An Enterprise Solution for Fab Shops

This fab-focused software ‘sits on top’ of the company’s CAM program to manage workflow and to broadly impose order on the manufacturing process.

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Let’s be frank: Manufacturing software is in tumultuous flux, with developments and program functions expanding in all directions at once (see this month’s Editor’s Letter). It feels as if the thing we need most is a roadmap showing what connects with what.

That’s the result of expanding capabilities and innovations – good things in themselves, but a challenge to follow. We’ll need some patience, because there is no doubt that it is giving a substantial competitive edge to those who employ the latest control and management systems in a serious way. Fortunately for us, fab shop functions are more clear-cut than most, the software is beginning to mature and stabilize, and we’re seeing two basic approaches to achieving control. One is extensive customization, and the other is modularity. Not everyone needs everything. May the best approach win.

The modular approach is favored by most software providers who target both small job shops and large integrated manufacturers. We reported on one module of Metamation’s fabrication-specific MetaBEND press-brake software in April, and promised to follow with other modules. Here, we’ll see how MetaCAM Enterprise links with data and other programs to streamline a wide range of physical and business-management functions. They call it an “Integrated Production Environment.” What follows is the condensed version, because Enterprise has a deep bag of functions.

One way to look at MetaCAM Enterprise is that it “sits on top” of MetaCAM, and it interacts with the CAM program in both directions. It also can be thought of as the “front end” to the CAM program, which produces programs for the cutting machines, and MetaBEND, which is their offline programming system for press brakes.

Enterprise sucks in a lot of data: CAM files or manual programs; order info; assembly designs; materials inventory; machine capability and availability; available tooling; revisions; and more. It imports production schedules from ERP, MRP, and other sources.

A fundamental function is to take all of that data and keep track of what work will go on what machines, and when; materials ordering and scheduling, feeding back to CAM how part nesting should be done to meet production requirements. Work schedules are displayed at operator terminals to show what each operator has to do, in real time.

Because it’s designed for fabricators, Enterprise and its associated programming and CAM modules know specifically what to do with all of that data. First, it looks for problems and errors, and produces color-coded graphics that show you whether everything is OK or not (“That part won’t fit on this machine!; You don’t have enough stock to make that many parts!”). Crunching the data produces more data, which reports directly to you and/or interacts with the other modules to make everything work and maintain schedules. The data becomes knowledge, whether it’s communicated to you or your machines.

It’s break time!

As we said, the functions, both analytical and mechanically functional, are extensive. Some are also a bit abstract: “interacts with” means a lot of different things. Metamation’s website (there’s a link at the end of this article) will help you find specifics that relate to your shop or plant and to your work.

So we’ll take a break from the lists and look at the concepts for a moment. What we have with Enterprise is an automated system that takes over a vast amount of manual work, tirelessly and, one expects, without human errors. Having been designed specifically for fabricating, it’s focused on the steps that go into such work and the problem areas that need analysis and (programmed, digital) judgment.

It’s designed to take inputs from the expected sources: parts designs, CAM or manual programs; orders; machine and materials inventories. At the other end, Metamation will write a “bridge” to connect to your MIE Track ERP system, if you have one, and take order and scheduling data from there, automatically. It also feeds data back to the ERP system to keep track of whether you’re on track – in the various ways that ERP measures “on track.” In between, it allows your programmers to feed into the scheduling and machine-operator displays, turning programs into specific instructions for work, and keeping track of how effectively it’s being done. It also provides other instructions to your operators. Also in between, it produces dashboard displays for production managers to monitor results, far beyond simple notification that a job is on a machine or that it’s done.

Another take is that it sits between CAM and ERP, managing the manufacturing operations at a level of thoroughness and detail that CAM doesn’t touch and that ERP generally doesn’t try to touch, built upon specific knowledge of fabrication work and thoughtful provisions for taking data in an putting it out. How’s that for an abstraction? But, conceptually, that puts it in place.

Back to some important details:

MetaCAM Enterprise is capable, as well, of handling data in batches: batches of parts, assemblies of parts, and multiple engineering changes. Any influence that a change has upon any of these levels, including nesting and tooling changes, is analyzed, fed through to the assembly, part, or nesting file, and reported.

The information components necessary for producing a part – parts programs, nest design, tool lists – are batched together and appear at the operator’s console.

A component called “Super Tooler” allows dragging and dropping parts files into a parts library, where they are automatically programmed (without a programmer) and made ready for nesting. It automatically tools parts for multiple machines; finds tooling errors and rectifies them; suppresses specific machines from programming for specific types of parts; and updates revisions to all machines.

Enterprise has a “single window” interface, which keeps information handy and easy to find. It can be customized with a dashboard to analyze and help make better decisions.

It can also read and store SolidWORKS files in the Enterprise system, seamlessly integrating SolidWORKS data with MetaCAM, which seamlessly becomes part of Enterprise workflow and automatically creates MetaCAM files from sldprt files and produces them.

“But wait, there’s more,” as they say on TV. MetaCAM Enterprise, like many advanced manufacturing software systems, is a product of decades of manufacturing software development, building upon experience gathered from the early days of CAD, CAM, and MRP, and has acquired functions that address an enormous variety of individual circumstances. It’s worth spending the time to think about them in terms of your needs. The benefits can be impressive.

Metamation

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The scheduling function of MetaCAM Enterprise is one of the basic ‘operations’ functions of the software, producing ordered lists of what’s to be done.

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The operator gets as much graphical assistance as possible, including nesting diagrams derived from the program’s nesting function.

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Everything needed to keep track of production and other operations is in one place, with a comprehensive, graphical dashboard.

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Production by Operator is also a graphical display, as in this graph of how many sheets each operator produced.

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