Case Study: Optimized Sheet Metal Processing
October 1, 2007
Founded in 1999, with a staff of 80, Quest Aircraft (Sandpoint, ID) started out with prototyping and then moved into manufacturing light aircraft. The company uses a Komo computer numerical control (CNC) router for all of its sheet metal processing. The previous CAM system used with the router caused significant problems. It was not supplied with an automatic nesting module, so parts were nested manually. A nesting module supplied by the local CAM system dealer frequently stopped working when the main application was updated. Quest spent two weeks rewriting the postprocessor after installation. Also, tooling had to be applied manually, taking upwards of 20 minutes per part.
Quest Aircraft decided to evaluate alternative systems-a drawn-out process that lasted 1½ years. Material utilization and automation were the key decision-making factors when testing systems. Quest set a series of benchmark tests to assess the functionality of each system. One of the suites tested was from Jetcam International (Fontvielle, Monaco), a provider of market software systems for CNC programming of punching and cutting machines used in sheet metal fabrication and composite cutting.
Quest’s Shop Manager Keith Rutledge says, “Initially, all of the other packages we were evaluating looked of a similar standard; however, once we’d seen Jetcam, it was clear that other systems were extremely labor-intensive, taking too many stages to get from DXF to nest. Also, Jetcam was far and away the most straightforward to use. I had planned to hire another programmer, but it was simple enough for our operator-who is not fully computer literate-to competently use. In our nest comparisons, nothing came close to the sheet utilization that Jetcam’s nester came out with. What also made a difference was that we always got a call back straight away with the answers to any questions we had.”
The decision was made to purchase Jetcam Expert Premium, along with the auto-nesting interface and Free Form High Performance Nesting, with installation and training scheduled to take place a month after purchase. The postprocessor generated accurate and clean NC code before the engineer who installed the system left Quest’s facility.
Of the training Rutledge says, “Unfortunately, I missed most of the three-day training; however, I was able to easily train myself within a couple of days. The two other staff trained were able to fully use the system straight away. Four months after installation we have not yet had occasion to need technical support.”
The most visible effect after installation was the material savings. Previously Quest would spend considerable time manually nesting components. With Jetcam Expert components are imported from DXF, tooling is automatically applied, the most efficient nest is calculated and NC code is generated-all in the space of a few minutes. Adds Rutledge, “Depending on the complexity of the nest, we are seeing savings as high as 50%. We have a 4-foot cubic dump for scrap material that used to be emptied weekly. Now it takes several weeks to fill.”
As Quest ramped up production and the programming requirements increased, they noticed that the resources required remained minimal because of Jetcam Expert storing common data in databases for automatic retrieval and application. “Tooling elements that used to be applied manually are now automatically taken from Jetcam’s SEKT database and applied during nesting,” says Rutledge. “All of our nests are now produced automatically because of the accuracy of applied tooling along with the reliability and efficiency of the final NC code.”
Although Quest is in the early stages of full production, machining time is becoming more of an issue. Jetcam’s optimized toolpath and intelligent method of applying tooling and routing have significantly reduced machine cycle time. Automatic auxiliary routing also is applied to the part. “Jetcam Expert generates code that runs much faster on our machine,” adds Rutledge. “I noticed that it optimizes the travel time between components, which means that it cuts the same parts much faster than before, while using much less material.”
Several months after the initial installation, Quest Aircraft had yet to hit any problems with the system. Concludes Rutledge, “Jetcam Expert has already recouped its costs in terms of material savings, resource requirements and its overall ease of use. It is a rock. It has taken a process that I was concerned about and turned it into a nonissue. ”
- Jetcam Expert replaced a CAM system that used an external nesting module that failed each time CAM was updated.
- The software delivers saving of 50% on material through high performance nesting.
- Parts that took 20 minutes to tool are now tooled automatically.
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