Connecting with CAD/CAM

Implementing the right software delivers a host of efficiencies for shops of all sizes


Investing in the latest fabrication solutions, whether it’s lasers, robotic welders or automated plasma cutting technology, helps fabricators work more efficiently and land more work. However, without the brains behind the applications, namely CAD/CAM software, there won’t be a big return on that investment.

Most of these high-tech machines arrive with at least some basic software, providing the user with options for simple operation, but to reach the machine’s full potential, implementing modern and innovative CAD/CAM software is a necessity. 

Melissa Infantino, regional marketing channel manager for the Americas region at Hypertherm Associates, says selecting the right CAD/CAM software solution for business goals and desired outcomes has the potential to yield a range of positive outcomes, including a significant increase in profits, productivity and material utilization, to name a few.

“If the selected software doesn’t meet the needs of shop owners or their customers’ increasingly elevated expectations,” she says, “this decision can also lead to negative outcomes, such as losing customers or worse, permanent shop closures.”

Infantino notes that CAD/CAM technology replaced manual methods of job programming more than 50 years ago, so the basic understanding of this technology is not only beneficial, “but an invaluable, essential skill anyone working in the industry should have in their toolbox.” But how skilled does a user need to be to fully utilize the tools CAD/CAM solutions offer?

Users don’t need extensive knowledge of programming to use Hypertherm’s software, including Robotmaster, shown here. In fact, most users complete training in two to four days and are creating cuts or welds with efficiency.

Easy programming

There is no shortage of online resources lamenting the difficulty and complexities of CAD/CAM software. Page after page of commenters detail the challenges they encounter when using various software as they seek to gain those elusive production advantages promised by so many CAD/CAM designers. There certainly isn’t a huge pool of talented CAD/CAM programmers that job shops can choose from, and that’s why implementing a user-friendly solution that novice machine operators can understand is of vital importance.

Natalie Adams, robotic software product marketing manager at Hypertherm, says when they design software, usability and workflow take priority for the development and product teams. They understand that only a limited few are capable of understanding lines of code, which is why they’ve come up with visual indicators that notify the user of impending problems with their robotic system, like potential collisions and other errors that can occur in the programming workflow.

The easy-to-use Robotmaster software gives users a start-to-finish view of the programmed operation that helps to eliminate errors.

Speaking specifically of Robotmaster, Hypertherm’s CAD/CAM offline programming software, Adams says the user gains access to many easy-to-use features that require anywhere from two to four days of training to become proficient. This training includes using a powerful simulation engine that provides the user with a virtual representation of a program before it is initiated on the actual system.

“The simulation really gives the user the full view of the process they are programming from start to end and it doesn’t require a serious level of expertise,” Adams says.

And when there are errors to contend with, Hypertherm has developed a color-coded alert system the user sees on the monitor that keeps them fully informed, including green indicating everything is running normally, yellow for potential issues and red for problems that require resolution.

“Instead of diving into code to correct errors,” Adams says, “we’ve developed several features that allow the user to resolve errors with a single click or just a few clicks. We’ve built a lot of intelligence within the software so the user doesn’t need to have the robotics or programming expertise to successfully program their robot with confidence.”

Filling the right need

The ease of use in Hypertherm’s CAD/CAM software also extends to other products, including ProNest, software that provides full support for SureCut technologies – including True Hole, Rapid Part and PlateSaver, which are delivered automatically without operator intervention, and True Bevel, which greatly reduces bevel setup time. ProNest is designed to support plasma (conventional air/oxygen and high definition), oxyfuel, waterjet, laser and bevel cutting applications for nearly all major cutting machine brands and manufactures on the market today.

ypertherm’s ProNest nesting software provides users with an intuitive solution for making quality cuts and utilizing the most of their materials, reducing scrap.

Infantino refers to ProNest as the company’s “flagship” software due to its full range of features for high-production facilities where it is the norm to manage a “ton of nests and parts” day in and day out. But not every shop or fabricator is running a lights-out operation with complex, high-volume cut lists, so Hypertherm now offers greater purchasing flexibility to nesting software users with a low-ocst, subscription-based option called ProNest LT.

ProNest LT is still professional-grade software, but it’s designed for light industrial applications and supports most major plasma (conventional air/oxygen and high-definition), oxyfuel, and waterjet cutting machine brands and models. A few major differences between LT and the flagship model of ProNest is that LT doesn’t offer advanced optional modules such as quoting or 3-D CAD import/edit capabilities, nor does it offer ERP/MRP integration, as all of these are not generally desired by its targeted user base, which consists primarily of hobbyists, metal artists, sign makers and lower-volume job shops.

“The differentiator between ProNest and LT is the plethora of optional modules, bevel cutting and 3-D CAD import/edit capabilities available in ProNest,” Infantino says. “For instance, ProNest connects to an MRP/ERP and has an advanced database setup, as well as laser cutting application features and support.”

Relying on experts

Choosing the right CAD/CAM software can be a confusing situation, sometimes just due to timing. Adams says the challenge she has witnessed from shops is that they are often looking at jumping into automation and are unsure if they should consider software before, during or after implementing new automated systems and processes.

Check out the video highlighting ProNest LT nesting software and see how this budget-friendly software can bring efficiencies to smaller shops.

Fortunately, Hypertherm has cast a rather wide net, establishing channel partners that are a valuable resource to fabricators in any region of the country that need some guidance. Adams refers to these channel partners as “integrators,” as they “know everything from the hardware on the robotic side to the software from Hypertherm.” This means that they not only assist fabricators in selecting the right software and train them on it, but they also have a deep knowledge for designing and implementing robotic systems.

“They are the best people to work with from the beginning rather than trying to piece it all together yourself,” Adams says. “That’s not to say you can’t add software to an existing system but getting it right from the start helps to get that return on investment that every customer is hoping for.”

Adams has seen it happen before – a user goes in with confidence, sure they can design a new system, they select the robot and other cell components, set up the system cell and figure out the programing, but what happens is they “end up in the weeds for months if not years trying to get the system up and running efficiently and that is wasted time and money.”

The “integrator,” Adams says will provide proof of concept, as they will inquire about the user’s desired outcomes and steer them in the right direction to realize their production goals. Making the connection to a channel partner (integrator) begins with contacting Hypertherm.

Success stories

Ease of use, little training required, flexible solutions for all types of shops – it sounds nice in theory but what about real-world scenarios?

Top Tier Inc., a Portland, Ore.-based supplier of palletizers and systems that integrate with conveyor and other material handling equipment, is an example of how implementing the right software can turn out big advantages.

Nesting 20 to 30 sheets at a time at its production facility, Top Tier programmers faced half a day’s work programming a variety of parts on different materials of varying thicknesses. Company leaders needed to find a faster way to program, but they also sought out a solution for linking their nesting software with their MRP system. The solution they found was Hypertherm’s ProNest, and as soon as it was installed, they were able to important entire spreadsheets of parts from the pc/MRP directly into ProNest with no additional programming required.

The result was taking a process that once consumed four hours of their programmer’s time and cutting it down to 20 min. The programmer, Rick Kirkpatrick, who also has other tasks at the production facility, suddenly had much more time to be productive elsewhere.

“At the end of the day,” Kirkpatrick says, “that time translates into dollars and cents, and that’s a huge cost savings.”

Another ProNest success story comes out of the Midwest where Plasma Cutting Services (PCS) is based. The company, which processes industrial plate materials for customers from the agriculture, oil and gas, automotive, and other industries, had come to a point where leadership wanted to distinguish the company from other fabricators and knew the road to reaching that goal was through adopting advanced technology, including state-of-the-art plasma cutting machines and software.

Wyatt Braker, owner of PCS, says they chose Hypertherm equipment because of its advanced plasma cutting capabilities, but also implemented PlateSaver, a Hypertherm solution for optimizing material by identifying the most efficient way to nest parts. A simple update to its ProNest software was all it took to get PlateSaver up and running.

“We’re seeing better material optimization rates,” Braker says, “especially with thicker, rectangular parts.”

Hypertherm Associates

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