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Software Solutions
Thursday | 07 December, 2017 | 1:03 pm

Matchmaking expert

By Lynn Stanley

Above: AccuFit has usage programs for rod, billet, rounds, sheet, plate and block in any shape and size.

Nesting program proves its mettle by saving millions in material and operation costs

December 2017 - In 1911, newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane told members of the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club, “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.”

For production planners at high-volume metal processing centers, an image is worth “a thousand numbers,” thanks to a new type of software that quickly sifts through massive inventories for the best raw material matches, then serves up choices in easy-to-read visual representations. 3D cutting plans can be printed or sent electronically to saw operators. The fully automatic nesting engine helps metal users and service centers realize millions of dollars in material and operational savings.

The AccuFit software system is the brainchild of Keith Pollan, president of AccuFit Solutions Inc., Laguna Niguel, California, and its Director of Technology, Rajeev Goel. Seeds for the idea were planted when Pollan, then a business unit controller for Precision Castparts Corp.—which processes 26.5 million pounds of titanium and nickel each year—identified material waste as its biggest expense reduction opportunity.

“We had too much scrap from billet inventory,” he says. “We had remnants of material left over from cutting orders that were too small to be used for other parts. The remnants were discarded for recycling. You want to reduce and potentially eliminate the amount of loss after you cut the last planned piece of material off each billet.”

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Dynamic images show metal processors the available inventory and the best cutting plan options for each job.

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The company contracted with Goel to help improve material yields. His first step was to understand the manufacturer’s process from material selection to cutting and finishing an order. “They had racks and racks of high-dollar inventory,” Goel recalls. “But the planner had nothing more than … a giant spreadsheet of numbers. The amount of information he had to retain and recall to make and match material selections was enormous. I worked at Microsoft for 12 years on a variety of products so my brain began working overtime to develop ways a computer could perform these tasks quicker and more efficiently.”

Goel employed imagery to show planners available inventory and the best cutting plan options. “I’m a very visual person,” says Goel. “I prefer to look at a drawing or diagram versus a sea of numbers.”

The resulting software’s success in maximizing billet inventory prompted Pollan and Goel to acquire the intellectual property and establish a spinoff company in 2012. Customers for the newly minted AccuFit quickly clamored for more options.

“Now we handle rod, billet, rounds, sheet, plate and block in any shape and size,” Pollan says. “The goal—to generate savings that can improve a company’s financial statement—is being realized.”

The software, which undergoes continuous improvement, shines brightest for high-volume processing centers. Some of the largest in the world are starting to use it at multiple sites. “We’re particularly interested in aerospace metal,” Pollan notes.

The product works well with aluminum, but titanium and nickel represent two high-cost metals that generate the most waste. Pollan cites the Lockheed Martin F-35, which consumes large volumes of titanium, but the Pentagon wants to buy the jets for less.

So how does a processor squeeze every last ounce of usable material from a billet or sheet, thereby improving profits? “AccuFit software can net a company thousands of pounds of saved material. Add that to savings achieved at the saw because human errors are eliminated.”

Pollan estimates processors can expect material cost savings of between 2 and 6 percent. “If a company has a material throughput of $50 million, that’s $1 million in savings at just 2 percent,” he says. Companies often try to reach that level of savings by other means but layoffs and skimping on maintenance or supplies aren’t enough to get them there. “Only improvements to material use can yield full percentage point expense reductions for most large metal processors,” Pollan claims. Material is typically the No. 1 expense, followed by labor, for metalworking firms.

Hitting the target

Irwindale, California-based Sierra Alloys Co. Inc. manufactures forged and hot-rolled products from a variety of aerospace alloys.

“Our goal was to more efficiently align customer demand with our existing inventory in order to reduce unwanted remnants and residual raw material that had no practical value,” says Craig Culaciati, president and CEO of Sierra Alloys & TSI, divisions of PRV Metals. “The AccuFit software can provide a best fit solution for multiple work orders to a finite inventory at any given point in time.”

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A planning engineer at a metal distribution facility nests his plate material using AccuFit.

AccuFit is the only nesting engine that integrates with order entry and inventory systems, according to Goel. “We build custom integration to connect our software with a metal processor’s ERP system,” he says. “And we have developed an algorithm no other product has. It considers eight variables during the matching process.” Those variables are delivery schedule, material yield percentage, quantity of heats, material handling costs, inventory age-costs, OSP lot testing charges, blade travel and reserve recovery.

The software runs on all devices from Windows PCs to Macs, tablets and smart phones and comprises three modules.

1D evaluates available inventory and chooses raw material for linear processing. With 2D, a planner is shown which combination and layout of parts makes the best use of sheet and plate material. Aged and remnant inventory is considered before full-dimension material is selected. AccuFit 3D sifts through millions of calculations to pack and nest parts into a three-dimensional block in a matter of seconds.

Scoring the match

A patented scoring system looks at each inventory match and scores it by deducting points for resource consumption. AccuFit records, recaps and reports each plan for which a cutting ticket is issued. “No other software system has this capability,” Goel asserts. “It is a great tool for analyzing whether or not a match was the best one in terms of yield and scrap.”

The software generates yield reports that demonstrate the volume of remnant and scrap generated for each plan. Planners can run a report before cutting tickets are issued to the production department. Low-score plans can be reviewed and corrected before remnants and scrap are realized.

AccuFit’s secret sauce, says Goel, is its ability to consider the present and the future when making matches. “Let’s say a planner gets an order for 14 pieces that need to be cut right away. AccuFit will find the right piece of plate but it also goes a step beyond to look at a company’s backlog. It combines the right raw material match for the current order with the right job or jobs coming up in the future so that the entire plate is used. This means a big piece of remnant doesn’t have to be re-inventoried.

“It’s like looking into a crystal ball” to reduce the amount of material handling required to cut inventory for all customer orders, not just for one order.

Changing focus

Although AccuFit Solutions results speak volumes, Pollan and Goel acknowledge a certain amount of resistance to change. “The aerospace and metals markets are historically slow to adopt new technology,” explains Pollan. “In particular, these industries have not seen much innovation in software. Advances have tended to focus on equipment.”

“People have been burned by large software system purchases that ultimately didn’t work,” adds Goel. “You can see a piece of equipment demonstrated before you buy it but software often seems like a bit of mystery.”

For most CEOs, a core objective is to assure shareholders that bottom-line financials will improve. With AccuFit, everyone from the sales team to the saw operator and the CEO finally has access to the “tools and information they need for their respective roles,” he says. MM

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