Meeting the demands of your customers’ production orders without having to worry about operator shortages is where automation technologies and modern programming systems can really make a difference in achieving greater machine flexibility, availability, and productivity.
So what does a fabricator do when they can’t find operators to run their equipment, or for that matter, find enough of them to run multiple shifts? Modern offline programming systems combined with machine automation technologies will help to reduce the number of skilled operators required. A single operator can manage multiple automated equipment in most cases, and automated systems can run in off-shifts and weekend shifts which are even harder to hire for.
Automating the front-end
Companies have streamlined the entire order process by using an ERP software interface with their existing ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system to streamline incoming orders. In addition, an MES software module (Manufacturing Execution System) provides the ability to plan, monitor, and track all of the active jobs and machine workloads. This enables managers to react on short notice to ever-changing production requirements.
For press brakes, modern offline programming has evolved to the point where the entire robot program can be generated automatically and checked for collisions before it even reaches the production floor. This greatly reduces press brake and robot setup times and lowers the piece quantity threshold for utilizing bending automation. The time to create a robot bending program is now almost synonymous with the time it takes to create flat part nests. Once the program is created and saved, it can be called up at any time; during an operator’s absence, during off-shifts, or on weekends.
Automating the Raw Material
With laser cutting, much of the labor outside of the initial setup is centered around material handling. If automated, the loading of the material becomes part of the automatic sequencing tied to the machine’s request for material. No more waiting from sheet to sheet and from order to order. Sheets are loaded onto the secondary shuttle table while the laser cutter is cutting on the primary table. But there is yet another important sequence that must occur in between the raw materials being loaded. If the cut material is not unloaded in a timely manner, waiting times will accumulate.
Automating the Cut Material
Automating the material unloading process is extremely critical as the other processes of loading and cutting are dependently tied to this very important sequence. A bottleneck is created without the unloading taking place in a timely manner. At this point, there are two ways to address the unload automation process. One method is to unload the entire cut sheet with parts using an unload fork system. Another, and more efficient method, is to already have the parts unloaded and stacked using an automated sorting system for the parts and a fork system to remove the material skeleton when completed. The automated parts sorting system sorts parts from the cut sheet material based on the order it belongs to. It also organizes ‘like’ parts in a neat stack for the next fabricating process. This greatly reduces process times in sorting the parts manually from the cut sheet and reduces errors in stacking similar part revisions.
Automating the Bending Process
Utilizing automated bending cells provides a consistent method of meeting bending demands regardless of operator labor issues. A single operator can manage multiple bending cells in maintaining material flows, quality control, and tooling setups. The additional benefit derived from press brake automation is the ability of the systems to operate on the off-shifts and on weekends to increase throughput.
Achieving more with less
Utilizing modern offline programming technologies combined with automated machine technologies, working in unison, will achieve more with less; more productivity with less labor, higher productivity, and fewer production delays leading to higher revenue and consistent on-time deliveries for your customers.
By Frank Arteaga, Regional Director of Marketing, Bystronic Inc., Hoffman Estates, IL