Plasma Technology
Tuesday | 02 November, 2010 | 7:17 am

Streamlined operations

By Marti Benedetti

October 2010 - Chad Gossard, McNeilus Steel Inc. sales manager, was on a mission: He wanted to reduce or eliminate the company’s non-value-added software to make it more competitive in the global marketplace.

Enter SigmaTek Systems LLC. The nesting-software company replaced a few pieces of McNeilus Steel’s existing software with its SigmaNest Version 9 software to help the Dodge Center, Minn.-based steel service center accomplish its goals. "This move improved profitability and customer service for us," Gossard says.

SigmaNest has the capability to manage all of a company’s products, says Glenn Binder, vice president of sales for Cincinnati-based SigmaTek. "Customers are looking for the whole solution so they have one phone call to one company that they can trust and rely on."

Nesting software programs, such as SigmaNest, can improve a company’s overall efficiency. For example, it allows aligning and fitting parts on a flat sheet during laser cutting to be done in an economical way to minimize waste. It also enables more accurate and efficient truck routing, price quoting and work order processing.

SigmaNest Version 9 went to market last September with the company’s Power of 9 Road Show. The trip allowed potential customers to interact with SigmaTek representatives to determine if the software was right for their companies. Sales have been brisk, Binder says. "They have exceeded our projections. Our revenues have been increasing month by month this year."

Binder says it turned out his company’s software release coincided with the introduction of Microsoft Windows 7. "SigmaNest was the first product that embraced all the changes in this new technology," he says.

With SigmaNest, the user interface has switched from black and white to color, which cuts down on eye strain for the user. It takes note of the user’s clicks, thereby reducing the number of clicks needed to complete certain tasks. Part parameters have been put into a single window, so the user does not have to go through multiple windows. Now, multiple icons on the screen are along the top in a ribbon view, making it more user-friendly overall.

"Coming off the double recession, our customers like McNeilus are looking for easy-to-use software solutions that provide savings and ways to reduce material waste," Binder says.

Increased speed
Gossard says SigmaTek regional sales manager Joe Keblesh is working with him to integrate SigmaNest with its Metalware software. Metalware is an operating system commonly used by metal service centers to raise efficiency levels. "It’s the software package we’ve been running our business on for more than 20 years," Gossard adds. "The key part of the relationship is melding Metalware, SigmaTek’s products and us."

SigmaNest is programming all of McNeilus’ flat cutting equipment, including lasers, high-definition plasma and oxy-fuel cutting, Gossard says. It also is providing price quotes for parts, job tracking and scheduling for flat cutting equipment and handling remnant tracking and labeling for future use. All of these services increase the delivery speed to McNeilus customers, he adds.

"Once an order is placed, our goal is to fine tune the process so our customers get their orders on time. The whole quote package has allowed us to speed up our quote time without increasing our staff," he says.

Tasks in the creation and implementation phase include integration of SigmaNest and Metalware via Sim Trans, says Gossard, noting it is the largest benefit the company gets by using SigmaNest. SigmaNest gets its speed through Sim Trans, which works as a database transition manager.

"{McNeilus is a large facility, so one of its biggest challenges is to determine which material to pull from which plant," Keblesh says. "McNeilus has come through this process well. It has gone remarkably smooth."

Bryce Kleinwort, McNeilus inside sales manager, agrees. "The support and communication with SigmaTek is very good. It has not always been easy with long meetings and conference calls, but they have been very helpful."

In addition to steel service centers, SigmaTek’s clients include manufacturers of earth-moving equipment; aircraft carriers; special-purpose vehicles such as fire engines, ambulances, race cars and golf carts; and job shops, which use SigmaNest for material management.

Maximizing inventory
Material management is important in job shops because the industry is moving toward reduced lot sizes. In many cases, these shops are making quantities of just one or two per part, leaving the shop with remnants such as a partially cut sheet. "These remnants need to be managed well, which can result in them being used for future nests, eliminating wasted material," Binder says.

Job shops’ biggest risk is maximizing the use of steel, a valuable asset for a company. "SigmaNest manages the steel inventory by storing the size, heat number, location in the shop and remnant. This reduces over-ordering and stock size," Binder says.

In addition to SigmaNest, SigmaTek’s new products include SigmaTube, software that aids in efficiently cutting tubing, thereby reducing waste. Special-purpose vehicles can require this kind of tubing in their frames.

SigmaTek’s Cut-To-Length is software that programs the cutting of linear sections like bars, channels and I-beams. It is particularly useful to steel service centers with half of their business using plate and sheet metal and the other half using sections. With SigmaNest, both cutting processes are optimized, Binder says.

McNeilus is not using the CTL part of the software package now. "The benefit of Cut-To-Length is when you have large jobs of multiple parts all of the same thickness and grade," Gossard says. "The software will take all the pertinent information into account and tell you all the different sheet lengths you should use to maximize your material." SigmaTek’s Keblesh says he hopes to get McNeilus on board with CTL soon. MM

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