Discussions are numerous throughout the industry about the skills gap that impacts fabricators, and for good reason – it affects productivity. Deloitte’s 2014 survey found that between 2015 and 2025, 2 million manufacturing jobs in the United States will go unfilled due to the skills gap.
“Implications are significant,” the report says. “Every job in manufacturing creates another 2.5 new jobs in local goods and services.”
It’s also estimated that 2.7 million workers of the Baby Boomer generation will retire in that time, which exacerbates the situation.
To combat the skills gap, equipment manufacturers are getting smarter about production. This includes developing smart touch control devices that make it relatively easy for an unskilled worker to operate machinery.
TigerStop LLC, a company that manufactures automated positioners and pushers in addition to turnkey automated saw systems and a plethora of software, has an in-house developer constantly working on the evolution of its touchscreen control device – the TigerTouch. This is the company’s touchscreen tablet and software that works with any TigerStop system. The sizeable display offers a familiar interface that operators can easily understand.
TigerStop specializes in automating machinery, so if a manufacturer has an upcut saw, drill, punch, press or most any type of saw it has been using in manual mode or with a manual stop block or clamp, TigerStop has a push feed system that attaches to the machine tool to automate it.
The brain of TigerStop solutions is located in its software, and TigerTouch allows all of the critical processing information to be displayed visually and accessed through a Microsoft Surface tablet in an industrial-strength encasement mounted to the machine.
TigerTouch allows operators to save offsets and import cut lists as well as edit cut lists, which means operators aren’t required to do any calculations and are able to make error-free cuts. With sophisticated visual representation on the interface, operators have greater control. Furthermore, it supports automatic, semi-automatic and manual material processing.
“If you own a saw, a drill or a punch – whatever it is, we can automate that for you,” says Simon Spykerman, director of marketing at TigerStop. “And now, you can get a touchscreen control for that automation. It allows that touchscreen-ability, which users appreciate because of presets. The younger generation coming up – they’re growing up on tablets. It just made sense to go that way.”
Josh Shoup is TigerStop’s in-house developer who constantly works on new versions of the TigerTouch software. At the Fabtech Expo 2016, Shoup was excited to introduce manufacturers to version 2.0, which brought the addition of a profile picture for each piece of material manufacturers are cutting. This is beneficial for novice saw operators who aren’t familiar with all the materials they’re working with and need a little assistance pulling the right material for the job.
“This is big in the metals industry because they have such varied profiles in their cut lists,” Shoup says.
Spykerman adds that before updating TigerTouch last year, operators would read in the cut list a description of what material was needed for the job, which was challenging if there were 100 or more different types of material to choose from, but by having the profile picture, “you can say ‘oh, that one,’ and grab it.”
Shoup notes they also included a “customizable move button,” which allows the operator to make custom offsets. A profile picture of these odd cuts is also on the touchscreen so the operator fully understands what is required. In particular, many window and door manufacturers benefit from this new feature.
Things progress quickly, though, and the company has since released versions 2.01 and 2.02 over the last year, and in September released version 2.03.
Spykerman says part of the reason for the constant evolution is that TigerStop sales representatives in the field are getting good feedback from customers, and customer support
is constantly taking calls, so they’re getting valuable information about the next steps to take with the software.
TigerStop makes a list of requests and prioritizes the items, and Shoup, who has a computer science degree from Washington State University, uses Microsoft development software to build in the updates.
Shoup runs virtual tests using Microsoft Digital Studio until the update runs without any crashes, then he’ll make a cut on actual material. A beta testing program helps him fine-tune the software updates before it is released to the public. Anyone who purchases a TigerStop product with the TigerTouch Tablet Package can download updates through the company website.
Introducing Version 2.03
So, what’s new with version 2.03? The feedback pointed TigerStop heavily toward reporting capabilities.
“As we move further into the future and everything is tied together with the Internet of Things,” Shoup explains, “everyone wants to know how everything is connected. This is our first step in allowing customers to get that information – yield, waste, how many pieces were completed, type of job, print labels, etc.”
Not everyone wants to see the same type of reports, so TigerTouch allows for customized reporting.
“You can set up KPIs,” Spykerman said of custom reporting options. “You can track the scrap rate for a job, see the efficiency of the machine, tool life, when to change parts. You can also compare operator performance.”
TigerStop specializes in reducing scrap by quickly and accurately calculating the best cutting order to reduce material waste.
Custom part data can be printed directly onto finished pieces with inkjet printing options or using label printers. The reporting can even include information about what was printed over the course of a job.
Throughout the day, there are plenty of times when a job might get priority over another. TigerTouch version 2.03 makes that easy, Shoup says.
“With the touch of a button, the operator can switch to ‘priority number one’ in no time flat,” he explains. “It keeps the operation going smoothly and quickly and the operator knows exactly where they are in the process.”
TigerTouch was first offered on the Microsoft Surface 3, but is now on Surface 4. However, Shoup says they developed the software to run “lean and mean,” which means
it doesn’t require much processor power. Also, while most people using a tablet computer might have several applications running at the same time, sawing operators are most likely only using it for sawing jobs.
Spykerman says Microsoft has sent representatives down to the TigerStop shop to see how the team there is utilizing the Surface for their industry.
“It’s an exciting partnership,” Spykerman says. “They’re interested in the application for manufacturing.”
As for the future of TigerTouch and version 2.04, Shoup is getting feedback as usual from the field about where to go next. So far, manufacturers are still talking about ease of use and reporting features.