Mechanical Technology Archive

MechTech talks to SigmaNest product manager Hannes Pretorius of MECAD Systems, SigmaTEK’s South African distribution partner, about this world-leading nesting software solution for cutting systems.

The role of nesting software is to minimise the amount of scrap raw material produced while cutting shapes, usually from sheet or flat material. The software analyses the shapes of components being cut or punched and, using algorithms, determines how to lay these parts out onto a raw material sheet to maximise the number of useful parts produced and minimise the amount of raw material wasted.

SigmaNest Split Screen nesting profile cutting MECAD SigmaTEK“We have over 1 200 SigmaNest users across South Africa using oxyfuel, plasma, laser and water jet cutters, punching machines and routers to optimise their material use,” says Pretorius, adding that as well as flat products, tube and bending machines can also be supported.

“Via a simple, flexible and scalable set of software options, we offer economical solutions for sheet metal profilers, CAD/CAM and CNC machine users of all sizes,” he continues.

“Typically, entry level SigmaNest Companion software is used by small jobbing shops with one or two R200 000 plasma machines. These companies need software to improve the efficiency of material use on their machines,” Pretorius explains.

SigmaNest Plasma Punch ComboAll cutting machines can cut shapes directly from a CAD drawing but using a cutting machine to cut one shape for one job at a time is highly inefficient in terms of time and material.

It is far more efficient to cut a number of components from the same sheet at the same time – and these may be for different jobs/customers. SigmaNest enables each cutting task to be planned in advance so that the maximum number of separate components can be cut in the fastest possible time leaving the least waste material.

“A first licence for SigmaNest Companion costs less than R50 000, making it an ideal initial purchase for a small business wanting to reduce its costs and improve its competitiveness. “Companion is an easy-to-implement true shape nesting solution that uses wizards to enable users to nest component more efficiently. It works with all profile cutting machines, including plasma, oxyfuel, laser and waterjet cutters and produces nesting layouts and NC programs effortlessly. Anyone can learn how to use the software, within a week. We have even trained people that started out as labourers in a cutting shop to use this software,” Pretorius reveals.

Once the offline nesting has been completed, the software creates the appropriate G-code for the specific brand of cutting machine being used and this is loaded into the machine via a memory stick or Ethernet cable. Along with waste minimisation advantages, automatic path generation ensures that the sheet is cut in the fastest possible time – and the associated more continuous cutting also prolongs the nozzle life of the machine.

The payback period? “Fabricators routinely save at least 10% on material use by switching to SigmaNest. Depending on volumes, this puts payback periods at between three and 12 months on the software purchase price, and that does not account for production speed increases,” he says.

“How do you deal with the exploding number of different cutting machines brands on the market?” MechTech asks.

“Every SigmaNest software solution is customised to suit the machine it is supporting,” Pretorius responds. “We install an interface called a post processor, which sits behind SigmaNest’s optimisation routines. The post-processor translates SigmaNest’s NC-program into the specific G-code that the machine understands.

“Every machine brand – Bystronic, Trumpf, Amada, Mazak, and hundreds of others – all need to have a unique post processor to create compatible G-code and it is this code that SigmaNest creates for download onto the machine,” he explains.

“While we have access to a global library of base-line post-processors and we share resources for all previously developed interfaces, we are routinely asked to interface to new and unknown machines. We then have to get back to the OEM or local supplier of the machine for a sample of their G-code – and if that fails, we can also get it from the customer – and we reverse engineer a unique post-processor for that machine.

“We recently had to develop one for a new router being used in the aerospace industry, for example, and we created and tested a brand new post-processor for that machine inside four days,” he tells MechTech.

As the machines used by small profilers get busier or the company grows to the point where more machines are needed, operators might want to upgrade to access more of the available software features. “Because of the pricing, we are very strong with small and medium sized enterprises, but the features of the SigmaNest software range also make it attractive to larger corporates, such as MacSteel VRN and the Aveng Group,” says Pretorius.

“The range is designed to help companies to grow. When a company wishes to upgrade their SigmaNest package, we only charge for the difference in price between the modules. So to upgrade from Companion to our midrange R95 000 SigmaNest TrueShape package – which also includes part-in-part nesting and embedded CAD capabilities – the customer only need pay the difference between the two product prices, R45 000-R50 000.

“Also, due to our multi-copy discount policy, customers only pay 100% for the first license bought. From then on, additional licenses are available at a reduced rate that we call multi-copy discount,” he adds.

When an upgrade is purchased, no new software is required to be installed. “During the initial purchase, we install all of the necessary software. On upgrading, therefore, we simply unlock the upgrade via a dongle and the new features are immediately available,” he explains.

The fully unlocked package is called SigmaNest Power Pack: This version also includes the company’s manufacturing resource planning (MRP) solution for the fabrication industry, a flexible, software solution that manages transactions and communications between customers and suppliers.

“SigmaNest Power Pack unlocks SigmaMRP, which includes cost estimating and quoting; stock and inventory control; production management, job tracking and scheduling; and legacy data conversion.

From the time that a customer brings a plate cutting job into a facility, the software manages the production flow. It first decides which machines or processes to use. It will assign costs to the job, including additional processing requirements such as welding, grinding, bending and assembly, and it produces an accurately tabulated quotation to be sent to the customer.

On approval, the quotation is transformed into a purchase order and it is immediately given ‘work in progress’ status and the job is prepared, via SigmaNest for the cutting machine. The optimised machine code and cutting path are generated and sent to the punching, cutting or bending machines involved, and then assembly is completed.

This solution offers a highly cost effective business and production planning solution for profilers and jobbing shops that goes well beyond the cutting process alone,” Pretorius advises, adding, “which at its current list price is still the cheapest on the market by a considerable distance.”

SigmaNest is a gold partner of DS SolidWorks and is fully compatible with the SolidWorks design suite. “SigmaNest can run either outside or inside SolidWorks, which has an embedded tool called SolidNest that links to SigmaNest in the background,” Pretorius explains. “This enables designers to quickly pass design proposals into SolidNest to view the cutting efficiency and to modify the design shapes to further improve and optimise end product costs.”

“We are not selling software in a box. The SigmaNest suite requires a professional installer to come onto site to set up and test the post processor to interface with the machine and to incorporate the real costs of sheet materials, the machine recovery rate, operator costs and other overhead and consumable costs into the system.

“From MECAD, you buy more than software. You buy long-term professional service,” Pretorius concludes.

The latest version of the software suite, SigmaNest X1, (instead of 11) has recently been released and anyone with an active subscription is eligible for an upgrade at no charge.

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