Beyond CAM

Using manufacturing management software to quote, plan and grow a business

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OCFab Ltd. started as a simple subcontracting welding shop in 1995. Its main customers were – and still are – in the agriculture industry. In addition to powder coating, the shop grew to incorporate steel bending as the market need presented itself, installing a CNC lathe and CNC mill and adding laser cutting capabilities, as well. From there, the business exploded.

OCFab now produces about 600,000 lbs. of material a month and is a regional leader in laser cutting, bending, welding, machining and powder coating. The 67,000-sq.-ft. shop employs approximately 30 people, all of whom are kept busy by the shop’s impressive workload. It handles everything from cutting to final assembly, so machines run day and night.

OCFab cuts, bends and welds the components that comprise this heater built for customer Thermal Intelligence. They also do a large portion of the assembly.

Finding a fit

In 2020, OCFab installed a TRUMPF TruLaser 1030 6-kW laser cutting machine. After realizing how much it improved efficiency, the shop added another TruLaser 3040 10-kW unit in 2023. To run the machines, OCFab relies on Lantek Expert 2D CAD/CAM automated nesting software. It first brought on the software suite back in 2007 when it purchased its first laser cutting machine.

The in-system database and unapparelled customizability are the perfect fit for the shop. In fact, OCFab experimented with a different CAD/CAM software in 2015 before quickly switching back to Expert. Mechanical designer Justin Waldner’s favorite software function is the ability to add a specific identifier to each part that distinguishes where it will go at the picking stations.

Expert and the first TRUMPF laser cutting machine streamlined production so much that OCFab started to take on far greater volumes of work and more complex assemblies. It became apparent that a better organizational approach was needed, especially for non-sheet metal parts or parts with odd welds. Then, like with most shops, the Covid-19 pandemic shook things up. Material prices soared, reducing profit margins – and the margin for error.

“To stay profitable, we needed to get out POs as soon as possible,” Waldner says, adding that it could take individual employees up to four days to draw the plans and figure out exactly how much material to order. Due to time constraints, the quoting and billing of jobs was more art than science. Looking back, Waldner says, “Our jobs were quoted inconsistently and varied greatly in margin. Also, once manufacturing plans were in place, they were not very easy to change. If a price change were necessary, the process could take up to two weeks. We were not very reactive to market conditions.” 

An unexpected outcome of this bottleneck was employee burnout. Many of the tasks associated with prepping jobs were user-specific, and there was no system with which to delegate them.

“There was no solution,” Waldner says. “If that assigned person couldn’t figure something out, no one else could. It was a lot of overtime, a lot of sacrifices and a lot of unpleasantness.”

To run the TRUMPF TruLaser cutting machines, OCFab relies on Lantek Expert 2D CAD/CAM automated nesting software.

Adding help

OCFab decided to bring on additional Lantek software solutions: MES Manager and Integra. MES Manager is a manufacturing execution system that specializes in planning, directing and tracking a shop’s workflow. It automatically schedules out production according to machine availability, inventory, deadlines, staffing and job priority. Parts are organized into several groups by material, size and thickness, delivery date, sales order, customer and which machine will be used.

In real time, Manager shows users a graphic of the status of each job: standby, nesting, under production or finished. Integra works in complement to Manager as a sales, purchasing and inventory tool.

One of the most valuable features of the two software solutions to OCFab is their combined cost analysis. The two compare estimated costs and true costs for orders, all while capturing industry costs from online. They also analyze incurred costs, volume of work and efficiency metrics. These data accrue and store within the software, informing better decisions in the future.

Originally, when OCFab was using Expert as a standalone software, the shop team would create a plan of the assembly and plan of the parts. The files would be bundled into a kit that would be sent off to be cut. It worked beautifully for many years, but then work became more complex.

Within the Inegra solution, programmers like general manager Jackie Stahl can create the assembly of a part and add all the sheet metal parts, just as they would within Expert using its advanced nesting tools.

“Sometimes, we have to add tubing or update the purchased items list or edit the files somehow,” Waldner says.

Today, they use Integra. Within the solution, programmers create the assembly of the part and add all the sheet metal parts, just like with Expert. In addition to Expert’s advanced nesting tools, now the team also has access to Integra’s tools, which make it easy to add beam parts, purchased items and estimated costs.

That isn’t to say that Expert is any less relied on now. It is still the only CAM software Waldner trusts to direct the laser cutter. He often adds and removes live parts to and from jobs. For example, if he is working with a low-volume job, he can quickly add its few parts to a different job to maximize material use. Expert automatically applies its nesting algorithms so that the least material possible is wasted.

“It’s a win for us because we fully use the material, and it’s a win for our customers because the prices reflect that conservative use,” Waldner says. “Once that information is uploaded, we can send out a quote almost instantly.”

Waldner likes to create cost categories for different material that his team can flex as needed. Materials that OCFab does not often work with, like aluminum, are flexed up.

“This way, we don’t attract work we don’t want,” he says. “The pricing is kept in a sweet spot.”

As for price changes on the fly, they don’t even create a pause now.

Explosive growth

When the assembly file is ready and the quote has been sent out, OCFab creates the sales order in its software. That same software then plans out cutting, purchasing and scheduling. Waldner has so much faith in the suite that he feels confident running the lasers lights-out. About 90 percent of the shop’s job work directly off Expert’s automated nesting with no manual edits.

Shown here is a self-dumping hopper manufactured by OCFab.

“It’s only been a little over a year since starting with this new system, but I can’t imagine not having it now,” Waldner says.

The three solutions in combination have smoothed production and erased the quoting bottleneck. They even offered a bonus that Waldner had not anticipated.

“The traceability is unmatched,” he says. “Now, we know at a glance which parts need to go where for packing or welding as well as if they’re already cut or upcoming.”

Before the switch, Waldner believed that OCFab was maxed out. There was no room to bring on more work and grow with the internal issues the shop faced. Once Integra and Manager were integrated with Expert, though, everything changed. The company’s growth has exploded, and the whole team is excited to keep improving.

Lantek

OCFab Ltd.

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