State of flux
- Created: 2017-05-05
It’s not the speed of the ram, but the speed at which parts are made that matters
by Larry Adams, senior editor
Adapting to changing circumstances in a lucid manner is the need of the hour. This is dynamically elicited by Metamation through its flux software. For Metamation, manufacturers of CAD/CAM software for sheet metal applications, Flux is the name of its new engine and interface that helps press brake operators improve the efficiency of their bending equipment by, essentially, improving flow.
A press brake, while versatile and rugged, can also be a bottleneck in production. Manufacturers of the equipment as well as those producing tooling and software for the brake are constantly addressing this dilemma, but the challenge persists.
The brake is a piece of equipment that in and of itself cannot keep pace with the blanks being shot at it by laser cutters and other upstream production equipment. This is an even greater problem for short product runs where there is a lot of variation in part runs being sent its way to be bent.
The Flux solution
Flux is, as company vice president Anupam Chakraborty puts it, “a new engine and interface built around speed with enhanced accuracy for CAD file processing and bending.”
The Flux engine was built from the bottom up, he says, with the old-style icon-based user interface giving way. In place is a more intuitive graphics-based interface that reduces the number of required clicks and makes it easy for the operator to follow.
“This is a new concept,” Chakraborty says. “We have simplified the whole thing in Flux bend. The interface is simple. Open, file, view, help, settings, that's it.”
Simple is better for an operator that constantly has to stop bending parts to understand the next job in front of them and determine how the press brake needs to be set up with the proper tooling. If the press brake operator is programming parts on the machine, production, in effect, has ground to a halt on that machine.
Still, in some situations, the operator has no choice. They must get the machine ready to ensure the right tooling is in place to achieve the required bend. That’s where Flux comes into play. The company developed its software to import a variety of files, determine the bend lines and other features, and optimize the order in which particular jobs should be done.
A multitude of files
According to Chakraborty, one of the most important aspects of the software is its ability to import the virtual avalanche of potential file types that are currently being used in the 3-D environment. File formats include CATIA, IGES, SolidWorks and DXF.
“These are various file types that a lot of people in design use, and the challenge, a lot of times, is importing those parts into the software,” he explains. “With the new software, what we’ve introduced is a translator for these different file types.”
This “translator” not only knows a lot of languages, it’s also able to import them into the system at incredibly fast rates. According to a company press release, when Metamation performed in-house testing, the software was able to import 100 3-D models in less than 10 seconds.
At Fabtech 2016, Chakraborty showcased the intuitive system. He used a DXF file as an example, saying that the system will clean it up and turn it into a sheet metal file that can then be “folded” in 3-D.
“We have identified these are the bend lines for the part box,” he said. “Once we identify this, we can fold it to 3-D. It's that easy. You can select your machine types, and we have all the machines in our libraries. The software features a variety of press brake machine types where you choose one of the machines, and it's done. The part is programmed. You can do a simulation, you can generate reports, you can export the file and you can save these files as whatever you want.”
One of the occasions that a press brake slows down during production is when there are many different parts coming at the machine without having them optimally sorted to run on the brake. This is compounded when each and every part requires a different setup and a different combination of tools. That means for every part, the operator has to take the existing setup out, then put a different set of tools inside. To solve this problem, Metamation developed a feature called the Tool Setup Optimizer.
“Here, you see all the parts, and they all are different sizes and require different bends,” Chakraborty says, offering a probable example. “There are 10 different parts and 10 setups. The Optimizer develops a plan to do the parts in the optimum order to reduce the number of setups required. You can see that another part has the same or similar setups as the first one. It will optimize the order of production to minimize the number of setups and maximize efficiency.”
Therefore, with the Optimizer, productivity is increased and parts are being made faster. And this isn’t due to ram speeds that have increased or any other machine improvement. Instead, parts are being made faster because the operator doesn’t have to change the tooling. There’s also another important benefit to not changing tooling back and forth, adds Chakraborty.
“There's also the issue of getting the tooling in the right spot again,” he says. “You don't want to generate resolution errors; you don't want to generate cumulative errors.”
“What happens,” he asks, “if during a 10-part series, the supervisor comes to you and says ‘order No. 2 now needs to be priority No. 1’? Well, in this case, the software has a feature called Enterprise in which you can set a priority and reoptimize the part order. Order No. 2 is now the first to go through production, but the system will then push up the jobs that are similar to that.”