In broad terms, three current factors in the metal fabrication industry highlight the benefits of offline programming. We will briefly explore these factors, explain offline programming and its benefits, and finish by seeing how Badger Sheet Metal Works incorporates this technology into its operations where applicable.
Staffing Shortage: A significant challenge faced by metal fabrication companies in the U.S. is a critical shortage of machine operators, slowing production and hampering cost-efficiency.
Skills Shortage: A common role on the shop floor is operating a press brake. The job requires a worker with expansive knowledge in metal, tooling, bump forming and general machine capabilities.
Production Shortage: Another hindrance to a company’s efficiency is the amount of time it takes to set a machine for a complex operation. The time spent programming a machine is time missed producing parts.
What is Offline Programming?
BSMW’s machine operators are proficient in programming jobs at a machine’s controller. But the equipment sits idle during the programming, which can be complex, time-intensive work.
Offline programming keeps machines running as much as possible while improving accuracy. The technology allows BSMW’s engineers to import AutoCAD and SolidWorks models from customers’ files and then use specialized software to create and download CNC programs to machines. Examples include bending sequences for a press brake or nesting layouts for a laser cutter.
Key Benefits of Offline Programming
Less experience needed
Because software takes control of the programming process, less skill and experience are needed to run the machine. Operators no longer need to manually write a multiple-bend sequence for a part. Offline programming lets them upload a program that specifies what dies to use, where to place them, and how the operator should carry out the bend sequence to form the part.
An engineer simulates bending remotely in offline programming, leaving machines free for other work while they create the new program. In this workflow, it takes less time to verify directions and creates efficiencies in machine setup. The best tooling paths can also be calculated by the offline programming software to produce a component as quickly as possible.
With laser cutting, offline programming helps achieve better sheet utilization because an operator can combine multiple parts on a sheet for more efficient use of the material.
Accuracy and error prevention
Errors occur when an incorrect number or misplaced decimal point is manually entered into a controller. With offline programming, the data is downloaded directly from the AutoCAD and SolidWorks models into the bending program without any opportunity for human error.
The offline programming software also reduces the amount of redone work by simulating the bending of complex parts in advance, checking for collisions with the machine or the dies it’s using, and eliminating costly errors before production.
Metal fabricators commonly use offline programming for first-time-through parts, custom parts, and small runs.
Staying Competitive Using Offline Programming
BSMW first invested in offline programming in 2011 and continues using it to solve technically-challenging parts before sending them to the floor.
“While programming offline, BSMW can fail to form a part half a dozen times virtually before sending a physical part out to the floor,” explained Kenny Coe, BSMW’s sales manager. “This way, the press brake operators will be provided with all of the forming instructions, tooling placements, gauging positions, and virtual simulation they need to form prototype parts with confidence—as if they are repeat jobs they have made before.”
The technology also frees BSMW from the time-consuming tasks of tool selection, bend sequence, and gauging positions for complicated parts.
BSMW’s Skilled Machine Operators and Offline Programming Create a Complete Metal Fabrication Shop
BSMW does a lot of prototyping in its shop, relying heavily on highly-skilled press brake operators for the majority of its work. The time required for offline programming is simply not needed for simple-to-moderately challenging parts with limited runs. Instead, BSMW focuses its offline programming time on more complicated and expensive jobs.
When BSMW does leverage the benefits of offline programming, machine operators bring their own experience and problem solving to each job. They can foresee potential issues, solve existing ones and save the corrections to the program directly from the press brake.
The Future of Offline Programming at BSMW
With its strong emphasis on small-run prototype parts, BSMW’s operators continue to be the cornerstone of its forming department. However, as offline programming software advances and less time is required to develop each program, it will become cost-effective to create offline programs for more of its workload to better support its operators.
ABOUT BADGER SHEET METAL WORKS
Badger Sheet Metal Works is a custom and OEM metal fabrication partner for various industries, including food and dairy, mining, petroleum, material handling, medical and pharmaceutical. The company employs approximately 100 people in a custom-designed plant in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The facility includes a 70 by 320-foot main assembly bay with four crane rails featuring a total lifting capacity of 30 tons and a 22-foot under-hook height.