If stock material were perfect and at the exact lengths needed for finished parts, there wouldn’t be much need for optimization in the sawing industry. However, nonferrous metal is often flawed with mars, forklift stabs, dents, scuffs, band marks from packaging or anodized defects.
Fortunately, a software program created by TigerStop LLC that works in conjunction with a fully automated saw system calculates how the operator can make the most out of his stock material while cutting out imperfections.
The saw operator simply makes marks around the defects with a bright orange UV “Crayon,” and the marks are picked up by a sensor in the TigerSaw 2000, an automated saw station from TigerStop. The software determines how much material will be discarded and optimizes the cut list so there is minimal scrap at the end of the process.
Simon Spykerman, director of marketing at TigerStop, says company representatives have noticed that the tall piles of scrap at their customers’ facilities have dwindled down to almost nothing after using the optimization system. That’s because the operator makes use of remnants or usable scrap pieces in future cut lists. The software tracks the remnants and can feed them through a cut list for optimization. The software also allows for accurately cut parts the first time around so no scrap waste is produced.
“A great deal of scrap waste is entirely usable material, but the labor required to track those remnants and determine how to best make use of them in cut lists takes too much time and energy,” says Spykerman of the manual method.
While the saw increases throughput dramatically, “you still have to load it,” he says.
And therein lies the problem with many sawing applications. The automated saws go through cut lists so quickly the operator is stuck at the saw continually loading pieces when he could be performing additional value-added tasks in the shop, such as sorting finished parts.
Therefore, the logical next step for TigerStop was to produce an automated loader to work with the TigerSaw 2000, which is something that’s been available to the European market through TigerStop’s Holland plant.
It wasn’t until recently when an Australian customer became interested in the automated loader, called the TigerFeeder Automatic Infeed Station, that the company’s headquarters in Vancouver, Wash., adopted the auto loader technology and built its first model stateside. According to Jack Ragan, vice president of sales at TigerStop, the Australian customer needed a sawing solution that would cut five types of material at a greater production speed, leading the company to order the TigerSaw 2000 with the auto loader.
TigerStop rolled out the beta version of the auto loader at Fabtech 2016. Spykerman says the company received positive feedback and plenty of interest at the trade show, and after a few changes, the unit is now hitting the market. The first auto loader shipped out to Australia in late February.
Dogs and Capacity
Anyone familiar with automated loading systems is probably also familiar with the term “dogs.” The loading station dogs – the triangular pieces of the loading station like those shown on the opening image of this article – work with steel cross bracing to push material forward in a synchronized fashion.
This ensures material stays straight while it is being fed through the saw. The dogs also retract, allowing pneumatic cylinders to cycle back and forth, advancing the next piece of material.
Currently, the auto loader is set up to handle five 100-lb. pieces at a time. The auto loader comes in sections (or stations), allowing customers to add up to seven to their sawing operation for 3,500 lbs. of total weight. Each station can handle a variety of material from 4 ft. to 30 ft. in length.
Payden Davidson, trade show coordinator for TigerStop, notes the operator can adjust loading speed, which helps when working with different material weights.
One of the main draws for the loading station, on top of better throughput, is that it frees up an operator. Davidson says normally, the sawing operation requires one operator to mark defects as they load single pieces of material. Meanwhile, a second operator sorts cut pieces at the end of the sawing process.
Being able to load and mark five pieces of material at a time requires less labor, taking a two-man operation down to one. A single operator can load the system and work on sorting finished pieces as the saw is processing material.
“When you can have just one guy doing both sides,” he says, “that’s ideal.”
Knowing When to Automate
Small to medium-sized shop owners working with manual sawing processes might experience seasonal surges that push them to the limit of their productivity capabilities, piquing their interest in automation. But Spykerman says that knowing when to automate really boils down to a question of risk – how much is the manufacturer currently tolerating?
For example, risk is associated with miscuts, rework and spending too much time on specific processes. Manual processes put quality at risk at every corner. The argument can be made that a craftsman or artisan relies on archaic and manual processes for their line of work, but for production facilities, throughput is important, and many find the need to automate becoming quite urgent.
Manufacturers working with manual processes are probably also using a tape measure. Spykerman says many manufacturers attest to the fact that few new employees actually know how to read a tape measure, just another factor of the skills gap.
Spykerman notes that a fabrication shop might have processes that include cutting, measuring, drilling, punching and boring, which have a number of repetitive and simple steps where mistakes can easily occur. Even when mistakes are absent, there is a time element that leads to big costs in the end. Automation takes the human error element out of the equation.
Spykerman notes that if an operator were to set a stop 120 times a day at one minute per stop, they would spend two hours out of their workday on this task. If the operator makes $50 an hour, that’s $25,000 a year measuring and adjusting stops. There is also added waste that needs to be accounted for where errors are concerned, which eats up more time and causes more scrap.
Utilizing TigerStop’s automated stop system, which does all the measuring and adjustment of stops, takes an operator’s setup time from a minute down to seconds. Additionally, the return on investment exceeds the $25,000 saved on measuring stops. Spykerman says that when customers automate existing machinery and replace manual stops, they get computer-controlled accuracy, which means there are no mistakes on part lengths, and no loss due to scrap.