Smart material flow

To reduce indirect fabrication processing time, intralogistics is a good place to start


The phrase “you pay for what you get” has a different connotation for customers looking to have parts fabricated in modern sheet metal job shops. In addition to paying for the

Pricing is primarily affected by direct processes, including cutting, bending and painting. Indirect processes, such as intralogistics and storage, are areas where fabricators are looking to bring costs down.

actual part that was ordered, customers pay for the various manufacturing processes that go into the production of the overall part.

This product pricing structure isn’t exclusive to metal fabrication, of course. Consumers are regularly charged for the overhead that manufacturers, retailers and even restaurateurs incur. Overhead costs aren’t spelled out on a price tag or bill, but they are, indeed, built into the price points that business owners establish for their goods or services. When input prices rise, businesses have two choices: swallow the difference or raise the cost for customers.   

Material management

For metal fabricators, the inputs that affect pricing are largely split into the direct processes that are required to make the part, such as cutting, bending, welding and painting. In addition, a part goes through a series of indirect processes that vary by manufacturer and do not directly contribute to the final finished part, such as manual programming, cost estimation, intralogistics and storage, just to name a few.

When parts are placed on pallets and located by paper travel documents, it leads to long search times. By reducing the time it takes to locate parts, fabricators can
increase productivity and profits.

These indirect processes often account for up to 80 percent of the overall time spent manufacturing a part. Understandably, manufacturers are constantly looking for innovative solutions to help them reduce this metric.

To help manufacturers battle a specific problem that deals with the intralogistics of material inside the shop floor, Trumpf developed its TruTops FAB Logistics module for use with its TruTops FAB MES software. The complexity of the problem varies by the size of the facility, volume of simultaneous orders, and processes used to sort and separate orders on the shop floor.

A typical shop floor has parts distributed across pallets, controlled by paper travel documents, that are stored randomly based on the path of least resistance. It is not often a perfect system: The parts that are required to finish a customer’s metal enclosures? They’re in the back of the shop somewhere by the old press brake. The parts that the welder needs now? They’re probably on a pallet near the loading docks.

To say the least, this type of organization (or lack thereof) often leads to long search times, unnecessary reordering of parts and long travel paths, which all adds to the indirect processes in a part’s life cycle. The intralogistics costs incurred in the production process are also difficult to capture and not easily measured to understand the true impact on the cost of manufacturing a part.

That’s where TruTops FAB Logistics software comes in. It’s been designed to specifically tackle the streamlined management of material across the shop floor starting from a raw sheet to when the part ultimately leaves the shipping department.

Follow the part

When TruTops FAB Logistics software is used, a digital twin of the material flow is created as a part completes each stage of the manufacturing process while providing

Autonomous guided vehicles can greatly reduce the time it takes to deliver parts from one workstation to the next.

complete transparency to anyone in the organization. The part is tracked through each step and the location is stored in the software so less time is spent searching and sorting parts on the shop floor.

The key components of the software include:

  • Server and logistics client interface for material handlers
  • Intelligent docks for easy material handling
  • Smart labeling system for pallets
  • Autonomous guided vehicle (AGV) logistics software for fully autonomous production (option)

Because the software is designed to be flexible, it can start with simple digitization of stored sheets and orders by booking parts into the software using simple and easy-to-use web apps. The logistics app is able to scan QR codes to quickly capture all information about the order and book the order to a specific location.

Furthermore, the TruTops FAB MES software is aware of the due dates of the part. Once an order completes an operation, the software automatically schedules instructions called transport orders to move material in the correct sequence to the next operation. These transport orders are then presented to material handlers on a tablet or PC clearly indicating the priority and where to pick up or deliver the orders.

Autonomous operation

Watch the video to take a digital tour of Trumpf’s Smart Factory located just outside of Chicago in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

In addition to streamlining material movement on the shop floor, the TruTops FAB Logistics module can also be upgraded to achieve levels of maximum automation. Besides taking time to find and transport the part, the movement of material on the floor takes the operator away from their workstation decreasing the productivity at the machine. Some shops are quite large, so delivering parts from one workstation to the next can take several minutes, at the very least, not including the time it takes to resume the machine’s operations. Multiply that by several times a day and manufacturers could lose several hours of production every week, if not every day.

To keep operators at their machine and on task, AGVs can be integrated into the transportation process to completely automate the movement of material from one station to another. These AGVs are driverless vehicles that can safely navigate through the shop floor without the need of a forklift operator. This also allows for operators to be utilized at another necessary step within the manufacturing process.

To simplify the process of booking and creating transport orders, Trumpf designed special intelligent docks and carts that are installed across the shop floor based on throughput of orders. Each of these docks is programmed to interact with the logistics server via a special interface that allows for the AGV to accurately pick up orders at each “address” and move them safely and repeatably to the next operation. Docks vary in design based on the operation they support and can be cascaded linearly to optimize floor space.

In order to reduce clutter at workstations, specialized buffer racks are designed for work in progress to store them until they are actually needed at the next operation. A sophisticated transport management algorithm is used to determine the movement to these racks based on order stack height and weight. The process allows for better utilization of floor space, increased productivity and less time waiting for the next order to arrive.

There are many ways that manufacturers can reduce indirect fabrication processing time, but the topic of intralogistics is a good place to start. In summary, smart material flow can have a high impact for manufacturers as they look to improve throughput while reducing the waste and costs of manufacturing.

Trumpf Inc.

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