On the heels of an uncertain year, fabricators around the world are rethinking virtually every aspect of their business as they figure out how to adjust to a post-Covid world. Although life is slowly returning to normal, unprecedented challenges continue to test the strength and stability of businesses large and small. Supply chain disruptions, production bottlenecks and skilled labor shortages, coupled with record unemployment, have left many fabricators with less working capital. At the same time, they are encountering an influx of orders.
Faced with doing more with less, fabricators, are turning to software to automate jobs and improve productivity. By using software like Hypertherm’s ProNest LT nesting software, fabricators can complete jobs in minutes, rather than hours.
Nigel Guttenberg, a mechanical designer at C&C Machine in Wisconsin, says the software is saving his company more than a half day of work per job.
“ProNest LT improved our ability to quote projects faster,” he says. “A job with 500 parts used to take five hours to manually nest. Now, the same job takes 30 sec. I just load the DXF file, select the part quantity and the material, and I’m done. The software paid for itself in two hours.”
Joe Dube, owner of Profile Plus Metal Arts in Canada’s Ontario province, agrees.
“The software LT is amazing,” he says. “It generates the lead-ins and lead-outs automatically. It thinks for you. With my other software I had to tell it every pierce, point and hole. The time savings of not having to do that is obvious, but I’ve also decreased my material costs by 60 percent. The automatic nesting feature saves so much plate.”
Sign up time
As an alternative to purchasing software outright, as has been the norm for decades, companies today are turning to a business model that has been around for a while but is still fairly new to the fabrication industry: software subscriptions.
According to Hypertherm, which made its ProNest LT software available by subscription nearly two years ago, there are many benefits to subscriptions including a much lower upfront cost and the knowledge that the software is always up to date with the latest features. Automatic updates and upgrades are included in a subscription.
The lower up-front cost of a monthly subscription is just one of its key benefits. A successful subscription model provides a solid product that is easy to use and includes unlimited access to training tools as well as top-notch technical support. Because subscriptions are lower risk than purchasing the software outright, it is easier to determine if the software works for a business and it is simple to switch to another software if they are not happy.
The ability to try the subscription without making a big financial commitment is what initially attracted Mitchell Mill Systems, a Missouri-based custom steel fabrication shop, to it. Last year, Mitchell Mill Systems undertook a company-wide lean project. As a part of that project, the management team tasked Jeff Johnson, who oversees the company’s cutting operations, with figuring out how to reduce the amount of time, material and labor it took to complete jobs.
Johnson and his team immediately decided to test out ProNest LT. One of the first things the team did was compare the time it took to program and complete a job against their old software.
“We ran a complete job from scratch in each software program, going from the drawing all the way to a finished program that was ready to cut,” Johnson says. “We found that it took 12 and half minutes in our old software versus only 3 min. in ProNest LT. It was nuts that we were able to do it that quickly!”
The amount of time saved was even more pronounced when compared with the total number of nests Mitchell Mill Systems creates in a year. The company averages 550 nests each year and the time savings per job was 9 and half min. Johnson and his team realized the software could save them an average of 87 hours of work per year. Then assuming an hourly labor rate of $75, the savings would average $6,525 per year.
Perhaps the bigger advantage of using high-quality software is the ability to optimize cut quality. Mitchell Mill Systems found this out in dramatic fashion when cutting a custom part for a
customer. The part required 7,000 holes be cut in 0.5-in.-thick mild steel. With the old software, the hole quality was not good. It had too much taper, forcing every hole to be reamed as a secondary process.
Making the switch to ProNest LT solved this problem. Parameters automatically embedded into the software made it so the company can now cut every hole with virtually no taper. In addition, cut quality improved on all the parts. Now, hardly any secondary operations are required.
“The quality with ProNest LT is incredible compared to what we were getting before on the same cutting equipment,” Johnson says.
With today’s shortage of experienced workers, the ability to subscribe to high-quality software for a low upfront cost brings yet another advantage: ease of use.
“When I first started using ProNest LT, I said to my boss, ‘There’s something wrong here – this software is way too easy!’ Johnson explains. “You go from creating your drawings to nesting to reporting very quickly.”
Bobby Barta at All Wood Log Splitters in Michigan agrees about the ease of use and he also appreciates the available support when he needs help.
“The support is excellent,” he says. “I’ve used a Hypertherm Powermax plasma for nearly 15 years, so I know Hypertherm. However, I’m new to all of this. I purchased a CNC and MaxPro200 plasma cutter six months ago. I didn’t know anything about coding, but I just downloaded the ProNest LT software one day and figured it out. It just made sense.”
“I’m not really computer strong. I’m more of a nuts and bolts, turning a wrench kind of guy, but I am extremely happy with the software,” adds Wayne McDaniel, business owner of Elite Restomods in Georgia. “I’ve had no problems with the software and the training videos made everything easy. I just pick the consumables, pick the material, then the thickness and just hit out-post. It’s really easy and the cuts are quality.”
Using ProNest LT, fabricators are saving time, saving money and producing better cut parts. In addition, they are enjoying the software’s ease of use and easy access to support, if needed. Traditionally, it has been difficult to find any software, let alone affordable software, that can deliver all these benefits. The arrival of subscription-based software packages for manufacturing is changing that.
“I’m just an old welder guy with no computer experience,” says Jim Osterson, who works for Iowa’s Green County. “The ProNest LT videos, knowledge base and tech support helped me learn the program,” “I actually wish we had this software 10 years ago. It does a heck of a job.”
“Before, we were using a pattern torch with a magnetic wheel to trace templates,” he adds. “Nothing was ever perfect though. There was always a little variation and we had to store hundreds of templates. Now, that way of working seems primitive. Yesterday, we cut 12 3/4-in. steel snowplow trip spring brackets using the software. We stacked the finished parts up and every part was dead on. The price point of ProNest LT is dead on too, second to none.”