Customer input prompted SigmaTEK to develop a new appliance designed to help companies run leaner, free employees to work where they need to, and eliminate the threat of downtime as more and more machines rely on connectivity to communicate.

SigmaNEST 365 moves SigmaTEK software products to the cloud, making them accessible on any device, from any facility, anywhere in the world. The appliance also supports greater storage capacity, and faster computer speeds.

“We’ve taken traditional IT infrastructure and packaged it into an easy-to-deploy appliance that is about the size of a pizza box. The need for beefy workstations or processor-heavy, memory-intensive hardware is eliminated because SigmaNEST 365 does all the heavy lifting,” says Leuzinger.

The purpose-built hardware solution comes preinstalled with SigmaNEST and related SigmaTEK software. SigmaNEST 365 removes the need to manually upgrade new software releases because the process is automatic.

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The appliance can accommodate any demand, including making part revisions on the fly.

Permission to move about freely

“People used to be tethered to their workstations,” Leuzinger observes. “We’re freeing people to work where they need to work. The appliance is Windows PC and MAC friendly. And in today’s global environment, if you have two production facilities located halfway across the continent from each other that need to access the same software infrastructure, SigmaNEST 365 makes that happen.”

Users can be up and running in minutes with the ability to access SigmaNEST from any web-connected device. The appliance supports simultaneous users without requiring each person to install SigmaNEST on their local workstation.

For the sake of disaster recovery, users will soon be able to take local encrypted disk storage for data and drawings and back it up to the cloud. Should the unthinkable happen, the appliance’s SigmaNEST environment has been engineered to spin up in the cloud, ensuring that customers remain running 24/7.

A commercial kitchen furniture manufacturer with five U.S. plants experienced a worst- case scenario, demonstrating why this feature is critical.

“A power failure during a plant shutdown over the Christmas holidays went undetected,” says Leuzinger. “A reboot brought machines back online except for the equipment where the database resided. The GCode or CNC control language needed to run production systems couldn’t transmit and the backup was corrupted. They were down for 14 days.”

The capability being introduced with the appliance will allow it to continually take “snapshots” of transmitted data. “If a power outage occurs, a manufacturer could restore operations in seconds. If hardware fails, the appliance can be set up to switch to the cloud so downtime is eliminated.”

Leuzinger says the appliance will pay for itself over time. “We had one customer that wanted to bring its operations into the next century and grow its business. The solution they needed called for a SigmaTEK resource module that could handle invoicing, scheduling, inventory, part programming and nesting but they had no infrastructure in place. We asked them to source a comparable solution from a local IT company,” he says. “The quote came in four times higher and deployment time was days versus hours.  Our appliance allowed them to run their offices in the U.S. and India without the need for a conventional server dominated infrastructure.”

SigmaNEST is also available untethered. “A lot of people thought CAD/CAM was tied to a workstation but that’s no longer true,” Leuzinger says. “I’ve demonstrated to potential users how I can access it from my smartphone.”

The appliance can accommodate any demand, from a part revision on the fly to nontraditional creative processes. One custom car manufacturer saw SigmaNEST 365 demonstrated at Fabtech in 2016 and challenged a product development engineer, “What if I get an idea in the middle of the night?”

Leuzinger replies that the appliance will adapt to lightbulb moments. “As a builder of 100 to 150 cars a year, the creative process for the CEO of that company occurred wherever he happened to be. SigmaNEST 365 has the flexibility to support that.”

The nimble appliance reduces complexity for customers looking to build a new type of data center that relieves them from the pressures of keeping pace with upgrades and avoiding potential work stoppages.

“When you can take something out of the box, plug it in and get rolling with it, that’s a game changer,” Leuzinger claims. MM

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