Fiber lasers have disrupted the status quo in material laser processing, but conversely, the automation of supporting front-end software and material automation systems have – equally contributed to the ability of Fiber laser cutting systems to outperform legacy CO2 systems many times over. Automating the front-end processes, those that involve order entry, scheduling, material planning and inventory, engineering and programming, is critical to maintaining consistency in operations, especially in multi-shift operations.
There is no denying that Fiber laser cutting systems have significantly increased the volume of parts being produced. Since most companies typically have one shift of front office staff, it becomes even more critical to automate the front-end processes to maintain the workflow to the lasers in the off-shifts. This increased part volume creates a “pull” demand at the front-end where business software systems process orders into bills of materials and job routings, as well as programming systems that provide programs for the Fiber laser. All of these systems need to keep up with increased throughput and capacity created by the Fiber laser.
Automating with an Order Management System
By utilizing an Order Management System, companies are able to streamline the entire process by interfacing with their existing ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. This enables them to process their parts automatically, from incoming orders to finished cut parts. An effective Order Management System can take incoming orders and search for the correct DXF part files and automatically program parts based on their material characteristics, then nest and schedule to the appropriate machine. Scheduling can be defined by the customer based on the due date or job priority. The triggering of a job can be delayed until the clearly defined latest possible point in time, while still guaranteeing forecasted delivery deadlines.
An Order Management System maximizes the selection of parts and efficiently distributes all the orders that have been released by the ERP system to the various cutting plans. Cutting plans can be automatically released to the machines based on achieving the required material yields. This leads to more parts per sheet, better material utilization, and better delivery forecasts.
Importance of Automated Sheet Nesting
In addition to creating timely nests, programming systems must also consider sheet material utilization as this is a key element in the overall cost per part. With material making up 50% to 75% of the total cost per part, a programming system must take into consideration the ability to optimize material utilization. Also important is the time it takes to process the nest, which is a function of the laser processing speeds and the cut path optimization. Reducing the time from the order to the cut part, reducing material utilization costs, and reducing processing times are all key elements to maintaining competitiveness and profitability.
Material Automation – A Critical Component
The “pull” demand on the front-end does not end with a finished cutting program. The raw material must be ready without any delays in presenting it to the laser for processing. Once the laser begins processing the nest, the consistency of the cycle time of the cut material unloading and the raw material loading becomes critical. Completing the unload/load cycles in the time while the machine is still processing the current sheet is critical to maintaining the advantages gained from high-speed Fiber laser processing. For this process to maintain the proper pace, it also becomes critical to look at automating material storage and retrieval systems and material load/unload systems. We will elaborate on this in an upcoming blog.
By Frank Arteaga, Head of Product Marketing, Bystronic Inc., Hoffman Estates, IL